Lovebox has always been a festival for the pop omnivore, a glitter-speckled mishmash for weekend hedonists and fancy-dressers. But this year’s edition felt distinctly segregated, and not just because of the VIP loos (accessible with a £15 wristband). Both days were nostalgia-free events, with a focus on new rather than heritage acts, yet the curation led to a drastic front-loading of expectations, with all eyes and ears waiting for one man.
Frank Ocean’s Friday night headline slot was the subject of anxious anticipation, following a spate of festival no-shows from the R&B recluse. For many of his fans – and they are legion and obsessive – tonight marks their first live encounter with Ocean. The hardcore queue for hours to buy one-off screenprinted T-shirts commemorating the occasion. When he finally appears, 25 minutes late, he confines himself to a tiny platform jutting into the crowd, a setup both intimate and isolating. Kicking off with Solo, from last year’s album Blonde, and Chanel, the singer skulks around his desert island accompanied by a minimal backing band, placing his vocals – quivering, note-perfect – rightly to the fore. He is dwarfed by three video screens behind him, relaying camcorder-style visuals captured by a roving cameraman who turns out to be Spike Jonze (the director is rumoured to be filming a tour documentary).
The set draws mostly from Blonde, with just one track from Ocean’s 2012 debut Channel Orange – the sparse and sweet Thinkin Bout You. There’s certainly a logic to the low-key, unorthodox presentation: after the four-year wait, Blonde turned out to be a skeletal, fragile thing compared to the slick, structured pop of its predecessor. For some, it’s frustrating – views are obscured and the sound isn’t quite right – but the mood of spontaneity and downright weirdness is a good fit for this enigmatic character.
Opposite in every way to Frank’s slippery navel-gazing is a standout set by Solange, who,…