Britain, you may have noticed, has had a difficult summer. Brexit. The plummeting pound. The humiliation of the England football team. The self-combustion of the Labour Party. A housing crisis getting worse not better. Boris Johnson. Still, if we’re all heading for the fiery pit, we may as well enjoy ourselves on the way down. This isn’t exactly how Lovebox – the dance music festival set at East London’s lung, Victoria Park – sells itself, but maybe it should. This is post-Brexit Britain. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.
But before all of that, we queue. When my friend and I arrived, you couldn’t see the gates for the bandanas, hot pants and sunglasses: a human hive waiting to be frisked and sniffed. Thankfully, mine is a life of denial and self-negation. Bearing only factor-30 sun cream and a bottle of tap water, I negotiated Ace, the resident sniffer dog, in a trice. Permission to rave: granted. The only question was where to rave first. Lovebox’s forty acres of turf are packed tight with stages, dance-punk vying with synth-pop, electronica with contemporary soul. If anything the stages are too close: stand between two and a jackhammer of arrhythmic beats smites your ears. But on the flipside, no one has to walk very far.
Being thirsty and lazy – and we’d only just arrived – my compañero and I made for Corona SUNSETS, a venue that conveniently partakes of the nature of both a bar and a stage. Such convenience, however, came at ruinous cost: namely £6 a bottle. The staff, obligingly, served mine with a lime, but needless to say, I felt plenty bitter enough. Not for long, though. The sun was out, and Norman Jay MBE – late but worth the wait – had brought tunes to match. His setlist seemed to throw off warmth and energy, and taking care not to spill their Coronas, the crowd undulated accordingly.
Duly cheered, we headed for the main stage to catch the curiously monikered Miike Snow. I arrived unfamiliar with their music, and unfamiliar with their music is how I left: nothing, not a beat, not a hook, not a chorus, stayed with me. Possibly the extra ‘i’ in their name nagged at me to the degree that I couldn’t hear them over the blethering of my inner pedant. The bletherer, thankfully, stopped in time for the next act, modern soul collective Jungle. While I was ignorant of them too, my ears couldn’t help but recognise the ubiquitous ‘Busy Earnin’’. It’s aptly named too; royalties from sports montages alone must be eye-watering. We were also treated to a state-of-the-nation monologue by vocalist Tom McFarland, who counselled us to be kinder to each other (open doors etc.) to counter the growing economic certainties arising from Brexit. While John Maynard Keynes might have quibbled at the lack of detail, you couldn’t argue with the sentiment.
A portion of pasta later and we were ready for the feature act, the band at the top of the ticket. The mighty LCD Soundsystem. When, in 2010, I saw LCD before, it was during their final tour, and I nourished myself on every song, all too aware it would be the last time I would hear them live. Fast forward six years, and they’re back, unable to resist the roar of the crowd. Or maybe Lovebox just pay really well. I say they’re back, but in the common mind LCD Soundsystem are formed of one man: James Murphy, the rest being disposable hired hands. Certainly the hipster-musos standing near us seemed to agree, crying ‘we love you James!’ at every opportunity and taking his gnomic between-song utterances as holy writ. But as anyone equipped with a working knowledge of LCD Soundsystem will tell you, the bulk of their second and third albums were collaborations between Murphy and his bandmates. Unfortunately, the music was too loud, and the crowd too febrile, for me to get this point across satisfactorily.
Of that febrile crowd, none was quite so annoying as the Ross Noble lookalike stood in front of me whose energetic elbows and want of spatial awareness had me crying, but not with laughter. Then, too, there was the character in the Day-Glo bandanna whose goatish attempts to put the moves on some girls next to him were met with a deserved brush-off. Had I brought an idiot detector, it would have been glowing amber. Just as well, then, that LCD Soundsystem were so colossally good. They played in breathless succession thirteen classics, before closing with their consensus best song ‘All My Friends,’ a sad-euphoric paean to growing up, nostalgia and of course, friends.
Generally, my enjoyment of gigs is of the kind that doesn’t need to be externally signalled. One of my proudest boasts is never knowingly to have jiggled or nodded in the presence of live music. At a DJ Shadow show, I was even called out by a fellow gig-goer for looking underwhelmed and drawing a pall over the evening (I was having the time of my life). But at this moment, with ‘All My Friends’ reaching its glorious conclusion, and James Murphy singing up a storm, and several thousand upraised hands splintering the East London darkness, and the Ross Noble lookalike suddenly nowhere to be seen, I felt my lips do something they hadn’t done for what seemed like the longest time. They smiled. And perhaps, in Great Britain in the summer of 2016, that’s the best we can hope for.