Wide Awake review – a simple route to indie festival greatness

London's DIY community pulls together to work out how old guinea pigs live to while listening to a blend of off-centre indie, progressive pop and smart techno

On the Wide Awake festival app someone used the chat function to spread some good natured stink about 50 Cent playing a surprise set today. For 10 quid. “He’s just upped it to twenty quid now,” was the update. “Damn he’s a good business man,” conceded someone else. Another group had it that Harry Styles is playing, because he’d been photographed in Hampstead. When someone typed, “That’s probably because he lives in Hampstead duh”, the response that closed the group was, “no need for that tone.”

In real life, the third edition of Wide Awake was even more communal and agro-free – a single day in Brixton’s Brockwell Park, south London, drinking and dancing to a mix of off-centre indie, progressive pop, clever techno and various strains of electronica so well suited to one another you wonder why everyone isn’t putting this bill together, or at least why it took so long for anyone to do so. Featuring Jockstrap, Caroline Polachek, Daniel Avery, Alex G, Oneohtrix Point Never, Black Country New Road, OSEES, Tirzah (I could go on), the lineup is, to use a term emailed to us at least weekly, “very Loud And Quiet”, with a 50/50 gender split this year, which perhaps accounted for why Wide Awake felt so not-blokey in front of the stages.

It’s an extremely fashionable crowd, but not in a snooty way. If groups of stag dos still go to festivals they don’t come to Wide Awake, it seems. I see only one cowboy hat, and it actually really suited the guy the wearing it.

Viagra Boys by Garry Jones

Viagra Boys singer Sebastian Murphy addresses this crowd as “freaks” as a term of endearment while slagging off the festival they’d played to the day before, where “the average age was 60 and I thought everyone was going to have a heart attack. I’m glad to be back amongst my peers of sexy, young people,” he says, I’m almost certain ironically. The Swedish punk band dive into another groovy number as well-oiled as you can imagine from such a hard-touring group, to as big a crowd as the main stage sees all day. It’s where Jockstrap could have played, who are the day’s most sort after 40 minutes; ten deep outside the Moth Club tent and going nowhere on account of Georgia Ellery and Taylor Skye storing up a closing quartet of ‘Glasgow’, ‘Greatest Hits’, ‘Concrete Over Water’ and ‘50/50’. Slicker than ever – and still just the two of them – they remain brilliantly freewheeling, thanks to Ellery naturally spinning this way and that, wherever the music takes her, however temping it might be to choreograph moves to their electronic drops and breaks.

Tirzah had a less successful day in the same tent, with not just the 10 deep outside soon receding but those inside too, due to mix of bad sound, non-existent lighting (presumably Tirzah’s choice, to perform in a black hole of dry ice) and a strange set that, from what I saw of it, was made up of non-album tracks from either of her two excellent, sparse records of rough R&B. I watched what I did see from behind a solid tent pillar that blocked the whole stage, because a view wouldn’t have made things any better. Sadly not the rapturous homecoming show many were hoping for.

Black Country, New Road by Anna Louise Yorke

There were a few sound clash issues between the main and second stage too, due to the force of the former. The way around it was to be front and centre of the smaller stage, where you could fully appreciate Black Country, New Road’s arrival to ‘Crazy In Love’ before they ran trough their new live album, expertly, of course, because that’s their only setting – ‘Up Song’ their new, opening anthem, it seems, with everyone shouting along.

An unexpected highlight came in the inter-performance DJ set that preceded them, from a duo call Beatfoot DJs who took their chance to deliver a live PA instead, one of them leaping across the front of the stage to their own gabba as BCNR line checked. Despite their best efforts, the waiting crowd were unable to ignore it after a time and eventually showed their appreciation for the sheer nerve of it if nothing else.

Shygirl then tees up Caroline Polachek’s big stage headlining set (the screamiest hour of the day) with a confidence that only she possesses. She nonchalantly tosses out not only the big moments from her debut album Nymph but a crop of her singles and early EP tracks too, peaking with the usually menacing late-night-drive track ‘Siren’, which takes on a new beauty as the sun goes down. Laid out in front of us like this, you get a real sense of how many murky club bangers she has to play with, and that the main stage is the right place for her. Naturally, she ends on a completely new track – ‘Crush’, from her Nymph remix album Nymth_o, and a confetti cannon that confirms her pop starriness.

On the Wide Awake app, a group has now formed called “How old do Guinea Pigs generally live to?”. Someone replies with “Six o’clock”. Elsewhere people gush about the day they’ve had – Alex G‘s buzzed up indie (which people seem to like even more when it sounds like Oasis); the power of neo-Sufi artist Aroof Aftab in the afternoon sun. It makes me think that there’s a simplicity to Wide Awake that shouldn’t be undervalued – they got a lot of truly interesting and varied musicians together in a field that was full of nice people. It sounds a lot easier to make happen than it really is.