Wide Awake Festival 2023 Review30th May 2023
My first time at Wide Awake, one of London’s fastest-growing alternative music festivals, happened to coincide with the first truly summery day of 2023. Add a lack of queues and (very slightly) cheaper pints in the VIP area into the mix and you’re onto a winner, even before Brockwell Park’s nine stages erupted into life.
Wide Awake has found an interesting intersection of musical counterculture in which to exist, with the distant patter of drum and bass happily clashing with grating noise rock, without a single person giving it a second thought. At 2 pm, the guitar-destroying, pedal-heavy sound of A Place To Bury Strangers was ringing out from the Bad Vibrations stage; by 7 pm, the likes of Joy Orbison and Daniel Avery were crafting effortless electronic grooves in the Village Underground tent.
Across the course of the day, we caught impressive sets from the likes of Los Bitchos, Viagra Boys and Warmduscher, who all brought punk energy to their playful music. Alex G’s lilting lo-fi folk wasn’t to my taste, but the large main stage crowd seemed to enjoy a respite from the continuous energy. One of the festival’s more interesting bookings was producer Oneohtrix Point Never, who is known to some as the composer of Uncut Gems’ unique score. His atmospheric, experimental electronic music was perfectly placed to guide us into the evening.
The absolute high point of the day, however, was Jockstrap’s beautifully energetic set on the Moth Club stage. Their entire set was taken from the fantastic, critically acclaimed album I Love You, Jennifer B, and oozed charisma and style. Georgia Ellery’s acrobatic voice is the melodic centerpiece, but the production work of Taylor Skye can’t be ignored. Some of the sounds he has created and replicated are incredible, with the set leaping effortlessly from the
danceable grooves of ‘Debra’ to the sprawling drama of ‘Concrete Over Water’ and the tender melodies of ‘Glasgow’. The duo are already too big for their afternoon slot on the festival’s fourth stage, and is only going to get bigger.
Just an hour and a half after bringing experimental pop to the Moth Club stage, Georgia takes to the stage with her Black Country, New Road bandmates for a set of hard-to-classify art rock. Folk and classical influences guide their current output, with the occasional grunt of distorted guitar harking back to the sound that made them one of the biggest names in British post-punk, but since the departure of lead vocalist Isaac Wood in 2022, their music has lost its edge. Bassist Tyler Hyde makes a valiant attempt to replicate his tremolo-heavy, warbling voice, but to
no avail. Lacklustre tracks like ‘The Boy’ and ‘I Won’t Always Love You’ feel almost self-parodical at points, coming nowhere near soaring, compositionally phenomenal works like‘Concorde’, ‘The Place Where He Inserted The Blade’ and ‘Snowglobes’. You get the odd moment, such as the indulgent, emotional ‘Turbines/Pigs’, that feels like true BCNR, but overall they feel like a band hanging onto a name that is no longer fit for purpose.
The constant thread throughout Wide Awake seemed to be a juxtaposition, and this was no more true than when the refined alt-pop of headliner Caroline Polachek clashed heads with the raucous noise of the punky, proggy, psych Osees on the second stage. In fact, if you stood in the right place, you actually could hear both sets simultaneously, which is quite an interesting sonic experience.
Despite Wide Awake being Caroline Polachek’s first-ever festival headline slot, she was in full control of the crowd within seconds. The opening notes of ‘Welcome To My Island’ are enough to get even the most anti-pop attendee on the side, and even if ‘Bunny Is A Rider’ sounds a little too much like it could be a Drake song for my liking, it’s got undeniable swagger. Slower tracks like ‘Ocean Of Tears’ and ‘Blood And Butter’ allow her to show off a falsetto that Kate Bush would be proud of. It’s a shame the two sets had to overlap so directly because I had to head off without hearing colossal tunes like ‘Hit Me Where It Hurts’ and ‘Door’.
Luckily, Osees were on hand to provide tunes that were colossal in a completely different way. Gathered at the front of the stage with two drum kits pounding away in perfect unison, the band,
fronted by John Dwyer, guides us through a combination of King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard-style psychedelic rock, and punk so noisy it borders on grindcore. The latter sound is arguably their most impressive, and the triple threat of ‘A Foul Form’, ‘Funeral Solution’, and ‘Scum Show’ prompted Bloodstock-esque mosh pits. The entire evening was rounded off with ‘C’, a catchy, keyboard-driven track that feels like it should be coming from a different band entirely than the one performing tracks from A Foul Form. That in itself is a testament to the longevity and talent of Osees.
Despite some disappointing clashes and a fall from grace from a once-great band, Wide Awake 2024 will struggle to match the lofty heights of its fantastic fourth iteration