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LIVE REPORT: Lovebox Sunday
Andy Thomas , July 26th, 2013 11:47

Andy Thomas revels in another fruity Lovebox Sunday and finds that it's DJ Harvey and the dance tents that make the day. Photographs courtesy of Sean Delaney and Mark Storey

Photograph: Sean Delaney

The Quietus' last Sunday at Lovebox was spent joining in the bacchanalian excesses of the fabulous NYC Downlow. In our review we revelled in the genius of this "post apocalyptic event in 70s New York where the only thing left standing is the grimy glamour of a disco Hotel inhabited by transvestites". So when we heard the Downlow would be missing from this year's festival (perhaps still coming down from its Glastonbury high) we wondered how else the event might have changed.

Back in 2011 curator/promoter James Bailie told Time Out: "There are more than half a million gay people living in the capital and Sunday is a big day for them to go out, but no one was really doing anything good." Lovebox Sundays was certainly a welcome addition to London's gay cultural scene. But with outdoor events like Pride's Summer Rites Festival (with tents represented by Vauxhall's Eagle and Old Street's Eastbloc amongst others) it's even more important for it to provide an underground alternative. So on a sweltering Sunday during the UK's extended heat wave, we headed to Victoria Park to check out the changes.

The first thing we notice is the size and numbers. Cut down to almost half from Saturday, the more compact space coupled with lighter crowds creates a relaxed atmosphere as we make our way around the site. The first place we settle is the Red Bull Music Academy arena, a large tent with arched bamboo supports where Harvey's Sarcastic Disco has started to fill up. DJ Harvey has developed something of a cultish following since his days with the Tonka Sound System. We're not sure when he went from acid house renegade to god of the disco beards. But we do know his return to London for a gig at London's Oval Space last November became one of the most talked about club nights of the year. Red Bull, who have helped bring Harvey's occasional LA party to London today, also sponsored that event. Moving around the booth with big smiles are Force Of Nature, the Japanese DJ and production duo of DJ Kent and KZA whose recent Expansions mix showed why they have been one of the few to be invited to play at Sarcastic Disco in LA. Their mix of disco exotica and spaced out boogie sparkles in the afternoon sun, on the best sound system we have heard at a festival.

Photograph: Sean Delaney Photograph: Sean Delaney

A more debauched affair unfolds in the not-so-subtly branded Russian Standard House Of Davai. Thankfully the number of people looking like the fabulous lot photographed here outweighs the promotion girls welcoming us into what is already a steam room. After a wonderfully decadent set of rock & roll from his live band, compere Jonny Woo charms the overheated crowd with the brilliant put down: "Somewhere behind those ugly faces there are beautiful people." Since it first set up base in a tiny Stoke Newington basement, Andrew Weatherall and Sean Johnston's A Love From Outer Space has developed a loyal following for its slow, wigged out disco and hypnotic house chuggers. The appearance of Jonny Woo's "dancing girls" who roam the stage adds a splash of dirty glamour to the low-slung assault that reaches a peak with a dark edit of Skatt Bros' 'Walk The Night'.

Photograph: Sean Delaney Photograph: Mark Storey

The heat eventually has us seeking sanctuary in the Big Top where the first electronic pulsations of Factory Floor are reverberating around the tent. In a preview of this year's event, another writer suggested that if you ended up by watching Goldfrapp and Hurts you were doing it all wrong. And while Sunday's pleasures are undoubtedly less about live music than DJs, after last year's Chaka Khan gig and Grace Jones hula hooping her way through both the 2010 and 2012 festival, we had expected more on the live front. But with the unknown main headliner dropping out a few weeks before, it was left to smaller acts like Factory Floor to fill the gap, and they did not disappoint, hammering the crowd with the analogue synth and percussion attack of tracks like 'Fall Back'.

Back in the 1980s, Hackney became a hotbed of gay creativity – with cultish stores like House Of Beauty & Culture and everyone from John Galliano to Judy Blame making the most of the cheap rents and grimy atmosphere. That has continued over the past few years as new club nights have played a big part in the area's cultural regeneration. And the East End Strut tent was here to bring some of the late night wildness to Victoria Park. It's certainly the corner of the festival that most feels like a hip E8 basement, with DJs like Jody Harsh (Room Service) and Hannah Holland (Paris Acid Ball) bringing a taste of their various nights to the festival. Despite a reputation as an über-hipster hangout, nothing can take away from the importance of Dalston Superstore, both for the area and the nights that have sprung up in its wake. And it's one of the DS founders, Dan Beaumont, who is working the '90s house for a younger crowd when we pass.

As we head back to House of Davai for Horse Meat Disco, a stage show with touches of San Francisco's 1970s psychedelic drag troupe The Cockettes is rinsing every bit of emotion out of Donna Summer's 'MacArthur Park'. A heavy dose of that sleazy glamour seems to have dripped off the stage to merge with the most colourful festival crowd of the summer. Such is their reputation as a den of disco excess that Horse Meat Disco can draw guests like Derrick Carter to a small south London pub on a Sunday night. And it's to the Chicago DJ we head next. Luckily we have our timings wrong and we arrive at a small outdoor stage just as Frankie Knuckles is closing his set to a sea of raised hands. "You get this music and it lends itself to a natural kind of abandonment, like I can get away from all that and not have to worry because I'm here in this special place," explained Derrick Carter when asked about the role of dance music in the gay community. It's an attitude you can hear in the way he spins tonight, bridging the gap between disco and house as only a true legend of the underground can.

Photograph: Sean Delaney Photograph: Mark Storey

The word legend has maybe been used to often to describe DJ Harvey, but we are still regretting missing him at the Oval Space last November. So as the sun starts to set we head back to the Sarcastic Disco. We arrive to find a bearded Eric Duncan (Dr. Dunks/Still Going) doing a pretty good impression of Harvey as he works an edit of Chas Jankel's left boogie classic 'Glad To Know You'. The tent is now nicely full, perhaps bolstered by some of the crowd that has filtered away from the main stage with news of Lil Kim's no show. "I totally give a fuck. I don't take it lightly at all. I want to uplift the people I'm playing for and a good party will do that," pronounced Harvey prior to the gig. From the dynamics of the sound system to his musical programming and sequencing, that attention to detail (born out of parties like The Loft) creates a heady atmosphere as day turns to night under the canvas. Whether it's an obscure Balearic edit or a half-familiar space disco epic, Harvey plays with a soulful intensity to match the kaleidoscopic lighting that now fills the tent.

Photograph: Mark Storey

As we head to the beer tent we briefly catch Goldfrapp doing her best to bring some gravitas to the main stage. But there is the nagging feeling that she's fighting a losing battle to the various dance tents where the action has really been all day. Whether Lovebox Sundays can continue in this format is perhaps in doubt, but one thing is for sure - London's gay nightlife deserves a festival to match its fabulous diversity.