Parklife festival review – Manchester turns night to day with punishing party energy

Heaton Park, Manchester
Liam Gallagher is incongruous, but prompts massive singalongs, while the xx and Confidence Man are other big successes

‘Who here is on drugs?” asks a member of Levelz, at 4.30 on Saturday afternoon. This may seem like an odd question, but at Parklife time feels mirrored, with the 11am-11pm festival feeling as if it’s 11pm-11am. Drugs seem to be ubiquitous; wide eyes, wonky gurns and euphoric grins cannot be hidden in the beaming sun. The Manchester rap collective then play the infectious Drug Dealer as part of a genre-hopping set.

With the crowd full of shirtless dudes, buckets of glitter and people wearing sparkly outfits, Parklife seems like Coachella relocated to Prestwich and sponsored by the North Face. There are a lot of stages: the tower block-shaped Valley, the Bronx-themed Elrow tent, the foliage-filled Palm House, the oil rig-resembling Temple (which shoots flames) and a giant airplane hangar. The production is impressive and the sound systems are pristine, with afternoon DJ sets from Jackmaster and Peggy Gou pushing their limits.

Failed homecoming ... IAMDDB.
Failed homecoming ... IAMDDB. Photograph: Joseph Okpako/WireImage

Manchester’s IAMDDB, who has found an unexpected sweet spot between jazz and trap, looks set for a glorious homecoming, but she’s fighting the audience immediately. “Where’s your energy?” she asks, which makes them sink further into apathy. When someone requests an AJ Tracey song, who is on next, she gives them the finger. Her set becomes a disaster in 20 minutes, and she leaves the stage early. The xx, though, play a stirring headline set, merging stark intimacy with pulsing euphoria; the sunset, rich in texture, sits perfectly with its tone.

The party rages on, and Confidence Man’s bubblegum dance-punk is an invigorating start to Sunday. Glistening synths, camp dance moves, live drums and bitterly ironic lyrics make for pop that is as fun as it is funny. There’s then some velvet-smooth R&B from Mabel before Kelela’s more bass-heavy take on the genre; Sigrid’s performance is a potent rush of sunshine pop as grey skies loom. Nina Kraviz’s techno set cracks like the thunder that threatens above but getting into Palm House to see it proves incredibly difficult due to capacity issues. When the rain begins to pour, people scurry indoors and J Hus’s set becomes horrendously packed.

An airplane messenger circles the site with the message “Jesus loves every 1 of you”, almost like an offer of salvation to rescue the grinding masses from further depravity. Instead, people watch Liam Gallagher. “Rock’n’Roll Star,” he says, introducing the first song. “There’s not many of them left.” He has a point. Gallagher is an incongruity on a line-up that is uniformly contemporary and where beats often bosh guitars. Nevertheless, he is welcomed emphatically and plays an Oasis-heavy set with his voice in good shape. The singalongs during the closing Live Forever and Wonderwall can be heard for miles. Even Skepta joins in, opening his set with an a cappella version of Live Forever before igniting the crowd with a very different sort of British anthem. Over at the Hangar, it remains bursting until curfew, proving Manchester truly knows how to squeeze every last drop out of a party.

Rock’n’roll star ... Liam Gallagher.
Rock’n’roll star ... Liam Gallagher. Photograph: Shirlaine Forrest/Getty Images

Parklife is very much a music event: there’s no cinema, comedy, theatre or yoga here, and the racially diverse audience feels refreshingly antithetical to other UK festivals, which can tend towards a white middle-class majority. It may not be comfortable, cosy or wholesome, but if a punishing sound system and treating day as night appeal, then you’ve found your festival.


Daniel Dylan Wray

The GuardianTramp

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