Manchester's Parklife Festival caters for a very specific audience; one look at the line-up and it's clear that few families would be organising a day or a weekend out with the kids to Heaton Park between June 8th and 9th, as this was a fiesta for the students and the twenty-somethings ready to see in summer with the help from some of the world's best DJs, most talked about hip-hop acts and some noted patrons of rock and pop in what was essentially a two-day-long party. It's a festival that holds pride in its urban setting, but unfortunately the organisers of the festival seemed to have forgotten about the metropolitan setting when it came to selling the tickets and as such the festival began to suffer a number of set backs before it had even gotten under way properly.
The festival was definitely over-sold, whether it was waiting two hours to board the shuttle service from Manchester to get to Heaton Park or the tinned sardines conditions festival-goers endured, it was easy to tell that organisers had forgotten that once you get to the festival area, there's nowhere else to go. No campsite to retreat back to when no one is playing that you want to see, and therefore no reason to leave the festival grounds, leading to some major over-crowding that was in danger of ruining the festival completely. Beside this unpleasantness, Parklife 2013 was actually a success, as the quality of the acts on offer was just too much to behold to put a dampener on the merriment, not to mention the weather - which as you can imagine, was a good thing considering the lack of options for cover should the heavens have opened.
The weekend was essentially a dance/electronic festival and from the get go Huxley, Dusky and Bondax kick-started a party mood, each act progressively delving deeper into the realms of house and dance. Going back-to-back in what was a sure-fire way to make sure things were filthy by around 5pm, Ben UFO and Pearson Sound continued to ramp up the party atmosphere with their set on the Drop the Mustard stage. Before things could get too much too early, it was time to head over to the Main Stage to see Jessie Ware. Beginning with 'Sweet Talk' and going through new single 'Imagine It Was Us' and fellow Devotion-track 'No To Love,' she manages to convert her studio sound to a four-piece set up so effortlessly, as though the album was recorded with a live band in the first place. Jessie's performance seemed to indicate that things could only get better, and after catching the pumping tail-end of Caribou's alter ego, Daphni, Four Tet went on to further this assumption. His live PA was simply sublime and although his placement on the Sounds Of The Near Future stage was a little odd considering what Kieran Hebden has achieved in his career, he emerged from the balloon-laden performance as one of the weekend's best performers. A garage-filled set (which even included some Oxide & Neutrino) from Krystal Klear and before he even had chance to finish his set, it was clear from the amount of people cramming into the SotNF tent who was coming on next. As with Jessie Ware, it's amazing to see what can happen in a year, and Disclosure were one of the most anticipated acts on hand throughout the weekend; with their live set going somewhere towards living up to hype. Their transition from tape to live performance wasn't completely seamless, but the young-guns of house managed to pull off a thoroughly crowd-pleasing display.
After an almost ruinous day was just about salvaged by some great acts, it was make a break time come Sunday for the festival and for those who decided to wait until the final day for the Parklife-sponsored after-parties, getting to the festival was a breeze this time around (although the queue outside soon reached an unfathomable size as the afternoon drew on). On the Redbull Academy stage, Glasgow-cum-Huddersfield DJ MFP drew crowds before the morning was over and when Mella Dee took over the crowd had only gotten bigger and more enthusiastic. Another strangely low-placed act on the line-up was Toro Y Moi, one of the Now Wave Stage's earliest performers, but even in his considerably short set, the group managed to deliver a thoroughly impressive performance as they reeld off tracks mostly form their latest album, but did go back to Underneath the Pine favourites 'New Beat' and 'Still Sound.' in the mix.
As the day went on, so did the admissions into the festival arena and soon Heaton Park was back at its uncomfortable, max-capacity level. For those who can find any room to watch Toddla T run through his own takes on 'Harlem Shake,' 'Mercy' and A-Trak's remix of 'Heads Will Roll' on the Main Stage then you may have watched one of the most entertaining DJs of the weekend; DJ EZ on the open-air Ram Jam stage. With the sun shining bring on the exposed audience members, EZ brought garage back to Manchester like it's the late 90s once again, mixing into crowd pleasers by Craig David, DJ Pied Piper, Mosca and more, not only was he one of the best performers all weekend but he had one of the best crowds of the weekend too. For a little break from the norm, Action Bronson got the hip-hop interval into gear going back-and-forth between his already extensive back-catalogue. Going for his trademark wander mid-set, Bronson then pulled an unexpected move when he brought out Danny Brown for an unscheduled collaboration, something the crowd obviously went mad for. When the Queens rapper moved on 'Bird on a Wire,' most of the crowd were probably expecting Riff Raff to make a surprise appearance too, but alas to no avail. As Bronson left the stage for his mid-set partner to take his place, resident producer Skywlkr got the audience into the mood for an intense set with a healthy dose of heavy trap before the Detroit MVP entered stage. Going through single 'Jealousy,' 'Pill and Cocaine,' and XXX favourites 'Radio Song' and 'Lie4,' the happy generously went through a number of new tracks, including some that even his most ardent of fans will not have heard before. If the live performance was anything to go by, then Old is going to be one of the most grandiloquent rap albums in recent memory and may just push Danny into the spotlight of rap. Considering the amount of people spewing out of the Parklife Beatdown tent before his set had even begun, Joey Bada$$ looks already set to be someone who doesn't have to wait nearly as long to burst on to the rap seen in full-force in the very near future, with the teen hip-hop exuding stage presence well beyond his years. With the crowd capacity getting a little too much, there was an even more valid excuse to go see the newly reformed rap titans Jurassic 5 bring a days worth of hip-hop talent to an end on the main stage - or at least it could have been had there been anywhere to stand. The over-crowding at the front of the arena actually proved to be something of a blessing in disguise as one of the most vacant tents - and one of the most blatant indicators of the festival's key listening habits - just so happened to be the Now Wave stage where Johnny Marr was playing. Playing solo material and a host of Smiths classics like 'Stop Me If You Think That You've Heard This One Before,' Bigmouth Strikes Again,' 'There's A Light That Never Goes Out' and 'How Soon Is Now,' to see so many people obliviously walk past the indie hero as he went through some of best songs of the last thirty years, in Manchester of all places too, it was a shame to think that Everything Everything and The Horrors would probably have one of the most sparsely attended shows at festival. There was no need dwell on that fact though as it was time to catch the last two performances of the weekend at the Curated by Hudson Mohawke stage; Jackmaster and TNGHT. With his resident Boileroom hype man in tow, Jack went through a techno-heavy set, that although managed to display his DJ (how many DJs can mix a thumping techno track into 'Blue Monday' seemingly without effort?) was a little too heavy for those expecting a more party-friendly set from the Numbers man. With their sets in the UK being something of a chance occasion, the anticipation surround TNGHT's festival-closing performance was at tipping point before Hudson and Lunice took to the stage, and what a performance it was! It's hard to think that with one EP and a handful of single the duo could pull off such an amazing set but it really was one of the highlights of a weekend full of incredible performances.
For a festival that was often hampered with problems of some description, in the end this years Parklife was a success, but only just. The weather and the performers were able to save a festival that was really struggling in terms of organisation and when things were looking particularly disastrous, it was these two factors bringing the weekend together for a memorable two days. The organisers have a lot to learn on from this year, but if they heed the warnings of this year's over-sold festival then 2014 can only be even better.
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The organisers of Manchester's Parklife festival have apologised after sending out marketing SMS messages to festivalgoers, claiming to be from the recipients' mothers. "Some of...