Lovebox Festival, Day 1 – the NME report

Wu-Tang Clan, Skepta and Anderson .Paak all shine on a packed first day, but it was Vince Staples who stole the show as the heavens opened

If there’s one cure for soothing a post-World Cup comedown, it’s a hefty dose of live music. The lingering blues caused by England’s heart-breaking defeat in the semi-finals on Wednesday still needs some remedying, and thus a trip to one of the UK’s fastest-growing festivals in a picturesque park in south-west London feels like one of the best ways to pick yourself up, dust yourself down and prolong this glorious summer.

Lovebox’s new location for 2018 in Gunnersbury Park may have upset some previous attendees who’d become familiar with its old home in Victoria Park, but the opening day of this year’s festival still brought plenty of punters through the gates against a sun-kissed backdrop.

Speaking of which, the wait for SZA on the Main Stage is particularly sweltering as she’s over 30 minutes late – which didn’t bode well given her recent vocal troubles. Thankfully, the ‘CTRL’ artist finally hit the stage (she blamed the traffic for her tardiness) and acknowledges those who’d taken up the option of a three-day weekend: “Who the fuck is running from their day job?” she asks prior to an outstanding rendition of ‘Broken Clocks’.

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The irony, however, of a functioning on-stage clock brings SZA’s short set to a juddering halt after just four songs, with the sound being cut off after ‘The Weekend’ as the stage manager practically wrestles the mic off her. There are boos from the crowd and an apologetic shrug from the singer – we’re all acutely aware that this was a missed opportunity for SZA.

SZA
SZA

No such travel issues for Parisian rapper MHD, though: the exuberant pioneer of ‘Afro Trap’ packs out the Noisey Tent as a pair of French tricolores fly in the rave in his honour. His rapid-fire flow keeps up a rabid intensity, with cuts from his 2016 self-titled debut album being rapturously welcomed by a crowd who don’t care one jot that they can’t rap much of his French-spoken lyrics back at him. Thankfully, he can always rely on ‘Seven Nation Army’’s universal refrain to build some cross-channel bridges, which nicely segues into a thunderous performance of ‘Roger Milla’ – an ode to the Cameroonian footballing legend – which nearly uproots the tent’s hefty guy ropes.

Anderson .Paak started the day as one of the favourites to steal the crown as Lovebox’s best performer, with his million-dollar smile and luminous, infectious personality making him the ideal candidate to spearhead the festival’s transition from hazy afternoon vibes to night-time party antics. The Kaytranada-produced ‘Glowed Up’ will continue to get festival crowds bouncing for years to come, as will the appropriately-named ‘Bubblin’ with its racing strings and deep, booming beats. An all-round showman, .Paak’s prowess on both the mic and the drums is well-known by now, but his star turn on ‘The Season / Carry Me’ is still an awe-inspiring moment to witness in person. “You happy to be alive, London?” he asks at one point – it feels like we don’t really need to ask him the same question.

While .Paak has plenty to say, Dave is rendered speechless by the fervent response he receives for his set opener ‘Game Over’ – he genuinely appears to forget his lyrics half-way through the track, later admitting: “That was insane… I’ve never seen anything like that.” Given the ear-splitting din and the subsequent huge crowd surge that occurs as the south London artist arrives on stage, it’s little surprise at all to see him being overcome with such raw emotion.

Wu-Tang Clan
Wu-Tang Clan

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Back on the Main Stage, Wu-Tang Clan aren’t letting us forget about England’s exit from the World Cup. “I was with y’all for the FIFA Cup [whatever that is], but y’all didn’t pull it off,” Masta Killa says during the briefest of pauses in a breathless set which largely draws on classic cuts from their iconic 1993 debut ‘Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)’ in celebration of its 25th anniversary.

At least the Wu get the champagne flowing, though, as RZA pops bottles during triumphant performances of ‘C.R.E.A.M.’ and ‘Protect Ya Neck’. Other highlights include a pair of ‘Liquid Swords’ tracks – ‘Duel of the Iron Mic’ and its dazzling title track – which go some way to proving that GZA hasn’t lost his dexterous flow, a shimmying tribute to Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and a glorious, Lovebox-wide groove to ‘Gravel Pit’.

After the Wu bring everyone together, the heavens open to send punters fleeing left, right and centre in search of shelter. Thankfully, the rain begins to fall just as Vince Staples leaps on stage to deliver the set of the day. Opening with the visceral ‘Get The Fuck Off My Dick’, the Long Beach rapper – who performs in front of a set of screens which display bleak snippets of street fights, Kurt Cobain interviews and old movies – commands a huge audience under the tent as he rips through the industrial crunch and hypnotic electronica of songs from his dense ‘Big Fish Theory’ album.

Vince Staples
Vince Staples

The show just never stops bouncing: from the Juicy J-featuring ‘Big Fish’ to ‘BagBak’ – which, rather aptly, has thousands of people repeating the same sort of sentiments which took hold of central London earlier in the day as the line “Tell the President to suck a dick, because we on now” rings out across the festival site – while his star turns on the Black Panther song ‘Opps’ and Gorillaz’s ‘Ascension’ prove Vince can do it anytime, anywhere.

Staples’ blistering set forms part of the reason for why Skepta’s subsequent headline show feels sparsely-attended – though we have to acknowledge the Great British Summer’s involvement in that, too. Nevertheless, the Tottenham MC – who seems very much in the mood – keeps the energy levels up throughout as he runs through tracks from his Mercury Prize-winning album ‘Konnichiwa’, with the occasional pyro display lighting up the stage and keeping us all on our toes.

Skepta
Skepta

A relentless Boy Better Know takeover fills the middle section of the set, with Skepta later acknowledging the “bare bangers” that he has at his disposal these days – a point further proven as his recent feature on A$AP Rocky’s flute-driven stomp ‘Praise The Lord (Da Shine)’ closes proceedings. It’s enough to make you briefly forget your troubles – what World Cup?

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