Wide Awake Festival gave Londoners a much-needed pressure release – with help from Black Midi, Idles and more

It's just nice to be out of the house

Wide Awake was first announced in November 2019, and even back then its promise of a new outdoor festival in London celebrating underground music was a seductive one. For obvious reasons, the inaugural festival didn’t happen in June 2020 as planned, but by the time the doors finally opened on a sunny day in South London’s Brockwell Park over a year later, Wide Awake was more needed than ever – as a platform for exciting alternative music both new and old, and also, as a chance for Londoners to let their hair down, at an affordable and accessible event.

The day kicked off with a bang as Idles took to the main stage – dubbed The Windmill stage in homage to (and partnership with) the iconic Brixton venue – for what may have been the earliest headline slot in history, starting at 1.30pm. The band were headed back home to Bristol for another show that evening, but showed no signs of saving themselves for later, in a raucous set that ended with guitarist Mark Bowen crowd surfing while his bandmates serenaded him with Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’, before clambering back on stage to play ‘Rottweiler’. Putting one of the lineup’s biggest bands so early on the bill was a risk, but the energy that Idles’ set injected into the day gave it momentum from the get-go. It also meant that there were bigger crowds than usual for the smaller, up-and-coming bands.

Those looking to discover new music would be hard-pressed not to find something to love; with six stages offering a diverse mix of acts, there was almost too much to see. The tiny So Young stage played host to a packed set by Lynks, featuring a cameo from Shame’s Charlie Steen for ‘This Is The Hit’, who joined in for one of Lynks’ trademark dance routines. Later in the day French twins Faux Real brought plenty of moves of their own, their irresistibly catchy pop and impeccable stage outfits making them a festival highlight. Elsewhere, on The Gun’s makeshift bandstand, DJs including Erol Alkan and Moscoman recreated the Hackney pub’s party atmosphere, with landlord Nick Stephens opening and closing the lineup.

There were the inevitable COVID related lineup shifts, which meant some international groups like Tinariwen, Songhoy Blues and Tropical F**k Storm weren’t able to play. The lack of international artists was notable, but the strength of the remaining lineup goes to show how exciting the UK’s musical output is right now (God knows we need something to be proud of). There were a few bands who did travel from further afield, like Japanese psych group Kikagaku Moyo, and hyped Canadian band Crack Cloud, as well as Dublin punks The Murder Capital, but on the whole, the day was dominated by British acts.

Many of the acts from the original 2020 lineup were still present, but some were much less ‘underground’ than they would have been then. Take Black Midi: one of the first names announced back in 2019, they have since earned a Mercury nomination for their debut, and released a critically acclaimed follow-up. Their Windmill stage slot felt particularly poignant considering the huge role the pub played in their rise, hosting their monthly residencies. Other Windmill favourites PVA, Squid, Shame and Black Country, New Road also graced the vast stage, proof of what an incubator the venue has been for new music.

Over at the Moth Club tent, Factory-era Manchester legends A Certain Ratio showed they’re still making music to get excited about, and late additions Dry Cleaning played to an enamoured audience, another band whose success skyrocketed during the pandemic. Fans were singing along to every word, and the atmosphere was only dampened by their set being cut short before they could play ‘Scratchcard Lanyard’.

As the night came to a close, there was something for everyone: KOKOROKO brought mellow vibes to Bad Vibrations stage, while Self Esteem and her slick pop headlined the Moth Club tent, and Shame closed off The Windmill stage with a nonchalant swagger. But it was Daniel Avery who seemed to pull the biggest crowd, with a high-octane set in the Snap Crackle & Pop big top, filled with smoke, sweat and frenetic lights, as the Wide Awake team had a well deserved celebratory dance behind Avery’s decks.

Photography by Luke Dyson