One of the biggest events in Manchester’s musical calendar, it’s become a real coming of age event for Manchester’s students, who arrived in their tens of thousands to party at the 10th-anniversary weekender.
Seemingly not put off by the last-minute withdrawal of Saturday headliner Cardi B, from 11am festival-goers soldiered through the drizzle in their droves, showing off the now-ubiquitous uniform of cycling shorts, fishnets and neon underneath see-through placcy macs.
In fact, judging by the turnouts some of the best-received acts of the weekend turned out to be not the big name headliners, but a fair number of smaller artists.
Even more interesting, despite a healthy mix of genres on the bill, it was the hip-hop acts that really shone over the weekend and pulled in some of the best responses from revellers.
Despite early sets from the likes of George Fitzgerald at Sounds Of The Near Future and Manchester soul duo Children of Zeus on the main stage, Saturday afternoon got off to a bit of a soggy start.
Things picked up around 4pm as London rapper Little Simz brought her high-energy brand of UK hip hop to the main stage, drawing a decent crowd out to bop in the rain as she dropped hits including Selfish and Backseat with a little help from her live band.
One of the best sets of the weekend came from Northampton rapper Slowthai, who close to filled the Sounds of the Near Future tent for his early afternoon set.
True to form, he pumped out a raucous, high-energy set and whilst, admittedly, the sound wasn’t the best his stage presence was so strong that (in the moment, at least) it hardly seemed to matter.
The critically-acclaimed Nothing Great About Britain star hit the stage with full force, stripping down by the time he’d hit his third song, and enthusiastically pulling a beaming fan from the jostling crowd at the start of Inglorious, handing him a mic to rap the absent Skepta’s verse.
A hard act to follow, next up came Tyler the Creator’s little brother Earl Sweatshirt who kind of seemed like he couldn’t be bothered.
Earl’s low-energy set saw the tent empty out pretty quickly – a shame really, as he’s a real talent when he puts his mind to it.
But as the afternoon wound into the evening, things picked up as 45-year old Nas drew a massive crowd down to The Valley.
Showing his age, he introduced Halftime with a reference older than most of the crowd – “this is for anyone who’s ever owned a cassette tape.”
He certainly got the party going, though, with everyone bouncing on their feet as he pulled out classic hits like NY State of Mind and If I Ruled The World.
Taking breaks between songs to wax inspirational to his young audience, the hip-hop veteran more than impressed, not just with his abilities as an entertainer, but with his worldly-wise commentary too.
On the other side of the festival, London grim artist AJ Tracey was pulling fans in left, right and centre, with swathes literally running towards him as the intro for LO(V/S)ER began to play out.
Over on the SOTNF stage and Loyle Carner was getting busy too, providing a respite from the frenetic mud pits outside with his warm and poetic blend of golden UK hip hop.
Many fans had complained that they had to choose between him, Kaytranada and Dave, but those who chose to trudge over to the SOTNF stage were in for a real treat.
He lovingly delivering hits from his 2017 Mercury-prize nominated album Yesterday’s Gone alongside favourites from new LP Not Waving but Drowning sending the spellbound audience into a euphoric state as he dropped new Jorja Smith and Tom Misch collab Loose Ends.
Across the way, rapper Dave took to the Parklife stage with what appeared to be a sore ankle.
Revealing he’d torn a ligament, he was quick to make the most of his opportunity to have a dig at absentee Cardi B, telling the crowd “There’s no way I”d cancel on you guys, I’d do this show on crutches if I had to.”
Going all-in, he certainly didn’t let fans down, reeling out hits including chart-topping singles Funky Friday and his controversial new track Black.
But by the time bumped-up headliner Mark Ronson appeared after him to fill Cardi B’s vacated slot, the crowd had almost dissipated.
Even Mark’s attempt to appease the remaining few revellers by dropping Cardi’s Bodak Yellow is fruitless, and he looks a tad forlorn staring out from his broken heart-shaped DJ booth.
