A scorched and dusty Victoria Park welcomed thousands of festival-goers this past weekend. The eleventh Lovebox Festival, started over a decade ago by Groove Armada, sold out all tickets for Friday. The swarm of visitors arriving via Mile End tube overwhelmed the pavements of Hackney. Countless drunken teenage girls showcased their wares in bumcheek-revealing shorts, considerably lowering the tone of the event and simultaneously titillating any male in their vicinity.

Clearly the line-up for Friday drew in a particular crowd - Foreign Beggars serenaded us the tasteless line "I just wanna hit that gash" from the Main Stage. There's a time and a place for tongue-in-cheek, and when a lout is mouthing the words at girls passing by, it's just not that funny. A poor precursor to the wonderful Rudimental, who managed to display musicality and grace without losing their street-cred. They, along with Plan B on the Saturday, proved the advantage of playing to a home crowd - both of whom were on fire, really managing to rev up the audience.

Jurassic 5 followed their lead and performed with real showmanship, clearly well-rehearsed and confident. Their choreography was just as slick and witty as their lyrics, much to their credit. Azealia Banks headlined in a reptilian jumpsuit, complete with a cut out triangle at the back to show off her thong, staying true to her image as the rebellious Regina of rap. Her tiny male backing dancers were throwing shapes aplenty to keep up with her motormouth beats. I then wandered over to witness Annie Mac's set at the Terrazza stage. "I'm totally wasted right now," she declared to the crowd, but we wouldn't have known it from such a pro - her playlist was well put together and thoroughly danceable.


Earlier on the Friday I stumbled across Oliver St Louis in the MAMA Presents tent, a fantastic jazz/funk band of mixed origins. With members from the US and UK, they synthesized their bluesy influences into a most pleasant soulful fusion. Despite being allocated a slot on the smallest stage at Lovebox, members of the crowd were drawn in like moths to a flame to listen to their feel-good sounds. Their keyboardist surprised us all with a knock-out jazz solo, evidencing not only creative originality but also technical brilliance. Unfortunately, this small act was an exception in terms of the general quality on offer.

The festival itself was badly run and deteriorated further throughout the course of its three day duration. Taking place during the hottest, driest July in years, it was unbelievable that the provision of water was sparse, and misleadingly labelled. Signs showing images of a tap did not necessarily lead to one, whereas actual taps were not marked. Staff members I questioned appeared unsure where they personally might obtain water, either buying it from their own wages or waiting hours in the sun until their lunchbreak. When you are forking out a large chunk of money for a one-day experience, only to have your basic human rights unfulfilled by this such experience, that is nothing short of disgraceful.

On top of this, the unbalanced line-up led to a steep decline in visitors as the weekend progressed, leaving the main arena feeling empty and desolate. The decision was then made for Sunday's event, that the main stage would be closed, and all major acts would be downgraded a stage. This resulted in stages being renamed at the last minute and general confusion amongst the patrons who had also spent £6 on a laminated, but now incorrect, programme. I found this gesture, whilst well-meaning, somewhat insulting for the bands in question and even more so, for the bands who inevitably were moved so far down the bill onto the most obscure, minor stages or even possibly cancelled with little notice.

On the one hand, I can appreciate the logic: less visitors in a larger space means a lesser atmosphere, therefore less visitors in a smaller space enables the event to be scaled down whilst retaining its general feel. This was also, in part, very effective. The vibe on the Sunday was markedly warmer and had improved in comparison with the somewhat dreary, under-populated Saturday. It did however unfortunately result in me missing the majority of Derrick Carter's set, one of my top picks of the entire festival. He was moved to a small stage surrounded by spray-painted freight containers, which had the previous days been named the 'Boxfresh Soundsystem', whilst a very small red tent around the corner was (rather confusingly) the 'Lovebox Soundsystem'.

I was informed that the entire DJ line-up from the Terrazza had been moved to the 'Soundsystem' stage, and so although doubting the credibility that such a hip-hop legend would play in such a tiny tent, I kept darting back every 15 minutes or so to see if he had come on yet. Wondering, an hour and fifteen minutes into his hour and a half allocated set, why he hadn't yet appeared on stage, I went to double check if I was in fact mistaken, and Derrick Carter was possibly a skinny young white guy. Of course not, I had instead missed all but the last 5 minutes of his set due to poor direction. What I did catch of it was nevertheless marvelous, and his positive tunes were followed by the equally talented Heidi. It struck me as a real shame that DJs of this calibre were demoted to a tiny platform with a crowd of max several hundred whilst their contemporary Paul Kalkbrenner enjoyed a crowd of thousands in the Big Top.


Saturday’s top of the bill, the usually très cool and super suave Mark Ronson, made me consider I might be tripping when I heard him shout "oggy oggy oggy" into the audience, no irony intended. No matter how much spliff smoke I passively inhaled at Lovebox, there was no way of pretending this didn't seem like a Butlin's disco (and I'm not referencing ATP). I quickly migrated to the Main Stage to watch Plan B, who at least managed to maintain his image with integrity. Proudly celebrating being back on home turf, his music enjoyed a familiarity of context in the Hackney venue that might not have been possible elsewhere. A well-produced film formed the back projection for his performance, and was well-integrated into his set, reinforcing the narrative quality of all Ben Drew's music.

Another gem of Saturday was DJ Yoda and the Trans-Siberian March Band, headlining at the Russian Standard vodka-promotion tent. They brought classics such as the Tetris theme tune and songs of the Prodigy alive with the charm and bombast that only a brass band can provide. The musicians were refreshingly mixed, many of whom appeared to be OAPs or not far off, although still full of joie de vivre.

Sunday: A semi-naked sailor was dancing on his boyfriend's shoulders to Hurts, a band who do their own bit for male-grooming, always looking like they have stepped straight out of a Brylcreem advert. Goldfrapp upped the camp ante as per, with their spangly rainbow lighting and showers of confetti. A Richard Branson lookalike appeared with flashing horns and a Monsters Inc rucksack, epitomising the kind of oddball chic only permitted at festivals. This kind of originality was in general somewhat lacking at Lovebox, at least on the organisers' part. They had the usual multi-coloured flags, the vans with cuisine from around the world, the booze in plastic cups. The only other entertainment on offer was a selection of tacky fairground amusements, rides to make you sick up your middle-class dinner of brand-name cider and hog roast.


I think that was perhaps due to the fact that Lovebox is a metropolitan festival which you visit for the day. It didn't try to immerse visitors in the magical festival world that countryside festivals with a scenic setting can provide. There were no secret areas with fantastical displays or forest walks where you can discover imaginative or downright bizarre exhibits - essentially all the quirks that make a festival memorable were lacking.

Other acts worthy of note from across the weekend's line-up were D'Angelo, who played a set just as smooth as ever using various bling bling rhinestone-encrusted guitars. Netsky gave us the pleasure of a Drum and Bass performance actually using live musicians, creating a powerful wall of sound across the main stage on Saturday. In the most-promising tent of the festival, MAMA Presents, newcomer Rainy Milo and her one accompanying band member held our attention with melancholic melodies and street-sista style.

Overall, Lovebox had a lot to give, and its outstanding line-up certainly gave their all, but sadly the festival's organisers didn't pull their weight. The main pitfalls were the lack of creativity in the festival's design, insufficient infrastructure and widespread confusion due to unexpected last-minute changes. Maybe my expectations were too high, as I have previously had wondrous festival experiences where magic happens, and have learnt to expect the unexpected. Lovebox was all too predictable. An Aussie girl overheard on the Tube said she had a great time, but then again, it was her first ever festival. To my jaded eyes full of preconceived notions, it was rather a disappointment.