Parklife 2022 Review: A celebration of Manchester plagued by poor sound
By Dom Tyler and Ella Robinson
Parklife weekend marked the end of exams for students across Manchester, but the buzz extended beyond Fallowfield, as Manchester was taken over by four major musical events that weekend: Ed Sheeran, The Killers, Alicia Keys, and, of course, Parklife 2022.
The festival atmosphere was recognisable as the unique collection of Parklife punters arrived throughout the weekend and surrounded the iconic facades which constituted the 8 stages. Festival goers funnelled across the rolling landscape of Heaton Park and dispersed across the bars, vendors, attractions, and stages in anticipation of their app chosen itineraries.
Whilst the festival is iconic in the Manchester music scene, it felt rather less Mancunian than previous years – perhaps because of the largely dry weather and Coachella-style outfits. The mesh swirls and neon football tops were out in full force, with pre-drinking on the buses to avoid the overpriced festival drinks (coming in at £6 for beer or cider and £10 for a double).
Saturday marked the opening of Parklife weekend, the day tickets were sold out and the crowd filtered through the stages, flocking to songs they knew, with ‘Heads Will Roll’ getting huge crowds at the Hangar.
One of the most discussed moments of Parklife happened early on Saturday with a proposal on stage during Yung Filly’s set. Whilst not to everyone’s taste, the couple have been treated to a honeymoon paid for by Sacha Lord and free entry to Parklife and WHP for life – so it may have been worth it!
The Valley, a natural amphitheatre, featured artists typical of Parklife early on. During Conudcta we overheard people shouting “this is incredible!” and Shy FX’s set was a sight to see from the top of the hill, with thousands of people jumping and dancing in unison.
Shy FX fulfilled expectations with a set composed of DnB floor-fillers, and as the crowds began to pile in through the gates opposite, this created one of the larger crowds of the early afternoon.
We then left The Valley for a trip to the main ‘Parklife Stage’, for Joy Crookes, but she was unfortunately plagued by sound issues. The bass was so loud in the first few songs that you couldn’t even hear Joy over it, and people were holding up their phones with signs saying “Turn the bass down!”.
‘Don’t Let Me Down’ was the first song where you could actually appreciate her voice as she played the opening acoustic, with just a guitar. But once the bass kicked in again the problems largely returned; so what could have been amazing, was actually a quite disappointing set.
Mahalia was next at the ‘Parklife Stage’, the sound issues were largely corrected and despite us having not heard her music before, she had incredible stage presence and an infectious energy. She joked with the audience in between songs, “I see a lot of boys in the audience and you guys are great, without you guys I couldn’t write these songs”. Mahalia had sampled 50 Cent in one of her songs and seemed genuinely delighted to be there.
Enny, on the Repercussion stage, similarly had technical issues – coming on ten minutes late, and no sound from her backing vocalist for the first three songs. But these issues were played through seamlessly by the young rapper, meaning many walking past stopped to take in the talent of this up and coming artist.
The set perfectly encapsulated the Repercussion mentality by providing a big stage for a smaller artist which was unforgettably lived up to. The set concluded with a rendition of ‘Peng Black Girls’ which, after a remix from Jorja Smith, exploded Enny into the scene. In the absence of the latter, Enny provided a fantastic improv verse.
Tiffany Calver, unfortunately faced the opposite situation on the Parklife stage, playing her DJ set whilst fans waited for Loyle Carner. That meant she faced some harsh crowd interaction, when asking “Do you want one more song before Loyle Carner?” she received a resounding “no!” However, the crowd may not have been being too harsh as she largely just played well-known songs, it felt at times more like a wedding DJ than what you would expect on the main stage at Parklife.
Loyle Carner received an incredible initial reception, but after that the crowd was quite flat. We were unsure of whether this was because of further sound issues which meant he was quite quiet, so singing along at times risked drowning him out.
Loyle Carner had the welfare of the crowd at the forefront, stopping the set multiple times to ensure everyone was okay. However, the aftermath of the Astroworld tragedy may have made him more nervous as it didn’t seem as though he was as comfortable in his performance.
One of our group didn’t attend Loyle Carner because “he never plays anything new” – but he actually played two new songs! He had a great stage presence, and his new song ‘Hate’ was extremely powerful, with Loyle’s typical emotive lyrics, and we are now hotly anticipating its release.
Tom Misch, however, stole the show for us. The final set of the day but by far the best, with special guest Zak Abel, and allowing his band to shine with saxophone, violin, guitar and keyboard solos. Tom Misch played at the same time as 50 Cent, which meant everyone there really wanted to be, dancing to the music – it was worthy of a solo gig and not just a festival set.
As one of the only artists actually in the dark as Parklife was restored to its usual June dates, Tom Misch used the light show effectively as he headlined the Repercussion stage, with a huge disco ball, and a light French flag during ‘Lost in Paris’.
We were still dancing to his funky tunes as we headed back to the bus for the journey home, appreciating his earlier finish which meant we missed the large crowds for the journey home.
Sunday started for us with a visit to the valley to see Jayda G, a techno DJ who separated the Mancunians from the rest as she played through the rain, which resulted in a mass evacuation to the shelter of the trees and the bars whilst the ill-prepared stragglers remained in front of the stage with smiles wider than before.
Following this we took a diversion to the opposite side of the festival, this time our destination was the Parklife stage where Tyler, The Creator was to headline his first UK festival later that evening. However, given the time was mid afternoon we were to see the highly acclaimed London based R&B artist Arlo Parks. On the back of an American tour and suffering from a self-proclaimed 2 hours of sleep after a long overnight commute from London, Arlo Parks provided one of the better sets of the weekend.
Stage presence, sound quality and enthusiasm paired with audience interaction combined to result in a great reception for this uniquely curated act. Given the difference between Arlo and the standard electronic performances which Parklife has become synonymous with, the young singer has certainly paved the way for indie acts to permeate future lineups, alongside the likes of Joy Crookes, Mahalia and Tom Misch.
In line with Parklife tradition we ventured back to the realm of the rave as Kings of the Rollers and Inja prepared to take the stage. Given the time clash with Arlo Parks we were only able to catch the last half of the set. The issue of time was only emboldened by the poor crowd management which resulted in large groups being shepherded through a one man wide gap to gain entrance to the FUSE tent whilst a similar scenario unfolded just a few metres away for those who wished to get out.
Issues in this tent snowballed across the Sunday as the security poorly controlled the crowd, the sound engineers failed to resurrect the main speakers which had allegedly blown mid performance. This resulted in multiple artists having to play at around half volume which could not actually be heard from the entrance amongst the complaints of those trying to get in.
Once again Parklife has failed to provide an adequate stage for the artists and many festival goers who wished to attend the array of Drum and Bass sets of the weekend.
Lewis Capaldi, whilst not typical of Parklife’s lineup – which he himself acknowledged, joking “are you alright to be depressed with me for the next forty minutes?” – was exactly what the festival needed. A crowd of people who had previously been in the DnB and Techno tents gathered together to sing along to his ballads, with the loudest crowd we heard all weekend.
He was supposed to have released new music by Parklife weekend but it seemed the crowd were grateful he hadn’t as they sang along with passion to his old songs, with a person next to me asking “does anyone have any tissues?” I have to admit Lewis Capaldi was one of my most listened to artists in lockdown so singing along in a field with thousands of other people felt pretty cathartic.
Lewis Capaldi’s voice was even more incredible live, and his jovial humour and stage presence exceeded expectations.
Tyler, The Creator, the Sunday headliner, approached his set with all the daunting arrogance and extravagance as was expected, accommodated by intricate staging depicting a steep mountain shrouded by rows of bright yellow sunflowers. The star of the show stood atop the peak and established himself as an outlaw to the United Kingdom with a desire to make his return well known.
The initial tracks were interrupted by brief crowd interactions and flamboyantly choreographed, slapstick style movements upon the stage setting. Tyler then broke into the much adored music of his album Flower Boy which was met with a sense of relief and emotion universally.
Bicep entertained a healthy crowd in the Valley given the clashing of times with the headline Tyler, The Creator, and provided a heavy loaded and well received set from the remaining punters who seemed to be on a consistent wave of unawareness and heightened expression.
A major disappointment here was the light show and pyrotechnic performances which didn’t match the grandeur of the previous year, this seems a shame being that the darkness only accompanies the final acts of any Parklife due to the late sunset of the Manchester summer.
Aside from the excellent performances and, in some cases, less than adequate management, the festival beamed with high points and suffered sparsely from the consistent disappointments of previous years.
The standout improvement for us was certainly the highly organised and efficient transport system going from the city in the early afternoon and returning on a late evening. Trams and shuttle buses regularly scooped up the festival goers from the streets of Manchester city centre and quickly deposited them at Heaton park in a continual loop which seemed to operate entirely on the £2.50 travel pass available on the app and website.
Given the daunting nature of the journey home in previous years, in 2022 a journey from Parklife to Fallowfield took a mere hour and forty five minutes entirely within the festival provided transport and the wider Manchester bus and tram system. Although this time frame widened the later you left the site, one could, if necessary, make it home before 1am compared to the expected 3/4am in years gone by.
The same improvement can not be said of the toilets which fulfilled the expectations of any festival goer in terms of appearance, queues, and general underprovision for such an enormous body of people. Portaloos, on average, required 10-20 minutes of waiting around whilst the urinals leaked and overflowed causing swampy conditions which still managed to persuade many away from the queues.
After speaking to many festival attendees, the overriding complaint seemed to be the issue of sound quality. Problems occurred due to the overlapping of sounds from neighbouring stages which was only avoidable by the inevitable quieting of sound systems to provide an uninterrupted yet completely underwhelming audio experience.
Despite the sound quality the general closeness of each stage, it meant that the festival was accessible for those who wished to quickly traverse the festival site during artist changeovers.
The welfare tent was available for anyone in need of help regarding drug use and sexual welfare guidance. This tent also served as a space for people to hand in drugs to be tested for safety and surrender them if they wished.
However, security on the doors did not seem tight, as many were spotted walking around flailing packets and selling NOS balloons from giant cannisters under the noses of the many stewards.
The lack of signal throughout the weekend meant meeting points were critical – “ice cream van by the ferris wheel” became the most common text. But rather than the inability to post on Instagram making people live in the moment, phones still dominated the view from the crowd.
Parklife did, however, provide excellent spaces for wheelchair users and people in need of space away from the bulk of the crowd in great sight of the stages, an improvement from accessibility issues of past years. Although, the actual site was built on hills and valleys meaning that access from platform to platform was very limited.
They also had an accessibility entrance, with shorter queues and helpful staff who were aware of the uncomfortable nature of patdowns for some festival goers. It seemed as though they had made a conscious effort to prioritise accessibility this year.
Ultimately, both of us really enjoyed the weekend and a break from the traditional monsoons of Manchester summertime, the music was great and the overall takeaway was a positive one.
However, our opinions on returning to the festival are split as Ella would be happy to attend in forthcoming years if she’s living in Manchester as it takes over the city like nothing else, but wouldn’t face complex travel and accommodation arrangements.
On the other hand, I (Dom) would not attend the festival again due to the inconsistent quality of sound which affected the crowds, artists, and music; the central component of any festival.