A spirited Wide Awake festival stakes an early claim over summer

The eclectic London festival's third outing was slick in execution and resolute in its progressive approach

On Saturday 27 May, Wide Awake returned for its third iteration in the Grade II National Heritage majesty of South London’s Brockwell Park. In a jam-packed bank holiday weekend glut of musical goodness, it follows the previous day’s electronic outing Project 6 and precedes Sunday’s jazz, funk and soul jamboree, Cross The Tracks and Monday’s reggae/dancehall/afrobeats offering, City Splash.

As part of the Brockwell Live family (which also includes next weekend’s queer pop feast Mighty Hoopla), these independent sister festivals strive for a spirit of community and sustainability. The most musically ambiguous of the siblings, running the gamut of indie and folk to post-punk and techno, Wide Awake’s claim to this ethos is exemplified in this year’s gender equal line-up. And the Goddesses reward this dedication to progressiveness with a blazing blue-sky forecast.

Luke Dyson @lukedyson www.lukedyson.com

Fresh from her sold-out showcase at the Moth Club on Wednesday, Blondshell is in confident swagger, cutting a figure of comfort as she kicks things off on the main stage. Her eponymous debut was only released weeks ago, but the way she belts out her grungey 90’s inflected bangers such as ‘Veronica Mars’ with an itsy bit o’ Mitski with a Liz Phair flair, if you will, it’s clear she will be gracing many more main stages to come.

Los Bitchos bring the carnival atmosphere to the Bad Vibrations/Desert Daze stage. With statement of intent opener, ‘Good To Go!’, the London-based quartet unleash their inimitable cumbia-cum-garage rock onto an only too-willing crowd. They sound great and it’s clear they’re having an absolute ball (“This is fucking emotional right now!”), the enthusiasm is infectious – smiles and beer-swilling abound. For those looking for a more sedate start to proceedings, Pakistan’s first ever Grammy winner, Arooj Aftab graces the main stage. The crossover appeal of her jazz-folk-Hindustani-classical fusion opus, Vulture Prince, was one of 2021’s unexpected delights. As her gorgeous Urdu cascades across the Lambeth hills and glitters golden in the trees, it’s easy to see why.

Luke Dyson @lukedyson www.lukedyson.com

The crowd is youthful to say the least. The crochet hot pants, mesh, baggy t-shirts, bucket hats and other Gen-Z fashion hallmarks are out in enough force to make a millennial blush; but the good vibes radiating across the site are universal. One of the most pleasing things about the festival is how well organised it is. Despite lengthy queue times, once inside the bars and food stalls are plentiful and waiting times are minimal to non-existent – a quality whose impact upon the enjoyment of a festival cannot be understated, as anyone who’s ever queued 40 minutes for a cider at Lambeth Country Show will attest. The array of food offerings is as diverse and outstanding as we’ve come to expect at any modern festival. Two words must be vaunted though: Duck Truck.

At the Moth Club/DMY stage, Tirzah’s set is an impenetrable fortress of bodies that stretches outside the confines of the tent. Not to worry though, as there’s plenty on offer on the other six stages with the likes of Glass Beams, Molchat Doma and Alex G. There’s a number of carnival rides, shops and merch stalls to explore too, and the site is laid out so that even the in-between DJ sets on smaller stages like the Shackwell Arms/The Gun ignite impromptu raves as people make their way around.

Back at the Moth Club, folks have learned the Tirzah lesson as the tent starts filling up fast with 20 minutes to spare in anticipation of the aggressively genre-agnostic Jockstrap’s set. The musical duo of Taylor Sky and Georgia Ellery (replete in full gold outfit) blast through songs from last year’s debut LP, I Love You Jennifer B. The array of musical styles is impressive, with skronking electronic numbers giving way to acoustic beauty. ‘The Greatest’ really gets things going but it’s the closing one-two punch of ‘Concrete Over Water’ and ‘50/50’ that causes the crowd to explode in consecutive mosh-pits. Emerging smiling back into the sunset, this will surely be a highlight of the day for many.

Luke Dyson @lukedyson www.lukedyson.com

Over at the SC&P/Village Underground stage, Oneohtrix Point Never brings his particular brand of far-out electronica to a heaving tent, whilst back at the main stage, Sweden’s Viagra Boys lets the audience have it with their testosterone-fuelled punk energy. The perennial festival favourite, ‘Sports’ going over like gasoline to a fire as always. In a mark of scheduling perfection, they are followed by South London’s very own, Shygirl. Her sex-positive, women empowering raps are the perfect antidote to all that male aggro. She opens with ‘Woe’ from last year’s excellent debut, ‘Nymph’ then brings the South London love, singing/rapping/dancing with alacrity in a flowing pink gown to bass heavy tracks from across her blossoming career, radiant in the golden light of the setting sun.

Luke Dyson @lukedyson www.lukedyson.com

Caroline Polachek completes the day with her first-ever headline festival appearance. Fresh off her highly acclaimed new album, Desire, I Want To Turn Into You, she is in imperious form and the crowd sings along in delight to favourites from ‘Bunny Is A Rider’ to ‘Billions’. There is a slight mid-set lull, conversations replacing sing-a-longs, but it’s not long before they are won back, so that by the time ‘So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings’ rings out, the joy of a perfect day is sealed.

After a gruelling London winter and an April that didn’t live up to the promise of spring, the day felt like an ecstatic Gen-Z takeover, triumphantly staking their claim on the summer and the city. As Viagra Boys lead singer, Sebastian Murphy put it, “I’ve never seen so many f*cking mullets in my life!”

Luke Dyson @lukedyson www.lukedyson.com

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