After two years of pandemic induced uncertainty, upwards of 80,000 festival goers recently returned to Heaton Park, for the UK’s largest metropolitan music festival; Parklife. Hosted just outside of Manchester, this year’s Parklife boasted a strong lineup which spanned a range of genres across the festival’s many stages; from legendary rapper 50 Cent and hip hop hero Tyler, the Creator, to emotive singer Lewis Capaldi and Mercury Prize winner Arlo Parks.
After some confusion around collecting my press pass, I was in with only minutes to spare until the first act on my list took to the stage. This act was internet personality turned musician Yung Filly, playing his first ever major festival set.
During this set, Yung Filly took the time to introduce Myles and Indy, a young couple who had ‘won a competition’ to join Yung Filly on stage. To the delight of the tens of thousands strong crowd, Myles proceeded to get on one knee to propose to Indy, with Yung Filly cheering with joy as Indy tearily said yes. What a way to kick off the weekend!
Despite being a metropolitan, non-camping festival, Parklife is impressively massive, with unique stages which differ to the more traditional main ‘Parklife Stage’. These stages include the almost apocalyptic ‘The Temple’, which wouldn’t look out of place in a Mad Max film, and the dystopian-esque ‘The Valley’, which resembles several brutalist blocks of flats. Another impressive sight is ‘The Hangar’, a stage which in previous years resembled an indoor aircraft hangar, now turned into an open-air sprawling mess of metal, which illuminates the entire park at nighttime.
Next up, I caught a straight run of acts at the main stage, including 19 year old chart topper ArrDee, and singer-songwriters Joy Crookes and Mahalia, all of which were met enthusiastically by the vast crowd. The contrast in these sets only proves Parklife’s willingness to not conform to one genre or image.
After Mahalia’s set, I made the trek across Heaton Park to watch drill sensation Central Cee, who lined The Valley stage with a sea of fans stretching far back into the distance. Central Cee gave an energetic performance, complete with an impressive display of pyrotechnics.
Next it was back to the Parklife Stage to catch Drake collaborator Headie One, Radio 1 DJ Tiffany Calver, heartfelt rapper Loyle Carner; and finally, the main act of the Saturday; 50 Cent, but not before grabbing some surprisingly great festival food. Despite being unaware of Loyle Carner prior to Parklife, his passionate and sincere delivery of often poetic lyrics easily cemented the artist as my highlight of the first day.
As the sun set during the 30 minute wait for Fifty, the excitement for the headliner palpably began to swirl around the crowd, until the legendary rapper burst onto the stage, seemingly from nowhere, for his first festival performance of the year. Classics such as In Da Club, Candy Shop and 21 Questions all got the crowd moving, complete with a charismatic performance from the rap legend; and just like that, it was time for day two.
Sunday was the day I was most anticipating, with huge acts such as Tyler, The Creator, Megan Thee Stallion and Lewis Capaldi taking the stage. I arrived just in time for Arlo Parks, an artist who just last year received the Mercury Prize award for her debut album Collapsed In Sunbeams. Swarmed by sunflowers, Arlo brought a slower, more tranquil sound to the Parklife Stage than that of the previous day, a move appreciated by the crowd as a gentler introduction to day two, after a long day partying on the Saturday.
Next up was a trip to the smaller ‘Eat Your Own Ears’ stage for a soulful performance from R&B artist Tems, which was eaten up by the impressive crowd she had drawn. However, it wasn’t long until the majority of the festival’s crowd flocked back to the main stage for the final three acts.
The first of these acts was Lewis Capaldi, who began his set by acknowledging that Parklife isn’t exactly the first place you’d expect to hear ballads, but asked the crowd to go with it for the length of his set; which they happily agreed to. This was the artist’s first UK gig in three years, and it was evident that he was loving every minute; opening with his debut album opener Grace, and closing with 2019 mega hit Someone You Loved.
In stark contrast to the slow, earnest voice of Capaldi, Megan Thee Stallion was next to take the stage, captivating the thousands strong audience with an energetic performance backed by a whole crew of dancers. As her electric set came to a close, the crew swiftly acted to prepare the stage for the headline act; Tyler, the Creator.
And what a stage it was! Tyler is well-known for his creative live shows, but here he had outdone even himself; with a backdrop of foggy mountains, complete with actual grassy hills stacked several metres high on the stage, the artist hiked up the set, trekking pole in one hand, rucksack in the other, before exploding into opener CORSO. During the following hour, Tyler kept up the energy, giving hit after hit, such as Who Dat Boy, or fan-favourite EARFQUAKE, in what was easily the best performance of the weekend.
Parklife was a great experience, hosting a wide range of musical genres, and some massive household names; however most of all, Parklife felt like a return to normality for the music scene after a rough two years of cancellations, delays, and uncertainty caused by the pandemic. A weekend thoroughly enjoyed by all, Parklife truly has something to offer for everyone.
Word and Photos by Jacob Swetmore