FestivalsLive Reviews

FESTIVAL REVIEW: Wide Awake Festival 2023

Brixton plays home to some of the best alternative music this country has to offer with venues such as The Windmill playing their part in growing bands such as Black Midi, Squid, and Black Country, New Road, to name a few. Therefore, it feels as if the natural progression for the area would be its own festival, in the form of Wide Awake, a multi-cultural celebration of genre ranging from post-punk to pop to punk to dance music.

In its third edition of the festival, this year’s edition boasted headliner Caroline Polachek, making her first festival headline appearance fresh off the success of her sophomore LP, Desire, I Want To Turn Into You, with plenty of quirky and unconventional acts laying the foundations before her.

As the beaming sun shone down onto Brockwell Park, it was time for one of the gloomiest bands we know to take the stage in a strong contrast to what was occurring around us with the scenic views and party atmosphere. Belarusian post-punk band Molchat Doma were not here to party. However, that is their style. They are a band that rarely plays in the UK, and had attracted a strong crowd, in spite of all their tracks being sung in their native language of Russian. Lead singer Egor Shutko’s stage presence was entertaining as he swung his body around whilst the rest of the band stood motionless. What let the band down was the sound quality as on record, their bass tone is very strong and defining within their music, but live, the synths were overpowering, leaving some of the songs difficult to decipher, regardless of the language. 6/10

Over on The Moth club stage, Black Country, New Road’s violinist Georgia Ellery, alongside Taylor Skye had the tent packed to the rafters for their project Jockstrap. Coming off the release of their critically acclaimed debut I Love You Jennifer B, it was interesting to see how their unique sound would come across on the live stage. The answer was quite well. Ellery’s stage presence was strong, her voice sounded brilliant, and the crowd were really into it. It was a slight hinderance that the duo opted to remix some of their tracks, as this was a lot of their new fanbase’s first time seeing them live, perhaps save the remixing of the debut once people have heard the original tracks first. 7.5/10

One of the fan favourites arrived next on the Wide Awake stage in the form of Viagra Boys. Although twenty minutes late to their set, which seemed to be an extremely irritating theme throughout the day for any band that wasn’t headlining, the wait was worth it (that is no way an endorsement of band’s keeping fans waiting before gigs!). Tracks from their hugely successful third LP Cave World went off, just like frontman Sebastian Murphy’s clothes about three quarters into the set. After quipping that he had, “never seen so many mullets in one crowd”, the Swedish band rocked through old numbers such as Research Chemicals, and Down in the Basement whilst inevitably Sports was the track that caught the crowd’s imagination the most. It was a great quickfire set that saw the band live up to their wild reputation. 9/10

On a complete contract of live performances, Black Country, New Road took to the Desert Daze x Bad Vibrations stage to play their latest LP Live at Bush Hall. Although very talented, the band made zero effort with the crowd, and it was quite frankly boring at times. This style of gig may be made for some fans of live music, but it’s not for us. As the band ignored the rest of their discography and spent more time beefing with Osees post-gig than they did acknowledging their crowd, you couldn’t help but feel a little let down by a band that has all the capabilities in the world, but no evident passion to perform their music. 4/10

After a brief stop for some £6.50 cheesy fries, we watched Warmduscher from afar as there was no way anyone else was fitting in that tent. As always, Clams Baker Jr put on a show that matches the charisma his voice alone carries whilst singing about various misdemeanours. The bouncing in the crowd was contagious, and tracks both old and new were responded to brilliantly. Midnight Dipper was a particular favourite live as it is a track almost made for the live audience. Interestingly, most of Warmduscher’s songs sound even better live, so… Live album anyone? 8.5/10

Onto the headliners, Californian rock band Osees put on an absolute show. The difference two drummers make when playing live is astounding. Songs that don’t sound too heavy, suddenly sound like the best mosh songs ever and as darkness transcended over Wide Awake, they were the perfect band to greet it. Elements of punk and psychedelia all combined to create a truly awesome gig. From the moment frontman John Dwyer held his guitar in his mouth, strummed in one hand, bit the notes in the other, and gave the crowd a middle finger with the other, you just knew this was going to be a gig to remember. Tracks such as Static God, The Dream, and I Come from the Mountain all went off in a mosh pit that never really stopped moving, whilst ‘scum-punk’ tracks from their latest LP A Foul Form were undoubtedly hits with a crowd that was lapping up everything they were given. A true gig to remember. 10/10

The main event next, as Caroline Polachek struts to the stage in what was a huge moment for her career. As she is only two albums in, and headlining a festival, a successful set here, and she will only continue to headline bigger and bigger stages. Her latest record took centre stage for this show as she played the vast majority of the record to adoring fans. Her live production was strong as the stage was set up with picturesque mountains followed by bright pop visuals more than encouraging fans to sing along to choruses in tracks like Bunny Is A Rider and So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings. She definitely felt like a headliner and fans clearly loved her, and as she closed her set with Door, we think it is fair to say that the bold booking choices throughout the day had certainly paid off big style. 8.5/10

Wide Awake 2023 was a huge success. What other small day festival can have three headliners with one being a dance act, one a pop act, and one a garage rock act, and make it work so well. It’s a well organised, fun, open minded festival that is not afraid to take risks with the line-up, we can’t wait for the next edition.