Festival Report: Wireless Festival 2014, London

From the typical British weather to star-studded performances and controversial celebrity rants, this weekend’s Wireless Festival in London was a musical rollercoaster enjoyed by over 100,000 people.

Here’s a round-up of the peaks and troughs from Finsbury Park’s showcase of urban royalty.

Double Headliner: Kanye West

The first rollercoaster dip came unexpectedly early, with news that Drake would not make Saturday’s headline appearance due to illness. But, steep drops are always followed by surprise peaks, and it wasn’t long before Drake’s ‘homie’ Kanye West accepted the mic in his place (let’s face it, who else could replace him?) making a Wireless Festival first, with a double headliner for Friday and Saturday.

Opening his Friday night set with the bass-heavy Black Skinhead, West turned the crowd into a heavy shower of bouncing bodies. The 21-time Grammy Award winning producer pole-vaulted himself across the stage, engulfed in vibrating beats, flash lighting and jeers from an anticipatory audience. Wearing what can only be described as a fencing mask covered in ‘bling’ (I’m still trying to figure out it’s hidden meaning) and accompanied by a ceiling-high monitor projecting his every move, the self-confessed ‘musical genius’ got off to a raring start.

People rapped along word-for-word to Cold and Mercy and, even though he demanded that the side screens be turned off (restricting the view for those at the back), this initial blast of raw hip hop was embraced for West’s notoriety, if nothing else.

‘I’m shy and lazy and a little bit arrogant’, West proclaimed between Clique and Can’t Tell Me Nothing; words which then spilt into a long, indigestible monologue.

Talking at length about the ill-treatment of celebrities by the media and the crucifixion of creative freedom was a bad move. The 20-minute interruptions, mid-set, tainted the star’s otherwise indisputable talent.

Friday and Saturday Highlights: Tinie Tempah, Iggy Azalea, Rudimental and Pharrell Williams

Pharrell Williams. Now there’s a man who can woo an audience and compile a festival-friendly set list. God, he has charisma. And bloody good hats.

Wearing an over-sized trilby, surrounded by an entourage of individually-styled female dancers and with a clear desire to bring the fun-factor to the sunny Friday, Pharrell showcased his many years at the top in a series of high-tempo medleys.

Fresh off his new album GIRL, he opened with Lose Yourself to Dance and an impressive solo vocal with high-note trimmings you wouldn’t expect from this once bad-boy rap star.

From album cuts, to the sounds of your favourite ‘Old Skool’ compilations, he ran through old and new, including classics Hollaback Girl, Frontin’ and NERD’s Brit hit, She Wants To Move (it’s true, everyone mimicked Alesha Dixon’s shaking booty at this point).

A lover of all music, this humble genius travelled seamlessly over many styles and genres during his 40 minutes. He covered the full length of Major Lazer’s Aerosol Can, sending ripples of carnival vibes throughout the festival. Crowd pleaser Get Lucky was the penultimate performance, before giving a brief shout-out to the equal rights for women (which was lovely, if a little random) and, finally, an incredibly happy version of Happy. You could say that the sun certainly had its hat on when Pharrell Williams arrived. (Boom. Ching! Thanks for coming.)

Friday also graced a thumping set from London-born rapper Tinie Tempah, whose youthful performance thrived on playful audience interaction – at one point, calling for fans to sit down before going crazy at the drop of Mosh Pit. A heartfelt ‘thank you’ to his supporters, who had ‘moved him from the small tent to the big stage’ (bless) sealed him a stampeding applause.

This year’s male-dominated line-up meant that the gravelly tones of American rapper Iggy Azalea – and her fellow Girl of the Moment Rita Ora, who joined her for Black Widow – were warmly welcomed (…as were her underwear-wearing backing dancers, by the boys, of course…). The stunning 24-year-old delivered one of the winning sets of the weekend with her grime songs Bounce and Fancy, throwing some serious girl swagger (the much cooler version of Girl Power) reminiscent of the Sierra and Missy Elliott days.

Saturday’s atmosphere was raucous, undoubtedly caused by the Drake cancellation and return to showery weather. It was, however, no match for the mighty Rudimental (who finally managed to finish their set after being rained-off at last week’s Glastonbury). The highly anticipated assortment of musical flavours inspired fans to dance on bins and climb trees in support.

Sunday Highlights: Robin Thicke, Outkast, Clean Bandit and Bruno Mars

Sunday was a plethora of urban meets pop. Outkast brought humour among the rain, with Andre ‘3000’ Benjamin leaving the stage to find a hankie (to protect his silver wig from getting sodden, obviously) and Antwan ‘Big Boi’ Patton practiced his press-ups on the speakers. The hip hop duo chose Wireless as one of 40 festivals to play in 2014 after seven years in dormancy. Between fetching classics from their laid-back-rap catalogues, beatboxing and, finally, whipping out the hits Miss Jackson and Hey Ya!, the pair dusted off their cobwebs, looking at home in their return to the stage.

Clean Bandit and Robin Thicke later packed-out the Pepsi Max stage bringing some light alternative sounds to the rap-heavy acts of Friday and Saturday. Clean Bandit delivered a light electro hedonism (including chart-topper Rather Be), whilst Thicke dazzled with charm in a sexy Big Band performance of his latest album, Paula. In a polished set, we saw him play – and parade upon – a piano as well as swing into a conga line with his backing singers and wonderful instrumentalists. Swaying along to his bluesy vocals, the audience lay hypnotised until he finally blurted-out Blurred Lines.

Finally, and beautifully, Bruno Mars brought sunshine after the rain in a perfect Wireless closing performance. The Honolulu-born vocalist, and could-be Michael Jackson impersonator, led with fancy foot-work, a big voice and his precisely choreographed band, the Hoooligans, to get festival-goers dancing into the evening. Although cheesy at times, Mars and his pelvis-thrusting, guitar-playing, feet-shuffling support band reminded me of vintage Buddy Holly, with a sprinkle of South America. Great-sounding showmen, able to dance effortlessly with an instrument, and who wouldn’t stop smiling.

These electrified musicians were like a ray of sunshine in a damp field (literally), winning over the crowd with Treasure, I Wanna Be A Millionaire and romantic ballad Just The Way You, all the while illuminated by a North London sunset and a very happy audience.