- Two days, ten stages, 80,000 people—Lovebox has come a long way since that first intimate party in an old strip club off Tottenham Court Road. The festival celebrated its 15th anniversary this year, hosting a mix of big names and rising stars from across house, techno, pop, grime R&B and more. I spent most of my time in the southern-most corner of Victoria Park, flitting between the Noisey and fabric tents, where the programming was strongest. The weather was kind to the sold-out crowd, which was noticeably younger on Saturday than Friday, with glitter, Stussy T-shirts and Armani man bags out in force. The sound across the site was solid, though the positioning of the stages on Friday meant that the more delicate moments of Sampha and Solange were subjected to the thumping bass from the nearby fabric tent.
This was fabric's second year at Lovebox. The club's low ceilinged tent was constructed around a central pillar, illuminated with LED lights. It had been fitted with a Pioneer soundsystem and a lighting structure built from mirrored cubes that sat either side of the DJ. When the smoky haze lifted, the fabric logo was lit in amber on the booth, while the visuals—like a flickering black and green Morse code—were simple and effective. KiNK's performance stood out on Friday. At one point, he dropped his 2001 edit of Loleatta Holloway's "Love Sensation," holding up his drum machine and MIDI controller while smiling as widely as the crowd. Bicep, who DJed, had hands consistently flying through the air with unreleased material from their debut album, including lead single "Aura." Seth Troxler took over to close, leaning towards big-room atmospheric house with smatterings of tribal percussion and spoken word vocals, like in KDA's "Hate."
Saturday's bill in the fabric tent was even bigger. Dixon brought steady, synth-heavy build-ups, throwing in the cowbell of Coen's "Yellah" before slowing things down with Marc Romboy's "Trapped In An Orbit." After Ricardo Villalobos's last-minute cancellation due to illness in 2016, anticipation for his closing set was high. He drew the tent's biggest crowd of the weekend, displaying his unmatched finesse for rhythm and reading a crowd. Layering twinkling piano riffs, soaring female vocals and jazzy saxophone over deep, rumbling basslines, he rocked the room with tried-and-tested hits like C-Rock's "Funky Dope Trakk" and Lil' Louis & The World's "I Called U (The Conversation)."
There was plenty to enjoy elsewhere. In the Noisey tent, South London singer Ray BLK's articulate vocals sounded exactly the same as on record, her honest and relatable lyrics shining through on "Doing Me" and "My Hood." XL Recordings' New Gen showcase on Saturday illustrated just how much talent there's to be found in London's burgeoning rap, grime and new wave R&B scenes. In a moment of wild, sun-kissed joy, Radar Radio's Kenny Allstar dropped "Wild Thoughts" and shouted out the ladies. After performing solo, Sampha joined Solange onstage for a powerful and exuberant rendition of "Don't Touch My Hair."
The new Transistor stage, which resembled a giant fire-breathing radio, towered over the crowd, and hearing Kölsch's "Goldfisch" as the sun went down on Saturday was a highlight. It wasn't all positive, though: at the Corona Sunset Stage, Gerd Janson and Late Nite Tuff Guy closed on Friday and Saturday respectively with undeservedly small crowds. Even beloved summer classics like Lovebird's "Want You In My Soul" failed to attract much attention from passers-by.
As for the Main Stage, it was apparent there was a problem from the moment Friday night headliner Frank Ocean took the stage. That's not to say his performance, which primarily centred on his latest album, Blonde, wasn't stunning, sensitive and beautifully produced, but in certain places the crowd came across as inattentive and disengaged. (I heard someone mutter that Ocean's show would be better suited to concert venues than festivals.) Crowd chatter wasn't an issue the following day, as Saturday headliners Chase & Status thundered their way through hits like "Eastern Jam," "Machine Gun" and "Flashing Lights." Pyrotechnics, dry ice cannons, lasers and guest appearances from Emeli Sandé and Kano ensured the band brought Lovebox 2017 to an explosive close.
Photo credit /