Live Reviews

Lovebox Weekender 2009: Day 2 @ Victoria Park, London

19 July 2009


Lovebox Weekender 2009: Day 1 | Day 2

Few festivals can boast such an wide ranging bill as Lovebox, and the second day bill over at the main stage bore this out with acts from New York, Mali, New Zealand and Hammersmith making a truly global line-up.

They also showed uncanny talent for mirroring the weather. While the New York Dolls singer David Johansen was busy bemoaning his band’s unearthly start time, he wasn’t neglecting his duties as the band kicked into gear with gritty versions of Mystery Girls and Pills. “How delightful you are, thank you” he told the crowd with genuine feeling.
Rokia Traoré was up next, beginning her obscenely early set to a smattering of people with cameras and some litter blowing about – a far cry from her sold-out Barbican gig a couple of months ago. This tiny lady from Mali may be small of stature but her voice is huge and, over the course of a set that mixed tracks from her most recent album Tchamantché with earlier material, she gradually pulled in the crowds, for whom her multilingual approach to lyrics might have proved scary/unfamiliar/not Ladyhawke. By mid-set and the powerful, pleading cycle of Koronoko, and with a guitar draped about her, she had a devoted throng mixing and matching their own dance styles, though none proved quite as fabulous as her own supple-limbed motion. And that was before we mention the heroics of her Hendrix-fro’d bassist.

A low rumbling from the still relatively deserted second stage indicated the Filthy Dukes were underway. While their strident dance rhythms work well outside the feeling persisted this band are best indoors where the sweat runs down the walls, though as they released their own balloons with You Better Stop there was a satisfying burst of energy.

At this time Joakim was holding court as DJ in a rather forlorn Relentless area, swooning disco strings keeping the rain at bay, while most of the festival headed off to see Ladyhawke, whose audience was multiples of 10 the size of Traoré’s. Pip Brown’s Blondie-meets-Fleetwood Mac-in-a-synth-showroom sound has long been easy on the ear, and she’s famously easy on the eye, but now her music is fitting big spaces as well as the pub corners she was hawking her wares in this time last year.

The immense size of the crowd suggested that big choruses are what the girl on the Hackney omnibus wants on a summer’s afternoon. Paris Is Burning gave way to the repetitive though bass-assed effective My Delirium, and the biggest crowd since Duran Duran’s set the day before left grinning and sated.

The crowds gathered for Jazzie B in the Rizla area – outrageously popular for a second successive day – while the clouds gathered, and became rather threatening on the main stage. This mirrored the music of Gary Numan, who arrived with barely concealed menace bursting forth from his legion of guitarists. With powerful openers from the Jagged album, he impressed greatly with a powerful combination of metallic guitars and floated synths – though the former was very much higher in the mix than the latter.

Cars inevitably arrived to howls of delight, though these were snarling Astons rather than perky hot hatches. Are Friends Electric?, meanwhile, was given a complete makeover, ominously drifting into the consciousness on a lone piano, like a piece by Rachmaninov, Numan in his lowest register. Suddenly singer and guitars erupted into the chorus in a thrilling rush, and the crowd went mad. This was dark music in the extreme – certainly not what the feel good vibe of Lovebox is accustomed to – but it made a powerful impact nonetheless.

For a pick me up, it was time to head over to the Relentless area, where the Emperor Machine were funking things up with increasing abandon. While most of their material is instrumental they did nonetheless hold court well as a live band, and even if there wasn’t a great deal going on stage wise the funky bass lines, analogue synths and nifty guitar licks were driving the clouds away.

Noah and The Whale have a new album imminent, but we’ve yet to hear it. On the evidence presented before a bored-looking Sunday afternoon crowd on the second stage it has its fair share of slow numbers. Seeking something – anything – to liven the mood, our ears were distracted by sounds from the Gaymers tree house bandstand, where Bearded Kitten were dressed as Louis XIVand playing all manner of fantastic trash, from Salt’n’Pepa‘s Push It to a dancehall mix of Robyn‘s With Every Heartbeat. About 40 people had crammed onto the stage with them; did they beat N*E*R*D to the honour of the weekend’s biggest stage invasion? Book these boys for your bar mitzvah, garage sale or hen party now.

By this time Doves had arrived on the main stage in confident mood. Opening with a particularly sublime Jetstream, they proceeded to deliver a set of upbeat anthems, tinged with a slight melancholy. Jimi Goodwin courted controversy by proclaiming his love of Manchester City to an audience rich in Gooners and Spurs fans, but this came back to bite him with a false start of The Greatest Denier (not a song about tights, you understand). Laughing it off, the band went on to triumphant versions of Black And White Town and The Cedar Room, the thumping bass drum carrying far and wide throughout, before they finished with the inevitable percussion festival that closes There Goes The Fear. The feeling is that Doves are now well established as a main stage act, an up-tempo alternative to Elbow as a band of festival pleasers.

The Rizla tent was also shuddering to a second day climax, with snappily dressed Diplo at the controls. While perhaps best known for his production work with the likes of M.I.A., Bonde Do Role and Buraka Som Sistema, he is a formidable DJ with a unique method to his madness. Every track he plays gets the Diplo treatment, and as a result even The Prodigy‘s Smack My Bitch Up found itself spliced and diced and made something quite of his own alongside cuts of Major Lazer and Dizzee Rascal.

Finally our headliners, with Groove Armada delivering what promised to be their last ever headlining performance at their own festival. With new cuts from the forthcoming Black Light album, and introducing new singer Becky Jones – she of The RGBs – there was a lot different this year. Song 4 Mutya naturally had a confused identity without its main protagonist there to sing it, but old favourites At The River – bathed in a lovely dark red light – and Easy saw the crowd wreathed in smiles.

Yet so loud and bass heavy was the racket coming from the Relentless area it was possible to discern Simian Mobile Disco‘s The Hustler – even when Easy was in full flow. It rescued what had, truth told, been a relatively flaccid day in the fabulously visualised Relentless area, where artworks flashed and naked flames flumed into the night sky in time with the coruscating beats emitting from Jas Shaw and James Ford’s variety of wires and switches on stage. Like something from a virtual reality club in Second Life, recent single Audacity Of Huge was hugely audacious in a way quite unheralded on the recording, while old favourites from Attack Sustain Decay Release, It’s The Beat and Sleep Deprivation, provoked AMAZING SCENES. Well, what else would you call an outdoor rave surrounded by spurty bursts of fire lighting up the stars?

Back at the main stage the curators were signing off triumphantly with Superstylin’, a song that has become a big Lovebox anthem over the years. It was an appropriate note on which to finish, a song uniting musical styles and cultures in a wholly relevant way – and one that had the main stage hordes leaping with delight. Lovebox will be a different model altogether next year without its traditional headline act – but for now they have gone out on a high.


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Lovebox Weekender 2009: Day 2 @ Victoria Park, London


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