The vibrant South London music scene has become synonymous with genre-smashing experimentation and unrivalled talent over the past few years. Bands such as Fat White Family, Shame, Goat Girl, and Black Midi have found their feet in Brixton’s venues, earning places like the Windmill cult status as centres of chaos and innovation. Now, the scene has stepped up a level, with the first ever Wide Awake festival taking place in Brockwell Park to showcase the sheer amount of extraordinary artists that both South London and the UK as a whole have to offer.
Combining the most exciting parts of the British alternative scene, and with stages curated by the renowned Windmill and Moth Club venues as well as So Young Magazine, Wide Awake was host to an impressive roster of bands, many of whom are associated with the revered Speedy Wunderground label (PVA, Squid, and Black Country, New Road to name a few). We headed down to the brand new festival to see what all the fuss was about.
As IDLES’ rowdy lunchtime set drew to an end on the Windmill Stage, Brighton’s Porridge Radio took to the smaller Bad Vibrations Stage. They opened with ‘Give/Take’, frontwoman Dana watching the crowd grow in size as she sang the biting refrain “How do I say no without sounding like a little bitch?” The song ended and a look of relieved gratitude came over Dana’s face. ‘It’s so nice to be playing festivals again’, she said with a shy smile, before the familiar opening synths of ‘Circling’ started up.
The band mostly played tracks from their Mercury-nominated second album Every Bad — an album which, for obvious reasons, they are only now able to perform to a live audience. Dana delivered each lyric with intensity, staring down the crowd, and her bandmates filled with wild energy as the set went on. They ended on ‘Sweet’ and Dana appeared in her element as she relaxed into the moment. “She will love me when she meets me”, she repeated, with a playful glint in her eye.
Exploding onto the So Young stage in the early evening, Lynks delivered an infectiously high energy set that ended up being one of the standout moments of the festival. There really is no one like Lynks: dressed head to toe in neon green and flanked by three leather-clad dancers, they bounded around the stage non-stop for an hour, performing each song with an overflowing confidence. The crowd got involved from the get-go, chanting along to the chorus of ‘Everyone’s Hot (And I’m Not)’, and Lynks expressed their joy: ‘It’s only the second song and I’m already having the best time!’
If there was anyone still stationary during the first few songs, it didn’t last long. ‘Pedestrian At Best’, Lynks’ indulgently catchy cover of the Courtney Barnett song, had everyone in the tent bouncing. The mood was electric. ‘Since this is a post-punk festival, I figured we should all do a choreographed dance routine’, they said sarcastically, teaching everyone a short sequence of moves before launching into ‘On Trend’. Towards the end of the set, Lynks brought Shame frontman Charlie Steen onstage, and the pair performed ‘This Is The Hit’ in perfect unison, Steen hitting every single dance move without an ounce of hesitation as the crowd cheered him on. They closed with ‘Str8 Acting’, and it felt as if the crowd could happily lap up another five hours of their music. It was a triumph of a show that set the precedent for the rest of the evening.
Black Country, New Road
Of all the acts on the Wide Awake line-up, Black Country, New Road were undoubtedly one of the most hotly anticipated. For such a new band, the seven-piece have built up an indomitable reputation, remaining elusive and unpredictable even with (and arguably aided by) the release of their debut album For the first time at the start of this year. They came onstage just as the sun was beginning to lower in the sky, casting a golden glow over the festival that complemented their set so perfectly that it seemed orchestrated. Beginning with ‘Instrumental’, the opening track on For the first time, BC, NR pulled the crowd in.
The set continued with ‘Science Fair’, saxophonist Lewis Evans delivering a beautiful solo halfway through. The band then played a new, more emotional track, the mood of the festival shifting as everyone let the music wash over them. ‘Track X’ was one of the highlights of Black Country, New Road’s set; the sounds wove together seamlessly as the sun slipped away behind the stage. The band displayed their technical skill in ‘Opus’, before finishing on the unreleased ‘Basketball Shoes’. Interestingly, they chose not to play either of their most well-known singles, ‘Sunglasses’ and ‘Athens, France’, instead favouring newer material. Typical BC, NR: never pandering to the crowd but doing things completely on their own terms and pushing their own musical boundaries in the process.
Black Midi are never content with simply coming on, playing their songs, and leaving. When they played Green Man Festival, they were joined by mime artists for half of their set. This time, they were introduced by a boxing announcer who roused the audience and, in a farcical American accent, shouted “Are you ready?” before the band strode onstage, Geordie Greep looking like a character from Bugsy Malone in his full-length coat. The crowd quickly descended into a maze of mosh pits, Black Midi providing a dizzying soundtrack as shoes were flung into the air and people collapsed into heaps on the floor.
With Morgan Simpson’s incessant drumming and Greep’s bizarre stage presence, their set was overwhelming to the senses, but you got the impression that that was exactly their aim. Black Midi don’t want to entertain their fans, they want to keep them on their toes, bombarding them with a frenzy of sounds without giving them a second to breathe. As a result, the set felt like one long, continuous prog-rock song. The band members appeared to communicate in their own, unintelligible language throughout, which just added to their existing mystique. There is no doubt about it: Black Midi are one of the best bands in the UK right now, and South London is in a league of its own when it comes to cultivating ground-breaking new talent.