The extraordinary proliferation of music festivals large and small has been the talk of the so-called English summer, not just in the business but the wider cultural world.
That’s not just because Glastonbury only sold out on the day it opened, rather than months in advance as usual. For every successful festival debut, such as Vince Power’s Hop Farm, another event has struggled to make ends meet. Some boutique events, including Wild in the Country and the Isle of Skye, were cancelled altogether after poor ticket sales.
Perhaps that’s not surprising, with receipts undoubtedly hit by the holes in many punters’ pockets of late, not to mention the seemingly wall-to-wall coverage of the big festivals on U.K. television. But Lovebox, founded early in the decade by dance kingpins Groove Armada, can look back on another successful London weekend for an internationally branded occasion that has satellite events in Dublin, Ibiza and beyond.
On July 19, a crowd of young, chilled groovers wandered around the eight stages and 25 acres of east London’s Victoria Park, which hosted Radiohead’s recent performance. Most British festivalgoers are now sufficiently weathered to know that the summer can throw up any kind of conditions, but for this day the sun was kind. So much so that Pip Brown, frontwoman of New Zealand-originating scenesters Ladyhawke, observed that she’d forgotten her Factor 50.
The band proved itself worthy main-stage material with a robust set of electro-pop with a rock edge, including the single “Paris Is Burning” and the equally catchy “You Set Me on Fire.” As the lines for toilets, food and beer grew ever longer, Young Knives played a brace of sets, one preceding Ladyhawke on the main stage and one much later at the Great Escape Arena. That was also the setting for many of the bill’s most noteworthy up-and-comers, from London-born reggae-soulster Natty to current Swedish indie darling Lykke Li.
A festival that can incorporate some pop history without any sneering irony is a happy festival, and so it proved during an outstanding main stage set by the Human League. Fully 30 years after their first soundings, Phil Oakey, Susan Sulley and Joanne Catherall were a picture of minimalist chic and a textbook example of how to grow older with grace and cool.
They also had the good sense to pack their set to bursting with hits, from the formative “Being Boiled” through “Love Action” and “Mirror Man” to their last top 10 to date, 1995’s “Tell Me When,” building to the unassailable “Don’t You Want Me” as a singalong finale.
Groove Armada’s characteristically hedonistic main stage set eased from the lazy groove of “At the River” into a string of all-out club standards. If it was somewhat surprising that they ceded bill-topping status at their own festival to Manu Chao, he nevertheless played with his usual inexhuastible and cosmopolitan gusto.
By then, “best new band” status of the day had been awarded, by this reviewer, to Melbourne’s Midnight Juggernauts. Playing to a strobe-tastic, multi-colored backdrop, they almost lifted the roof off the Strangelove Dance Stage with songs from their debut album “Dystopia,” they displayed rich harmonies and walked the
Previously perilous tightrope connecting Can to the Electric Light Orchestra.