Upbeat vibes prevail at Parklife 2024 for a vibrant and playful weekend

World-renowned acts, heavy emphasis on electronic sounds, and questionable weather patterns.

Words: Finlay Holden.
Photos: Anthony Mooney, Graham Joy, Jody Hartley, Sam Neill, Sophia J Carey.

If you’ve heard of Parklife before, you know exactly what to expect from the Manchester festival. Heaton Park once again welcomes party-seekers in their thousands, and the 2024 edition certainly delivers on its usual staples – world-renowned acts, heavy emphasis on electronic sounds, and questionable weather patterns.

The site takes up a relatively small area considering the dense population of stages and, indeed, talent, but this grants the ability to dart between world-class DJs and big-name pop stars. At some points, it’s almost unclear which area constitutes the main stage, as you could easily devote a day to the tucked-away corners of Magic Sky alone.

As chaos first filters through the fields under a promising blue sky, attendees feel the grass tremble under the power of Sammy Virji’s shaking beats. Hitting the decks back to back with Interplanetary Criminal in The Valley smiles quickly spread as dirty drops share an instant reminder of what this festival is all about. Having made his name in clubs, Virji’s transition to the 3pm slot is sure to bring younger crowds into his future shows.

Forceful rhythms fuel the energy of attendees across the site, but Nia Archives’ standout set brings everyone back together for a real celebration. The Leeds-raised creative is no first-timer here, but having just dropped her debut LP ‘Silence Is Loud’ back in April, she returns with a refreshed suite of tunes. Starting off with a lighthearted remix set, she slowly amps herself up as the sleek and groovy Queen of Jungle captivates with subdued vocals that pierce through the rattle. ‘Cards On The Table’, ‘Crowded Roomz’ and particularly ‘Unfinished Business’ have the crowd roaring, and for good reason. 

As the high-profile Four Tet pulsates into his low-key choruses, it’s hard to resist the trance they cast. If anyone has the draw to snap you away, it would be the soulful charm of Mahalia at the Parklife stage; her band may play a big role in bringing her three-album discography to life, but the voice at the forefront is undeniable. No longer reaching for the spotlight but capitalising on it, this singer-songwriter has some big tunes under her belt, not least of all 2023’s ‘Terms and Conditions’ which leaves a major impression.

Just a day after her first album ‘I Hear You’ entered the world, Berlin-based superstar DJ Peggy Gou joins the party in Manchester. Pulling heavily from 90s house, her setlist, of course, includes the smash hit ‘(It Goes Like) Nanana’, which has dominated airwaves everywhere since its release last summer – it seems like her moment just keeps on going, and that clean flow is on show during her set too.

If it has to end at some point, transitioning into a Disclosure headline show isn’t a bad way to bow out. Not only a major slot for the duo but also their first proper UK live show in eight years – be careful how you define that – we are now a decade on from the iconic ‘Settle’ album, and the Lawrence siblings have kept the excitement alive. As well as breaking out the old hits (‘Latch’ and ‘White Noise’ are clear favourites), cuts from the equally enthralling fourth full-length ‘Alchemy’ have the same dancefloor potency.

Mixing pop hooks, house beats and famed vocal contributions, Disclosure feel as immersive as ever. Finding the confidence to step away from the decks and jam on live instruments (yes, “live” show) shows they might still have something to prove – and they do so with subtle charm. When they bring out a brass section for ‘Tondo’ and conclude with the intoxicating ‘Higher Than Ever Before’, the 11pm curfew feels less harsh than expected.

Cut to the next morning when ticket holders are just about shaking off the effects of their chosen afterparties; the hangovers settle as the site begins to buzz again, but the rain is less generous. PACH. benefits from a huge influx of wet punters inside the blazing Palmhouse tent as the light show warms those bodies up again, ready for a stunning flurry of powerhouse DJs.

Salute brings good vibes on the Parklife stage, having matured his relaxed form of euphoria over years of not-so-quiet performance. Having recently found some real footing and expanding his reach by collaborating with artists like Sam Gellaitry, Rina Sawayama and several acts on the Parklife bill, it feels like he is on the tip of something huge.

Having worked alongside the thrilling Confidence Man on ‘Forever 2 (Crush Mix)’, DJ Boring brings some fun distorted visuals to the wide Hangar screens, instilling an immediate sense of fun. His set seems to blur and fade, lacking the vigour of his impressive recent output – he’s not long dropped the fantastic ‘You Luv Me’ – but he’s able to sway a decent crowd over to his side.

