I’ve been to a fair few open air festivals in London before, some great and others not so much. Brockwell Park is a gorgeous location for a comeback day gig, situated just outside of Brixton station and brimming with lush vegetation. The lineup for Wide Awake was announced pre COVID back in 2019 when all we had to worry about was the tories getting back into power. Despite the bill being fairly different to the one initially announced, having The Windmill represent the main stage was a welcomed addition as well as being fairly surreal given how tiny that venue is. At this point however, I think it’s hard to be fussy when we’ll take anything over spending another 18 months watching Netflix, wanking and drinking ourselves to oblivion in our rooms.
Arguably the biggest guitar band in the country as of 2021, IDLES opened the main stage to a hungry audience, as push pits and bodies galore bopped to the likes of “Heel/Heal”, “Never Fight A Man With A Perm” and “Model Village’. The latter of which vocalist Joe Talbot had to explain what the song was about as apparently certain nerds online couldn’t seem to understand. As a band who’ve faced backlash for not being working class enough or apparently ‘appropriate’ punk culture, none of those factors mattered here as a wholesome lunchtime mosh was had by all. The brief Oasis cover was a tad cringey but that’s just my bias for hating anything to do with that band. Thankfully they redeemed themselves by closing on “Rottweiler”.
The plan was to see Porridge Radio afterwards, but finding the stage proved to be too cumbersome, it was bloody boiling, and we’d already missed half their set wandering around, so we opted to stay where we were.
As my editor (James) pointed out, having IDLES on early as they drove down the M4 to headline in their hometown meant that it allowed other adjacent bands in their scene to have a bigger audience than usual. That being said, Brighton’s Squid’s were polarising to say the least. I’m usually a big fan of bands that have their drummer be the foreperson of a band, with Ollie Judge’s cynical observations and shrieks filling out the field coupled by Squid’s craft of song build ups. However, with only “Peel Street” and “Narrator” showcased from their latest album, along with even more new material sandwiched in between their older hits, a fair few audience members walked away midway through their set, and those who stayed were not quite sure what to make of things.
Heading over to the So Young tent, a sizeable audience clambers in for Preston via London’s White Flowers. A dreamy three piece with tunes reminiscent of early Beach House, with gorgeous textures and floaty vocals. A sea of dads and Goldsmiths University types reacted well to the hazy instrumentation, albeit with some odd headbanging. James said his ears hurt because the bass drum was inexplicably the loudest thing on stage during their set. In his defence, he was being very brave about it.
Back over to the Windmill main stage again, PVA’s glistening electronic musings make a nice break from the death by post punk mission that seems to be on Wide Awake’s agenda for today. Exploding one moment into a cacophony of noise to a gentle lul in the next, the dance group’s use of layers create a vibe that brings out the natural hit serotonin in the middle of the day we’d all been craving.
Given the Sonic Youth comparisons made about Dry Cleaning, I was stoked to finally check them out, however we opted to go see Goat Girl on the mainstage instead as meeting up later may have been a bit difficult. There’s only so many times you can say ‘I’m by this tent’ and lose your mates entirely so it wouldn’t have been worth it. The South London ensemble, along with an extra violinist were unexpectedly drowned out by the quiet mix on stage, and crowds of people talking loudly to their mates over some of the slower jams ruined the atmosphere for me. It goes to show that some artists aren’t as effective on outdoor stages as they are in packed tents, and unfortunately this was absolutely the case here.
A nice surprise came from art punk weirdos Snapped Ankles, strutting their stuff at the Moth Club tent and bringing the weird vibes to us in the afternoon. You can’t quite put your finger on why they’re so enjoyable to watch, but their woodland aesthetic, blistering keyboards and genre blending madness makes them hard to not absolutely lose your shit to. If those watching Goat Girl looked too cool to be there or give a shit about any of the bands, the audience for Snapped Ankles is the complete opposite of that, with fans shamelessly throwing their mates across the tent, dragging strangers into the fold too.
With the sun gradually going down, Black Country, New Road treat us once again with the crowd warming playfulness of “Instrumental”, as a sea of gun fingers and men in bucket hats on shoulders dance their backs off. For every delicate introspective moment from newer cuts like “Goodwill Hunting” and “The Place Where He Inserted The Knife”, a sea of bodies bounce in unison for “Opus.” It’s surreal to witness a band who once could barely fit on the same stage together have such a visceral reaction from the crowd.
Earlier that week, Black Midi announced that a string of shows had to be cancelled due to frontman Geordie Greep’s doctor advising him not to play following a throat infection. It was a nice surprise to see that not only did BM commit to their Brockwell Park set, but Greep was still as unhinged and bombastic as ever. He even managed to fit in a play scuffle on stage whilst bassist Cameron Pitcon seduced us with “Still” a country flavoured ditty on banjo. With some assistance from BCNR, the post punk giants combined forces together to deliver a truly memorable performance, never being able to sit still for too long before overloading our senses. Artists that are this unconventional and eccentric never usually achieve this level of success past a niche audience, but with both groups being nominated for Mercury prizes and playing bigger venues with each year, it seems like nothing can stop these incredibly talented people with so much potential.
If anyone deserves the first prize medal for today however, it was always going to be Shame. Frontman Charlie Steen points out that all the members had been going to Brockwell Park since they were kids, I can only imagine how euphoric it must have felt for them to headline a festival in their childhood playing fields, 10 years later despite the world still undergoing a pandemic. Tracks like “6/1” and “Nigel Hitter” are played ever so slightly faster than their recorded counterparts, but that tempo change makes all the difference. Drummer Charlie Forbes channels Steven Morris with his extremely tight drum fills, never missing a beat and adding an extra layer of ferocity into the fold. Steen has the crowd at his mercy, as circle pits and crowd surfers galore amalgamate into a whirlwind of chaotic energy. Blending newer tracks from Drunk Tank Pink with older cuts from Songs Of Praise, the moodiness of their stage presence was balanced with pure aggression. Ending on the cinematic turned cacophonic “Station Wagon”, the existential nature of the final lyrics “Won’t someone please bring me that cloud, move that cloud, join us on planet Cluj” encapsulate a true sense of unity that Wide Awake managed to accomplish today.
Photos by Tia Bryant / Max Styles / James Pearson