Festival Review: Wide Awake 2023

Since its inception in 2021, Wide Awake has set up shop in Brockwell Park on a mission to showcase the capital’s world-beating independent music culture on a grand scale.

Although punk still remains firmly at the core of the event, Wide Awake has diversified over time to include more names from the worlds of alt-pop and electronica; with Caroline Polachek topping this year’s bill, and elusive dance duo Two Shell boasting a high profile spot to usher in the evening.

Each of the festival’s six main stages are adorned with the names of various venues, magazines or regional live promotors, with Bad Vibrations, Village Underground, The Shacklewell Arms and So Young Magazine all standing up to be counted on the map. This sense of identity is what sets Wide Awake apart from others within the ever-more congested lane of day festivals, and the day feels like a celebration to toast the city’s vibrant scene; a convention for those who traipse up and down the tube line week in, week out in pursuit of buzzy newcomers and sweatbox mosh-pits.

California export Blondshell takes to the main stage early in the afternoon, on a cross-Atlantic visit which has featured statement appearances at The Great Escape and Hackney’s MOTH Club alongside an EU-wide introduction to the grunge-influenced indie songwriter. A sun-drenched live rendition of ‘Salad’ is a high point in a set that celebrates the artist’s [real name Sabrina Teitelbaum] self-title debut album.

Clashing with Blondshell on the Bad Vibrations X Desert Days stage to make for an all-American face-off, A Place To Bury Strangers deliver a wall of sound performance to a substantial audience. Midway through their performance, the band conjure a makeshift setup in the centre of the crowd to deliver their performance from an enclave. After forming over two decades ago in New York City, APTBS have conducted their career with an enviable eye to longevity, paired to a live energy which is hard to top, and this performance in Brockwell Park stands as testament to their durability.

Model/Actriz attract a crowd that can barely be contained by the modest boundaries of The Shacklewell Arms X The Gun pavilion. Frontman Cole Haden breaches the crowd barrier and implores every inch of the audience, as his bandmates deliver high octane noise-rock in a performance which sweeps even the most nonchalant of passers-by up in its gravitational pull.

The blessed early summer rays make for a dream pairing alongside Alex G’s brand of internet age Americana on the main stage. For all of its alure, a festival lineup which is fundamentally propped up on leftfield and rising artists will always be left wanting in the singalong department, but as Alex Giannascoli delivers fan favourites including ‘Runner’, ‘Blessing’ and ‘Gretel’, blissful choruses are echoed back to the stage.

DJ/Producer Daniel Avery attracts a sizeable crowd to his headline set at the SC&P X Village Underground stage; which is no mean feat when vying for attention alongside Caroline Polachek and The Osees. It feels counterintuitive to describe Avery – an artist forever placed within the vanguard of names who are pushing electronica forward – as a heritage name, but as we celebrate the tenth anniversary of debut album Drone Logic with his second appearance at Wide Awake, there is something of an elder statesman quality to the producer’s presence. Working with a sonic palette which seasons euphoric synth with pinches of abrasive distortion and lofty shoegaze, Avery’s closing set makes for something of a retrospective moodboard for the day’s lineup and perfectly illustrates Wide Awake’s enthusiasm to not only accommodate the eclectic, but to celebrate it to a scale that no other festival can competing with currently.

Author avatar
Matt Ganfield

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