LIVE: Wide Awake Festival 2021

The promoters behind Wide Awake persevered for two years in putting on a festival for a burgeoning scene that feels like a bunch of misfits banding together, and they got their just reward.
Posted: 7 September 2021 Words: Tom Curtis-Horsfall Photos: Luke Dyson

Wide Awake Festival set Brixton’s Brockwell Park alight on Friday 5th September, which was a festival, as the promoters put it, “for music fans looking for something different”. And whilst that something different may’ve not been the frequency of dodgy barnets on show, the festival certainly succeeded in bringing together the weird and wondrous sounds of Britain’s post-punk revival and the rest around the fringes. 

Kudos has to be given to the promoters mentioned, which include London-based Bad Vibrations, LNZRT, Snap Crackle & Pop, as well as a handful of founding members behind Field Day and Dimensions Festival. Not only have these independent promoters been battered by the collapse of live music, but they persevered in putting on a festival for a burgeoning scene that feels like a bunch of misfits banding together, and they got their just reward. As IDLES’ grizzled frontman Joe Talbot duly appreciated, it was “beautiful”. 

And that was virtually even before it had truly kicked off. The Bristol punks were one of the first bands on the Windmill Brixton-sponsored mainstage, billed as a matinee performance despite being arguably the biggest, or at least most well-known artist on the lineup. It was a bit surreal seeing a headliner on so early, but they didn’t skimp on the energy levels expelled. Bursting into Ultra Mono’s ‘War’, ‘Grounds’, and BT Sport highlights anthem ‘Model Village’ (to which Talbot explained the misperceived meaning behind the track, after certain bands *ahem* accused them of misplaced aggression), their fighting spirit and relentless onstage stamina got the crowd royally pumped from the get-go. Guitarist Mark Bowen’s constant fidgeting saw his strap go bye-bye, resulting in his guitar being dragged across the stage just by a string. Exactly the sort of ramshackle showmanship we all appreciated after sinking a few midday beers ourselves. 

As their set came to a close, Talbot declared “it’s a hot heat, the love that is community”, a sentiment which resonates with anyone involved in live music. Bands, gig-goers, promoters, venue owners who’ve been starved of the cramped, sweaty, and vital gigs that are the lifeblood of budding independent musicians and the scenes they nest in. Wide Awake felt like a festival for everyone still riding the wave of mutual appreciation about gigs ‘n’ festivals even being a thing right now. 

By then the sun was beating hard, and Los Bitchos got the memo, their Cumbian grooves drawing in intrigued festival-goers wherever they’ve played on the summer circuit whilst Speedy Wunderground's revolving door of talented alumni in PVA, Goat Girl, and Squid rallied the mainstage masses. An inspired late addition to the festival, Dry Cleaning drew an immense crowd to the teeming Moth Club tent, which was to be expected having been one of the past year’s most hyped British bands. The novelty of vocalist Florence Shaw coming across like a glam librarian who got unintentionally mixed-up with a rabble of metalhead scallywags still hasn’t worn off. 

Psych-rock shamans Kikagaku Moyo were an undoubted highlight on the Bad Vibrations stage, however. The band's delicate chanting and intrinsically orchestrated wizardry sent everyone (who was either high or hazily drunk by that time) to a spiritual zenith as the sun set behind them. It was a transportive performance, from opener ‘Green Sugar’ through to finisher ‘Gatherings’. 

black midi’s cryptic jazz/post-punk fusion both sounds and tangibly feels more impressive each time you see them live as they blew away the mainstage crowd after Crack Cloud got punters bopping along, and there was even time to cram in a short rave at Daniel Avery at the Snap, Crackle & Pop tent before Shame headlined the entire day. South London’s finest, who were playing in their backyard pretty much, proved they’re deserving of the mantle as Britain’s poster boys for post-punk and everything that’s occurring around the Windmill Brixton’s vibrant scene. They genuinely belonged at the top of the bill.

Given the luxury of music on the lineup, it was a tad disappointing not being able to soak up even more. But who are we kidding, the festival was a complete success. Our fingers are firmly crossed that Wide Awake comes back for another edition next year, but maybe make it an entire weekend? 

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