Lovebox 2007

United Kingdom United Kingdom | by Nick Bruce | 25 July 2007

Saturday

So, another year, and another Lovebox: undoubtedly one of London’s most exciting and eclectic festivals. Those Groove Armada boys Andy Cato and Tom Findlay always put on a mega show, uprooting the tranquil Victoria Park, turning it into a heavenly mix of music stages, dance tents, fairground rides and more food stalls than Harrods. Lovebox is easily east London’s biggest party and everyone is turning up for a sensational time.

It is with trepidation that I approach the mainstage having been led, VIP style, through the back entrance: trepidation because Patrick Wolf, the-self appointed fairy king of pop music, is dancing and prancing on stage, attracting all the light with his sequined waistcoat, as well as all the cheers from the crowd: his tunes are crowd pleasing, poppy bubble gum, and probably a good start to the day: nothing too offensive, but interesting nevertheless.

New for this year’s festival is the Time Out stage, and it has easily the most interesting line-up, with acts from all over the globe, including Brazil, Central America and Africa. Intrigued, I take a wander over, past the pumping Strangelove tent, which is by now (early afternoon) full of sweaty gyrating bodies, all sunglassed-up despite it bing pitch black inside the tent. At the Time Out stage I catch Latin Dub Foundation, a truly memorable act that combines Latin percussion, house-driven melodies, dub beats, uplifting vocals, flamenco guitars, Mambo horns and rap to  create a sound that is astonishing.  Grab a beers (preferably a Corona) and jump to the beat.

The Secretsundaze area – a beautiful, fenced off outdoor paddock, reminiscent of DC10, is absolutely banging with the sounds of Funk d’Void (aka Francois Dubois) shaking the roots of Victoria Park. The area is absolutely packed with beautiful people and it is hard to tear myself away, even when a pretty girl retches a metre away from me. That doesn’t happen very much and I put it down as being an interesting festival experience so I jog on, the sounds of Secretsundaze and Dubois carried across over the festival area.

If the Time Out stage is the most eclectic, then the Insect Circus is the weirdest. We’re talking weird puppets, jugglers, clowns, musicians, all wrapped up in a mid-west circa 1850s bow. It’s wicked fun and testament to how the festival’s organisers strive to make the day as family-orientated as possible. Good job lads: with this many happy drunks rolling around it would be difficult to make it any more fun for the family.

Flip over to Horse Meat Disco and the area has been turned into a 1970s New York street setting, complete with yellow streetlights and gang graffiti. Those who saw it at Glastonbury will know. As one of the UK’s premier gay nights, Horse Meat Disco put on a fine show with Joey Negro spinning some of the funkiest house tunes around to a crowd of  guys and girls who really know how to party. A wild-west cabaret next to a New York Gay Disco, all in Victoria Park? It has to be Lovebox.

Debbie Harry of Blondie looks pretty old, hid behind a tonne of make up and big Jackie Onassis glasses. Her band’s set, however, is anything but and Blondie play all the tunes that made them the quintessential 70s US band: we’re talking 'Atomic', 'Hangin On The Telephone', 'Call Me', real classics that get the crowd going and remind them just why Debbie and her band are such timeless cultural icons.
Booking Sly And The Family Stone as headliners was always going to be a risk. The band's chequered history, spanning drug abuse, violence and mental fall out, is there for all to see making them one of the most anticipated bands to hit the capital in years - for the voyeurs amongst us at least. And while the performance here disappoints, there's no doubting the drama. Founding member Sly Stewart fails to arrive for what seems like an eternity - in fact it's about five songs - and when he does it's a short ten minute growl and prowl around stage before he's off again. To be fair, his band look like they've seen it all many times before and do a decent job of keeping the hordes entertained, but the enigma that is Sly continues to be shrouded, behind those sunglasses, in decades of mystery. Whether that's the idea, whether he's mentally unfolding on stage, or even if he really does just have a weak bladder, it's not what fans have come to see. For most though, Lovebox is all about Sunday and the moment when the hosts take to their stage.

Sunday

There is a definite change in the atmosphere on day two. As though pre-empting the headliners set to take the stage in a few hours, there are more funky outfits, more sunglasses, more cowboy boots. Yes, the first day of Lovebox was amazing, yes the weather was good, but today the weather is gorgeous.

Before the hosts, Groove Armada, take to the stage there is a lot more to be savoured. Although today is pre-occupied with dance music, there is still a band vibe and the Barfly tent is indicative of this with acts such as The Wallbirds, The Runners and The Whip rocking the tent, presided over by host DJ Goldierocks. The tent is a nice antidote to the boom boom of Secretsundaze or Strangelove, though after an hour or two those beats come a knockin’ and it’s to Strangelove I head to see dance music legend Mr C behind the decks. The tent is as busy as it as the previous day but with Mr C playing the kind of twisted house that makes heads explode there is a much more intense atmosphere. This atmosphere is lightened slightly by the entrance of Digitalism, whose electro set really puts the “dirty electro pogo shit” into dirty electro pogo shit. Nice job boys.

Hot Chip are one of the most interesting and exciting dance acts today, with their use of live instruments setting them apart from the more mainstream artists Their following at the festival is absolutely massive, with 'Over And Over' getting the applaud it deserves. Live percussion is mixed with synthesizers to dazzling effect and I’m impressed by the overall sound Hot Chip produce – something like the Beta Band’s pilled up big brother.

A walk away from the main stage sees me hit the Trojan Sound System and get a sweet slice of Reggae Dub courtesy of Daddy G (of Massive Attack fame) rammed down my throat. It certainly tastes better than the Japanese Noodles I had earlier.

Not that I really want to but I feel it is my duty, not just as a reviewer but as a child of the 80s (it’s rather annoying how that phrase has been coined and is nowadays found on fluorescent tees all over the place) to check out The B-52s. Having frequently experienced the sight of parental friends drunkenly dancing around to 'Love Shack' it was rather nice to see the song sung properly and by a group who, for me, retain as much mystery as the disappearance of the Sphinx’s nose (which happened on m birthday, by the way). The B-52s are as colourful, as lively, and as ridiculous as expected. Now middle-aged and still as keen as ever, they put on a show that is as technicolor as Disney and as extravagant as singer Kate Peirson’s beehive (after which the band were named). Tunes like the aforementioned 'Love Shack' and 'Rock Lobster' get the crowd ready for the headliners waiting in the wings.

It must be so unbelievably satisfying to be able to stand on a stage and belt out tunes that are adored by the crowd. It therefore must be excruciatingly satisfying to be able to belt out tunes the crowd love at your very own festival. So it is for Groove Armada. Andy Cato and Tom Findlay have assembled a stellar live act to do justice to such tunes as 'At The River', 'If Everybody Looked The Same', 'Superstylin'' and 'I See You Baby'. As the perfect, cloudless evening descends on the festival, the 30,000 strong crowd cannot believe things could get much better. In fact, Groove Armada play the kind of set that you really do not want to ever end. There musicians are faultless: Cato plays trombone on 'At the River' and it is the best piece of trombone ever played. The main vocalists, whether they be singers or MCs, provoke the crowd into enormous whoops of appreciation, not just for Groove Armada’s set, but for their creation of Lovebox, undoubtedly London’s premier weekender.

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Photographer: Lisa Rocket

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