Parklife 2017 @ Manchester, 10-11/06/2017

Parklife 2017"I lived here for three years, you know," I drunkenly tell the third bartender that evening. The Canadian, stood next to me, looks unimpressed. I left in 2010. Had much changed? A few drinks later, we're stomping around the city, finally handed a 3am spliff which, several sweaty hours later, we judge to have been laced with PCP. Fast-forward 15 hours, and by the time we've arrived at Heaton Park for the first day of Parklife 2017 - saturated by lads in round sunglasses belting out "Don't Look Back in Anger" and girls dressed for Marbella in the stone-grey drizzle - it feels like the Manchester I remember.

The whole place is a muddy pit before we've even seen our first act of the weekend, so we need something classy to remind ourselves why we're here. Chaka Khan, anyone? The legendary artist opens with slinky classics like "Tell Me Something Good", and ends with festival-ready anthems "I'm Every Woman" and "Ain't Nobody", one of which seems to elicit more excitement and arm-waving from the men walking around than their girlfriends.

Next up we're off to the Palm House stage, which boasts a ridiculous electronic line-up today, curated by Jackmaster. Korea-via-Netherlands DJ Hunee is already killing it when we get there, combining house and techno with dopamine-spilling bass drops scattered liberally through his set. But it's our tip The Black Madonna who steals the show, and what a show it is - boosted by the fact that Marea Stamper is visibly having a great time on stage, dancing, clapping her hands, and generally getting the audience pumped up. Taking a detour through Chicago classics via modern house, we almost forget about the rain for a while.

I've been excited about Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals all day, so it's time to switch tents and find out what kind of a live show he puts in. Despite a suitably rock'n'roll intro, something's up with the sound, .Paak's vocals way too low in the mix. He works admirably through Malibu favourites "Am I Wrong" and "The Season/Carry Me", but the sound never quite reaches a decent level of quality. Bummer.

Parklife 2017 - Andy Burnham & Matt Healy

Soon it's time for the press to be gathered together for a 'special surprise'. What's on the cards? Did A Tribe Called Quest get replaced after all? Are LCD Soundsystem playing a secret set on the Temple stage? Close: it's Andy Burnham, former Labour leadership contestant and current Mayor of Manchester. He's on the main stage, joined by dozens of nurses, doctors, police officers and firefighters, delivering a moving speech about the city's recent terrorist attack, still fresh in the memory. Several recorded messages are shown from some of the festival's biggest names, and I find something caught in my eye. Pockets of the crowd are respectful enough to stop chanting 'ohh Jeremy Corbyn' to the tune of the "Seven Nation Army" riff for a few minutes. The sun even pokes out for a moment. Then Matt Healy swaggers on stage, and the nation's favourite INXS tribute band begin their headline set. At the risk of compromising my journalistic integrity, it's very much what you'd expect from a set by The 1975. We head home, exhausted.

By Sunday, the rain's stopped long enough for the park to recover, we've had some proper, non-hallucinatory sleep, and we're ready to get knee-deep in Parklife again. Aside from all the huge acts playing today, the Canadian and I are finding it increasingly hard to tear ourselves away from the brand new Smirnoff House stage - secretly the highlight of the weekend, tucked away in a small corner of the festival, relentlessly turning out crowd-pleasing mixes from noon to night. Lauren Lo Sung is mesmerising, but it's Barely Legal - AKA London DJ Chloe Robinson, now safely in her mid-twenties thank you very much - who proves to be the star of Parklife's Sunday afternoon, mixing house, electro-pop, and even drum and bass. When she drops "Pony" by Ginuwine, the crowd look like they might genuinely lose their minds. I'm one of them.

Parklife 2017 - Smirnoff House Stage

Danny Brown is next on my agenda, and the Detroit rapper puts in probably the best hip-hop performance of the weekend, with "Grown Up" the unsurprising highlight of an energetic set that also lit up for "Outer Space" and "Really Doe". After Brown's finished, and we've checked out the best of the VIP area - including a great little indoor club area with a giant TV screen and two doorways leading in (irresistibly, the words 'A TWO DOOR CINEMA CLUB' are painted above it). I'm also excited to see Joe Goddard, having been rinsing the Hot Chip man's Electric Lines LP since it came out this year. When we get there, Horse Meat Disco are playing to a packed tent, and it is admittedly a lot of fun: we even get our first glimpse of sunshine as they drop ABBA classic "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)", and "Blue Monday" gets a predictably warm response. By the time Joe Goddard's three songs into his set, there seem to be about 10 people watching him - a crying shame, because he puts in a belting set, with "Lose Your Love" being every bit the live banger I'd imagined it to be.

Over to the main stage for the final bosses now. I was possibly more excited to see Run The Jewels than anyone on this line-up (barring the unexpectedly cancelled A Tribe Called Quest and a certain unexpectedly not-cancelled headliner), having last seen them put in an incredible set on the RTJ2 tour in Manchester three years ago. Perhaps the main stage is just too big for El-P's sci-fi production, perhaps it was the fact that Run The Jewels 3 just didn't hit as hard as the first two, perhaps they're just knackered from playing every goddamn festival this year, but the magic isn't quite there this time. The same can't be said for Stormzy, one of the highlights of the weekend. You know you're delivering a legendary set when (a) the packed crowd continues well beyond the confines of the tent itself, and (b) even those outside it are shouting along to every word of "Big For Your Boots" as they walk past.

Parklife 2017 - Frank Ocean

At last it's time for the elusive Frank Ocean, the man who's cancelled his last several festival headline appearances. And guess what? He's turned up! Sort of. Arriving on stage 40 minutes late, he launches into the slow and sedate "Solo". Then he stops it. "It's not working. Let's do this properly." The track restarts, and shortly, he stops it again. This goes on for some time. After playing a staggered "Solo" for what feels like half an hour, he moves into "Chanel" and "Lens". Considering this crowd still have steam pouring off them from Stormzy, who finished his set on a track re-dubbed "Manchester Fire", Ocean frankly seems to be testing how boring he can be while still being Frank Ocean. And it is a test. It's a long, long time before a beat is heard, and on the main stage-final night headline slot, it's just kinda weird. The only pre-Blonde song he pulls out is the admittedly gorgeous "Thinkin Bout You", and it swells what turns out to be a decent enough set. But one can't help but wonder whether the reason he pulled out of all those other festivals might still be factoring into his performance tonight.

GWS Frank.


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