Live Music + Gig Reviews

Festival Review: Wide Awake 2024

25 May 2024

The spiritual successor of Field Day’s indie-alternative mood pitches up again at Brockwell Park, showing off newbs, stars and tributes to legends

Charlotte Adigéry

Charlotte Adigéry, live at Wide Awake 2024 (Photo: Luke Dyson)

Brockwell Park’s summer series of festivals has evolved over the years and now provides neat and tidy silos for tastes of all kinds in a slightly expanded but still manageable festival site. Mighty Hoopla spreads over two days at the start of Pride Month; new kid on the block Project 6 caters to aficionados of hip-hop and dance; Cross The Tracks covers soul, jazz and funk; City Splash covers African and Caribbean music. Wide Awake returns to cater for alternative tastes which, for the avoidance of doubt, mainly means indie-alternative, and that’s mainly though not exclusively about bands with guitars. Since Field Day went very much more dance-orientated under the auspices of All Points East over at Victoria Park, Wide Awake has somewhat taken on what there no longer fits.

The site layout’s changed from last year, with the collective of independent and decent ale brewery outlets replaced by a hefty installation offering up a smaller selection centrally sold. There’s also now a Red Bull area with a DJ, and Brewdog, alas, are everywhere. Yet for all the indications of creeping commercialisation, this is still an event with its roots in Field Day, one that finds space for zine stalls and seminars on feminism and someone selling Fuck The Tories t-shirts. The focused line-up remains resolutely indie-label throughout, from barely-heard-of newbs via hyped darlings to indie-alternative royalty. 

Unusually for London this year, the sun’s decided to shine. But Johnny Jewell, boss of the Italians Do It Better label and knob-twiddler behind countless sassily made records under innumerable names, is hiding away from such solar imposition in a tent. Somehow he always seems to be positioned at the start of festivals, when he’s probably better suited to 3am than 3pm. He starts the day with a screen showing cinematic ultraviolence while he bobs about behind keyboards, before finishing with a most extravagant bow and then, cooler than thou, dons a second pair of shades. 

French-American brothers Virgile and Elliott Arndt, together as Faux Real, show up to pair post-punk with glam rock and end up somewhere rather yachty, wailing along to backing tracks while variously clad in faux-designer whites and – who needs shirts, really – real-actual skin. The sveltitude is real too, and you feel these boys would enjoy a successful sideline running a yoga class. A larger crowd have assembled at the main stage for starry Grammy winners Dry Cleaning, who produce a now reliably professional tour de force showcasing material from their two albums New Long Leg and Stumpwork, with central presence Florence Shaw reminding that not everyone fronting a band needs to be a singer in the world of alternative music.

Young Fathers

Young Fathers, live at Wide Awake 2024 (Photo: Luke Dyson)

And so to Upchuck. You might think the name suggests a sound. KT and their sunshine gang inform a small yet eager crowd that they have played Coachella, and that their second album’s out imminently, yet they’d like you to know that they are outraged that they’re barely getting by. Shredded guitars and screams and the occasional spit at the audience seem to be their reaction to this unsatisfactory state of affairs. That second album was made with the help of Ty Segall, someone who feels the need to release an album approximately every 20 minutes. Our headliners are cut from a similar cloth – of whom, more later.

Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul starts an intense to and fro between the two main stages that sustains us through the rest of proceedings. Charlotte gratuitously thanks the sign language translator, which is surely the first time your correspondent has seen that – power to her, and more should follow her lead. (It was impossible not to be impressed by the interpreter’s dance moves, shown off while signing.) Cowbells and rhythmic/wtf laughs give way to some musing about where her shoes are as they bring tracks from last year’s Soulwax co-authored debut album Topical Dancer to the sundrenched main stage. It’s perfect for summer in a park – and marvellously, amiably, bonkers. 

On the subject of bonkers, Yeule appears accompanied by a bunny-eared drummer who looked sad at the drums in moments when he was not permitted to drum. Some tech issues manifested, but here is material able to withstand such sadnesses: punky pop, Singapore style, sort of The White Stripes if Jack was on drums, Meg was singing, and they had a whole rainbow of colours to play with beyond black, red and white. 

At Young Fathers there’s hollerin’ into a corded ye olde telephone, and one young father is firing up some call and response. Suits are worn, drums are bashed, lyrical meaning floats away into the sky (you imagine it would be intense in a club) and exuberant textures are at play between the visceral rhythmic and the plaintive emotional. They somehow straddle many genres yet none, spinning from afrobeat backwards to the primal building blocks of music and forward again to pop-adjacent, if never quite pop. But they impress, as a drone/hunter-killer buzzes overhead, scoping the crowd. Its images are relayed: band and audience from above look like they’re having a lovely time.


Modeselektor, live at Wide Awake 2024 (Photo: Luke Dyson)

The sun’s thinking about ordering a nightcap by the time Slowdive show up; which is possibly entirely perfect. When Neil Halstead, Rachel Goswell and co are confined to the indoors it seems they strain to be set free, but here some of the surfer-dude imagery intrinsic to this band’s being is hinted at by an open sky, if not waves. What a joy it is to have Slowdive, though. They don’t really need to be watched so much as communed with, honoured; the sun and the squally guitar sounds and boy-girl vocal harmonics combine to bring about sheer bliss. The more recent sideways glance towards electronica on last year’s superb album Everything Is Alive varies a set which also offers some of the moments of day in the searing When The Sun Hits and their now traditional epilogue cover of Syd Barrett’s Golden Hair, with Syd smiling down from the backdrop – before morphing into Sid James. Gorgeousness.

Australia’s prolific headliners King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard are in some ways the perfect band to finish the day with. Fans of their however-many-albums-a-year approach to playing and recording all the music there could ever be (they released five albums in 2017 alone) are of course in for a treat, but if you’ve been entirely daunted by their teetering back catalogue and in consequence know little of it, then this is the perfect chance to see if anything they do works for you. And there’s no denying that if what they first offer doesn’t hit, they have many other options to choose from, even if you feel you need to take a holiday from work just to listen to it all. 

And we can’t stay till the end because at the second stage, something called Byrne’s Night was busy marrying a shared love of Robert Burns’ poetry with David Byrne’s songs, an event that is the curiosity of the day. It’s something of a Talking Heads jukebox, with a lamp at the front of the stage which gets variously moved about and knocked over by a revolving cast of fan-stars. While the sound is pretty ropey during Heaven Is A Place, nobody seems much to mind – Charlotte and Bolis have made their way over to join in the good natured fun, and what seems like a cast of thousands show up for As Days Go By. It’s chaotic but lovely, and whatever would David Byrne have thought of it? Maybe if there are more of these shows he might venture on to the stage and join in as the indie godhead he now is. Perhaps next year. For now though, we repair to the beats provided by Modeselektor up on the hill before dispersing into the night.

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