There was a moment that could almost be described as transcendence at Lovebox as it drew to a close on Saturday night. Overcast for the last few hours with the strong potential for rain, suddenly a blast of ruby red is painted across the sky as Chance the Rapper took to the stage for his headlining set. Coincidence? I think not. It caps off a two days full of empowering, heartfelt and joyful performances which highlights and celebrates, although not exclusively, black musical excellence in the UK and further afield.
Both countries currently have thriving scenes rooted in innovation and artist autonomy, with Lovebox in particular always featuring all these leftfield mavericks that are currently shaping the zeitgeist. For the UK, we have the likes of Slowthai and Loyle Carner, artists who offer a refreshing counterpoint to the more commercial, sanitised aspects of British music culture. Slowthai, who released one of the best albums of 2019 so far with his debut Nothing Great About Britain, continues to excel in a live setting, bringing much energy and charisma and creating one of the most rowdy crowds of the whole weekend (you can see why JPEGMAFIA and Skepta count themselves as fans) whilst Loyle remains an engaging, warm and sincere presence whilst exhibiting the beauty of the South London jazz scene. It is to his testament that a quiet, tender song like ‘Ottolenghi' does not lose any intimacy in a more expansive setting.
On the other end of the scale, whilst you might be likely to see him in the charts than the others, you are not likely to see him being banal or boring. After headlining Wireless the previous weekend, J Hus brings his brand of eclecticism to Lovebox with beats that range from afro-beat to grime to garage, (the last two blooming originally in his home city) all held together with his pure ferocity as an MC and his love for the culture. It is easy to see how he has become an artist of his stature - ‘Spirit’ is an uplifting ode to perseverance which strongly resonates, whilst ‘Bouff Daddy' and ‘Did You See’ are lapped up by a large, excited crowd. He brings out the similarly acclaimed Dave for their now iconic collaboration ‘Samatha', a fun and almost moving moment that shows how far the UK scene has come and how much it is likely to grow and develop.
Meanwhile Ross From Friends provides minimalist emotive techno on the Noisey stage, concluding his set on the very underrated ‘Bootman’, a track that highlights his strength in lush, intimate dance music, whilst Four Tet is, as always, outstanding with a set that mixes the hard, brash energy of the rave with the quiet, ambience of the after party.
Other artists from across the Atlantic shine just as brightly. Kaytranada, one of the most recognisable and in demand producers currently, cements his status with a hit-filled set full of productions, remixes and his own songs; a cheerful 90 minutes of cool, jazz/funk/house that highlights the wide ranging influence of the sound he has created. Lizzo is a dynamic, irrepressible shot of self confidence and rapture. She exudes positivity and warmth whilst being unapologetically sexual and fierce (she jokes that “Lovebox” could mean many things, then says she’s “talking about pussy” just in case the crowd didn’t get it) . ‘Cuz I Love You’ is a grand opener of Aretha proportions, ‘Jerome’ lambasts “scrubs”, and “thick bitches” receive a well deserved shout-out with the thrilling ‘Tempo’. She makes it clear that if the audience take anything away from Lovebox, it is the need for self love. She gets everyone to yell a confidence building mantra (it’s quite therapeutic actually), and encourages everyone to be their own soulmate. All this whilst wearing a, as she rightly fully points out, a “cool ass” Peacock inspired outfit and playing the flute on fan favourite ‘Truth Hurts’.
But it is the headliners who of course provide the best moments. Anyone who had seen her on her last tour could confirm what a strong live performer Solange is. She is keenly aware of the idea of performance, with the staging always being striking and evoking the feeling of the corresponding album it supports. With a cowboy hat briefly on her head, and a stark white staircase being the centrepiece of the stage, she delivers a mesmerising show. She calmly flies through the most immediate tracks of When I Get Home, with the chopped-and screwed stylings of ‘Down The Clique’ and the woozy funk of ‘Way To The Show’ being highlights. Solange is an artist who is aware of the marginalised position of BAME people in society and whose music seeks to educate and empower with songs such as the powerful ‘FUBU' and set closer ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’. She comments on how “nice is it see loads of black and brown faces in the audience” and reflects on her rise from playing at Lovebox ten years ago to where she is now. It is a reflective but commanding performance which places her amongst the greatest artists of her generation with an undeniable compelling creative vision.
Chance The Rapper is similarly an artist with a compelling creative vision. Bringing the Chicago scene, with artists like Saba, Taylor Bennett (his brother), Jamilla Woods amongst his collaborators, into the mainstream hip-hop gaze (the influence of which has spread across the larger rap spectrum) without the support of major labels and on his own terms; Chance is an artist with nothing to prove. His first show in over eight months is a complete triumph. A celebration of life, positivity and faith, Chance the Rapper provides a warm, heart warming end to the festival. The crowd love it as well, generating some of the biggest sing-along moments with ‘No Problem’ (another moment of transcendence took place here as well nearly ), ‘Favourite Song’ and the disco flecked ‘All Night’. Heck, even DJ Khaled generics such as ‘I’m The One’ sound good here. His music is spiritual in the purest sense, with songs like ‘Blessings’ and his verse on ‘Ultralight Beam’ (which was a rare thing of a guest out shining Kanye on his own song) being about his faith yet also completely avoiding being trite or preachy. And when Chance tells the crowd to send their praises up, everyone complies. He mentions teases of the imminent release of his new album throughout the set, which given this performance, could not come soon enough. There’s hope for the future yet.
Other highlights from the two days include: Brockhampton giving a lively if not slightly detached performance that resonates with the crowd, and Cupcakke is a no-show with inexplicably no explanation or apology given.
Check out our gallery of Lovebox 2019 below: