Not many revellers at Parklife this weekend would probably recall the stints at Platt Fields Park. Once a smaller capacity festival in the heart of Manchester's studentville Fallowfield, it's now four years into its huge Heaton Park get-togethers, holding its own as one of the biggest weekend events in the country.
It was another sellout for Parklife this year, meaning that a full 70,000 came through the gates at the Prestwich-based park on both days for arguably the festival's best line up to date. As always, boasting multiple arenas and primarily hosting dance, but with its fair share of live artists.
Walking through the muddy opening onto the main festival site, there was one stage in particular that instantly stood out in the distance, and rightly so as it turned out to be the most impressive new addition and our favourite stage - the Circus/Paradise arena. Past the multicoloured flags, the fairground ride and the hordes of people on the horizon was the mammoth metal frame, resembling a set of three claws that came from the main body of the stage right out into the ground ahead.
Although the framework came into the crowd, it was almost completely open air, resulting into a comfortably roomy set up with plenty of room to manoeuvre out to the sides. The DJ box itself was positioned around six or seven metres off the ground above a giant LED screen, making the spectacle even more dramatic.
It was Dixon who we caught first on the new stage. It was a far cry from the mellow, atmospheric set we'd seen at Albert Hall earlier this year - he'd stepped it up a notch for Parklife. He hammered through piercing techno tracks like the new one from Par Grindvik 'The Marlton' - the Innervisions boss was on top form.
Next it was onto the elrow tent. The top of the structure was covered in giant floral shapes, with fake foliage strewn across the whole arena. A huge inflatable gorilla and hippo stood on each side of the stage, and in true elrow style there were blow up lilos, animals and rings being tossed around the room.
Because elrow's tent was small and covered, you had to be right inside to get the best out of the speakers. As probably the most popular clubbing concept in the world at the moment, the brand could have definitely hosted a bigger area. It was near impossible getting anywhere near the middle, and once we did it was uncomfortable. Despite the squeeze, we caught a chunk of resident Toni Varga's set. Filled with roaring tech house tracks and hands in the air moments, it had all the characteristics of a classic elrow party.
After this it was over to the open air Temple stage for the anticipated back to back between Hot Since 82 and Heidi. Despite the rain, ravers were in good spirits as the pair wasted no time in getting down to the nitty gritty, dropping the whirling 'Dirty Groove' anthem by Jay Lumen and Wade as the burnt orange structure around them flickered with the impressive lighting installation.
Todd Terje beckoned in the Now Wave tent, so we made our way over. Orange, white and purple material hung across the ceiling in diamond shapes like massive neon doily bunting, taking what could have been a pretty plain arena to the next level. As always, the energy was second to none for Todd's live set. It was a welcome break from the somewhat seriousness of the music elsewhere as the crowd bounced along to his infectious electro before he finished with 'Inspector Norse' as the whole tent lit up pink.
It was a tough call on where to finish the Saturday off, with The Chemical Brothers, Groove Armada, The Martinez Brothers B2B Seth Troxler all promising to be unmissable, but it was with Maceo Plex who we settled with, and what a choice it turned out to be. The Circus stage really came to life once the sun had set, the lighting and the stage positioning looked astonishingly good, and Plex had the music to match.
Tracks like Gregor Tresher's 'Goliath' suited the epicness of the stage and the atmosphere now the sky had turned to darkness, but the standout moment from the whole festival came when Maceo Plex dropped his own track 'Conjure Dreams'. It was like that record and this stage were always meant to meet.
Arriving worse for wear on the Sunday, we powered through back to our favourite stage, this time with Jamie Jones' Paradise brand at the helm. Patrick Topping and Richy Ahmed were playing B2B with the crowd in the palm of their hands, unleashing blistering techno tracks like Len Faki's unmistakable edit of DJ Hyperactive's 'Wide Open' and the funkier 'Loop Ya' by Third Deck.
We have to mention the VIP section of the site, which was a great spot to grab food and take a breather. The Parklife bandstand played out classics like Deee-Lite's 'Groove Is In The Heart' on their brass instruments whilst attendees tucked into toasties, burgers and bagels from the street food stalls. All of the little details from the pub to the hosts stuck with the festival's planet/space theme.
After refuelling, we wandered to the Bugged Out tent (which was Saturday's Now Wave) to catch some of Dusky's live set. They wowed with renditions of their own tracks including the brilliant 'Skin Deep', but it didn't flow as well as expected and felt a tad disjointed at times as the duo fluttered between genres.
We stayed put for the back to back we'd been waiting all weekend for - Jackmaster and Armand Van Helden. If you've seen the Boiler Room, you'll know why this was on our hit list. We're glad to confirm it didn't fall short, and it was the party we'd been hoping for.
Kicking things off with the iconic AVH remix of Tori Amos' 'Professional Widow', the whole room went into meltdown as the pair made their intentions clear from the get go. The chemistry between them was apparent from the off, both of them were bouncing in unison, celebrating each other's track selections.
Sandy B's 'Make The World Go Round' cemented this as one of the standout sets of the weekend, a statement which was was reiterated when they dropped AVH's remix of CJ Bolland's 'Sugar Is Sweeter'. It's easy to forget how many club classics he's put out over the years, but when reminded it's nothing short of euphoric. What a way to end the weekend.
Parklife is a one of the few festivals of its kind in the North of England. The organisation, line up and production was something the team should be proud of, and that locals should feel lucky to have nearby. With all the tickets gone for this year's weekender, the popularity clearly isn't decreasing, we're excited to see what's in store for 2017.