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Festival Review – Wide Awake, Brockwell Park, Brixton, 03/09/21

Shame, Idles, and many more at wokefest Wide Awake

Our reviewer quickly worked out how to jump the queue at the hot dog stall

This year’s festival season has evoked more complicated feelings than most years. Besides the post-COVID clamour – in which the voids of isolation and social distancing were quickly displaced by hugging, shoulder-butting and crowd-surfing – there’s also been a coming of age feeling to many of the events that have taken place. And that’s not surprising, because many of this season’s star performers being incredibly young (some are pushing 18-19 years old), everyone knows that most growing up happens after periods of adversity and hardship. 

What kind of music best sums up this coming-of-age melodrama and post-teen angst? That’s right: twanging indie music. Such was the focus of Wide Awake, which occupied London’s Brockwell Park last Friday, and formed the first in a trio of day festivals (the others being the poppy Mighty Hoopla and the jazz-swinging Cross The Tracks) taking place over one enormous weekend. On entry, we were met with the distinct feeling that this did not feel like Brockwell Park. The green’s regular feeling of being at one with the city – embedded in the twin locales of Herne Hill and Brixton – was completely displaced by the giant metal wall erected around the event. Once we were in, we knew: this wasn’t the park we knew. This was a temporary Neverland, filled with forbidden indulgences that would disappear as quickly as they had materialised, like a phantom island for mullet-rockers.

Reigning in our excitement, we begun with a trip to the porta-loos, which (this being a day festival) were very clean. Five stars! 

Shortly afterwards, though, we embarked on a completely earnest quest for new music discovery. It dawned on us that each stage was occupied by a different cornerstone venue or promoter from the London indie scene – all titanic institutions, these included the MOTH Club, Snap Crackle & Pop, and Bad Vibrations stages. None other than Brixton favourite The Windmill reigned supreme over the main stage. 

Our very first musical absorption, however, took place at So Young, where the up and coming Manchester three-piece Mandy, Indiana – formerly Gary, Indiana – kicked off the day with their brand of minimal punk and dubious vocalisations in French. Their ominous synthpunk had enough potential energy in it to keep us up and moving for the rest of the day. Later, we caught our personal favourites Pozi deliver a notably tight and energetic performance. Their drummer, Toby Burroughs, was such a performative powerhouse that there wasn’t a hint of lost energy at any moment in his performance, straddling shouty punk vocals and bordering-on-thrash-metal drumming – that’s not to mention the gnarly bass and deft violin playing from bandmates Tom Jones and Rosa Brook.

Ambling through the festival site led us to catch only brief glimpses of some acts. Lynks delivered a post name change dance-pop return, flanked on either side by his ambulatory pals and donning a full body, spiky-headed alien costume. Flabbergasted, we continued to the remote Bad Vibrations stage, where long-haired Japanese psych outfit Kikagaku Moyo were neck deep in their time-signaturey prog freakouts. Both performances were good examples of the festival’s championing of ensemble over solo acts, a trend we’ve noticed has cropped up on the band circuit in recent years. Besides actual music, the festival was replete with workshops, talks, and – not least – great food. At midday, we stopped by for a talk about gentrification in Brixton, then proceeded to devour a giant hot dog.

The electronic and DJ corner was less prevalent than the indie selection, but still held its ground. Next to a small but flourescently lit forested area was The Gun, a temporarily erected bandstand occupied all day by DJs. Said selectors tended towards playlists filled with funky chug and Balearic, with Debonair leading the charge with almost overpowering, oscillatory bass (the soundsystem was cranked). The Snap, Crackle & Pop tent was similarly DJ-focused, with our highlight being the darkened, smoggy, gargantuan experience that was Minimal Violence’s live wonky techno set.

Our best experiences, though, centred on The Windmill’s main stage. The long standing creative force behind the venue, Tim Perry’s incredible cultural influence saw to a scenester’s dream lineup, with appearances from Idles, Shame, Squid, Goat Girl, Black Country New Road and Black Midi.

Squid’s crossrhythmic droners and voice-strains, courtesy of bandleader Ollie Judge, set a terrifyingly strong precedent for the day. Later, witnessing Goat Girl and BCNR play felt like watching puzzle pieces fit together. The latter band, especially, delivered a much more sprawling and extensive performance than their appearance at We Out Here two weeks prior, which made sense given that they were ‘at home’, playing to their own crowd. Their day – or day one at least.

Jude Iago James