I SWORE I would never return to Lovebox after last year. A logistical nightmare, where more time was spent queueing to get in, and once in, it was followed by more queueing for toilets and drinks than the consumption of the actual music. It was only marginally better this year too. When I compare to other festivals in Europe, even in the UK, I don’t really remember having the same issues (or at least being such a whiny little byeotch about it). Anyone who wants the blueprint for a hassle free festival need look no further than Primavera in Barcelona. Their facilities say ‘we are treating you like a grown up, even if you are going to act like an unruly man-child who may or may not have been raised by wildebeests’.
I also need to face the fact that I am getting old. Not old in normal years, but in festival years. Festival years are basically like dog years, except on steroids, because I have literally aged 180 festival years in the last 4 normal years. What once seemed an eternal prime like the real life version of the film Cocoon, now has me feeling like a dusty old moth to the flame, burned by the fire. Like Janet Jackson said, that’s the way Lovebox goes (dun dun dun dun dun).
Being a ‘festival elderly’ doesn’t get you any free perks either. A seniors card offering 10% discount on food, drink and smokes, or a golf-buggy to transport you between stages would soften the blow. Instead it just means you say things like ‘wouldn’t it be great if we had some deck chairs to sit on to rest our sore backs from standing all day and then if all those people in front would sit down or move out of the way so we could see the stage?’ or ‘can you smell that weed, it’s so strong’, said while I continuously gifted the public air with the scent of the roughly 3,000 cigarettes I smoked across the day and night. See, that 10% discount would have been very handy.
So, if last year was the kind of dirty hangover where you swear off alcohol for evermore, then this year was my selective memory loss as I was drawn back in by the intoxicating couldn’t-have-picked-it-better-myself line-up of Frank Ocean, Solange, Kaytranada, Jamie XX and Sampha. An excuse to take a Friday off work only confirmed the business case.
Let’s see the festival through the eyes of an ‘elder’. I promise some attempted wisdom and insight beyond just the complaining.
After seeing young up-and-comer RAY BLK I was pretty happy to not have to move most of the day from the Noisey stage. Sorry, the Noisey tent. Which, given the popularity of Solange, Sampha and Katranada who all played there, was too small and poorly set up for anyone outside the tent to the see the stage, or overcome the sound bleed from the next stage and even the trashy tunes playing on the fairground ride just over yonder.
Still, Katranada’s 99.9% was as 100% joyous live as it is on record. The sun was shining and he only gave everyone more reasons to smile. The topic of ‘best Kaytranada song’ was fiercely debated by me with myself throughout the set. First it was Together, the AlunaGeorge and Goldlink featuring slinker, then it was Anderson .Paak on Glowed Up, which would be my outer space soundtrack if I was ever going into outer space, just FYI. Actually, maybe I’ll just make them both come with me and they can soundtrack the whole journey. I finally landed on Sid’s You’re the One (her album Fin one of my absolute favourites for this year). My friends ultimately agreed that Syd’s was probably my favourite song, perhaps just to stop me saying ‘maybe this one’s my favourite’. THEN, out of nowhere he played his remix of Solange’s Cranes in the Sky as a warm up to the real deal to come later. He had the perfect playlist and mood for an afternoon of frivolity and dancing in the sun. If I was king for a day, my first ruling would be to make it mandatory that everyone listen to 99.9%. Or I would order a big sound system in the sky and play it through that. The world really would be a better place immediately (only half joking).
Next up was Sampha, whose album Process was an overdue stellar solo album this year. I had wondered how he would bring his music to the festival set, but perhaps I was underestimating or forgetting the grand presence of his voice and music. Plastic 100°c and Blood On Me came alive and, of course, No One Knows Me Like the Piano can move heaven and earth, including Lovebox 2017.
