Across a long summer weekend, the Lovebox Festival returned to London's East End as it moves into its 11th year of putting on a variety of top music acts across Victoria Park. In breaking from tradition, Groove Armada's stake in the festival had been moved across to Mama & Co, so it remained to be seen whether they were able to carry on the mantle.
Thankfully, any fears people may have had were quickly dispelled however. Taking advantage of the uncharacteristically good weather on a Friday afternoon on the opening day saw record numbers of music lovers come to the park; indeed, as they had completely sold out, due in part to the large number of big name artists on the roster, spread out in different tents across a colourful site.
In true laid back style, the Red Bull tent was easily the most upfront place to be, with Magnetic Man's Artwork providing a set of classic 2-step garage to get people smiling ahead of David Rodigan's legendary reggae set. Given the roaring reception of his set during 2012's Hospitality line up, it seemed only fitting for him to curate his own stage and he certainly delivered a riot of Jamaican reggae and dub, fused with the occasional smattering of hip hop, whilst working the crowd as both MC and DJ. Beg, borrow or steal a ticket to see him this summer, as he is well worth seeing.
Meanwhile on the main stage, the line-up promised some interesting acts. On walking in to the park and seeing Charlie Wilson and full band dressed in luminous blues, greens and purples, you might consider them a little bit of a joke on first glance. However, as flamboyant as their stage presence is, any such first impressions were slightly premature, as they proved themselves a tight funk and R&B group whose tight solos and interaction with the crowd kept things interesting and just plain fun, regardless of whether anyone had ever heard of them before. They were the perfect sort of group to get you in to the weekend and the festival spirit.
This was just as well, as local boys Rudimental aimed to build on the vibe with a full band, plenty of male and female vocalists and even live trumpet playing. Admitting that they got such a kick from playing on the main stage in their neighbourhood, their set covered all the high points of their recent album, including a live drum and bass cover of Fugees' Ready Or Not, to the delight of the large crowds who had come to see them play. However, it was towards the end of the set with the aptly named Can You Feel The Love that saw things move into a special moment when the band encouraged as many people to sit on each others' shoulders as possible, to the horror of on looking security. Looking around to see a sea of smiling faces singing along to the chorus in the afternoon sun, it was a great moment at the festival and truly a highlight for anyone watching.
With expectations set quite so high, hip hop group Jurassic 5 were more than able to step up to the plate. Working through a long line of firm favourites, together with some excellent live scratching whilst the MCs worked the crowd, the members of this group are able to keenly demonstrate that they are still some of the most capable rappers in hip hop and still able to rock a crowd with their lyrics. They also came with a trick up their sleeve in the form of scratchologist Cut Chemist, who also lived up to his reputation in providing catchy scratching and hip hop beats, even using a massive turntable prop in the centre of the stage to demonstrate his skills. A solid show for Jurassic 5 and it was good to see a mix of fans young and old amongst the crowd dancing and singing along as well.
By the time headliner Azealia Banks hit the main stage however, it was clear that most of the party goers had moved on, leaving a crowd less than half the size that had gathered for the previous acts. This may have accounted for Azealia's angry facial expressions and shouting incomprehensibly through a megaphone, though this might have just been part of her stage act. Either way, her performance just seemed lacklustre in comparison to what had gone before it and in general failed to impress. Looking around the site, however, I found that the majority of the crowd had found other entertainment in the form of Annie Mac, who was busy emulating her popular radio show with a catchy collection of dance tracks. I felt that this was a better match for the Friday night party atmosphere and dancing around to an hour long set was a perfect way to end the opening day of the festival.
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