Live Report: Wide Awake Festival 2024

Impressive London one-dayer returns...

There’s no shortage of live music in London this summer, with a bulging festival calendar keeping music fans entertained. That being said, it can sometimes be hard to gain quality, over quantity – issues with sound remain a perennial problem, and saturation can sometimes lead to line-ups being diluted, with too many events in competition with one another. South London’s Wide Awake Festival may be a newer name on the block, but the Brockwell Park event has already developed a considered identity, cutting through the noise in the process.

When CLASH arrived on-site there’s already a sizeable crowd milling around from stage to stage. Early highlights include The Itch over on the Corsica Studios stage – only a solitary release deep, word is already out on the London risers. It’s an assured set of warped post-post-post-punk, delivered with confidence – you get the feeling that if half the crowd are their mates, then they’re already pretty damn popular. The New Eves bring their wyrd folk missives to the Shacklewell Arms stage, a suitably Midsommar soundtrack that bewitches in its simplicity.

The afternoon is hotting up when Crumb occupy their slot on the KEXP Stage. Essentially the main stage, a huge crowd quickly descend on the natural amphitheatre, the slope helping to push the audience right up against the stage. It’s an impressive performance – the band are assured, the material pitched just right, with the halcyon layers of sound drifting between shoegaze opulence and tightly-hewn dream pop songwriting.

CLASH then darts across to the Moth Club stage for much-hyped NYC indie sleaze merchant The Dare. One of the day’s hot tickets following the viral success of 2023 single ‘Girls’, the tent is at capacity when we arrived, the sweaty, oppressive heat swirling around our heads. It’s a bravura set, one blessed with confidence and chutzpah – essentially just The Dare and a backing track, it puts us in mind of a Slimane-suited Alan Vega in its precocious defiance. A huge talking point on-site, The Dare’s set is one of the day’s true standouts.

After the unbridled party-hard hedonism of the New Yorker, Dry Cleaning’s KEXP Stage set falls a little flat. The material remains as fascinating and perplexing as ever, but there’s a sense of this being slightly out-of-place – with the blue skies beaming overhead, the music doesn’t quite land in the same emphatic way as catching the band at, say, a cramped Shacklewell Arms.

The need to shake a limb overwhelming us, CLASH decants to the Disco Pogo stage for Glasgow-rooted rave crew Optimo. The pair don’t disappoint, ripping up the rulebook to blend deep cut techno cuts with some dancefloor-igniting favourites. Perhaps the most reliable club force in the land, the duo’s continual disregard for the norm is something to be cherished.

Squid are on riveting form at the Desert Daze stage – in essence, the second stage – blending material from their debut with last year’s fine, ambitious follow-up ‘O Monolith’. Lithe and jet-propelled, these arrangements suit the sweaty festival crowd – darting between math-rock complexity and sense of overwhelming sonic appeal that suggests the rave experience, there are fewer tighter, and more fulfilling live acts in British music right now.

Charlotte Adigery & Bolis Popul surprise us on the KEXP Stage – we hadn’t fully absorbed their work previously, but in terms of sheer entertainment few on today’s bill can rival them. A quick visit to the KEXP Stage finds Slowdive playing to a colossal crowd, the band revelled in their sublime second arc, the fame that the internet has (rightly) afforded them. A lithe ‘Souvlaki Space Station’ dissolves into rivulets of sound, while a propulsive ‘Star Roving’ remains as thrilling as the morning we first heard it.

Having caught Young Fathers almost demolish London’s Royal Albert Hall earlier this year, CLASH has high hopes of their Wide Awake set. Welcoming the broader audience of a festival, the group retain the visceral thrill of their recent tour, but add some a celebratory atmosphere. There’s no quarter given, with Young Fathers facing down the London crowd, inviting them to unshackle their inhibitions. It’s a real tour de force, with their theatrical majesty transforming the crowd in the process. Surely, at this point, a headline slot is due.

After a quick visit to catch the filthy charms of masked DLR super-shagger Lynks – one of the day’s funniest, funnest sets – we return, duty-bound, to the KEXP Stage for a dose of headline act, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. The group’s ascension to headline status ruffled a few feathers, but on-site their popularity is clear – there’s even a fan meet-up at the festival, with just under 50% of punters at Wide Awake adorning the band’s merch. That said, the set doesn’t feel aimed at newcomers – Slayer style thrashed matched to hallucinogenic guitar lines, King Gizz go for the jugular, with a raucous set. It’s undeniably powerful, even if we can’t quite place which one of their 25 studio albums they’re channelling.

Over on the Desert Daze stage, the Byrne’s Night project is late setting up. Little wonder, however, given the scale of the musicianship and visuals on display. A collaborative celebration of David Byrne’s catalogue, highlights include Alli Logout from Special Interest rampaging through ‘Psycho Killer’ and BODEGA tackling ‘Life During Wartime’. It’s fun, and it’s clever – particularly when cut-up visuals from Gregory’s Girl are beamed behind the musician. Well, Byrne was born in Scotland, after all.

Last year’s instalment raised a few questions about Wide Awake’s organisation, and London festivals more generally. Poor sound on the outer stages and some slightly rough-around-the-edges organisation left holes in the schedule, but this time round we had few, if any, complaints. The sound was beefed up across the board – King Gizzard memorably bled into Byrne’s Night, squashing some Talking Heads classic with wild psych-out guitar – and the programming was excellent. Remaining tethered to the London music-making underground, there’s a definite underground feel – it’s a family day-out, if you family are absolute stonking hellraisers.

Words: Robin Murray

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