Parklife Weekender 2014 review: Patience, Poppers and Pacifiers

Parklife 2014

Parklife 2014

Last weekend saw the streets of Manchester swarming with young, thirsty teens arriving in masses at Heaton Park for Parklife Weekender. Swigging cider and vodka on their way to the gates donning their best flowery headgear there was an excited buzz around the park, which was elusively identifiable behind trees and across lakes by the distinctive sound of throbbing bass.

The morning had stayed relatively dry and it was only when the 65,000-strong queues began forming that Manchester’s skies decided to empty upon the eagerly awaiting crowd. Nevertheless, it was going to take more than rain to dampen spirits … something like, for example, a system failure causing all e-tickets to be rejected at the ticket gate.

This problem seemed to be affecting early bird and standard e-tickets which caused a huge delay in most people’s entry to the festival, with the system reportedly predicted to be working again at 5pm. By this point the crowd were soaked through and the four hour queues determined the men from the boys and saw some give up and go home.

When we finally got in to the festival, we headed straight to a burger van to raise our spirits where the sweet combination of beef, bacon, chorizo, cheese and relish more than delivered – unlike its offensive price tag of £12, a bittersweet reminder that you’re at a festival. The ground was now a mudslide claiming the odd shoe and/or person as victim, but people were taking it in their stride and seemingly enjoying the sludge.

Full up and beginning to dry off in the now emerging sunshine, we caught the end of George Ezra’s set who never fails to disappoint with one of the most unique, beautiful voices. We disappointingly missed Foxes set but Katy B more than made up for it – know now, though she be but little, she is fierce. Her energetic performance was a pleasant surprise which sparked fond memories of songs that had faded to the back of my mind.

A small rain shower led us to the sheltered Now Wave stage, and gratefully so as we managed to catch A$AP Rocky rounding off his hour-long set, rapping about his hoes, bitches and swag and finishing off with the crowd rapturously chanting “Long Live A$AP”.

Next up was Rudimental who couldn’t have come at a better time – the damp crowd’s spirits were instantly lifted as they reenergised us with timeless dance anthems ‘Feel the Love’ and ‘More Than Anything’. All was going so well until what was thought to be an audience participation pause soon became recognised as sound failure. Awkward glances were exchanged and the crowd began booing as Rudimental continued singing ‘Not Giving In’ not realising that their sound was no longer pouring out to the masses.

When the problem was fixed, DJ Locksmith told the crowd: “I won’t lie, I’m not f**king happy”, telling us that they’d asked them to cut a song as a result. But they really weren’t giving in, and began their interrupted song again – a stubborn but admirable move when taking the prestigious place of Snoop Dogg’s warm up act. The set rounded off with an electric performance of ‘Waiting all Night’, a huge hit amongst the audience which got the whole crowd jumping and dancing, powerful enough to cause the girl in front of me having boyfriend issues on the phone to hang up on her argument and dance.

Snoop Dogg
Snoop Dogg by Scott Salt

Following on from Rudimental was the coolest man in hip hop, Snoop Dogg who, following three introductions, blazed up the crowd with a discography of some classic Snoop old-school and current collaborations. The audience was massively chilled with everyone being hypnotised by the man in the American flag jumper roaming around the stage. He had the audience in the palm of his hand, swaying their spliffs in the air as a mark of respect, I’d expected nothing less.

After Snoop we headed to the ‘Here’s One I Made Earlier’ after party, hoping to make up for lost time during the day with some throwback R’n’B. We arrived at the Trof; a charming bar but with a sleepy atmosphere, no dance floor, and R’n’B which threw-back too far for the festival’s audience range to know any of the hits. The city centre was relatively quiet, with the majority of festival goers being locals some had decided to have their own house parties instead so we decided to call it a night and we headed back to the hotel.

Having a festival populated by its locals had a much bigger impact on the atmosphere than I’d anticipated. The park was filled with Manchester’s residents, and young ones at that. I instantly felt ancient when arriving at the festival and massively overdressed in that both my ass cheeks were covered. It made for a less friendly atmosphere than I’m used to at festivals with people avoiding contact with me apart from to help pull me out of the mud or to ask if I had any pills.

