Lovebox has undergone something of a change in recent years. Its central London location, flexible genre constrictions and seemingly endless flood of glitter soaked, fist pumping merrymakers has always pulled big names. The focus in years gone by though has often laid on the slightly nostalgic, ever-so-slightly ironic, hit-led megastar. The kind of festival where Snoop Dogg can headline twice in the space of four years, for example.
In the last two years though, Lovebox has moved towards the ultra-relevant. Last year they boasted an exclusive London date from the recently reformed LCD Soundsytem. This year is yet another step forward. Frank Ocean couldn’t be more current, less novelty and less hit-focused. He barely has a single to his name, and you can be damn sure he isn’t going to play it if he does. But more on that later.
Elsewhere, for a festival with an exclusive from an artist of Ocean’s size (with a presumably matching pay check) the rest of the line-up is to a surprisingly high standard. The day’s earliest highlight comes from Rex Orange County; his sun soaked, musical-esque happiness is counteracted by the perfect amount of sweary, catchy, fun.
The Noisey stage keeps things to a standard that almost impossible to move away from. As afternoon turns to evening the laid-back but all-consuming hip-hop beats spun by Kaytranada keep things moving while Sampha toes the line between affectingly tender ballads and massive, percussion lead dance numbers without falter.
With Jamie xx djing the eclectic selection of house, garage, funk, soul and disco that years of lingering in the back of clubs has afforded him, interspersed by crowd-pleasing xx cuts, it’s Solange who steals the pre-headline show. Supported by an immensely talented, personable and joyous-to-watch live band Solange focuses on A Seat At The Table, one of 2016’s finest albums. Complete with synchronised dance moves from the band, the singer is completely captivating, her voice is effortlessly flawless and the songs from A Seat At The Table come to life in the live environment.
In a summer littered with no-shows and frustratingly short sets, the atmosphere as Frank Ocean pushes his set-time further and further back becomes increasingly anxious. With an additional runway littered with ornate lawn-chairs, a disco-ball topped plinth and an impressive array of camera equipment and tech, it looks like Frank has to be, HAS TO BE turning up to this one. He’s half an hour late when he finally strolls, nonchalant onto the stage but arrive he does.
There are hits, yes, but they’re few and far between. What Ocean does instead is craft heart achingly beautiful, complex and subtle soundscapes of mostly Blonde album tracks. It may not be the case that most of the crowd want to see him hunched over a tiny keyboard, stretching out the piano part from interlude track ‘Be Yourself’ into the tender ‘Good Guy’ or grooving to Endless cut ‘Commes Des Garcons’ but anyone who knows Frank Ocean knows that his artistry is not swayed by popular opinion.
It’s not all just for Frank though. Those ‘production issues’ we’ve been hearing so much about during past cancellations were well worth the wait. Filmed by none other than Spike Jonze, the set plays out on the screens in dazzling beauty, more like an art film than a live show.
The sound is a little quiet at times but with speakers set up from the back facing inwards and all around, Ocean’s set has a surround-sound quality that’s noticeable and impressive on some of the more layered tracks while the musicians littering the tiny stage (including past collaborator and brilliant musician in his own right (Sandy) Alex G) are subtle but undeniably talented.
As the (short) set ends Ocean begins to treat the restless crowd with a singular Channel Orange track in the form of ‘Thinkin’ Bout You’ and Blonde highlights ‘Nights’, ‘Pink + White’ and finally to rapturous response ‘Nikes’ which, although cut short by curfew, sounds near perfect live.
Frank was never going to give the crowd exactly what they wanted but what they might not have wanted is a perfectly developed, artistically stunning live show that’s only faults are its length and the fact that perhaps this isn’t quite the crowd for a headliner such as Frank Ocean.