London’s Wide Awake Festival lays it claim to be the best inner-city new music festival.

Words: Brad Sked | Photos: Luke Dyson

Taking place not far from The Windmill, Wide Awake Festival made its debut at Brockwell Park last Friday, following its much-lamented cancellation last year. As I wasn’t at End of the Road Festival, I decided to take an early morning train from Portsmouth to London to witness the inaugural festival located in South London which boasted one of the mightiest line-ups across Europe this summer.

One of the first noticeable things about Wide Awake was the close proximity of the stages – yet I didn’t hear any bleed. Kicking things off upon arrival in the early-afternoon was the magical Maripool – serenading all those at the Bad Vibrations stage. Dreamy lo-fi pop meets grunge, Maripool was an utter delight and a great way to start a sunny festival day. Opening with the instrumental Emilio, then delving into lead single Blindness and lots of other great bits, Maripool’s live set proved why Natasha Simones has been receiving such plaudits.

Bringing their carnival circus of dub meets funk, disco and sci-fi cumbia, Dutch outfit The Mauskovic Dance Band brought the sun-laden beach parties to the early afternoon in the big top Moth Club stage. An absolute blast of fun, the cosmic outfit sound like Martians who crashed landed in Latin America and formed a band. Truly glorious stuff, and it wasn’t the only time that I caught The Mauskovic Dance Band that weekend…

Next up was the first visit to The So Young stage to catch Fenne Lily. Dreampop meets folk with shoegaze tones, Fenne Lily and an excellent band created an otherworldly racket.  After that, I managed to catch Squid on The Windmill Stage which was somewhat bigger than its namesake. A large crowd were there to witness the Squid lot and their signature skittish post-punk.

Back at The Moth Club stage was a homecoming of Los Bitchos to London. The ultimate festival band, Los Bitchos – also featuring Charles Prest of Flamingods and Noon Garden on guitar – waltzed through a set of scorching psychedelia-cumbia meets surf-rock to a packed big top. Los Bitchos are truly one of the most fun bands in this universe and a party magic-train ride that everybody needs to get on board with.

After a food pit stop (Wide Awake spoils for choice) there was a slight irony in the fact that the sun really came out for Crows. Ever one of the most intense live bands around, Crows dragged us down into their leaden lair of gloomy garage-punk mixed with searching cacophonous gothic post-punk. They really haven’t missed a step during the pandemic.

As far as out and out psychedelic bands go, Kikakagu Moyo might just be the best and, at Wide Awake, they proved it once again with a set full of ‘the bangers’. The psychedelic freakout of a set was akin to an odyssey into another dimension where the seasons seemingly change in an instant and one moment feels like walking through a woodland in the autumn and the next like dancing in a sun-baked field during the Solstice. The kaleidoscopic labyrinth of Kikagaku Moyo’s sound continually interweaves between fuzzed-out psychedelia, acid-psych and psychedelic-folk. Despite what’s going on in the world, we’re fortunate to at least live in a time where Kikagaku Moyo are a thing.

Next up was Slift.  Like Oh Sees and King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard on steroids, Slift are like the soundtrack to splitting the atom. The searing radiating sounds of Slift and their cyclone of psychedelia-space-rock meets colossal garage-rock felt like witnessing a black-hole emerge and cause an entire galaxy to fall into its vacuum. A monstrous outfit, Slift have announced themselves as one of the greatest live bands of their generation.

The final band at the festival itself for me was the joyous KOKOROKO, who were truly delightful with their jazz meets afrobeat fusion which truly encapsulated the festival spirit of love and coming together. It was the perfect antidote to pick my mind up off of the floor after a Los Bitchos-Crows-Kikagaku Moyo-Slift one, two, three and four combo.

Despite that being the festival itself, The Wide Awake afterparty featured a late-night 1am start for Crack Cloud at The Shacklewell Arms. There was no fatigue from attendees or the band itself, as The Shacklewell Arms turned into a sweat-box flooded with crashing bodies as the Crack Cloud art-rock orchestra collective brought the house down. Impressive stuff given that they played earlier, and also went on to play Manchester Psych Fest and End of the Road across the weekend.

The next evening was once again a Wide Awake afterparty at The Shacklewell Arms with a second dose of The Mauskovic Dance Band – seeing them once wasn’t enough. The outfit again brought the sci-fi disco, Afro-Caribbean rhythms, funk and cumbia to The Shacklewell Arms as the floor filled with prancing bodies. A band for the good times and one to bring out for when the bad times arise, The Mauskovic Dance Band are on a crusade to bring joy to the masses. Support came from Hill, one of the most eccentric bands I have witnessed in a while. Dressing like open-chested medieval alchemists dropped into Glastonbury Fayre, Hill brought the folly fun with an avant-garde set of acid-jazz combining flute, saxophone, drums, the occasional dog toy (which was a squeaky pig) and some magic tricks.

As far as festivals and even their after-parties go, Wide Awake Festival made an absolute statement. From an immense line-up, the layout itself, friendly and helpful staff, the choice of food and drink, an abundance of toilets which meant queues weren’t really much of a thing, to a music-loving, pleasant crowd that rivalled End of the Road or Route Du Rock, Wide Awake Festival may well lay claim to being the best inner-city, non-camping outdoor festival. It even made me forget that I was missing End of the Road, and for that, it must be special. Here’s to next year!