Then for my equal most anticipated (and ultimately favourite set of the day (spoiler alert, it wasn’t Frank) Solange, or as people continued to ask me yesterday – is that Beyoncé’s younger sister? I meeeeeaaaannn, reeeeaallly? As Solange said herself on her early career track God Given Name “I’m not B-coming expectations, I’m not her and never will Beeee … I’m just my god given name”. After releasing arguably the best and my favourite album of last year and two top pieces of work before that, what more does a girl gotta do to get appreciated around here? Sure, she does do things differently, but her music is not just excellent, it’s also totally accessible even if not made specifically for the masses. So don’t be shy now. If you are one of those peeps who would ask this question, do me, you and Solange a favour and listen to Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams, True, and ultimately, the masterpiece that is A Seat at the Table. Solange is not just a fine musician and singer, Solange is an artist. She lives and breathes her style and commitment to her vision. That’s almost never been as evident as Friday. She brought out the band, full ensemble stage and wardrobe design, all backed up by a stage shaded in lush red. She danced like a half-choreographed dancer/half-warrior and full-maniac and it was absolutely fucking brilliant. Her high notes even more stunning as she rearranges her vocals live.
And now, for my final act, I will review the final act of the day. My beau, Master Christopher Breaux, who goes by the name of Frank Ocean. It had been a long day, what with all the complaining and everything, and this was to be the piece de resistance, to bring ultimate peace to my resistance to Lovebox.
Frank, Frank, Frank, how I do utterly love thee. But the set, for the time of day, for the crowd, even for me, didn’t hit the mark. You have no idea how much it pains me that I can’t even pretend otherwise.
Let me first talk about this man’s presence. He commanded that stage like he was 100 feet tall, and his voice is even more perfect and beautiful than on his records. He/it/all looked and sounded perfect.
Let me now talk about what went wrong. The songs were drawn out extended cuts full of ad-libbing, on top of a song selection that didn’t include any of his more up-beat tracks. Where was the love for Channel Orange? No Lost, no Pyramids, not even the fun of Super Rick Kids or Sweet Life. Even Slide – it’s not ‘his song’ per se, but still he released it this year and it’s one of his most popular and would have just picked things up a notch. Frank started with Solo, then moved onto Chanel (a favourite of mine from this year) and the lesser-known, lesser-good Biking. It was at this time a good chunk of the crowd started to leave.
The last half of his set was redeeming, with Ivy, Nights, Pink and White and the grand finale, Nikes. These all hit the spot. If he wanted to do his slower stuff more slowly and make it on his terms, he should have littered these better throughout the entire set. The first 30 minutes was uninspiring at best, boring at worst. Even though his voice was beautiful, there didn’t feel to be any connection to the crowd. It was like he was in a self-indulgent world of one, performing solo for himself. He even let out a little chuckle after one of the songs and I wondered if it was laughing language for ‘IDGAF’. Of course, I don’t really think that’s true but in the moment that was an actual thought based on the actual vibe.
Look, artists have the right to perform what they want, what’s meaningful to them. It’s not fair that we expect them to be karaoke versions of greatest hits jukeboxes, we have the albums for that. But, and of course there is a ‘but’, there are two sides to releasing music. One is the artistic (or commercial, in many cases) endeavour and vision of the artist, the other is that music being shared with, reaching and touching people. Performing live is one of the best ways to make that connection, and make money nowadays too. I’m not saying that makes Frank our bitch, but he could have met us half way.
I know I sound harsh. Anyone who is mildly familiar with me knows that Frank is my numero uno. So maybe I’m disappointed, or hurt. Maybe I held him in such high regard that I placed unfair expectations on him. After all, Frank is a sort of enigma. He plays on his own terms and doesn’t do anything to suggest we should expect otherwise. That’s precisely one of the main things that makes him and his music so unbelievably special.
If he released that set as a live album, I would love it. Even if I saw him sitting down at a more traditional and civilised venue, I coulda dug it. But not at Lovebox, not for the final set of the day. Nope, not even if I had that deck chair and all those people moved out of my way.