So where is the crowd?
Mostly over at The Valley, where Disclosure is dropping hit after dance-classic hit amidst an impressive laser show.
Finishing on a high with a cracking fireworks display over the damp but ecstatic crowd, the duo doesn’t disappoint, pulling out a euphoric closing set.
Sunday morning brought with it a fleeting promise of better weather – and a parade of ever-more optimistic outfits can be seen on the approach to Heaton Park.
Again it’s the hip-hop acts that draw the biggest crowds, with a few exceptions including teen indie darlings Blossoms.
Pusha T kicked things off on a soggy the SOTNF stage by dropping If you know you know and The games we play from his 2018 album DAYTONA, which both he and his DJ hail enthusiastically as the ‘rap album of the mother******* century’, thank you very much.
The crowd is down, and by the time he drops Mercy a huge mosh pit has formed to enthusiastically engulf the front section of the crowd.
Over on the mainstage, local five piece indie outfit Blossoms appear like a twee blast from the past in brown jackets and flared jeans to churn out soothing hits like Honey Sweet and At Most A Kiss.
Offering a tonic to the high-intensity basslines and full-throttle rap verses seen elsewhere, an atmosphere of calm washes off the stage as Blossoms play, keeping their neon-clad audience enthralled throughout despite an unexpectedly heavy blast of rain mid-set.
Another hotly-anticipated act of the weekend was UK top boy Octavian, who killed off his set on the Valley stage ahead of Stefflon Don’s appearance.
Last year the rapper whipped up excited crowds when he was pulled on stage to make an appearance during Virgil Abloh’s DJ set.
This year, he returned on his own terms to drop some fire on the crowd.
Next up at The Valley is is curvy grime queen Stefflon Don, who pulls a huge crowd into The Valley for her set.
Everything goes off when her Wiley, Idris Elba and Sean Paul collab track Boasty drops.
Closing off the weekend in style were Mike Skinner and The Streets, who manage to bring the sun out of hiding for their set.
Skinner took to the stage with aplomb, announcing “I got you the f***ing sun ok?” before bowing down to praise the first glimmering rays seen by festival-goers all weekend.
Launching into a high-energy set, which sees Mike drop a few classics from the iconic release Original Pirate Material, the band end on a high with Fit but you know it which they rework into a ten-minute long party anthem that feels like it might never end.
Fine by us, there’s only work to wake up for in the morning.
Elsewhere, over on The Valley confetti cannons are going off left right and centre as Diplo and Major Lazer pump out their signature bass heavy trap remixes to ecstatic ravers.
Capitulating with some impressive pyrotechnic displays, The Valley is a surging mass of happy dancers as the trio tease out remixes like Travis Scott’s Sicko Mode and Drake’s Nice For What.
Headliner George Ezra, meanwhile, doesn’t quite deliver the impact expected for such a main slot. The crowd’s there in full force, but the vibe doesn’t quite match the level expected for this peak Sunday night slot.
His hits are on point but, in between, he insists on making intermittent references to his gap year… perhaps in an effort to seem more ‘on a level’ with the mostly student-age audience.
Last but certainly not least, Solange steps up to the SOTNF stage to finish the day off.
She’s brought her A game. The warmth of brass fills the tent and, in true Knowles fashion, she puts on quite the show: appearing flanked by a troupe of DJ-wearing dancers.
As she belts out black empowerment anthem F.U.B.U there’s a real sense of power and togetherness – the essence of Manchester spirit and the perfect ending to the festival’s 10th birthday celebrations.
The bucket hats might’ve been out in full force this weekend, but the tide’s certainly changing on the city’s music scene when it comes to the sorts of artists being championed by punters.
On reflection, it seems that Manchester’s youth, at least, has had enough of the old ‘mad fer it’ heydays and is on the hunt for something else. Something young, and fresh, that sets their generation apart from their parents. And that something else, it turns out, is rap.
Good for them – it’s about time.