Victoria Park, London
17 / 18 July 2015
Summer music festivals are special, in every possible way. Last year a good friend of mine went to Lovebox and raved about it afterwards; considering she is usually very critical about being in public spaces that accommodate large crowds I was intrigued and was looking forward to taking myself to this year’s annual event.
Lovebox 2015, very conveniently situated in the heart of London’s East End, was ready to celebrate its 10th anniversary in Victoria Park with great live dance, hip hop, drum’n bass and soul live performances as well as many live DJ sets by acclaimed and established artists (including original Lovebox founders Groove Armada who started this event in 2002 as a residential club night at 93 Feet East in London).
Rudimental and Snoop Dogg were set to headline on the Lovebox main stage on Friday and Saturday night and my festival journey started on Friday afternoon by discovering the various stages, bars and tents that came with interesting names such as Corona Sunsets, Despacio, Elrow, The Big Top, Bamboo Club, Bandstand remixes, Voicebox or the aptly named West Stage.
I picked up the list with stage times for all artists from the press tent to find out that Ella Eyre was about to start her set! Bit of a shock to the system but the race was on to make it over to the main stage for one of the UK’s brightest and fastest rising talents who’s highly anticipated Virgin/EMI debut album “Feline” is due to be released August 2015. At the age of 20 this fine young lady has already worked with the likes of Rudimental, Tinie Tempah and Pro Green. It’s not just her powerful voice and energetic live performance that mesmerises people – Ella Eyre is already a successful much sought after songwriter in her own right! It was so good to hear the new single “Good times” live which was fully echoed by a fantastically supportive audience.
Walking around the Lovebox festival site I soon found out that the Mountain Dew turned out to be a massive wooden halfpipe showcasing local and international skateboarding talents while the Voicebox seemed to accommodate lovers of the spoken word and stand-up comedy.
If I hadn’t had such a heavy backpack to carry with me I’d been tempted to boogie away in the big Despacio tent that came with a very cool looking retro 1970’s black and white mosaic dancefloor and a matching giant disco ball also known as a supernova.
Festivals and their unhealthy prices at the bar and food stalls are nothing new – it’s best to abstain and eat a big lunch at home or in a pub beforehand. At Lovebox a bottle of water cost £2.50, a pint of beer £6 but if you got the munchies badly, a bag of chips complete with cheesy sauce would have shorted you for about £4. Not sure how many hungry souls decided to fork out more than £16 for some Japanese food.
There was certainly wasn’t a dry eye in the house over at the BBC Radio 1xtra stage aka the Bamboo Club where Rapper and ex -chef Action Bronson from Queens, New York didn‘t waste any time in throwing a stage invader in a fancy dress that may have resembled a character out of “A Clockwork Orange” rather nonchalantly off stage much to the approval of the roaring crowd. Better not mess with this slightly eccentric hip hop individual who has been known to take matters into his own hands before. I did not take any pictures during this incident but Action Bronson is gaining notoriety for not holding back and I fully expect him to be one of hip-hops dominating artists in the near future.
Ghetts, who’s real name is Justin Clarke was ready to take to the stage next, his album “Rebel with a cause” was released last year and he’s clearly one of the UK’s acclaimed new MC/Rap artists. He’s already won an AIM award for being the hardest working artist. Well, the crowd went nuts and celebrated Ghetts big time.
Back on the Lovebox main stage it was time for Skepta, another home grown talent, originally from Tottenham. He’s been on the scene since the early 2000’s both as a producer and DJ and was one of the pioneers of the Grime scene along with such big names as Kano and Dizzie Rascal. His fourth album “Konnichiwa” will be out later in the year and we were given a taste of what could be expected.
Groove Armada were DJing at the Elrow stage but I wanted to stay over at the main stage for the kings of old school rap style Cypress Hill from California. Now this takes me back to the early 1990’s club scene in Berlin; no evening would be complete without the sounds of this influential band. Loved the live performance and B-Real’s sometimes criticised high pitched nasal vocals. Even the photographers in the pit got excited and Cypress Hill got the thumbs up from everyone I spoke to. The band made sure to interact with the crowd by playing fun games to find out which side of the stage was to be the loudest and whose dance moves where the fanciest, er weirdest. Great stuff! B-Real obviously had to roll a spliff during “I wanna get high”, much to the delight of his supporters. Everyone knew their classic single release “Insane in the brain” which can be found on the group’s second epic album “Black Sunday”. An album that shot straight to number one in the Billboard 200 Charts in 1993. Now, a new album and full tour would be excellent.
