As London’s defining new music festival approaches, we brace ourselves for innumerable dashes between stages to get the absolute most of its immense bill.
Wake up, London, it’s that time. Wide Awake returns to Brockwell Park for its third year with undoubtedly its most ambitious lineup to date. Condensing back down to a single day party, it throws together an outstanding international set of bands; still something of a novelty in the thinning shadow of the pandemic. They add to that a zine fair, record signings and, apparently, a roller disco run by Deptford Northern Soul club!? We’re here to guide you through the day and appraise some of the inevitable clashes.
Opening up the day are the fresh faces of Mary in the Junkyard, whose musical and lyrical complexity belies their members’ age. With no other bands on, it is a pleasantly easy decision to go and catch them at the Windmill x So Young Stage at 12.15. Wide Awake veterans will notice there has been a bit of jumbling going on with the stage names, which are a reshuffling of last year’s combinations of Good Venue x Good Promoter/Brand/Label. This ‘Windmill Stage’ is now the little one on your right as you enter from the Brixton side, a good spot for intimate sets.
After the fifteen minutes’ grace of having only one band to see, the agonizing begins. Naima Bock opens the main stage (this year the Wide Awake Stage) at 12.30, and never fails to disappoint with her intelligently arranged evolution of folk rock. Yet for those who have been suitably shaken up by Mary in the Junkyard, there is the option to hotfoot it to the nearby Gun x Shacklewell Arms Stage at the centre of the festival site, where Australian punk rock ‘n’ rollers Civic will be blasting through tracks from their new album ‘Taken By Force’.
Well done to those who manage to catch a break for lunch or even to grab a Red Stripe around the middle of the day. The early afternoon puts us in further fixes, firstly with Blondshell on the main stage competing with Nuha Ruby Ra at SC&P at 14.00. The former had us taken with the very Liz Phair single ‘Sepsis’ released last year and its opening line, “I’m going back to him / I know my therapist’s pissed”. Doubtless there are be many who missed her Moth Club headline show on Wednesday and will want to redress the FOMO. Having said that, Nuha Ruby Ra’s intense, industrially danceable set will feel incredible as it reverberates the big top SC&P stage (this year the big tent beside the Herne Hill entrance). File alongside Boy Harsher’s set for SC&P this time last year.
The following hour, Los Bitchos on the Bad Vibrations stage will be difficult to resist. A couple of weeks into celebrating the warm May weather, Britons are still not over it, and a set from the summery festival favourites Los Bitchos will be the cherry on top of what by all accounts will be a blissfully sunny Saturday afternoon. That said, there is also a great deal of interest in the precocious and mercurial Gretel Hänlyn, whose rapid rise following breakthrough hit ‘Today (Can’t Help but Cry)’ suggests sets of hers that are this readily accessible could quickly become a rarity.
This is where things start to get really tricky. From 16.15, lords of drone heaviness Butch Kassidy take on the Windmill Stage, which will demand early arrival from those not wanting to be stuck outside the modestly-sized tent. While some may want to stay for the kick into something more danceable but equally hairy in O., who follow on that stage at 17.15, a great many more will be hankering to see the mysterious and well-loved Belarusian post-punk group Molchat Doma over at the Bad Vibrations stage at 16.30.
This set itself sprawls painfully into Alex G on the main stage, which will have the appeal of bygone ‘afternoon headlines’ like Idles and Squid. The prolific cult hero is welcomed back to London where most recently he commandeered The Roundhouse for a show in March. For anyone not entirely lost in the wonder of this set, a return to the SC&P tent for Jockstrap at 17.30 will be absolutely essential, the deprivation of daylight setting the stage for the band to re-capture the magic they have brought the club venues like Village Underground and Heaven in the past year.
From here, the appropriate action will surely be to head for Viagra Boys on the main stage, for their high-energy, irony-rich set commencing at 18.20. Then, the storm-chasers among us will surely be considering trying to get the best of both worlds and head over to Gilla Band who will be rattling the Moth Club x DMY stage.
At 19.20 are Black Country, New Road, one of the scene-defining bands returning from the festival’s original lineup. Two albums since their last appearance at this festival, their heartfelt new set will shape a welcome return. For those taken by the party spirit of the festival, however, Joy Orbison on the Moth Club stage at 19.30 might be the preferred option, at least as a means of spiritually preparing for the party-popping Shygirl set on the main stage at 19.50.
Though you may plan to spend some of the day socialising, eating, hanging out, drinking or roller discoing, this Shygirl set marks the end of that option, in the face of an impressively diverse set of ways to close out the festival. Ultras of the South London scene will consider no other option than Warmduscher on the Moth Club stage at 20.00. Others may be tempted by the vaunted Greek folk-infused pop of Σtella, who performs at the Windmill stage for her last UK dates before Green Man in August.
To end the night, an intimidating set of three compelling options present themselves. An opportunity to kick up the early summer dust on the ground of Brockwell Park in the blaze of Osees at the Bad Vibrations stage will be tough to turn down. That is sure to be a cathartically sweaty close to the night. For those in search of a more emotional form of catharsis, however, the shining pop genius of Caroline Polacheck’s main stage headline must be the preferred option. Both play off against another late-night favourite Daniel Avery, who takes things in a more traditionally dancey direction closing the SC&P stage.
There is nothing quite like Wide Awake. It is usually wonderfully busy enough just running into every London-based music fan you know between the consistently great stream of acts. This year’s lineup takes the imperative to catch as many sets as possible to another level. Wide Awake has condensed back down to one day but has hardly reduced the stellar range of acts it offers. This will be a densely packed day for those righteously there from the start, and that is to say nothing of the proposed after-parties. Reports indicate there is to be a karaoke night at Windmill and a further stream of bands including an exciting secret headliner will head back north to the Shacklewell Arms. We’ll see you among the madness.