I had to trash my mental map for this year’s always-anticipated Parklife, as the Sydney leg of the established yearly dance festival came with a not-to-distant venue change. The familiar Kippax Lake was left alone as brightly-lit kids marched into Centennial Park for a day filled with gorgeous weather and trendy tunes.
It didn't take too long to get used to Parklife’s new home, the festival certainly seemed much smaller with the new surrounds, each of the main stages were spread out on one side of the park while food and drink stalls were set up opposite – simple and effective.
The festival was packed out relatively early compared to previous years, and the early afternoon was dominated by the much-hyped Flume, who drew the majority to the Atoll stage with some laid-back experimental productions. The Sydney-based producer’s most popular track, ‘Sleepless,’ the fun-loving crowd, and the sun all painted the perfect picture of a summer festival.
The Sahara stage hosted the talented Hermitude, who now sound alot more commercial-friendly than previous times I’ve seen the lauded hip-hop act live. Their hit track ‘Speak of the Devil’ is an excellent festival song and had everyone rush from the Atoll stage to raise their hands high, crowd surf, and attempt to stand on each other.
Back on the Atoll stage, St Lucia from New York put on one of the more underrated sets of the day. Unfamiliar with any of his work, I was excited to hear so many wonderful songs come from this man and his backing band, with some great melodies and above all, a great voice. St delivered much of the same synth-rock we are all used to hearing at festivals nowadays, so it’s even more impressive that this set remained one of the highlights of the day.
UK boys Rizzle Kicks brought the energy back to Sahara, and with some great trumpet playing, coupled with a set that relied heavily on call-and-response, the crowd was given another quality party-starting set. Rizzle Kicks were obviously out to stand apart from their peers with moments like a trumpet-based re-work of the James Bond theme, or a great cover of Ed Sheeran’s ‘You Don’t Need Me.’ The hip-hop duo made sure their original tracks stood-out though, with great performances of the Fatboy Slim-produced ‘Mama do the Hump’ and a rather repetitive rendition of ‘When I Was a Youngster.’ It was the most ambitious set of the afternoon and it certainly got over well with the crowd.
Successful duo Chiddy Bang picked up where Rizzle Kicks left on and continued with the hip-hop call-and-response fest quite well, opening with dope single ‘ Breakfast’ and keeping the quality consistent throughout the set.
My first stroll into the tented Kakadu stage was warranted with a live set from dubstep mastermind Benga. The ridiculous popularity of dubstep ensured Kakadu was brimming with flailing limbs and sick drops. The sound, however, was much more of a nod to the origins of the genre then the recently heavily-commercialised wub-wub bass the cool-kids of today listen to. With some live emceeing, the set felt like an authentic UK nightclub, a nice and distinctive feel from the other stages.
As much as I wanted to stay and immerse myself with the off-the-wall party in Kakadu, I left to catch the end of established English artist Plan B’s set which unfortunately left me more confused than entertained. The sentiment was nice, trying to cover every trendy sound at once, but the execution was a mess. A cover of Seal’s ‘Kiss from a Rose’ mixed with a cover of Dr Dre’s ‘Forgot About Dre’ was amongst the more curious performances, and I don’t think anybody could have made it work. However, the artist’s talent cannot be denied, everything was timed flawlessly, it was just perhaps a bit too ambitious.
The grammy-winning man of many names, Jaques Lu Cont, was another highlight of the day. Giving us an impeccable DJ set, filled with excellent electronica and house, the man better known as Stuart Price strangely felt like a rarity among the modern sounds of dubstep-infused everything.
Night fell and the Sahara stage was swamped for Nero’s shiny live set, after a bit of tardiness the UK dubstep behemoths hit hard with opener ‘ Doomsday’ and relentlessly keep the bass at a deafening level up until their closing jam, the irritating ‘ Crush On You.’ It was the bro-step hour that is now essential at dance festivals, and while the appeal is wearing thin for those that have been to more festivals than they care to admit, the new generation of festival goers relish these moments, and it’s obvious with all the aggressive fist pumping. It is difficult to fault the brutal bass lines though, but maybe they would be more suited to a covered stage – the sound at the open-air stages only makes the harder-hitting dance acts enjoyable for the first 10 or so rows.
Justice put on an excellent DJ set, as always, which drew the majority of the festival to Sahara, but it was the Atoll stage where the magic happened, with Passion Pit putting on a superb set. The unique style of the critically acclaimed dance-pop band was marred only by the underwhelming sound coming from the stage. The American boys balanced their two studio albums well, carefully picking fan-favourites to keep the crowd at a constant high. The one-two punch of ‘ Sleepyhead’ and ‘ Little Secrets’ exploded with confetti and joy, clearly showing that despite Justice lighting up the neighboring stage, Parklife’s penultimate hour belonged to Passion Pit.
The Presets, fresh off the release of their new album Pacifica owned the entire day with one single moment, which was unsurprisingly the anthemic ‘My People,’ yet again proving that they cannot be beaten as far as popular Australian dance music goes. The duo of Julian Hamilton and Kim Moyes is now an unstoppable force of light and music, and only three albums into their career the boys are putting on world-class shows that make any festival worth the price of admission. While the old favourites like ‘ Kicking and Screaming’ and ‘Talk Like That’ were the reason the majority were there, The Presets’ new material proved just as great and exciting live as all their other hits.
The new venue seems to have paid off for Parklife: the walking distance between stages is less than that of Kippax Lake, the buses to central are nice and close to the exit, and the layout is simple enough that you can easily find lost friends despite the forever-frustrating reception. The line-up wasn't packed full of excitement like last year’s, but most acts I saw put on above-average performances – chalk up another year where Parklife lived up to their reputation as one of the more exciting dance-a-thons on Australia’s crowded list of music festivals.