Saturday, September 11, 2021

London’s newest music festival Wide Awake debuts in Brockwell Park

After a bit of a false start in the cursed year of 2020, Wide Awake festival finally premiered in Brixton’s Brockwell Park this September – courtesy of the people behind the original Field Day, Bad Vibrations, MOTH Club, Brixton Windmill, and The Shacklewell Arms (to name a few). 

Marketed as a music festival for those wanting something different, Wide Awake brought together underground outsiders and leftfield bands just skirting the musical mainstream, albeit on their own terms. 

The resulting magical blend of Post-Punk, Electronica, Jazz, and Indie is a music snob’s wet dream – an indulgent and intoxicating cocktail that is impossible to consume cautiously.

Unsurprisingly, there was very little caution on the 3rd of September. Starving for live music and fist-pumping experiences, the crowd at Wide Awake turned it up to the max. Think every type of outfit under the sun (including but not limited to boiler suits, leather jackets in 21-degree heat, tweed, cravats, Rough Trade totes, and Louis Theroux T-shirts, as well as a lone faux-fur coat); hardcore moshing that sent drinks and shoes into the stratosphere; crowd surfing by attendees and performers alike; banshee-like screaming and clouds of cigarette smoke. To put it simply, the crowd was partying like their lives depended on it. 


Indeed, this level of energy, although exhausting, was well warranted. Throughout the day, I managed to catch 10 acts making my £29.50 early-bird ticket the most profitable investment of my life. Carried through from 2020, it entitled me to a free “thank you” drink and the musical nirvana that was the line-up. Packed with acts I’ve been longing to see for years, the day was rife with sounds new and old. The storm of IDLES shirts (we counted 73 throughout the day) was a testament to the strength of the headlining band’s magnetic pull and their afternoon set – prior to the same-day appearance at Bristol’s Clifton Downs – was a riotous celebration of all thing’s music and community. 


Unexpectedly, it was the more subdued sets that stood out for me that day. Not that you can call the Snapped Ankles performance subdued, exactly; more like overlooked, since it took place at the same time as a set by the current indie-darlings, Black Country, New Road. The crowd that chose those swamp monsters over BC, NR was treated to an electrifying tornado of sound that possessed the body and invigorated the soul. PVA’s afternoon set was an equally thrilling performance, despite the sunlight slightly jarring with their darkly electronic sound. Thankfully, it didn’t deter the audience from treating it like a techno rave, as they energetically boogied it out in the heaving crowd. Yard Acts was another highlight, completely dominating the tiny So Young Stage with their wry and witty sound to chanting cries of “Yorkshire” from the crowd. 


What pleased me the most about this festival was the level of solidarity and appreciation among the artists. Tiña’s opening, early afternoon set didn’t go unnoticed by IDLES, who gave them a shout-out when taking over the same stage later in the day. Passing on the baton of support, Tiña’s members could be seen energetically bopping along in the wings of a PVA set, while Shame’s guitarist Eddie Green could be spotted in the crowd of Crack Cloud attendees, moments before his own closing number. 


It goes without saying that, although not overshadowed, the day contained traces of COVID’s menacing presence. A number of bands including Americans Boy Harsher and Australians Tropical F*ck Storm couldn’t perform due to travel issues, while SCALPING and Dream Wife fell victim to the virus itself, being replaced at the last moment by Dry Cleaning and Snapped Ankles. Nevertheless, the day itself felt like a close approximation of normality, with crowds of people blissfully surrendering to an afternoon of joy, comradeship, and music. 

Perhaps, the most appropriate summation of the day came from Shame’s frontman Charlie Steen, who professed in the festival’s final moments – “Gigs are back – f*ck COVID!”. 


Liza Kupreeva


Image credit: Paul Hudson

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