Review: Lovebox Festival

Sarah Fortescue 2 July 2012

Lovebox, brainchild of Groove Armada, celebrated its 10th year this June. Celebrating ‘a decade of love’ and boasting a refreshingly diverse line up, it promised fun and frivolity for Londoners of all walks of life. It failed spectacularly.

The festival organisers claim to have taken inspiration from the surrounding venues of the area, presumably aiming to highlight the best qualities of each, and bring them together for an annual celebration of what East London has come to represent. If local venues are typically over-charging, over-filled, under-staffed and ill-informed, then this year’s event achieved wonders, as it was all of these things and more.

Saturday attendees may have felt a little short changed, with waits of up to an hour between acts for the main stages, underwhelming performances from several high profile headliners, including Emili Sande and Delilah, a collection of shabby fairground rides and outstandingly filthy facilities. They were, however, treated to The Biggest Queues in London and what seemed like a record breaking attempt at The World’s Longest DJ Set by Damien Lazarus, who may still be performing in Victoria Park.

Anyone questioning the appeal of these 21stcentury wonders were treated to two of the more unique entertainment offerings; a ‘VS Arena’, hosted by festival favourites Bearded Kitten, and NYC Downlow, a life-size ruin of a NYC tenement celebrating the Chicago House scene of the 1980s. Both were packed, (though perhaps not a measure of their success so much as a reflection on the aforementioned limitations of the main stages) and did their best in trying to achieve the aims of reflecting the culture of the local area. Sadly, enormous shortcomings hindered both. Bearded Kitten hosted a series of impressive break dance battles from hugely talented local crews alongside a baffling display from female dance troupe ‘Drop the Pom’. On announcing the winners, East London B-boys ‘Rain Crew’, the inappropriately clad white compare hollered ‘Yeah, Brothers!’ to a wincing crowd. NYC Downlow really did offer a unique contribution, though the additional entry fee, hour long bar queue and packed crowd detracted from the more pleasurable aspects.

Lovebox wasn’t all bad. Many of Saturday’s weaknesses were temporary, revealing a refreshed and much improved identity for Sunday, which was ‘poised for its biggest polysexual celebration ever!’ – A slight exaggeration, but a good effort nonetheless. NYC Downlow naturally became the centrepiece for many a celebration, and it realised its full potential, housing the Horse Meat Disco -featuring striking vogueing displays, drag catwalk shows and crowd pleasing sets from Andrew Weatherall and Luke Howard.

The queues for the facilities, both bars and food stalls had practically disappeared by now, and each stage seemed to offer a consistent flow of first-rate acts, from the underground raw talent of Shea Segar of the Floripa tent to current pop heavyweights such as Lana Del Ray, whose performance of ‘Blue Jeans’ seemed to win her many more admirers. The unquestionable highlight of the festival, though, arrived in the form of a lively Grace Jones closing the main stage, hula-hooping her way through the rain and defiantly refusing to leave – it seems a shame there weren’t many left to see it.

Sarah Fortescue