Review: Wide Awake Festival 2021

The South London music scene has become synonymous with harboring some of the most forward-thinking artists in the UK. Wide Awake is a celebration of the scene, and in the event's first ever outing, proved itself as a mainstay for years to come.

Debuting at Brockwell Park, Brixton, Wide Awake festival treated fans to a day full of avant-garde, progressive music that demonstrated the talent of some of the newest bands to emerge from the southern music scene. The festival was brought to life by popular independent venues that span London, selecting artists who have been championed by the local scene, amounting to an amalgamation of the best in British post-punk, jazz, techno, and left-field indie, all in one place. Wide Awake aimed to provide a distinctive counter-culture experience like no other, championing individual independence and a strong sustainability policy to help reduce their carbon footprint, as well as a strict Covid policy.

The event was organised by Bad Vibrations, Dimensions, LNZRT and SC&P, alongside the brains behind venues such as the Moth Club, The Shacklewell Arms, The Waiting Room, and Peckham Audio. With five separate stages, all focused on differing genres, there was never time for a dull moment or break between sets. Being a day festival meant that there were some unfortunate clashes in set times, which was understandable considering the amount of talent that had descended onto Brockwell Park. 

Consummated through the adoration of local music and a lengthy history of incredible artists that have passed through these venues, Wide Awake was set to be a thrilling showcase of the most exciting music of 2021, and it lived up to that expectation in a glorious fashion. Below, we have compiled some of our highlights of standout performances at the event.

IDLES 

Bristol-based Idles were undoubtedly one of the most popular bands to perform at the festival, with a surprisingly early slot that meant the main stage grounds were already filled by 1:30 – a great slot choice overall, as it gave opportunity for some of the lesser known artists to have larger crowds. Idles themselves were as unapologetic as usual, with their blistering, punk-tinged barrage going down a treat with the thousands of festival-goers. The group has built such an authority over the past few years, it is unsurprising that they have gained the traction that they have. The set was evenly varied, with tracks from their first record, Brutalism, making the cut alongside those off of Joy As An Act Of Resistance and their recent record Ultra Mono. The set exhibited that anarchist sensibility with an overwhelming sense of community, mainly down to the group's powerful and politically driven songs and their ever-engaging stage presence.

Porridge Radio

Having to perform after Idles is no easy task, yet Brighton-based existentialist indie group Porridge Radio managed to step up to the task and executed their set in a colourful fashion. As the smaller Bad Vibrations stage started to fill up, lead vocalist Dana Margolin’s intensity grew, screaming lyrics predominantly from the band’s Mercury Prize nominated second record Every Bad whilst the crowd filled up. The group performed with a palpable energy and ferocity, and exuded a sense of pure joy as they were finally able to perform on a festival stage again. Margolin expressed her gratitude for being able to play on a stage that size once again through beaming smiles, before passionately storming through tracks that encapsulated the festival's atmosphere and overall community vibe. The set was as wholesome as it was memorable, cementing Porridge Radio’s position as one of the UK’s most innovative new bands.

Black Midi

One of the most technical groups of the festival were Black Midi, who performed a special set for Wide Awake that saw the group joined by a horn section made up of artists from other bands on the bill. Their set was awe-inspiring, layering many differing sonic components into a hap-hazard yet incredibly impressive display of extreme proficiency on their instruments. The band are almost exhausting to watch, as they intricately perform complex jazz influenced post-punk compositions with ferocious speed and maddening time signature changes. There was no time to get distracted, as each passage quickly evolved into another in increasingly impressive ways, leaving the crowd astounded as they tore through tracks off of their critically acclaimed record Schlagenheim, and their recently released Cavalcade.

Black Country, New Road

Without a doubt one of the most revered acts on the bill, the excitement whilst waiting for Black Country, New Road to hit the stage was tangible. The group have been making waves over the past couple of years after their debut record For the First Time and really seem to be hitting their stride now that live music has returned. The band are unconventional, marrying spoken word poetry with post-punk sensibility and contemporary jazz influence. They subverted initial expectations, playing a set full of new material that has yet to have been heard on record, rather than the singles that had given them their quick popularity like Sunglasses, or Athens, France. It was a brave move, and it paid off. The new tracks were just as unpredictable as their past output, which gave an atmosphere of intrigue and exclusivity to the performance that went down a treat. The band managed to produce one of the largest mosh-pits of the day during their bouncy rendition of Opus, which was a strange sight for a band who are so reserved musically, but it went to show the impact that Black Country, New Road has had on fans over the pandemic, and how much their cult-like following loves them, even if they themselves tend to stay elusive.

Shame

Concluding the festival was Brixton locals Shame, who relished in the opportunity to close out Wide Awake and did so in a mighty fashion. The band played their hearts out in a performance that obviously meant the world to them. Frontman Charlie Steen applauded the festival, and channeled his inner Ian Curtis in his performance. Shame’s performance was as explosive and dominating as their darker post-punk sound, and was a decisive end to an impressive music showcase. The group debuted some new tracks off of their recent release Drunk Tank Pink, which went down a storm, whilst also tearing through more renowned tracks off their Songs of Praise record. It ended the festival on a powerful note that was as emotional as it was energetic, proving their headlining capability tenfold.

Wide Awake was a resounding success. Considering that 2021 was the festival’s first ever outing, it thoroughly impressed with its line-up, organisation, and atmosphere – truly demonstrating the sheer wealth of talent that the South and indeed the UK as a whole have cultivated. It is of no surprise that the festival is set to return in 2022, and could grow to become one of the most exciting new music festivals that the UK has right now.

Header Image Credit: Wide Awake Festival/ Full Fat

Author

Ash Edmonds

Ash Edmonds Kickstart

A graduate of Music Journalism from BIMM Brighton – where he now lives – Ash has been writing about everything creative for the past few years. An avid audiophile, he spends a lot of his time searching streaming platforms, record stores and live shows trying to find his next musical obsession.

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