In partnership with Parklife Festival
Built from humble roots by the same team who established The Warehouse Project as one of Manchester’s most iconic club nights, Parklife Festival has become a key date in the calendar of music lovers across the UK.
Now known as the country’s largest metropolitan festival, the non-camping weekender returns on Saturday 10 and Sunday 11 June, hosting artists such as The 1975, Aitch, Little Simz, The Prodigy, and Self Esteem. Spanning over nine stages, with a rich history of showcasing global talents such as Frank Ocean, 50 Cent and Lorde, there’s nothing quite like Parklife. Let NME guide you through the story so far, shining a light on some of the most memorable moments in its 13-year history.
Parklife began as Mad Ferret festival, a one-day affair in Platts Field Park, Rusholme. Set up in 2007 by a group of students, the festival soon began pulling in bigger names – The Streets, Roots Manuva, Franz Ferdinand – and bigger audiences. “When you look back at some of those first flyers for Parklife… the likes of Calvin Harris and that, it’s bonkers!” says co-founder Sacha Lord. The festival’s growth was reflected in its renaming as ‘Parklife’ in 2010, a decision which spurned a ton of Blur remixes from DJs playing that year.
By 2013, Parklife had outgrown its old home. Initially, the plan was to move to Wythenshawe Park, which is walking distance from the student hub of Fallowfield, but eventually Manchester City Council persuaded the organisers to move to Heaton Park instead. Its rich musical history (previous performers there include Oasis and Stone Roses) was enough to get everyone on board, and the first line-up hosted some huge UK artists, including Plan B, Example, and Professor Green.
A year after the move to Heaton Park, one of the world’s biggest rappers was gracing the stage at Parklife. Snoop Dogg touched down in Manchester at a pivotal point in the festival’s continuing expansion, and the organisers knew it. “As soon as Snoop walked on stage, we just looked at the crowd and thought: We’ve done it. This is it now,” recalls Lord. “That was the moment we knew that Parklife was going to become something special.”
The Valley Stage has hosted some incredible DJs over the years, from Disclosure in 2019 to Peggy Gou in the long-awaited return of UK festivals in 2021. However, perhaps the best show of the lot came back in 2015, when UK dance royalty DJ EZ gave punters a set to remember. “I remember DJ EZ absolutely smashing that stage apart and everyone was just in awe of what they were seeing,” says Lord. “The Valley always seems to be the one that has the most memorable moments.”
2017 was an emotional edition of the festival. Just weeks after the Manchester Arena Bombing that devastated families across the city, the message from the city’s leaders was clear: business as usual. Inspired by One Love Manchester, Parklife’s organisers wanted to pay respect their own way. Aided by headliners The 1975 and Manchester figures like Carl Cox and Mayor Andy Burnham, they launched a powerful tribute to those who lost their lives. “When the day comes for Parklife to finish,” says Lord. “I’ll look back at what moments stands out above the rest, and I’m confident it’s that moment.”
Even for Parklife’s organisers, there are always plenty of surprises when the weekend rolls around. In 2021, shockwaves spread across the crowd when Afrobeats giant Burna Boy was joined on stage by one of the world’s most high-profile footballers. “To this day, I cannot work out how Paul Pogba managed to get to Heaton Park so fast,” says Lord, who saw the then-Manchester United player turn up just minutes after playing at Old Trafford. It was a guest nobody saw coming, and one that would’ve delighted Parklife punters from the red half of Manchester.
UK crowds were yearning for the return of live music by the summer of 2021. This backdrop made it a standout year for everyone involved with the festival. The hedonism and joy of swarming together and dancing, lost for far too long, was in full swing at Heaton Park, as acts like Dave, Megan Thee Stallion, and Princess Nokia touched down in Manchester. “People had been locked up for 18 months or more… you could tell it was a joyous event for everyone there,” Lord reflects.
The Parklife engagement x Yung Filly – 2022
When a couple got engaged on the Main Stage during Yung Filly‘s set last year, the flood of negative social media comments it prompted from trolls was unsurprising, but nasty nonetheless. “It really angered me,” says Lord. “So the next day we reached out to the couple and offered to cover their honeymoon and everyone really got behind them! That was like Manchester again standing up against the bullies. We all come together and stand shoulder to shoulder.”
2023 boasts one of the most impressive line-ups Parklife has ever seen. But Lord and his team — co-founder/booker Sam Kandel, booker/promoter James Crossan, and their many dedicated staff — are set on further growth. “I think we’ve truly found our identity now but we’re never going to be complacent,” says Lord. “If people walk away thinking “We’ve got to be here next year”, then the job’s done.”
Parklife 2023 takes place at Heaton Park on June 10-11. Head here for tickets.