the inaugerual Wide Awake festival is a glorious indie-hipster success

Wide Awake 2021 review

By Raph Pour-Hashemi | Published: Tue 7th Sep 2021

around the festival site

Friday 3rd September 2021
Brockwell Park, Herne Hill, Lambeth, Greater London, SE24 0PA, England MAP
currently £49.50 (tier 3)
Last updated: Thu 19th Aug 2021

A glorious indie-hipster lineup; some actual sunshine and a nice, appreciative atmosphere ensured that the inaugerual Wide Awake festival, postponed initially due to Covid from last year, was a huge success.

Taking place at Brockwell Park near Brixton, on the same site as the Mighty Hooplah occurring the next day, Wide Awake is a glorious, encapsulated curation of the very best up-and-coming crop of bands bursting primarily onto the British Music Scene (™). It has all the feel of the early Field Day aesthetic; in fact, one could argue that FIeld Day and All Points East have been rendered more mainstream in comparison to this lineup.

Matters are complicated slightly by IDLES, apparent headliners, needing to play at 1:30pm in the afternoon due to needing to headline the evening slot in Bristol. Therefore, a huge cram of festivalgoers rush into Brockwell for lunchtime in order to see Talbot and co rage through the blistering afternoon sun. It felt very strange being pelted with beer in the crowd for such an early time slot, but maybe Wide Awake are onto something here? It's possible that having a headliner play first brings an urgency to the undercard of the schedule? Anyway, everywhere you turned an IDLES fan t-shirt could be spotted, and they all seem to dramatically disappear by the early evening (did they all schlep to Bristol after to see them again?!). As for IDLES themselves, despite their cult fanbase, the group split the crowd - some lap up the anger fused with the progressive sentiments; some find it performative and insincere. Regardless, IDLES are popular and give a headliner performance for the lunchtime crowd.

There are many, many stages for a single day lineup. Arguably, there are too many? Too much music to see, too many bands to rush between the stages and the sound bleed was distracting at times - a polite suggestion would be for Wide Awake to drop a stage or two for next time - although every act seemed to have a core set of musicgoers watching - so what do I know? Toilets and Bars seemed plenty and never too busy throughout, and the food stalls certainly had the expensive / artisan-wannabe feel of South London. Because the lineup was niche enough, the audience seemed to comprise mostly of genuine music fans, all present to tick off some of the up-and-comers they wanted to see. Wide Awake, as a festival, also set out its intentions to try and be sustainable, with a cup-deposit scheme and no single-use plastics.

It's tough running a festival during a pandemic. Bands drop out at a moment's notice, and so do the audiences after a latest ping outbreak. Everything feels very fragile, and then sometimes the weather even plays its hands like in Tennessee where the poor guys at Bonnaroo had to cancel due to hurricanes! Wide Awake didn't escape any hiccups, with Dream Wife, Tinarwien, Songhoy Blues and others having to drop out last minute. Fortunately, and a testament to how many great acts are available in the UK, Porridge Radio, Self Esteem, Dry Cleaning, Snapped Ankles and others were added to the bill last minute. So last minute, in fact, that the posters and set times posted around the festival hadn't managed to stop the printing press.

So much indie/alternative music could be heard throughout the day, that you'd be forgiven for forgetting which bands you saw and what were their names. That said, Shame certainly took to their 21:30 headline slot with utter relish and went for it with full abandon - frontman Charlie Steen even removes his shirt at the behest of the crowd.

Dry Cleaning packed out the Moth Club tent, and it won't be long before they are high up the main stage - so too, Self Esteem, clearly hurtling up towards huge crossover chart and front cover fame. Both have deserved, rabid fanbases; less angry than Idles' too. Late addition, Snapped Ankles, deliver the as-promised carnage to the crowd, whilst Black Midi bring their acid-jazz/prog/rock/punk/indie vibes to an adoring crowd - grateful too, considering they were cancelling their run-up gigs to this event and everyone assumed they'd be a no-show. Black Country, New Road felt very flat on the main stage and didn't seem to get going, and Goat Girl played cuts from their delicious new album On All Fours splendidly; though maybe they belonged in the tent and Self Esteem or Dry Cleaning should have played the main stage. Earlier in the day, Squid powered through and PVA gained new fans immediately, whilst Porridge Radio drew a big crowd to the tiny Bad Vibrations stage right at the back.

On the whole, it's a marvellous day out for indie lovers focusing on the music rather than just talking to your mates (ahem All Points East). The first year of Wide Awake has been a rip-roaring success, and it seems certain that everyone who attended will already be pondering next year's potential lineup. We certainly can't wait.

review by: Raph Pour-Hashemi

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