genre-defying underground sounds and a timeless headliner


London’s forward-looking Wide Awake festival is the last place you’d expect to hear an eardrum-blasting jungle-punk rendition of Girls Aloud’s 2003 pop hit “Sound of the Underground.” But, thanks in Grove, a genre-melding Bristolian polymath, whose assault also includes dark and dirty UKGs and ends with them charging into crowds and carrying overhead, it turns into a moshpit-inducing racket.

This choice of cover reflects the philosophy of the festival: to provide a platform for emerging, often sonically challenging artists across the entire musical spectrum. After winning Best Small Festival gong at this year’s BandLab NME Awards after an impressive debut in 2021, the festival spans two days and there’s kind of a genre split between them, albeit with some overlap sound. The former focuses on left-wing alt-pop, electronic music and club-ready techno, while the latter is packed with exciting newcomers from punk, rock and indie.

Friday’s main stage kicks off with Alewya, who oscillates between rapping and singing during an intimate first set; his “sassy number” “Sweating” turns up the heat to match the unusually scorching summer weather. It also guarantees a sizable crowd for Radar’s next two favorite bands: the drum and synth-heavy experimental electro of PVA’s new single “Untethered” ensures that everyone is, as the festival suggests, Wide Awake, with lead vocalist Ella Harris crouching and prowling like a heavier bat for eyelashes. The exterior setting is at odds with their 3 a.m. warehouse concoction, but it works. Yorkshire’s Working Men’s Club followed suit with their heavy New Order-style electro, charismatic singer/guitarist Sydney Minsky-Sargeant stretching across the floor before screaming over deep backlines to the crowd-favorite “Teeth” .

Credit: Luke Dyson

The Brixton Brewery’s smaller tent, meanwhile, serves as a springboard for newer names like Jessica Winter, who adds intricate piano keys to her eerie retro-apocalyptic-pop soundscapes. Halfway through, the London-based performer (who recently toured with Lynks) cranks up the energy with the rave hedonism of “Do You Do You” and finishes with the teary dancefloor banger of “Sad Music.”

Back on the main stage and sporting a floral headpiece (which she would later toss into the crowd), Sofia Kourtesis attracted one of the biggest audiences of the day. Radiating positivity and relentlessly energetic, the Peruvian producer and singer’s poignant and moving track “La Perla” has the entire audience applauding (including her recent touring mates Caribou, who are watching from the side of the stage). You can tell the performance is incredibly special for Kourtesis, as this year’s scheduled live show in London was canceled at the last minute due to visa issues. Today, however, she makes up for lost time and, before leaving, kneels and rents the floor.

It’s also a fitting precursor to Caribou’s live show: culminating in euphoric hands-up anthems like “Sun” and “You Can Do It” in constant construction, it’s a delight, if slightly surreal, to see it a lot of people on the shoulders.

Then it’s up to Bicep to close the first day. After rising to the ranks of festival headliners with their number two album “Isles”, the duo deliver a spellbinding rave in technicolor. Literally dominating the crowd with clever cubed staging, their light show is every bit as mesmerizing as Transcendent productions, and the portal-like visuals are no different from the vortex of Dr Who’s opening credits. Bicep’s kaleidoscopic journey includes fan favorites ‘Atlas’, ‘Apricots’ and ‘Sundial’, plus several previously unreleased heavier tracks in a stunning 90-minute show that demonstrates the limitless potential of how electronic music can take. life.

Fulfilling its mission to span the vast spectrum of underground music, Saturday appeals to an entirely different audience, which means skin fades and Carharrt t-shirts are swapped for mullets and mustaches, for a day of guitar groups (mainly). Katy J Pearson’s raucous acoustic narration and instantly catchy country-infused alt-pop tracks form perfect songs (especially “Fix Me Up” and “Alligator”) as Fatoumata Diawara spreads a message of “peace and love for all our children, and for all of us” with funk-laden instrumentation.

It’s a stark contrast to Yard Act, whose swaggering Gallagher-style frontman James Smith wows the crowd with socially scrutinizing commentary and a deadpan wit on the cost-of-living crisis; “It’s our 13th show in a row without a day off, it’s almost like working a real job,” he scoffs. Beers are tossed through the air, moshpits erupt everywhere and that’s before he pulls out Katy and Nuha Ruby Ra for a messy cover of Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner.”

Credit: Luke Dyson

In a crowded Brixton Brewery tent, multilingual 10-piece band The Umlauts draw one of the biggest crowds on the smallest stages for their seductive art-punk fusion, before Modern Woman delivers ethereal theatricality à la Kate Bush, with recent single ‘Juniper’ offering an intriguing peak into their world.

As the day progresses, things take on a more punk twist. Brooklyn band Surfbort bring rowdy energy to So Young’s outdoor stage with their anarchic frontman Dani Miller jumping among the audience. On the main stage, energetic Australian scrappers Amyl and the Sniffers incite countless crowdsurfs, while Fat White Family assumes its status as rock ‘n’ roll’s chaotic saviors as barefoot, topless frontman Lias Saoudi screams and lays on the ground with his legs in the air as the group fusses. Later, in a tent scene, and after a 30-minute delay, the Horrors’ loud psychedelic guitar turns up the distortion so much that the bass rumbles through the trunks and rattles the floor.

So far, the weekend has mostly been a showcase for artists to watch. But one band that needs no introduction is Sunday’s main act, Primal Scream. Performing as a full live band and with four members of London’s House Gospel Choir “taking us to heavenly heaven”, as natural showman Bobby Gillespie puts it, their 90-minute show runs through the entirety of their iconic 1991 album “Screamadelica”. Despite fuzzy sonic issues that only the public seem to notice, the band prevails – and the message of “Come Together” remains just as strong as when it was released two decades ago. Their encore, meanwhile, is packed with more of their greatest solo hits. “Loaded”, “Country Girl” and “Rocks” close the second edition of Wide Awake singing with nostalgia.

It goes to show that, alongside all the talent in the next wave of expert-curated programming, there’s certainly an appetite for timeless classics. Wide Awake has therefore found the perfect balance between past, present and future.

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