Less than a fortnight after Field Day, London’s Victoria Park played host to that twin staple of the city-dwellers’ festival circuit. To mark the dance festival’s tenth anniversary, here are ten acts that encapsulated the spirit of Lovebox:
Crystal Castles (Friday, Main Stage)
Opening their set with a new song, Crystal Castles arrive onstage like two disciples of noise; with hoodies pulled low over their faces, they convert any sceptics in the audience with their sheer wall of sound. Despite suffering from the twin distractions of the England game – broadcast on screens in the venue – and problems with Alice Glass’s mic, Crystal Castles’ onstage ferocity overcomes both, as Alice jerks and throws herself across the stage as if electrocuted, moving from the as-yet unknown song into ‘Doe Deer’, her lilac hair falling free. As the set progresses her movements become more frantic as she climbs the speakers at the side of the stage and rivals the waves of distortion with searing vocals that manage to transcend her ill-adjusted microphone. By contrast, Ethan Kath remains static behind his laptop, calmly orchestrating the crashing cadances as the set draws to a close with the two staples of their first album, ‘Crimewave’ and ‘Untrust Us’.
Friendly Fires (Saturday, Main Stage)
Following Lovebox curators Groove Armada would be a daunting task for most bands, but Friendly Fires build on the energy that resonates around the packed audience to create an atmosphere that rivaled a Latin street party for sheer exuberance. Despite the wind and gathering clouds, the band whip up some warmth. Accompanied by a saxophonist and some seriously carnivalesque beats, frontman Ed McFarlane’s infectious energy has the entire crowd dancing like maniacs. “Just imagine that you’re on a tropical island right now,” he urges as the rain clouds gather. Playing a rake of songs from their self-titled debut, including ‘Skeleton Boy’, ‘In The Hospital’ and ‘Paris’, alongside choice cuts from last year’s follow-up Pala, the St Albans five piece briefly leave the stage before returning for an encore – choosing to end with ‘Hawaiian Air’ and ‘Kiss of Life’ and injecting a welcome breath of summer into an all-too-sodden June evening.
Grace Jones (Sunday, Main Stage)
Disco legend Grace Jones takes no prisoners as she performs the closing set of the weekend. Having delayed her appearance by 20 minutes, the singer more than makes up for the wait as she prowls across the stage in a variety of eye-popping costumes and a progressively more outlandish collection of headwear, all designed by the maestro of milliners, Philip Tracey. Songs include crowd pleasers ‘Feel Up’ and the more low-key ‘La Vie En Rose’. Flashers in the crowd try, but failed, to steal the spotlight, as Grace powers on with the final song ‘Pull Up To The Bumper’, before returning, after yet another costume change, for the encore. As she sings ‘Slave To The Rhythm’ in honeyed tones while simultaneously hula hooping throughout the entire song dressed only in a black leotard, there’s no denying that the 64 year old has style. Grace, you might be crazier than an entire bag full of cats, but we salute you.
Groove Armada (Saturday, Main Stage)
It would be impossible to mention this year’s Lovebox without giving due credit to its co-founders, who cobbled together a festival on Clapham Common a decade ago which has evolved into its present incarnation of a 50,000-strong dance-fest. The first half of the duo’s set focuses on material from 2010’s Black Light, before the atmosphere really kicks off when they drop into ‘I See You Baby’. Outdoing themselves yet again, they got Candi Staton onstage for ‘You Got The Love’, bringing a dose of ’80s authenticity which was augmented by a rolling electronic loop that simultaneously deconstructed and emphasised Staton’s powerful vocals. Although the smart money was on them finishing with a track from the Lovebox album that named the festival, ‘Superstylin’ gets a rapturous response as the tightly packed crowd dance with wild abandon, people swaying on each others shoulders as Andy Cato and Tom Findlay prove that, a decade on, the spirit of Lovebox is still as strong as ever.
Hot Chip (Friday, Main Stage)
From ‘Bear Hugs’ to ‘One Life Stand’, Joe Goddard certainly received no shortage of affection from the audience on Friday, when he followed his 2 Bears appearance with the day job. The opening hook of ‘Boy From School’ immediately whipped the mud-splattered crowd into a state of frenzy which steadily increased throughout a setlist which included ‘Night and Day’ and ‘How Do You Do’ from latest album In Our Heads. Unsurprisingly, the prize for Friday’s most enthusiastically embraced tune goes to ‘Over and Over’ – the sound of singing almost surmounting the band – which then segued into the slower tempo of ‘Hand Me Down Your Love’. An unexpected cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Everywhere’ marks the end of a set which drew universal shouts for an encore that sadly – due to the festival’s rigid closing times – never comes.
