Childish Gambino's raw energy stole the show at this year's Lovebox
Flohio, Kali Uchis and Naina also dazzled on the day
The arrival of All Points East in Victoria Park has scattered London’s all-day festivals to different parts of the city, uprooting familiar green dancefloors, site layouts and – most worrying of all – tried and tested vibes. On a stifling tube ride to Acton Town, one can’t help but think that Lovebox drew the short straw in Gunnersbury Park, which is 13 miles away from where the festival has taken place since 2005. You can feel the small station and surrounding suburban roads creak with the weight of thousands of stoked-up party people and, once on site, there’s none of the verdant atmosphere offered by Viccy Park or other all-day destinations like Brockwell Park or Peckham Rye Park.
Stages have seemingly been plonked into place, with sound bleeding quite noticeably between them, and clutches of food stalls line the perimeter, their signs offering the only decoration away from corporate branding, fly posters and a solitary funfair ride. Indeed, the only cuteness to be found is in the myriad colourful looks boasted by Lovebox’s truly multi-cultural crowd, who ignore the skanky festival aesthetics and get right on with the business of having it to an impressive line-up. Which is, after all, what it’s all about.
We made the trek to Gunnersbury Park on the Saturday to bring you some of the best tunes from the best performances on the day.
Spoiler alert: Gambino did the damn business.
Main Stage Kali Uchis feat Jorja Smith ‘Tyrant’
Kali Uchis’ luxuriant r’n’b is a fantastic way to start a romp in the park on one of the hottest days of the year. Her set leaps into a medley of hits from her recently released debut album, as she brings out The Internet’s Steve Lacy for ‘Just A Stranger’ before launching into Tyler, The Creator collab ‘After The Storm’ and the mischievously saccharine ‘Dead To Me’. You can see the Uchis stans winding their waists in appreciation but it’s not until she brings out Jorja Smith for ‘Tyrant’ that the rest of the languid crowd come on side, moving forward to get a glimpse of the singer, who’s also riding high off the back of her own debut album. It’s a powerful pairing.
Kopparberg Outsider Flohio ‘Watchout’
Although the majority of the festival site is a mess of empty nos canisters and beat-up Corona bottles, smaller side stages such as Kopparberg Outsider and The Hidden Jungle offer a more imaginative and immersive experience. It’s at the Outsider that Flohio proves exactly why she’s one of the sickest new UK lyricists: she unleashes ‘Fights’, ‘SE16’ and ‘Bands’ with unbridled ferocity, spitting word-perfect and prowling confidently around the stage as her crowd increases with each track. At one point she comes to the barrier to greet her people, some of who shout her lyrics right back at her, and during the hammer-heavy ‘Watchout’ her DJ jumps in and starts an impromptu mosh pit. As her set rumbles to a close, Flohio proclaims herself a king and it’s abundantly clear that she’s ready and willing to bulldoze the rap and grime boys club in order to claim her throne.
Noisey stage DVSN ‘Hallucination’
It’s hot, everyone’s sweating and the ice cream vans are doing brisk trade. Thank the OVO gods then for DVSN, who deliver their dusky r’n’b beneath the cool canopy of the Noisey tent, which helps to stave off sunburn for a precious second. Their performance draws us all in to the kind of bedroom-bound intimacy rarely found at boisterous UK festivals, Daniel Daley’s sumptuous voice and Nineteen85’s spacious productions creating a cocoon where hearts are wrenched and loves are joyously found as well as brutally lost. They play cuts from their two albums to date, with Daley backed by three singers, and for a while we’re all miles away from the boom ‘n’ clatter of the rest of Gunnersbury park.
Smirnoff House Lakuti - Songhoi Band ‘Africa Africa’ (Faze Action edit)
There’s nothing like getting locked in to rhythmic, uplifting house music as the sun starts to dip and melt in the late afternoon. Here, Lakuti fires up a selection of disco and Afrobeat edits, as well as some stone-cold vocal house classics, and lets the groove do its thing, quite literally – she lets long, bumpin’ tracks burn for their duration, in no hurry to disturb their power or the hold they have on the dancefloor, where inhibitions are slipping away nicely. A conga line forms, snakes around, disperses into laughter. Then there’s an impromptu game of limbo. And groups of friends pose for photos or huff on balloons. This is British summer time.
The Hidden Jungle Naina - KW Griff feat Pork Chop ‘Bring In The Katz’
Anything goes in a post-Night Slugs world, so it’s fitting that one of the label’s seminal releases is a highlight of Naina’s blistering, genre-bending set in The Hidden Jungle, during which asses shake and gun fingers are held aloft in appreciation of the up ‘n’ coming London DJ. She boshes out edits of Lil Silva, Missy Elliott and Cardi B as well as raw club tracks, interspersing familiar vocal hooks and basslines with what sounds like head-spinning new dubs. The room becomes a sweatbox as people get to werk and it feels refreshing to hear this kind of club music at a festival – props to the programmers, who also get fellow young guns Jossy Mitsu, Anz and Lil C into the booth here.
Main Stage Childish Gambino 'This Is America'
Donald Glover’s profile has well and truly risen since the success of his TV show Atlanta and the internet virality of recent single ‘This Is America’. It’s hard to say whether this many people would have been interested in his headline performance had it not been for this mighty one-two, but it’s clear that some Gambino deep cuts go over most of the audience’s heads. No bother, because a lack of response from the audience at times does nothing to deter the artist, who works the main stage ferociously and puts in a charged display.
One moment he’s writhing on the floor of the stage like a pained artiste, the next he’s making a passionate speech in tribute to the anti-Trump demonstrations in the UK, all the while teasing the crowd by slowly-but-surely unveiling his throbbing torso from beneath an unbuttoned short-sleeve shirt, a sex icon in the making (and an unlikely one, given his downtrodden performances as Earl in Atlanta and the nonplussed Gambino of previous music videos).
It’s this intensity that draws the thousands-strong audience in and keeps them interested despite a lack of crowd-pleasing hits that other Lovebox bookings such as Big Boi or fellow headliner Skepta have in abundance. And as the set ebbs and flows between the rap boom of ‘because the internet’ and the towering funk of ‘“Awaken, My Love!”’, with the low-key pop of ‘Summer Pack’ thrown in for good measure, it’s clear everything it’s moving toward ‘This Is America’, a crescendo that finally has Glover, his day ones and his new fans moving as one. It crowns a brave, enthralling set and strikes home that we’ve just witnessed something from a very special artist indeed.
Seb Wheeler is Mixmag's Head of Digital, follow him on Twitter