Lovebox Weekender: Groove Armada/Mylo/Plantlife, Victoria Park, London
Where dance music lives on
Tuesday 26 July 2005
The 20,000 people at Saturday's Lovebox don't believe dance music is dead, willingly shelling out £30 in a summer jam-packed with festivals, to enjoy the dance duo Groove Armada's day-long frolic in Victoria Park, Hackney. In fact, demand means the line-up is replicated the day after.
Lovebox is Groove Armada's festival: Tom Findlay and Andy Cato take great pride in a hands-on approach, carefully choosing a line-up that reflects the dance and electronic scene's most accessible yet leftfield acts of the past year. And it's Los Angeles' 14-strong funk family Plantlife that best fulfil this brief.
Plantlife's debut LP, last year's The Return of Jack Splash, is beloved of the tastemaker Gilles Peterson, and their sophisticated blend of nebulous soul-funk has also attracted high-praise from Mos Def and Pharrell Williams. Fronted by the high-pitched soul of the fly-guy Jack Splash, Plantlife's nourishing, positive songs - "Luv 4 the World", the alternating rap and screechy soul "Bottle of Hope" and disco-funk of "Got2get2gether4luv" - hark back to a more idealistic age.
The undoubted highlight is the horn-led neo-soul of their biggest single to date, "When She Smiles She Lights the Sky", which brings a West Coast heat haze to grey Hackney.
Plantlife cleverly incorporate snippets of popular hip-hop good guys, including A Tribe Called Quest and Gangstarr into their songs, and also evoke funk bands of yore such as James Brown's JBs and George Clinton's P-Funk Allstars, with uptempo solo workouts that remind a rapt audience that this is a dance-music festival.
Plantlife's set poses a problem for the two subsequent acts: both Groove Armada and Mylo's music is predominantly instrumental rather than vocal, so neither has a lead singer to connect with the audience. However, both are experienced enough to work around dance music's perennial gig conundrum.
Groove Armada's big-beat house soon envelops the audience in a comforting blanket of bass. They shift through the gears into tribal house and achieve lift-off with the block-rocking ragga-house of "Superstylin'". The only lulls are provided by their sing-along chill-out anthem "At the River" (the track that sent them on their way, built around a Patti Page sample) before Tom and Andy demonstrate their stadium-house expertise and finish with an extended, rocky version of "I See You Baby".
Mylo's guitar-driven sound seems sturdier and more suited to the set-up, especially when combined with lolloping synths emitting waves of euphoric sounds. The Scotsman's debut album, Destroy Rock & Roll, is an example of a slow-burning success story, shifting 150,000 units in 12 months and a fixture on any discerning club kid's iPod playlist (especially the monstrous singles from it, "Drop the Pressure", "In My Arms" and "Destroy Rock & Roll").
As a result, Mylo's performance is a celebration among familiar friends, and we're privy to new material including the dusty drum-driven melancholy of "Cold Snap". Mylo's kitsch-house, hewn from soft rock, vocodered vocals and electro-pop, is unashamedly cheesy and gloriously uplifting. At times, Mylo's electro-pop stylings don't seem far removed from a 21st-century Depeche Mode. Daft Punk may be more sophisticated and Basement Jaxx more raw, but when the Casio-keyboard intro of "Drop the Pressure" kicks in, there is no doubt Mylo has joined both in the pantheon of dance music greats.
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