Featured image: Rory Barnes
Blistering heat engulfs Heaton Park this year as Parklife reaches new highs of 28 degrees. Festival goers flock to the area and search for any patch of shade they can find. This was short-lived, though, as spanning an impressive nine stages, there was always someone to see or somewhere to go at Parklife this year.
The drum and bass sounds of East End Dubs can be heard across the park as they take over The Hangar, while others start to head towards the main stage ahead of Mimi Webb’s set.
Strutting out in her signature red boots, she comes on with the confidence of a festival veteran, despite saying to the crowd that she’s never played a festival as big as Parklife before. She plays some of her debut songs, such as ‘Ghost Of You’ and ‘Freezing,’ to get the crowd going before she jumps into ‘Red Flags’.
This is easily the most relatable song of the set, and you can see everyone singing and dancing their hearts out. Webb has gone from strength to strength since shooting to fame on TikTok in the middle of the pandemic with her song ‘Good Without’, which she had everyone singing along to, before she got the crowd dancing to ‘House On Fire’ for her finale.
Shortly after, Raye takes to the stage, her band not far behind her in matching white suits. She shows off her vocal talent as she hits every note impeccably in ‘Oscar Winning Tears,’ a track from her new album, 21st Century Blues. With a messy bun atop her head and sliders on her feet, she thanks the crowd; like Mimi, this is the biggest crowd she’s ever played for. She took a brief moment to explain that she “feels like there’s a frog in her throat with nails” but that won’t stop her as she’s determined to “break the last of her vocal cords to give Parklife the best show she can”. Met with encouraging cheers, she performs the hits ‘Flip A Switch’ and ‘Escapism’ before introducing her bass player Liv to help her out with Jax Jones’ ‘You Don’t Know Me,’ on which Raye features.
Over on the other side of the park at The Valley, Jyoty gives Skrillex a glowing introduction as he joins her for the last few songs of her set. The friendship between the two is clear to see as they joke about on stage, play fighting over the decks, much to the amusement of the audience. The Valley is packed out as people spill onto the hills to get a better view as Skrillex takes over and lives up to his introduction. Over two decades in the music industry, and he doesn’t disappoint as mosh pits form throughout the crowd. Hands in the air and gun fingers out, he shows everyone exactly what makes him a legend in his field.
Meanwhile, back at the Parklife stage, drum and bass band Rudimental take over. Known for collaborating with famous names like Ed Sheeran, Anne-Marie, and Macklemore, seeing them live is a whole new experience. Trumpets kick in, and the crowd sings the chorus to ‘Not Giving In’ as DJ Locksmith hypes everyone up.
Charlotte Plank comes out for a surprise performance as she sings hers and Rudimental’s new track ‘Dancing is Healing,’ and Rudimental surprise us with their own version of Natalie Imbruglia’s ‘Torn’. “Are there any ravers in here?”, screams DJ Locksmith as screams erupt from the audience in response and their mix of Rag‘N’Bone Man’s ‘Only Human’ blasts through the speakers. When the beat drops, the biggest display of energy all day takes over the stage as band members dance and jump with their knees high. Every single person performing has their own chance to shine in Rudimental’s set before the drum solo kicks in and the music fades away.
The Temple Stage sees smoke and confetti being blasted into the sky as the sun starts to go down during Gorgon City’s set. The London duo has made a name for themselves over the past 5 years thanks to their iconic blend of electronic and bass-driven house music and vocals. Warming everyone up for Parklife’s headline act, flames shoot high up from the Temple stage as everyone dances to the beat before heading back to the main stage.
The Parklife stage has been well and truly transformed for Aitch’s arrival, as it is now filled with scaffold-like structures. Smoke begins to fill the stage as movement shines behind the scaffolding, indicating that the band has arrived. Spotlights light up the stage, and flames shoot into the air as Aitch comes out. Parklife didn’t hold back for their Saturday night headliner.
‘Taste’ blasts out of the speakers, people climb on shoulders, and everyone dances to the beat of one of his most well-known songs. The Moston-born rapper takes a second to say, “F***ing hell, it’s good to be home, you know,” before asking the crowd, “Are you ready to get this party started?”
Aitch disappears for a second and suddenly reappears on a platform on top of where his band stands. Surprising everyone, the platform lifts up from what appeared to be its base and becomes a stage of its own that rises higher and higher, so Aitch is almost in the rafters. However, he still never misses a beat as he raps ‘Louis Vuitton’ and makes the platform bounce with every dance move. Flames shoot out of the platform, and lights flash across the bottom as he makes his way back down to earth just as the song ends.
Aitch takes us down memory lane as he tells the crowd about a little track he recorded five years ago called ‘Straight Rhymez,’ and shortly after ‘Keisha & Becky’ was born. He calls on his “mosh pit crew” as black and white visuals light up the back of the stage and big screens before he brings out Ardee for ‘War,’ and they both bring the energy as they dance and jump to the beat. Changing the tempo, Aitch brings out even more special guests.
In a wholesome moment, he is joined on stage by a children’s choir, which stands to attention, outlining the edge of the stage as they provide the backing vocals for ‘Close To Home’. Keeping the crowd in their feels, ‘My G’ starts playing as the crowd cheers. Aitch fans know this song is about his younger sister Gracie, who has Down syndrome, and how much she means to him.
A clip of Ed Sheeran singing the opening verse plays on screen as Aitch calls on the crowd to put their torch lights up as the big screen switches to a heart-warming picture slideshow of him and Gracie. He watches the final image of his sister fade as the song ends before saying, “She looks innocent there, but she’s actually a little sh*t!” which elicits a laugh from the crowd.
As his final trick, Aitch brings out AJ Tracey to help him perform their song ‘Rain’, resulting in mosh pits left, right, and centre. For his final song, though, he asks Parklife to help him sing ‘Baby,’ his track with Ashanti, before finishing his set to a backdrop of impressive pyrotechnics, marking the end of the first day of Parklife.