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LIVE REPORT: Parklife Festival
Mof Gimmers , June 11th, 2012 09:24

This weekend, the Parklife Weekender descended upon Manchester for two days of acts including Chic, Kelis, De La Soul, The Flaming Lips and wave after wave of dubstep also-rans. Mof Gimmers was there, and saw it as emblematic of a wider trend in festival culture

Parklife, a small inner city outdoor music event in Manchester, could well be the future of the music festival. Disappearing to the countryside for days on end has always been arduous, but is there any need for this war of attrition anymore? Of course, things like Glastonbury aren't going to vanish any time soon because they're too big, too slick. They're the Manchester United of events: commerce wrapped up and served as folk culture. But these micro-festivals that have started to pop up all over the world seem to be the way people like to digest the festival experience.

 And are they any less of a festival ‘experience’?

Well, Parklife, like more established, larger festivals, certainly has the hallmarks of the supposed Real Deal. It's a slog, muddy, filled with idiots (at one point, one reveller loudly bellows in my ear: “I always get the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Flaming Lips confused, so I’m not sure what to expect from the headliner...”) as well as overpriced tat, enforced tie-dye flags, novelty hats, people green and horizontal from too many cheap drugs and various lousy bands. If that’s what a festival is, then Parklife certainly feels like the real thing.

Naturally, there’ll be some dyed-in-the-wool festival goers who will see these Johnny Come Latelys as some kind of Tesco Value version of a music event, but, like it or not, festivals as a whole have become gentrified. Once upon a time, A Certain Type Of Person was the only person you'd find in the sonic trenches, but now, like many facets of alternative culture, it’s been adopted by just about everyone.

As such, the nature of what a festival is, has changed. There's a lot of lifestyle tourism, which will irk a few, but it appears that the future of the festival doesn't lie in camping for long weekends - rather, a brief foray into 'glamping' it up and disappearing back home, before starting afresh the day after.

Now, people who like the festival experience can get rat-arsed all day, watch (or, constantly talk through) a big headline act and avoid getting trench foot, and never again grumble at someone tripping over their guy-ropes at four in the morning. Of course, all festivals offer is the chance for a lot of people to indulge in anti-social behaviour and get away with it. Your average festival crowd is more badly behaved than a hundred football terraces, but because festivals are Sunday Supplement Approved, no-one gets berated for defecating in public, vomiting into people’s hoods, throwing plastic cups of piss at bands and stubbing smokes out on your coat.

So, with all that, is Parklife a successful festival?

Over two days, people recreate that walk people do when they’re approaching a dancefloor at a wedding, while largely ignoring a variety of bands which, on occasion, are excellent... but it isn't without its problems. There are stand-out acts, some of them not surprising. The always astonishing Chic are so tight that they make Kraftwerk look like The Shaggs. Nile Rodgers – the nicest man in the whole universe – invites fans to dance with him and the group onstage. While that’s not exactly unusual, Rodgers is so achingly sweet that he manages to find time to pose for photographs with revellers, mid-song. In fact, Rodgers is so nice that he doesn't throw shameless fame-grabber Rowetta (X Factor reject, Happy Mondays pension, changing her name to Rowetta Manchester as a publicity stunt) off the stage when she's lording it up like she remotely belongs there.

Elsewhere, De La Soul are short-but-sweet, finding the time to wish someone a happy birthday and berate those who throw bottles around, calling them “fuckin’ cowards.” Justice cause a ruckus in one of the tents, while Annie Mac is good value, especially in the face of such a male-dominated DJ roster. Murkage, Manchester’s biggest band, are exhaustingly high-octane, emptying bowels with frankly ferocious basslines while Horse Meat Disco do their best to upstage everyone by playing a set of unashamedly camp Hi-NRG and disco (if Chic hadn’t played, they would steal the claim to festival highlight).

Phenomenal Handclap Band take to the stage to show everyone how much they like Stevie Nicks and the middle section of Blondie’s ‘Rapture’, while Busy P tries really, really hard to learn how to DJ on the job. As for Flaming Lips and Dizzee Rascal, well, you’ve seen one set of theirs and you’ve seen ‘em all. Same goes for the plague of generic dubstep which fills every piss-soaked nook and cranny, making the festival trudge largely unbearable.

Alas, the big talking point of the festival is Kelis. Dressed like an Egyptian goddess, the most underrated popstar of a generation takes to the stage late. Rattling through some of her more recent work, Kelis is just getting going when she leaps onto her gold-plated drumkit (no, seriously) to become the latest singing drummer since that berk from China Crisis. However, thanks to the anally retentive organisers, she is cut-off mid-song, leaving Kelis perplexed and the crowd angrily booing. We’ll never know if she was going to throw out some of her more famous songs. A braver festival would’ve allowed Kelis to play-on, let the festival run late and pay the fine. This harsh edit is all the more puzzling, given that the turnaround times for the acts are so tediously long-winded.

And so, the question remains – is Parklife a success?

Well, having been to numerous festivals over the years where people have shown huge reverence to them, I’ve felt nothing but misery, you’d have to say it was. The atmosphere is nauseating but never violent or worrisome. The stages and tents are filled and bouncing and, like all festivals, it isn't ever about the music as such. Festivals are a chance for people to allow themselves to get as fucked as humanly possible, stood before gigantic sound-systems, and with that, Parklife is as good (or in this writer's case, bad) as any other large event on the circuit. By and large, the immediate response has been very positive, and it's absolutely made me as irritable as Glastonbury, Green Man, Reading, End Of The Road or whatever.

It certainly feels like Parklife is a glimpse into what festivals are to become. They’re snapshots of an imagined ghost of festivals past, with added corporate sponsorship. And oddly, while the corporate stages and tents get imaginative with their neediness, the thing that's really left wanting is the sense of community and spontaneity. The thing that festivals pride themselves on is long dead. Music is in transition, and bands need to work harder if they’re to gain something back from the sales they’ve lost to filesharing.

For now, they’ve got more festivals to play than ever which, in itself, must be a good thing. I just want no part of it.