Anderson .Paak oozes charisma. From the moment the Oxnard native took the stage on at Friday’s Lovebox festival, he had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand. Perhaps it’s the fact he was following a tragically short SZA set (cut short after just four songs due to her later arrival, we see several people carrying ‘Justice for SZA’ signs around) and the crowd was hungry for more or maybe it’s the weather, or even his all-American smile, whatever it is, he’s winning. Jumping from mic to drumkit without missing a beat, .Paak was a joy to watch, giving knowing looks down the cameras connected to the big screens and frequently tripping the crowd up with false starts and extended breaks. Finishing up just after 6 PM, .Paak set the bar for the weekend, and he set it high.
If anyone should have been able to clear it, it was Wu-Tang Clan, who were next on the main stage. Notoriously troubled when it comes to their live performances, the whole crew made it to Gunnersbury Park for a celebration of 36 Chambers‘ twenty-fifth anniversary, delivering hit after hit without fault. They may have their ups and downs but they’re still nothing to fuck with. A brief dash to Noisey’s tent reveals French duo The Blaze as one of the festival’s slept on highlights, performing in a translucent cube that slowly opens up to reveal them as they play. Back on the mainstage Diplo does unspeakable things to slightly outdated songs, the lowlights of which include an EDM remix of ‘Seven Nation Army’ and the decision to mix ‘Whippin’ Excursion’ by Giggs into ‘Mans Not Hot’ by parody rapper Big Shaq.
Vince Staples proves the much better choice, performing silhouetted against a medley of TV screens showing clips from films, music videos and Worldstar Hip Hop. Opening with ‘Get The Fuck Off My Dick’ and closing with ‘Yeah Right’, he had almost every word of his set recited back at him as the heavens opened. By the end of his set, people were hanging off the tent poles to get a glimpse of him and get out of the rain. By the time Vince is done it’s nigh impossible to get anywhere near Skepta who is already ten minutes into a set that will see him joined by the likes of Lethal Bizzle, D Double E, Jammer, Frisco and more. Things go well until the music stops and grime’s current frontrunner seems to disappear off stage for five minutes. He returned and with Suspect and Jesse James Solomon by his side, so all is forgiven.
Saturday is the hotter of the two days, and it shows in the water queues that snake across the festival site. Triumphant sets from Kali Uchis who’s joined by Jorja Smith and Steve Lacy for ‘Tyrant’ and ‘Just A Stranger’ and Big Boi, who’s joined by Organized Noize’s Sleepy Brown (they wore coordinating trousers with dragons on), start the afternoon off well, but we watch The Internet while waiting almost an hour to fill up a water bottle.
N.E.R.D are billed as Childish Gambino’s co-headliners for the day but play much earlier and to a much smaller crowd. Sound issues blight their set and Pharrell’s attempts at hyping the crowd and addressing Trump’s presence in London fall on deaf ears. There’s seemingly too much of generational gap for the early 00s icons to transcend. Mura Masa, on the other hand, goes down a treat, attracting the biggest crowd bar Gambino. The teens love synthetic glockenspiel.
Of course, Saturday was all building up to one man. Childish Gambino strode onto the stage like I imagine you would if you had just played Lando Calrissian in Star Wars, had a hit TV show and released one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the last five years. A mix of old material, ‘Sober’, ‘3005’, ‘Sweatpants’ and Awaken My Love! highlights, Gambino’s set is full of delights. Every track, even the album cuts, get a huge reception but it’s ‘Redbone’ and ‘This Is America’ that most people are waiting for and neither disappoints. Where Pharrell’s political message floundered, Gambino’s triumphed with a considered speech about his year living in London and the shared problems between the US and the UK. Walking away on Saturday evening it’s impossible to deny we’ve witnessed something special.