Barry Can’t Swim brings a far more distinct fingerprint to the day, walking out to a massive crowd despite the heavens failing to close. It’s clear that his thrilling LP ‘When Will We Land?’ has made its mark, and he gleefully explores it on stage. Taking a moment to highlight his relaxed, piano-led side with the angelic ‘Sonder’, which he says is his favourite tune, he can pick up the pace just as easily as per the revelatory ‘Dance of the Crab’. As one fan’s sign reads: Barry can’t swim, but he sure can DJ.

At this point in the day, it’s time to lock into the Hangar for a stunning set of back-to-back sets that you would struggle to find anywhere else but Parklife. The Australian star Dom Dolla is on a meteoric rise but takes a moment away from entertaining fans like Taylor Swift to descend upon the desperately eager Mancunians present today. His pyrotechnics make quite a sight from across the fields, and the numbers quickly grow; “Give it to me, Manny,” he demands as ‘Miracle Maker’ whirs into action, and he doesn’t have to ask twice.

The crowd is audibly gutted when Dom dips out, but Chris Lake picks things up quickly. A more homegrown talent releasing house tracks since the early 2000s, some of his early ideas may be far beyond the youth gaping up at him today, but his recent collaborations and refocus redeem his relevancy, overcompensating to the point that he becomes a highlight of the day. It doesn’t matter who is driving the show; when the cheeky chorus of ‘Beggin” or rich, glitchy synths of ‘Summertime Blues’ call out, the crowd will answer in awe.

Anne-Marie is joined by last year’s headliner Aitch on the Parklife Stage only a few hundred metres away, but for those enraptured in The Hangar’s pulsating sound system, the surprise appearance may as well be on another planet. Newcastle’s Patrick Topping techno musings keep ravers ensnared for a while longer, only relenting as the darkness creeps in.

The relaxed energy of Kaytranda makes for a perfect detour, the hip-hop producer guiding us through his excellent joint album ‘Kaytraminé’ (released last year alongside Aminé), as well as the previous week’s ‘TIMELESS’. Curating a distinct vibe and delivering a huge aesthetic, the generous creative makes the most of an all-too-short set. Horns blare, lights flare, ‘4EVA’ has the fields breaking it down – just as the rain comes in.

By all accounts, Parklife 2023 suffered some major wet spells, with acts being delayed or cancelled throughout the Sunday. A year on, and Manchester’s luck hasn’t improved, with consistent downpours reaching severe levels and disintegrating crowds at an alarming rate.

Doja Cat comes prepared, marching into The Valley adorned in a clear poncho; it’s her first UK appearance in almost two years, kicking off a string of long-awaited tour dates, and she’s having fun with it.

Mocking fans for not recognising Hilary Duff’s ‘Come Clean’ (“Let the rain fall down,” she shouts in jest) and describing the weather as “elegant”, her signature cheek isn’t phased one bit. Social media may prove a strange lense for her multifaceted nature, but on stage – twerking in a thunderstorm as a hair-coated set blasts fireballs – this attitude makes complete sense. Offering impressive flow on hit after hit, with a mid-set ‘Say So’ regaining momentum, the live band backing allows some true catharsis.

Amongst cracking dancers, supporting vocalists and big-budget stage production, Doja’s voice remains the focus, and she joyfully flaunts herself throughout. As an artist, she has always been hard to pinpoint – rapper? pop sensation? – and that creative elusiveness remains even as her profile grows ever more dominant.

As fans sprint to their buses, the Parklife legacy still stands out by focusing on the here and now, prioritising the dance and electronic artists that its Gen Z audience is discovering and growing to love in the current moment. No legacy acts feature on the bill, only the most prominent and promising names in a world of music that blends multiple genres into a cultural experience that everyone, at their core, is here for: a big fat rave. It doesn’t reclaim the mantle of the UK’s biggest dance weekend so much as reminds the nation of its true owner. 

Bright outfits now replaced with plastic ponchos and mud-soaked trainers, the intense rain may leave the masses with a grey finale to an otherwise vibrant and playful weekend, but the times shared even throughout the storm prove that upbeat vibes prevail, and keeping on dancing certainly doesn’t hurt.