Now in its fifth year north of the city centre at Heaton Park, Manchester’s Parklife Festival has solidified its reputation as one of the jewels in the city’s musical crown. Eschewing the nostalgia that’s so often beset the region in favour of a cutting-edge programme, the two-day weekender brings together the best in forward-facing dance and hip hop and sprinkles in a little indie rock, too, appealing to the Radio 1 and 6 Music demographics simultaneously. This year’s lineup brings back the two outdoor arenas - the Main Stage and the Temple - as well as tents curated by the likes of promoters extraordinaire Now Wave, Spanish dance legends Elrow and underground powerhouse The Warehouse Project. DiS have handpicked the festival’s essential five acts.
Run the Jewels - Main Stage, Sunday
A late, and hugely welcome, addition to the lineup, RTJ are the hottest duo in hip hop. Out in support of their unanimously acclaimed third album, Run the Jewels 3, Killer Mike and El-P might seem like the rap game’s answer to The Odd Couple on the surface, but their unique lyricism is capable of turning on a dime from dick jokes to searing political commentary (Mike was one of Bernie Sanders’ most vocal supporters last year). El-P’s beats, meanwhile, are more brooding than ever on RTJ3, although you should expect plenty of the old-school mayhem of their first two albums also. On their European tour back in March, RTJ practically razed a chaotic and packed-out Albert Hall to the ground in Manchester city centre; expect them to inspire similar scenes a few miles north when they hit the main stage on day two.
Stormzy - Sounds of the Near Future, Sunday
Given the halcyon year that Stormzy’s had so far in 2017, his booking represents a massive coup for Parklife. His debut album, Gang Signs and Prayer, broke streaming records when it hit the top of the UK charts back in March, and his tour of the country in support of it sold out in minutes. Throughout, the public profile of the man born Michael Omari has involved everything from his admirably frank discussion of his own mental health to turning up at the BRITs to collaborate with Ed Sheeran. He’s the most exciting prospect in grime at the minute and given that the scene is absolutely teeming with talent, that’s saying something. Lyrics replete with grim humour and incisive observations on society are his calling card, but when he headlines the Sounds of the Near Future stage on Sunday, he’ll aim to whip the crowd up into a storm with the likes of ‘Cold’, ‘Big for Your Boots’ and the classic ‘Shut Up’. Just make sure you get down early, as the tent is going to be rammed to capacity. He could - and probably should - be sitting top of the bill on one of the bigger stages.
Anderson .Paak - Sounds of the Near Future, Saturday
In many ways, Anderson .Paak is the archetypal Parklife artist. Stylistically fluid and impossible to pin down, the California native earned a Grammy nomination for last year’s Malibu, his second studio album and one that saw him blend a range of genres with astonishing skill. Over the course of an hour, he channels everything from Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, all the while changing his lyrical approach to suit the mood, too. With his well-drilled band, the Free Nationals, in tow, he’s set to bring those tracks to life in the Sounds of the Near Future tent on Saturday afternoon at Parklife; he’s likely to switch between sixties soul and nineties hip hop at the drop of a hat, dropping the likes of ‘Come Down’, ‘Am I Wrong’ and ‘The Bird’ in a sort of free jazz style that sees one track meld into the next. If he carries on at his current rate, he might be the next D’Angelo - make sure you can say you saw him first.
Chaka Khan - Main Stage, Saturday
Parklife have a superb track record of bringing genuine icons to the festival, dating right back to the days in Platt Fields Park in Fallowfield, which saw a rare onstage collaboration between Nile Rodgers and Johnny Marr back in 2012. Since the move to Heaton Park, the likes of Grace Jones, Ice Cube and Public Enemy have made appearances, and this year sees both rap legends A Tribe Called Quest and the Queen of Funk herself, Chaka Khan, on the lineup. The latter has sold 70 million records worldwide and returns to Manchester after being forced to call off her last appearance here four years ago at the eleventh hour after she lost her voice. She’ll be on top form at Parklife, though, with a setlist that’ll presumably involve a run through her glittering back catalogue - she hasn’t released a new album in a decade, but the crowd aren’t likely to care when she fires off ‘Ain’t Nobody’, ‘I’m Every Woman’ and ‘Through the Fire’.
The 1975 - Main Stage, Saturday
If ever a Manchester band was going to headline Parklife, it had to be The 1975, a group defined by the dichotomy in their music between the past - they wear their Eighties influences firmly on their sleeves - and the present, with irrepressible frontman Matty Healy claiming that he “creates as he consumes”, understanding that music fans today want stylistic diversity. They certainly delivered that on last year’s ludicrously titled but utterly irresistible I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it, which ran the gamut from the glam funk of ‘Love Me’ to the shimmering post rock of ‘Lostmyhead’. They arrive at Parklife on the verge of album number three, which they’ve already named (Music for Cars) and projected for a 2018 release. This, then, will provide the opportunity for a rousing send-off to an album that was picked as their favourite of 2016 by both this writer and DiS’ editor - although that doesn’t mean they won’t play now-classic singles ‘Chocolate’, ‘Girls’ and ‘Sex’, too.
Parklife Festival 2017 takes place at Heaton Park, Manchester on June 10th and 11th, and is sold out