Festivals

Brockwell Park’s Wide Awake once again proves it’s a thrilling way to kick-start festival season

25th May 2024

The South London knees-up is now an anticipated date in the capital’s music calendar, and its fourth iteration had a sense of joyful community at its core.

The late May bank holiday is now a doozy for one-day festivals with parks, fields, and inner-city venues the country over ushering in the start of summer proper with warm tents and even warmer beer. And for residents of the capital (plus plenty from further afield), Wide Awake has become something of a beacon of alternative music, continuing to punch well above its weight both in terms of the names on its bill and the eclecticism of its offering. 

Having already ticked off boundary-pushing pop (Caroline Polachek in 2023), landmark, genre-merging alternative dance (Primal Scream in 2022), and neighbouring Brixton’s signature post-punk (Shame in 2021), the Brockwell Park event isn’t exactly predictable when it comes to booking its headline acts. For this, its fourth outing, sprawling psych-rock has its moment - quite literally - in the sun, as hordes of dedicated fans descend upon a cloudless South London for King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s bill-topping turn. 

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Split fairly solidly between die-hard Gizz fans (many of whom are sporting either band merch or more elaborate, magician/dinosaur-adjacent costumes), and what we’re betting is the entire population of The Shacklewell Arms’ smoking area, the crowds are there from the off, with a hearteningly large number turning out early to catch Brighton quartet The New Eves play that very venue’s stage. As we’ve come to expect from the singular newcomers, theirs is a captivating set - incorporating contemporary dance, eerie three-part harmonies, and an expansive instrument rotation, it could as easily belong in the context of a stone circle summoning ritual as it does in this intimate tent. 

At almost the polar opposite end of Wide Awake’s genre remit lie The Itch, who, having built a word-of-mouth buzz on London’s live circuit (including an early show for DIY and Parallel Lines) deliver a commanding concoction of ‘80s new wave and ‘00s electroclash, and succeed in getting people moving in spite of the relatively early hour. At a Lambrini Girls show, movement is one thing that’s never found lacking, and the band’s riotous performance on the (admittedly bizarrely named) Disco Pogo stage is as kinetic as predicted. Ringleader and vocalist Phoebe Lunny sets the tone from the off - “I don’t bite… but I will jump on you,” she warns, pre-crowd surf, from the midst of the rabble - before using her platform to speak on issues including transphobia, lad culture, and the ongoing genocide in Palestine between the band’s blistering cuts. 

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Over on the main stage, cult favourites Dry Cleaning are peddling their distinctive post-punk wares, and though there’s a central pocket of people clearly revelling in their stream-of-consciousness surrealism, it’s a set that ultimately proves to be a bit of a Marmite offering, Florence Shaw’s sprechgesang, off-kilter monologues  perhaps more suited to the cocooning acoustics of a tent than this somewhat muted, open-air set up.  

Belgian duo Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul, are in their absolute element however, raising the energy with an effortlessly cool electro-pop masterclass that’s easily one of the highlights of the day. Strutting around the festival’s biggest stage with an equally sizeable grin, Adigéry seems positively giddy at the early evening turnout, and the pair’s laughter-led, bizarrely brilliant ‘HAHA’ truly cements their infectious performance as one for Wide Awake’s ages; even the BSL interpreters, who are present and projected on screen for each of the main stage’s acts, can’t keep themselves from dancing. 

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Though clashes are always a necessary evil when it comes to festivals, you can’t help but pity any act whose stage times match those of the mighty Young Fathers. Armed with their Mercury Prize-shortlisted 2023 LP ‘Heavy Heavy’ - which DIY named as one of our favourite albums of last year - the Scottish band are nothing short of mesmerising. In an ever-increasingly saturated sonic landscape, the authenticity, originality, and unbridled joy they bring to performance remains unmatched; they’re a must-watch, whatever lineup they’re on.

As night falls in earnest, the self-coined “weirdo swarm” of King Gizzard enthusiasts (who also had a really-quite-wholesome fan meet-up earlier in the afternoon) are finally rewarded for their patience, and the notoriously prolific Aussie outfit walk out to rapturous reception. Pints are sent flying as 2019 cut ‘Planet B’ is met with the biggest mosh pits of the day, while the aforementioned BSL interpreters are at it again, giving Stu Mackenzie and co. a run for their money with gnarly bouts of air guitar and air drumming. 

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It feels like a triumphant moment of connection between the band and their dedicated fans - one which is matched, albeit in the most unlikely of ways, by Wide Awake’s second stage headliners: the all-star cast of Byrne’s Night, London’s premier Talking Heads tribute act. Featuring musicians from bands including Fat Dog, Human Interest, Fräulein, Squid, Porridge Radio, and Black Country, New Road; plus guest vocalists like Cole Haden (Model/Actriz), Asha Lorenz (Sorry), Lynks, BODEGA, Charlotte Adigéry and more, the all-singing, all-dancing, all running-on-the-spot ensemble is a glorious celebration of Stop Making Sense, silliness, and the communal sensibilities of London’s music scene. 

Indeed, the latter is an ethos that’s aimed for - and largely achieved - by Wide Awake as a whole, and is something that even cutting the sound midway through the collective’s set closer ‘Once In A Lifetime’ can’t (entirely) ruin. 

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