Kelis (Saturday, Second Stage)
Following on from Rita Ora on the outdoor stage, it comes as a shock to see just how good Kelis’s Lovebox performance is. At this point, she is one of the festival’s veterans, but shows no signs of being jaded during her hyperactive set. Wearing a black bustier and taffeta skirt – a positively sombre choice compared to last year’s sequinned skeleton outfit – she bounces her way through a cherry-picked selection of her greatest hits, with a couple of covers thrown in for good measure, including ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and a tribute to Donna Summer with a version of ‘I Feel Love’. Her energy seems to know no bounds – singing ‘Show Me Love’ while drumming like a woman possessed – and while the set is not the most coherently put together, what it lacks in unity it makes up for with enthusiasm. ‘Bounce’, ‘Trick Me’ and snatches of her debut single ‘Caught Out There’ keep the fans happy, while ‘Milkshake’ is unexpectedly mashed up with Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ and Madonna’s ‘Holiday’, the retro loops adding a fresh take to her best-known track.
Lana Del Rey (Sunday, Second Stage)
In the context of the Lovebox line-up, Lana Del Rey sits a little uneasily alongside the rest of the dance-festival stalwarts, but she certainly demonstrates her ability to draw a crowd for her Sunday evening set. Simply dressed in a blouse and a lemon-yellow skirt, the New Yorker’s gangster lyrics sound incongruously tough in contrast to her girl-next-door appearance. After the wild hype of last year’s ‘Video Games’ followed by the disenchantment surrounding the album release, it’s easy to forget the appeal that Lizzy Grant possesses; it’s clear that the majority of the crowd know every word by heart, belting out the songs as if in a collective karaoke. Her live set is pleasantly nuanced; a string section and a piano add a raw depth that stands out against the weekend’s processed electronic beats. Indeed, wistful nostalgia is Lana Del Rey’s trademark, and she effortlessly imbues it in her audience. Having sung her way through her debut album – don’t expect any surprises or deviations here – Lana Del Rey finishes with the track that everyone, secretly, has come to hear. As ‘Video Games’ soars across the evening air, the atmosphere at the festival, for a few brief moments, becomes utterly tranquil.
Magnetic Man (Friday, Big Top)
With a series of tracks that have become regular radio and club favourites, it’s little surprise to find an eager crowd that gathered for Magnetic Man. Those who wandered into the Big Top tent for shelter got more than they bargained for, as Skream – who was headlining the stage later on – was joined not only by Magnetic Man collaborators Benga and Artwork, but also by Ms Dynamite, who had stayed on from her earlier set to provide the vocals for ‘Fire’. The synergy between the dubstep supergroup creates an electrifying atmosphere, as they deftly manipulate a wall of heart-wrenching beats from behind their trinity of laptops. Even the stragglers outside seemed enraptured with the deep, thunderous bass that escaped the confines of the tent and resonated across Victoria Park. Inside, the strobe screens that flank the stage provided a hypnotic light display which is as mesmerising as the sound, as the Croydon trio power their way through most of their eponymous debut album. Rarely do you see an entire audience dancing so fervently but if you can’t move to Magnetic Man, you clearly don’t have a pulse.
Rita Ora (Saturday, Second Stage)
By now, news of Rita Ora’s wardrobe mishap has eclipsed all other records of her Saturday set at Lovebox, as the singer’s ill-advised choice of bra top reveals a little more than she had presumably intended. That aside, the 21-year-old played to a wildly enthusiastic crowd – a testament to her rapid rise to fame in a startlingly short space of time. Her brand of RnB-infused pop inevitably invites comparisons with Rihanna and judging from the number of people who sang along to an extended rendition of her single ‘RIP’, she seems ear-marked for commercial success. Barely scraping the 25 minute mark, the set does feel a little sparse, but this was understandable, given that the London-based singer is yet to release an album. If Rita Ora wasn’t being talked about enough before, she certainly will be, thanks to this attention-grabbing performance. ‘Hot Right Now’? Definitely.
The 2 Bears (Friday, Stockade Stage)
Having last seen The 2 Bears at The Button Factory back in February of this year, it feels a little surreal to see them in broad daylight on the Stockade Stage amid the spitting rain; a far cry from a dark and sweaty club setting. It could have been this unexpected environment that gives us one of the more memorable moments of the weekend. Emboldened by the hedonistic ‘Bear Hug’, the audience become infected with an overwhelming euphoria which sends them swarming over the barriers and on to the stage. “Fucking hells bells!” is Joe Goddard’s reaction as the set comes to a grinding halt. With the stage cleared, the London-based duo went on return to carry on. Despite the strong thread of humour behind The 2 Bears – their on-the-cheap videos, double entendres and love of dressing up – there is nothing tongue-in-cheek about their ability to provoke such an extreme reaction. Raf Rundell and Joe Goddard are an inspired duo, turning out tunes that tease and thrill in equal measures.