The only Donald welcome in London this past weekend was the one better known by the alias – Childish Gambino – who gave an incandescent performance on Saturday inside the leafy confines of Gunnersbury Park, London. His headline slot at this year’s Lovebox was complete with politically-charged moments, throughout, along with profound messages of hope and togetherness, Gambino – real name Donald Glover – provided a sweet and resonant antidote to the toxic presence of the nappy-clad blimp boy who shares his name.
While tens of thousands marched in protest across the centre of the nation’s capital, west London was the epicentre of a music and cultural revolt against a man and worldview that we all reject. Gambino and Pharrell, performing as part of his band N.E.R.D, led the charge. The latter proclaiming that “We [all of us] stand for the resistance!”, while Glover echoed those sentiments when he beseeched the roaring audience to “fight that stuff!”, referring to efforts by the current President of the United States to divide the people. Gambino even referenced the Trump blimp when he recalled his 12 months living in London and stating “I was very proud to see that big balloon”.
It’s no surprise then that the weekend’s biggest star concluded the festival weekend with one of the most politically evocative tracks of the past year – ‘This is America’ – which of course sent the crowd into a tumult of jubilation and hysteria. Gambino was built for the big stage and put on a breathless performance, strutting up and down the catwalks like Mick Jagger and, at one point, falling on his back in a euphoric daze following a blistering display during ‘Riot’.
You’d be forgiven for forgetting that there was a full day of festival activity prior to the electrifying orgy of hip-hop and dance music flava which the likes of N.E.R.D, The Internet, Annie Mac, Mura Masa, Kali Uchis and, of course, The Gambino ejected out into the stratosphere. On a scorching Friday the 13th at 2pm, Lovebox got underway for its 17th consecutive run, this time, at the previosly un-Lovebox-ed Gunnersbury Park in Acton Town. It immediately became apparent this was going to be a special year with a slick lineup of genre-defining veterans like Wu Tang Clan and NERD; artists like Vince Staples, Bicep and The Internet who have begun to further establish their name in music; together with exciting, confident talent, such as Kali Uchis, Ta’Shan and Britain’s own Ms Banks, TrueMendous, Mura Masa and Dave booked to delight huge crowds across 2 days.
Wu-Tang Clan stirred the main stage into a frenzy as Raekwon, Method Man, Inspectah Deck, and co, opened with the raging ‘Bring Da Ruckus’ and kept the energy at a dizzying height as the rap legends smashed through their set, which was punctuated by offerings from their seminal debut album – ’36 Chambers’ – and finishing with hip-hop classics: ‘Triumph’ and ‘Gravel Pit’. A tough set to top on a first day filled with artistic glory…Enter Vince – motherf***in’ – Staples, who blew the roof off the tent as Friday’s ‘Noisey Presents’ stage headliner. In front of a multitude of colour screens displaying a sinister montage of a world in turmoil, and through a cloudy haze of smoke Staples exploded, as if catapulted straight from Long Beach, California. Throughout the set he must have covered a distance of 10k as he bounded across every inch of the stage, thrilling the crowd which, at one point, divided into 3 separate mosh pits. Plenty of opportunities for audience singalong, especially during ‘Homage’, ‘Lift Me Up’ & ‘Norf Norf’. With that performance Vince displayed his showmanship credentials alongside his reputation as one of the more visionary and experimental rappers in the game. Look ot for him high on the bill on main stages at future UK festivals.
On the main stage, Skepta showed America that the UK can hold their own in the rap game, as he closed the first night with his own fierce brand of grime. The stage looked like absolute carnage as Skepta whipped up a storm and almost rose hell with a crazy performance of ‘Shut Down’, which was worth the price of admission alone. Attendance was, at first, a bit sparse, due to the end of Vince Staples’ slot, at Noisey stage, overlapping by 10 minutes with the start of Skepta’s, but, being one of Britain’s most successful rappers and having cultivated a high regard for his live performances, the tardy festival-goers soon caused the crowd to swell and the boy from north London didn’t disappoint, even as the heavens opened and rain began to fall. He kept the energy levels up as he thrashed through ‘Konnichiwa’ – his Mercury Prize-winning album – and the pyrotechnics lighting up the stage kept the riotous ambience in play from start to finish.
But of course, the weekend belonged to Donald Glover, who will be retiring his Gambino moniker following the release of his next album. It was a performance that will reverberate for the remainder of the summer, and beyond, and I’m still excited to say “I was there!” Gambino returns to London in November for a sold-out show at the O2, but July 14th, by even his own admission, will take some beating. A special mention should also be made for the immense female talent that the festival introduced us to, especially British artists like Ms Banks, Mabel and TrueMendous. Lovebox 2019 will have to pull something special out of the bag to eclipse what they served this year. A big well done to all the organisers.
Dan‘s Lovebox Awards
One To Watch: TrueMendous
Hottest New British Talent: Ms. Banks
New Favourite Artist: Kali Uchis
Favourite Performance: Vince Staples
Best Overall Performance: Childish Gambino
Best Moment: N.E.R.D’s performance of Lapdance with revellers making it from the crowd onto the stage to take selfies with an obliging Pharrell Williams.
Photo Credit – Fanatic; Caroline Faruolo, Jenna Foxton, Andy Hughes, Richard Johnson