The first time I went to Parklife I was 16-years-old. My friend’s dad acted as our chaperone (although he was ditched as soon as we got through security) and the headline act was Snoop Dogg. A lot has changed since then but the signature Parklife washout still reigned supreme in 2019.
It wouldn’t be a Mancunian festival without a spot of rain, and the mud stains on revellers’ outfits mean that the memory will endure beyond the weekend. There’s something oddly special about being drenched to the point of not caring what you look like or whether your fake tan is dripping down your legs. Wearing a Hawaiian shirt while you dance to Blossoms under a grey sky is a uniquely northern brand of optimism. It’s the same heady combination of refusing to let your big coat ruin your outfit (which is probably more suited to Coachella than Parklife) and being just drunk enough to numb the cold that awarded northerners our reputation for going to clubs in next-to-nothing. Why should an outdoor festival be any different?
That said, this year’s crop of festival outfits took northern brashness to a whole new level. Trousers were replaced with fishnet tights, chaps were rendered ass-less and skirts were either transparent, candy-coloured plastic or Boohoo’s answer to bondage. There was so much neon yellow that the security guards were basically undercover. The whole festival may as well have been sponsored by Pretty Little Thing.
But enough about the fashion, what about the music? Parklife has a relentlessly reliable line-up, with acts like Disclosure, Major Lazer and Daniel Avery returning year after year. The Palmhouse stage was spruced up with some fresh foliage and the VIP section got a makeover too, splitting into a ‘beach house’ and a ‘house party’. Among the fresh faces were Christine and the Queens, whose electric stage presence was a welcome burst of energy, and Loyle Carner, who had the enraptured crowd in the palm of one hand and his trusty Eric Cantona jersey in the other.
Several artists chose to add Cardi B songs to their sets, shouting out the rapper after she cancelled her headline slot at the last minute to recover from plastic surgery. Her absence meant that Mark Ronson closed the main stage on Saturday night; an understandable if disappointing decision. He may be a talented DJ and producer but Ronson is far from being his own hype-man, and his interjections failed to get the crowd going.
The festival took another hit when last-minute scheduling changes resulted in Loyle Carner and Kaytranada being on at the same time. Thousands of fans attempting to trek between stages half-way through faced muddy terrain and missed their favourite songs. Canadian DJ Kaytranada was then cut off in the middle of a song, adding to the disappointment.
Sunday enjoyed a much sunnier atmosphere, despite being even worse weather than Saturday. The Sounds of the Near Future stage served a hat trick of high-octane hits in the evening, keeping the crowds in good spirits until the festival closed. Jungle gave a polished performance, busting out dance classics Busy Earnin’ and The Heat. Mura Masa followed, hitting all the right notes with a trio of singers taking turns to fill in for collaborators Charli XCX, NAO and ASAP Rocky.
Solange may have been 15 minutes late but the expectant and adoring crowd were happy to forgive her. Her honey-sweet sound and art school kid choreography took the spotlight against the monochrome backdrop. Watching her live was nothing short of hypnotic. A totally different experience to the manic mosh-pits which dominated the Temple stage and the cramped, sweaty head-bobbing at Gilles Peterson. But maybe that’s what makes Parklife an enduringly popular festival? There’s something for everyone. Whether you want to stand and sway or slide through mud in a wide-eyed daze, Manchester’s favourite weekender has you covered. Just don’t expect cover from the rain.
Main image by Andrew Whitton.