Live Music + Gig Reviews

Wireless @ Hyde Park, London: Day 3

3 July 2008

If Thursday was hip-hop and electro day and Friday was all about Radio 2 rock, Wireless on Saturday was a party made up of avant-indie, cover bands, hip-hop, electro and just about anything else, headlined by the crowdpleaser-in-chief, Fatboy Slim.

These days Norman Cook is reinventing himself once again, now going by the name of The Brighton Port Authority for a new album. But taking to the decks of Hyde Park’s main stage with no competition from other stages, memories were prodded to recall his immense Brighton beach mash-ups of yore.
Before all that though, the five stages of the brand name festooned Wireless festival reverbrated to all manner of chart-friendly and more outr fare. Sam Sparro, due to take to the stage of the ginormous SanDisk tent later in the day, appeared with jazz-tinged piano on the tiny o2 stage shortly after 3pm. Having two different bands with the same front man playing the same songs within three hours was an odd affair, and he was the only act to do it, but grinning girls singing the chorus of new single 21st Century Life underlined his melodious appeal.

Cornershop, who seem to have returned without fanfare all of a sudden from wherever they’ve been during these last five years, duly wheeled out their best known numbers to a slightly interested main stage crowd, Brimful Of Asha causing at least three hip sets to sway as the audience continued to arrive. Also with an audience smaller than they deserved was Gruff Rhys’ new project Neon Neon, the only band of the day to sport two keytars. They built their audience during their set, but the field was sparse. Where was everybody?

The answer lay in the SanDisk tent where Australian New Order fetishists Cut Copy were causing tops to be removed and shapes to be thrown as faces behind comedy spex spazzed like they were in Ibiza. Lights + Music might as well have been their theme tune, and the rammed tent’s occupants all seemed to know it, and closer Hearts On Fire confirmed the band are more than lucky one-hit wonders.

Later on, MSTRKRFT turned the SanDisk tent into a late-night rave-up. Chainsmoking and drinking between puffs, the Canadian duo Jesse Keeler and Alex Puodziuka had their excitable audience whooping along to the monster-of-the-Id riff from Neon Knights. They came, they ruled, they left the place sated and grinning.

We eventually found the Bella Union stage, almost apologetically stuck in the back and to the left a bit of nowhere and with no signage. A strip of canvas held up by two poles and stuck to the side of a Routemaster, it was hidden behind a white picket fence and bar/restaurant area and hosted David Thomas Broughton and Adem during the day. But by the time we’d found the stage we’d missed the former, and the latter crossed more dancey acts elsewhere.

Amongst those, one of the surprises of the day was homegrown hip-hop talent Akala, bizarrely confined to the toytown o2 stage with a huge crowd in attendance. As teenagers passed around roll-ups and thirtysomethings pretended they could dance, Ms Dynamite‘s brother showcased tracks from his forthcoming second record and ratcheted up energy levels. It remains a mystery why this prodigiously talented artist isn’t at least as big as Dizzee Rascal – his quickfire delivery and political themes might not be to everyone’s taste, but his crowd today were a decent attempt at a cross-section of society. Bit By Bit was the undoubted scripted highlight, its quickfire drum’n’bass matched beat for beat by his vocals, but some freestyling at the end just about topped it.

Meanwhile Why? played to 30 people and (possibly) their dog in the Tuborg tent. The Californian four-piece’s cerebral indie, with drumming alternating between atmospheric and passionate and the suggestion of instrumental variety through their set, would have thrilled ATP audiences. But nobody here seemed to know who they were.

Anyone who wasn’t at Akala’s set was lapping up Robyn, who broke with recent tradition to actually play a new song in amongst her three-year-old current album’s material, but it was no surprise that her biggest crowd reaction came for last summer’s number one smash With Every Heartbeat. Looking minimalistically chic in a black top and white trousers, blonde bob freshly shorn, she looked in good spirits and pleased with her share of the audience.

Underworld, still best known for their Trainspotting soundtrack contribution Born Slippy, attracted so many people to the SanDisk tent that various entrances to it were closed on ‘elf and safety grounds. Having cancelled recent London shows at the Roundhouse, it was good to have the duo back and enjoying themselves.

Surprise of the day – seemingly for many of the audience, who had no idea who he was – was Bootsy Collins, essentially a James Brown tribute act, who followed. With a slot on the main stage in early evening, a time by which a fair number of attendees were beginning to feel just a little bit merry on the free-flowing Gaymers cider (apple or pear), the mood was set beautifully for a party and despite an increasingly gusty wind, the atmosphere was just right.

Fatboy Slim‘s set was, as one would expect from a DJ with a couple of decks, a DJ set. And not for him any Chemical Brothers style light shows or Basement Jaxx performance art/circus tricks. Relying entirely on the crowd’s benevolent cheering and waving a hand about in the air to encourage it, Stormin’ Norman ran the gamut from Praise You to Arcade Fire and even found time to beam in Iggy Pop for an LCD vocal performance. Playing for nearly two hours, his set was the longest and best-attended of the day.

With Hyde Park’s curfew consigning 100,000 people to the streets of London by 10:30, talk turned to where next. MSTRKRFT were headlining a rave-up in Shoreditch… Tempting, but we’d already seen them today. And besides, who was going to top Fatboy Slim? Discretion being the better side of valour, we called it a night, glad that pegs, poles and mud weren’t part of the Wireless experience – more of a day out than a mud-filled slog, despite the overpowering corporate presence this event is really a pleasantly civilised affair.

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