The biggest acts of Lovebox Friday both had sets that gave great attention to visual detail
Lovebox Festival, held for two days in London’s Victoria Park, opened last night with headline performances from Solange and Frank Ocean. On Sunday, the park will be taken over by Citadel, making for one very loud weekend for the residents of Bethnal Green.
Solange opened the evening sets on the Noisey stage, surrounded by luminescent red lights and backdrop. A large red circle and purple shapes formed the artwork. The red continued with Solange’s all red outfit, complemented by backup dancers who moved through a set of strong choreographed moves next to the singer. To the right side of the stage, musicians holding brass instruments joined the choreography. The near monochrome uniformity of Solange’s sharp visuals drew a stark contrast to the colourful audience below, who appeared to have depleted London of all its glitter stock.
Solange’s set at Lovebox came close to cancellation. She woke up in hospital on Friday, where she’d been staying for three days. “After my show I had a serious episode and they told me I shouldn’t perform. And so I broke out of that bitch this morning because I knew this place was going to be filled with so much love,” she explained, adding, “I’m a hospital fugitive.”
The crowd were clearly appreciative of her early exit from medical care, and Solange was keen to let her love for the crowd be known. “I knew I was not missing seeing you and all of these popping ass black and brown people. So thank you for always being there for me.”
The soulful set was dominated by tracks from Solange’s 2016 political album ‘A Seat At The Table’. ‘Rise’, ‘Weary’ and ‘Cranes In The Sky’ maintained their reflective quality, bringing a confident intimacy to the lively atmosphere at Lovebox. On the energetic ‘Some Things Never Seem To Fucking Work’, Solange demonstrated her quite brilliant dancing skills. “I wanna see everybody fucking jump,” she announced during 2012’s ‘Losing You’.
Making reference to last year’s acclaimed album, Solange added, “I now truly have a seat at the table and I truly have so much gratitude,” before promising to return when she was on top form.
Over on the Main Stage, preparations were underway for Frank Ocean’s highly anticipated headline set. This was the elusive singer’s first London date since 2013’s Wireless festival, so the hype surrounding the gig was grand.
Following cancellations in the days leading to the Lovebox show, Frank’s presence in London already felt shaky, and when the audience were left waiting an extra half an hour for Frank to appear, many worried he wouldn’t show at all. When the show eventually did open, Frank surprised the audience further by performing, not on the Main Stage itself, but on a platform embedded deep in the crowd, surrounded by chairs.
Opening with ‘Solo’ from 2016’s ‘Blonde’, the screen footage, filmed on go-pros, was filtered through a vintage VHS effect, which returned at various points over the night. Blurring, fading Bugs Bunny on a MacBook, and even a Hello Kitty karaoke ticker all featured in the on screen visuals during the perplexing and divisive set.
Frank avoided communication with the crowd, with the exception of a few quiet utterings. “I’m just trying to figure this out,” he expressed, mid-set. Clad in large headphones, he drowned out the audience and immersed himself in the music. The go-pros filmed many pointed, close-up shots of the musician’s shoes.
With a setlist heavily focussed on 2016’s ‘Blonde’ album, many fans were left disappointed when big hits from ‘Channel Orange’, such as ‘Pyramids’, ‘Swim Good’ and ‘Super Rich Kids’ were snubbed. The vibe at the show was decidedly subdued, which did little to engage the hyped up, relatively young audience at Lovebox. Many audience members left mid-set due to poor sound quality and awkward viewing angles.
He left as low-key as he entered, telling the audience, “Hey yo, they told me it’s curfew. But I just want to thank you all for coming. See you all next time. Be safe.” And then he was gone, closing the first day of Lovebox and sending the glittery revellers home.