Friday Lovebox – a spectacle, a dream of glitter and cycle shorts, trapezes of hot food, alcohol and endless music.
Picture sweaty bodies glistening under the English heat wave, each person clinging tightly to the next in an attempt to quickly make it through the three sets of ticket checks, then security bag check to then run into the decorated wide field at Gunnersbury Park.
Yes it was hot but from the Piccadilly tube ride there, the so called festival vibes were already in full swing. Once I got past the tourists and workers looking at me like I was going to a rave, cult, or even the Trump protest (a shop assistant asked me if I was going there) with the gems stuck on my face, I found fellow Lovebox attendees catching the tube. They’re pretty easy to pick out with either glitter, gems, multicoloured clothing and sunglasses donned on their person.
I kept wondering why so many men were staring at me, making angry feminist remarks in my head, before remembering that I was actually a genuine spectacle. I looked like a cross between a classy stripper, a unicorn, and a Barbie fairy princess doll. One who is also heavily influenced by ‘contemporary Instagram culture’: lip liner, defined brows and a sharp contour to top off the sparkly face and glitter boobs. As I approached the other end of the Picadilly Line (Acton Town), I began to feel more at home amidst the bucket hats and camouflage pants, getting less attention than before; we were all in this together. I listened in on conversations about plans to ‘chirpse’ girls by singing to them and making them feel special. I knew it was going to be an eventful afternoon.
Getting there was easier than I had anticipated with stewards on call at the tube stop waving big yellow signs that pointed to the direction of Lovebox. An array of colourfully-dressed young adults made their way to the site. Fast-forward the close sweatiness to get in, stepping into the West London park was like experiencing a pop-up Wonderland with gazebos for the bars, smaller set stages, a make-up and dress-up shop along with big fairground rides that take you back to childhood. Hot food stalls were amongst the attractions, with an impressive variety offering not only international food (jerk chicken, Thai, different spiced chips, Italian, the old fish and chips), but gluten-free and vegan friendly options, with the inclusion of an exclusively vegan stall – albeit at higher costs.
But let’s get to the music, because that is the main purpose of (music) festivals, clearly. Lovebox’s 2018 line-up grabbed my attention straight away. An R&B collective to rival no other, I knew that if I was going to any festival this summer – it was going to be this one. Friday’s line-up included Mabel, Sza, Anderson .Paak, Dave, Vince Staples, Wu-Tang Clan and Skepta as the headliner just to name a few, with Saturday’s line-up following suit with Kali Uchis, The Internet, (Pharrell’s) N.E.R.D, and Childish Gambino as the headlining act. The fact that the Saturday ticket had to be sold out in order for us to decide which day we would go to, says it all – Lovebox really hit the mark this year with their selection of artists.
Running to see Sza, we later realised that she had actually been half an hour late for her set so we hadn’t missed out and still captured her perform like the angel she is before her microphone was turned off due to major overrunning (we wouldn’t have complained). Supermodel, Love Galore, Broken Clocks and The Weekend were sang and free-styled to perfection.
“They told me I had to do four songs and get the f**k off!”
Mid-sentence, the soulful singer was cut off by a security guard guiding her off the stage to a chorus of chanting boos from the crowd, who were keen for another song. She was sporting a slightly strange but quirky combination of grey sweatpants and a corset-like white top which added to the seductive tone in her speaking voice. Her hair was wild and beautiful and the perspiration on her face was a result of both the traffic she had to endure on her way there as well as the vitality in her performance. Both during the Kendrick Lamar backing track which she rapped along to and her own tunes, she danced around the stage with vigour, keeping the audience engaged.
Anderson .Paak also put on a hypnotic, ear romancing, vibrant performance with The Free Nationals on the main stage following Sza. From dancing with his entire body, wearing a matching animal print bucket hat and jacket, the reflective round sunglasses and nose piercing, playing the drums energetically, and that big old smile; Anderson .Paak is a beautiful man. His smooth voice and dance persuasion is enough to draw any crowd in, and he did exactly that. Hits such as Come Down, Bubblin, The Season/Carry Me, Heart Don’t Stand a Chance, Suede, Am I Wrong to Glowed Up with Kaytranada were performed with charm.
We seemed to hop from place to place – moving between the main stage and a large blue circus-like tent nearby. This was where Dave was performing, another RnB staple who had moved from underground grime artist to mainstream highlight (much to our hipster disappointment). But his music was a breath of fresh air and London culture amidst a number of American artists, the perfect rhythm to ‘whine’ and grind to with your significant other or even best friend. He ‘mixed the gentleman with gangster’ by starting with Tequila, a Latin senorita pictured kissing his neck, and finishing with staples like No Words, 100M’s, and Hangman.
A heartwarming moment included inviting a little boy of roughly ten, who he knew by name from past concerts, to join him on the stage. While the audience was expecting something childlike and amusing, the kid spouted out AJ Tracey’s rap, perfectly accompanying Dave in a way which could only be described as “sick” by many members of the crowd.
Vince Staples later took the Noisey Stage enclosed in the blue tent by storm. The Long Beach rapper could be heard from yards away as track 745 beat on as we made our way through the scraps of plastic bottles, littered food and torrential rain. The roar of Ascenscion (Staples’ featured track with Gorillaz) ran out all the way down to the park entrance.
Sadly, we missed Skepta’s headlining performance because we weren’t hardcore enough to brave the rain, but Instagram told us he added ice to all the water on the festival grounds. I don’t find that hard to believe.
As for the social aspect of it all, there was an array of amusing moments to choose from, especially when watching tipsy people from our (initially at least) sober goggles. Grown women dressed as teen girls and Polly Pocket dolls, space buns and glitter galore, swung their bare legs over the shoulders of their suitors to get a better view of the stage and the chance to be featured on the big screen for exactly a millisecond. One jolly female chose to extend her fifteen seconds of fame by flashing her breasts as soon as the camera glazed over her, causing another trivial moment of amusement for the crowd. ‘Roadmen’ and bikini clad, off duty baddies paraded the festival grounds, preying on each other with heavy lidded looks and tantalising words such as “what you sayin b”.
One guy calling himself a musician and artist managed to graft me in the bar line, vigilantly caressing my arm three to four times as he simultaneously told me how sorry he was that I lived in Nottingham and not London. He craftily chatted with his friend again as I got my gin with lemonade, then swooped in for another arm stroke goodbye as I left, which would have been creepy if it wasn’t for his winning Irish accent. Walking back to find my best friend, I felt a tap of the arm (again this could have easily been creepy given the circumstances), the musician wanted to take me out on a date apparently but his phone was dead so he proceeded to save his number in my phone under ‘Chris Lovebox’. This was after we toyed between whether I should get his Instagram or number since we are living in a social media consumed world after all, but he concluded with a cheesy grin: “Let me just give you my f**cking number”.
I did reach a conclusion myself, that festivals are a little overrated (sorry if this makes me sound even more hipster I know). But seriously, just imagine the excitement building up to this one or two days and it really does live up, but in the moment you’re left trying to ignore however gross you feel in the sweaty weather with your hair sticking to every sequin on your body. However, that said, I would still do it again. The music, the vibes, and most definitely the dressing up is certainly worth any heat or rain blunder.
The ambience was one of careless gratification and a lack of restraint as people left their nine-to-fives and mundane struggles in yesteryear, as far away from Gunnersbury Park as the sound waves allowed.
Jill Lupupa & Maya Kokerov
Images sourced from the LoveBox Instagram account.