Drum’n Bass icon Goldie was doing a DJ set at the BBC Radio 1xtra tent but there was little time to stay for long because Rudimental were due on stage any time soon.
It was an emotional homecoming for the Rudimental boys from Hackney. Deejay Locksmith took some time out to explain that Victoria Park is the place this combo calls home and promptly dedicated one song to his very own five year old offspring. Headlining the main stage on Friday night surely felt like a special accomplishment for this award winning and platinum selling act. Bringing on Dizzie Rascal as a special guest completed a pretty good and entertaining live set.
Day two of the Lovebox festival started nice and slow for me inside the Big Top tent to the smooth sounds of vocalist Dornik, who has already delivered brilliant singles like “Something about you” and “Rebound” to the world of R&B, soul and electronica. The early stage time did him no justice but the tent started to fill with people as soon as the band started to play. Dornik’s music can be recommended highly if the mood is set to chilling in a relaxed environment.
The weather was sunny and hot and contrary to urban belief that UK festivals are bound to be messy mud affairs Lovebox turned out to be the opposite: The air was dust infused and I have yet to clean my DocMartens and trainers.
Swedish vocalist Seinabo Sey impressed me with her distinct and haunting vocals coming from the West stage. Sey’s single “Pistols at dawn” is a mellow yet intense masterpiece performed live even though it sounded like there were some sound problems coming from the tech department.
I somehow managed to overlook New York experimental & soul duo Lion Babe (vocalist Jillian Hervey and working partner Lucas Goodman) and accidently walked in to their performance on the main stage. This was by far the best show I witnessed that day! On doing some research I discovered that Jillian Hervey’s mother is not exactly unknown – it is no other than singer/actress Vanessa Williams who had a worldwide number one hit in the early 1990’s with the moody pop ballad “Save the best to last”.
But back to Lion Babe’s Jillian very visual and sensual on stage performance that included quite a bit of rolling around. There was plenty of talent on show: Attitude, confidence and I’m sure a great belief in oneself!
Their debut single “Treat me like fire” was released in 2012 but has lost nothing of its charisma. The girl’s got a great voice, too and I expect this duo to be making some well deserved big waves worldwide.
The Corona Sunset stage was situated right at the other end of the festival site and ready to be taken over by the legendary Jazzie B ready to spin & mix some classic tunes. Soul II Soul is just one of the many great projects he has brought to life and not everyone knows that he has worked with the likes of James Brown, Public Enemy, Kym Mazelle, Maxi Priest, Sinead O’ Connor and Ziggy Marley.
The last three artists I wanted to see at Lovebox were all performing at the main stage and I allowed myself to sit down and listen to Jessie Ware’s powerful and soulful tunes. Beautiful and catchy dreampop at the same time. Her first album “Devotion” came out a few years ago but there were clearly many fans eager to see this strong woman delivering a memorable performance.
Interestingly, neither Hot Chip nor Snoop Dogg (see photo, right) impressed me too much with their shows at Lovebox.
Hot Chip’s eclectic mix of experimental pop was danceable and I respect their achievements and the release of their already sixth album “Why make sense now?” but I struggled to keep focused on the music after a while.
I’ll give Mr Snoop Dogg the benefit of the doubt because I did not see his full set but only the first three songs. “Doggystyle” was one of the soundtracks of my daily life for a while in the early 90’s so may have to re-visit some other time. I kind of switched off a little when two professional female dancers appeared on stage wearing very little. Never been a fan of scantily clad dancers or strippers – it’s part of the show but I found it uninteresting. There was a cover version of Joan Jett’s “I love rock’n roll” to be done by Snoop Dogg after I left so I heard. Now, I would have loved to hear his take on one of THE ultimate singalong anthems!