Parklife – Manchester’s finest excuse to embark on 48 hours of booming beats-induced liberation. With retro football tops and Spice World-esque attire in formation, the festival’s 9th edition boasts an ambitious bill - if electronica is your thing, from the chart dominating to the boundary-pushing leftfield, then you’d be hard pressed to find a stronger 2018 festival lineup elsewhere in the UK.
Whilst rarely venturing far from an electronic theme - be it rock, pop, house, grime or hip hop slanted – this bill is brilliantly honed and is a genuine contender for the most stellar in the festival’s history. Saturday’s Sounds of The Near Future stage is littered with a host of pioneers causing ripples in the industry. The first of those to raise eyebrows are Maribou State, who focus on breakthrough record Portraits. New cuts featuring tropical synths and lush samples of Holly Walker’s vocals are aired, but material from the aforementioned still holds up strongest.
Tom Misch then delivers a guitar-driven set (a rarity on this bill), featuring a buffet of jazzy boundary-free solos, which are as impressive as they are danceable. But just as the musical tone begins to brighten under Misch, Bicep delve into a deep melting pot of dark house. People spill outside the sizeable tent during a relatively early slot. It’s clear this duo have captured the zeitgeist of a WHP-savvy crowd.
After meandering across a couple of new stages, including the immersive Blade Runner-inspired visuals at The Valley Stage, it was Sampha’s main stage effort that stopped us in our tracks – ‘(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano’ particularly showcases his dexterity and beguiling vocals.
However it’s Jon Hopkins’ sensational performance, back on the ‘Near Future’ stage, which amounts to the weekend’s highlight. He hammers through a Singularity-dominated set, which flips between lulling the crowd with introspective ambient bliss and rib cage-rattling techno that somehow doesn’t blow the speakers into oblivion. It’s like nothing you’ve ever heard before. This is IDM but ultimately is it’s own genre, heaving itself into its own spiritual domain.
Bonobo up next. The sets lock together like a perfectly crafted jigsaw, as if Hopkins’ lonely and arcane universe soars towards a kaleidoscopic evolution of pensive atmospheres. They both carry a similarly expansive and bass-driven DNA, but nevertheless remain sternly unique.
The xx conclude the Main Stage with a soothingly sparse and back to basics set, an antidote to their dizzyingly intense predecessors. It’s sometimes difficult to escape the punishing sound systems littered across the park, but for anyone wanting to catch a breath during sunset then this dreamy performance - comprised of soft guitars and light electronic beats – was a beautiful source of refuge.
Day two has, with widespread hangovers, slowly approaching grey clouds and Monday-blues looming on the horizon, a typically less enthusiastic start. Nevertheless there are moments to behold across the day again.
Kelela (albeit occasionally drowned by an overly booming sub) adds silky R&B grooves to the day, before Sigrid sparks life into a Main Stage audience with chart-hit ‘Strangers’. A boiler-suit-donning Everything Everything follow with a set dominated by sing-along material from their most recent two albums. Importantly the homecomers provide a poignant moment or two for the crowd to stew over. The finale, for example, lowers the tone in a perfect way. “I was in the war, you were in the war” cries Jon Higgs (lead) during ‘No Reptiles’ to their emotional Mancunian compatriots who stand together just as resolutely as they did just over a year ago in the face of adversity.
Liam Gallagher also played his part in dedicating an acoustic rendition of 'Live Forever' to the 22 lost lives in Manchester last May. “The families who lost loved ones will forever be in our hearts”, Andy Burnham also added, during a cameo appearance during the weekend.
If Parklife 2018 wasn’t a success due to the exceptional level of talent on offer, it was because the Northern powerhouse proved it will pay tribute once again - dedicating a sometimes chaotic and always vibrant party to those whose world fell apart.