What really brought home the split amongst the crowd was the news of Saturday’s stabbings and brutal assault. When you get 65,000 drunk people together in a field it’s unavoidable that there might be some trouble, but at a festival with such a young demographic it’s hard to believe that security was lax enough to allow somebody to get in with a knife.

Sunday morning the sun was shining and we returned feeling optimistic for the day ahead. Filled with red bull and rum we whizzed through a measly queue to find solid ground filled by a smaller and older audience and headed straight for the main stage to witness Clean Bandit in action. They were frustratingly close to the mark of being brilliant, with just an inch more of energy needed to match their music and quality vocals. A slightly weak performance on the brink of something quite enjoyable.

We took a wander round the ground to see what was on offer. The choice of food stands was fantastic; burgers, hot dogs, noodles, paninis and toasties and vegan and veggie stalls were scattered around the park and the highlights of the fairground rides included a log flume and a ferris wheel that allowed you to look over the whole of the park and watch the main acts from up in the clouds.

Alongside food and the line up, something else that Parklife got very right was the tent and stage capacity. Tents had ample room for crowds and the main stage had just the right level of sardine that you gave you a reasonable amount of limb space. The Warehouse Project stage was by far the most impressive and with a much larger capacity than the main stage, positioned at the base of a hill where people watched from as well as the stage area itself.

Sam Smith
Sam Smith by Matt Eachus

Next up on the agenda was Sam Smith. He gave a flawless performance, showing just the right level of shyness and confidence that made him popular with the audience. Aside from ‘Money on my Mind’, some of his stuff can be a bit slow and ballad-y for a festival, even evoking a very romantic hook up beside me with the smoothest chat up line I’ve ever heard: “You like sex, I like sex. I think we’d have great sex together.” Ahh yes, Sam Smith’s ‘Make it to Me’ really spread grimy love through the crowd. A cover of Arctic Monkeys ‘Do I Wanna Know’ got the crowd’s attention though and the cheeky chappy left the audience’s appetite wet for the evening of music ahead.

Following Smith was London Grammar who weren’t that suitable for an hour long festival slot but delivered an amazing set nonetheless. They played a selection of their hits starting with their most recent ‘Hey Now’ and finishing on ‘Metal and Dust’. Whilst they briefly merged their Disclosure collaboration ‘Help Me Lose My Mind’ into another song, I wish they’d taken advantage of this much more to liven up their set.

As the sun began to set on Heaton Park, the main stage geared back up for a more upbeat indie set from the highly acclaimed Bastille. They drew in a strong but divided audience who were debating whether Bastille or Foals should have been headliners, with most holding a nostalgic candle to Foals from their teen years. Bastille put up a good position though as they played a heady selection of their best hits. What really got the crowd excited though was a surprise appearance from Ella Eyre, who’d performed earlier. She bounced onto the stage in her Elton John specs to join Dan in their mixtape remix of The xx’s ‘Angels’ and TLC’s ‘No Scrubs’, resulting in ‘No Angels’. Other big successes with the crowd included ‘Things We Lost in the Fire’ and the grand finale which saw ‘Pompeii’ resurrected.

Disclosure by Jody Hartley

Whilst Foals wrapped up the main stage, Disclosure lined up a ninety minute set at the Disclosure present – a strobe-tastic, flaming – Wildlife stage. Playing electro hits like ‘F for You’ and ‘White Noise’ the dynamic duo were a testament to the end of 2014’s Parklife Weekender.

With the organisers of Warehouse Project behind the festival it’s in good hands but it still has a lot to learn. A few weeks ago an attempt to engage with the audience saw them send a text to people’s phones under the name of ‘Mum’ saying: “Some of the Parklife after parties have already sold out. If your[sic] going, make sure your home for breakfast.” The text ending up causing a great deal of offence to some of those who received it and led the festival to apologise to those affected for the “unnecessary personal distress”.

Poor Parklife. Despite its best attempts it’s still not quite a polished project. It has potential; God knows it had the line up, but it’s missing that ‘je ne sais quoi’ that some of the more established festivals have gained over time. If it can avoid this year’s mistakes next time then you might want to watch this space, with a bit of TLC it could be something really quite special.

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Main photo – Daniel Watson