Love thy Box
Lovebox has been a huge player on the UK festival circuit since it was founded by London-based electro duo Groove Armada back in 2002 to promote their album of the same name.
This year’s Sunday at the East End festival was host to American rock ‘n roll band, Blondie, and there was no way I was missing it for the world. The day was called ‘Out & Out Fierce’ and the line-up was so camp, that I am surprised that my friend Natasha and I didn’t put two and two together sooner. Even after remarking on how “everybody seems to be gay here”, it wasn’t until a man walked past in studded, leather braces holding a Gaydar Radio flag, whilst Beth Ditto threw herself naked around the stage screaming “where are my fags at?” that we decided it was definitely ‘Gay Day’.
We rocked up to the East End at midday, alighting the train at Homerton and trying to track down where Victoria Park was on Google Maps. As we walked in the general direction, we swigged on a bottle of wine and I was practically jumping up and down with excitement, for in just over six hours, I would be seeing the great lady of mass hysteria herself – Debbie Harry.
I have been a huge fan of Blondie for a long time, and I can still remember the first time I put on my Dad’s Eat To The Beat vinyl. I fell in love. I was in love with the lyrics, the incredible guitar hooks, the perfectly placed drums. And how could I not be pulled in by the charisma that literally reverberated from Miss Harry, with her million-dollar smile and alluring New York drawl. It didn’t take me long to get through their entire back catalogue, picking out my favourite tracks as I went.
As we entered the front gates of Victoria Park, drawn toward the loud buzz of speakers that makes your insides clench with excitement and your feet want to break into a sprint, the Heaven’s opened, soaking Natasha’s cigarette and seeping right through my Converses. A shield of umbrellas faced the sky as we huddled close to the rest of the latecomers (hey, at least this way we missed the queues) and crossed over the barriers. Ladies and gentleman, welcome to Lovebox 2011.
With my festival poncho well and truly on and Lovebox programme around my neck, we headed over to the Gaymer’s tent for a cider and a dance to Badger Badger. You can only imagine the joy we experienced when we saw they were sporting badger ‘hats’, mostly because Natasha’s nickname is ‘The Honey Badger’. The rain soon dried up and after a little deliberation, we headed down Frith Street to check out the venue. We moseyed around the boutiques and posed by the giant tulips.
After some more drinks and a box of chips, we headed for the main stage, taking a detour to swing by the NYC Downlow area, which took the form of a broken-down stretch of houses with a NYC taxi sticking out one of the roofs and girls and drag queens hanging out the windows, channeling Amsterdam’s red-light district.
On the main stage Azari III, either the second or third act to go up, were a frenzy of disco and, in spite the huge downpour toward the middle of their set, the crowd was going mental for their somewhat hilarious dance routines and catchy choruses. I hadn’t heard of them before, but with their dark disco-house, Cedric and Fritz (the front men whose names I later discovered) kept spirits high with ridiculously energetic performances and ‘fierce’ (as Tyra would say) costumes.
By this point the ground was sodden. We joined the hoards of festivalgoers wading through the sea of mud that was strewn with empty Gaymers cups and straw hats. On our quest for more cider, we witnessed one or two mud wrestling matches and I wasn’t sure whether to get Natasha in a headlock and tackle her down to the ground or run away melodramatically screaming: “My shoes, my jeans, everything’s RUINED!”
Taking root back in the audience of the main stage, next up was Beth Ditto. All I can say is “Oh. My. God.” She opened up with not a song, but a one-sided, five-minute conversation with the audience about how we should all love our mothers. The crowd bounced and cheered as she trotted around the stage, belting out various covers of well-known dance music and some of The Gossip’s finest. But nothing prepared the crowd for what was coming up next. The background dancers starting shaking their junk like Beyoncé and then, low and behold, Beth Ditto remerged on the stage, in nothing but her underwear, and started dancing like a mad woman. The crowd inhaled loudly with shock, some boos and some cheers- Natasha and I just starred at each other, mouths catching flies. I don’t think I blinked for at least two minutes, by which point Beth covered up and returned to the stage in a green tunic-type thing and then jumped over the barriers and ‘sang’ “where my queers at?” as she walked through the crowd for several minutes. I must say I was underwhelmed with her performance. Lord knows she has got an incredible powerhouse of a voice, but perhaps she forgot she did? She seemed to rely solely on shock-antics to secure the cheers from the crowd. That being said, her version of Madonna’s En Vogue was not without its charm.
After, I wormed my way through the crowd like a pro and managed to secure a position smack bang in the middle of the stage, about two people deep. Up went the black backdrop and down came the white sheen curtains, I’m fairly certain I wasn’t the only one that appreciated the Parallel Lines reference. Then, as if some kind of demi-God descended on to Earth in front of an entire village of worshippers, the crowd went mental as Debbie Harry took to the stage, dressed all in black, rocking diamante sunglasses and a multicoloured, Native American headdress. Unlike Beth Ditto, Blondie didn’t have to rely on drawn-out conversation to disguise a lack of musical prowess; they have a plethora of some 30 years worth of instantly recognisable tracks that secured their place as some of rock ‘n rolls greatest hits many years ago. Clem Burke set the band off with a few beats of his drums and Debbie’s haunting voice filled Victoria Park with the opening lines of Union City Blue in what was, for me at least, akin to some sort of spiritual moment.
I watched in awe, I jumped and danced, I sang along and screamed, I was completely engrossed in the performance. I didn’t even realise that it had been raining on and off throughout until a day later when I read a review of Blondie’s set on my lunch break.
Every time Debbie’s winning smile spread across her face, the whole crowd beamed and my heart was in my throat. Every time the chords of the next song floated from the amps into the crowd, every one instantly screamed. They played a host of incredible tracks including Call Me, The Tide Is High, Dreaming and the insatiable Heart Of Glass. They also played two tracks from their new album, Panic Of Girls – Mother the new single and one of my other favourite tracks – What I Heard.
My three personal highlights of the gig was Hanging On The Telephone, mainly because it’s my favourite Blondie song, One Way Or Another because it is such an incredible track, not to mention so well known that everyone in the audience seemed to know the lyrics and Maria. Natasha and myself had been singing along to it in the morning as we were getting ready and, similarly to One Way Or Another, everyone knows the words, so the overall energy of the crowd was immense. I also really enjoyed seeing Clem doing some tricks with his drumsticks. The first trick I witnessed him attempt, he failed and just to prove to himself he could still do it, he tried again at least three more times, and succeeded every, single time.
I was saddened when they said goodbye and Debbie sauntered off the stage looking like the sexiest 65-year-old you ever saw (because she is), but I was elated and couldn’t stop grinning. It is never going to get any better than that.
We hurried over to the DJ stage to see Peaches set. I introduced Natasha to Peaches the year before last, when we went to see her gig in KOKO, Camden. She was friggin’ phenomenal then and she was just as ingenious this time. She was there last year with her leg in a cast, being pushed around the stage in a wheelchair by a naked transsexual. This time, she was minus the cast, but not the transsexual and was channeling Marie Antoinette, dressed in a ridiculously huge, white(ish) wig. What I most loved about Peaches’ DJ set was not just the pounding electro dance that she mixed with a few of her best tracks that had us all going mental in the mud, but the show that was going on throughout. She had burlesque, circus tricks, overtly sexy dancing and blood which all combined into this glorious – dare I say it – freak show.
High on dancing and the near Heaven-like experience of Blondie, Natasha and I dragged our muddy feet back West, knowing that we were destined to return East next year.