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22nd June 2023

Parklife Festival 2023: Listen you hear that?

Parklife review: The festival weekend’s success demonstrates the modern mantra of the ‘death of the genre’ and re-ignites the appetite for connection through live music.
Parklife Festival 2023: Listen you hear that?
Lucy Giles@ The Mancunion

Down the vast fields into the Valley stage, legendary Radio 1 DJ Annie Mac brings the energy for a sunny and sweaty weekend. In front of a brightly coloured screen with classic pop art iconography, lips and hands flicking between bright sugary colours, Mac mixes classic bubbly dance tunes. Before the last song, she thanks the early-bird crowd, wishes them the best with their day, and then sends us off with Bill Wither’s ‘Lovely Day’, which is exactly what it proves to be.

The next stop, and perhaps consistently the best stage is the ‘Worried about Henry’ tent. It was seeping out a vibrant energy that was impossible to not get dragged into. We caught the last of Lens b2b with Charlie tee and Savvy B on the mic, we jump right into the crowd moving to the banging bass lines whilst Savvy B hypes up the crowd. With the energy up we stay for Distrupa b2b with Mozey and IC3 as mc. They open with a remix of the indie classic ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ and break it down into a drum and bass banger.

Throughout the festival, the mix of samples of indie songs is evidence of the continued long-standing tradition of fusion and evolution in dance music. Whilst Parklife started off as and has mostly been a dance music festival its continued incorporation of indie headliners has attracted a new type of crowd and reputation.

With the introduction of streaming platforms (like Spotify) most people, especially younger generations, can and do access a plethora of genres. Find your way into student areas like Fallowfield and you will hear jungle and classic British indie seeping out of the same house. Parklife surrounds you with these sounds booming from its various stages and shows you that increasingly these varying sonic elements are being merged together.

We leave the tent boiling and well-worn out for a short break before heading back for Shy Fx who brings  his nostalgic sounds with favourites like ‘Roll the Dice’ and ‘Gold Dust’.

At 17:50 Raye is on the Parklife stage. Raye’s hit song ‘Escapism’ garnered her recent fame as an artist. Having gone independent a few months prior to the success of her single, Raye has had the chance to finally receive her flowers as an incredible artist with a true vision. She delivered an incredible vocal performance on songs like ‘Oscar Winning Tears’ and ‘Black Mascara’ and finished off with the famous ‘Escapism’ to a crowd singing the words back to her.

Something that made Parklife weekend particularly special, apart from the constant success of the performers, was the crowd’s energy. The festival was made for people who came for some good music and stayed for the infectious good times, and the crowd’s response to Raye proved exactly that.

As it heads for later in the day Skrillex takes on a now much busier Valley stage. Skrillex provides bass-heavy jungle mixes with killer precision that felt well adapted to the Parklife crowd. Skrillex’s set was filled with tracks that have become responsible for a huge number of DnB mixes this summer, tracks like ‘RATATA’ and ‘Rumble’, which also saw him bring out Flowdan for nostalgic grime sound that Skrillex has been channelling since his 2023 release of Quest For Fire. Throughout the rest of the weekend, his tracks float about various other sets.

Back on the Parklife stage, last year’s Mercury Prize winner Little Simz gives a poignant and inspiring performance. She is backed with stunning visuals of silhouettes of dancers and singers moving like the music was running through their veins. The ever-talented Simz’s flow is tight and sharp and falls in between shimmering jazzy rhythms and bouncing beats, transcending into a performance that felt both joyful and inspiring.

As the sky finally starts to darken slightly we head back down into the Valley for the final time, the crowd is piling up and the entire hillside is full, preparing to watch Fred Again. As a slight breeze fills the air after a scorching hot day, Fred Again stuns with a transcendental and moving performance that is a breath of fresh air and the perfect wind down to a jam-packed day. Fred’s trademark visuals include portrait videos of singers, speakers, and collaborators sampled for his tracks – often, Fred samples an artist he found on social media, and the screen serves as a reminder that this is how a lot of us seek connection in this era.

Fred Again’s music is markedly melancholic. Under the deep red and blue lights the sadness of his songs is bittersweet, the beats compliment the poignant refrains in songs like ‘Sabrina (I Am a Party)’ and ‘Angie (I’ve been lost)’. His performance is monumental, bringing the crowd to move in joy and cry all at the same time, we are left walking out with the kind of freshness that you only get after a good cry, emotion has poured out and the audience is left in a state of overwhelming euphoria and closeness.

Whilst day two had struggles with the rain, after taking a second pilgrimage and another full day committed to plunging into crowds, the festival goers were certainly determined to keep up the good feelings from the previous day’s success.

Before the thunderstorm, we catch an epic set from Yung Singh before heading over to the fun and bouncy performance from 24 Hour Garage Girls, filled with banging beats and incredible dances.

After the interruption from the storm, the festival waits on edge for music to start back up again, and once those booming beats that have been pouring out of the Hangar all weekend re-fill the air, there are cheers and rushes back to the stage. If the previous day proved anything it is that people want to dance and even a bit of day two tiredness or rain could not get in the way.

Wu-Tang Clan and Nas give an epic comeback performance with a New York state of mind and serve as some joy and good energy. Whilst they seemed an interesting surprise for the lineup the diversity of acts made the weekend particularly special, and these Americans, despite mistakenly referring to the festival as ‘Pastlife’ and shortening Manchester down to Chester, could feel just as embraced as some of the headliners performing a homecoming set.

We stick to the Parklife stage for the final performances of the weekend and catch the spectacular Self Esteem. Rebecca Lucy Taylor and her incredible backup singers/dancers deliver a sharp and wondrous performance filled with shimmering harmonies and slick dance routines. She performs stunning upbeat but lyrically cynical songs like ‘Fucking Wizardry’ and ‘Moody’, which are equal parts danceable and inducive to being screamed along to. These are complimented by her slower more devastating but highly relatable songs like ‘I Do This All The Time’ and ‘The 345’.

Finally, the last headliner of the weekend, The 1975, takes to the Parklife stage. In between some flutters of irony and jokes about football, Matty Healy and the band delivered a surprisingly sincere performance after the deliberate rockstar performance from their ‘At their Very Best tour’. Moved by the enthusiasm of the crowd perhaps, a long-lost sincerity is embodied for their homecoming. As always The 1975 delivers stunning performances on their stadium songs like ‘It’s Not Living (if it’s not with you)’ and ‘If You’re Too Shy (let me know)’ and bring some scrappy fun with my personal favourite ‘Me and You Together Song’.

After a tiring but joyful weekend, Parklife showed exactly what live music is all about, bringing people together and perhaps indicating a reincarnation of an appetite for live music more widely.

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