Skip to main content

The 10 best must-see acts at Wide Awake festival

Shame + Lynks
Shame’s Charlie Steen and Lynks (Image credit: Talia Pittman)

Taking place on September 3 at Brockwell Park in South London, Wide Awake self-identifies as “a festival for music fans looking for something different.”

In that spirit, having the biggest name on the bill, Bristol punks Idles, perform their ‘headline’ set on the festival’s Windmill stage at 1:30 in the afternoon, just 90 minutes after proceedings get underway on the Herne Hill/Tulse Hill site, is a bold opening gambit in turning the traditional festival format on its head. In truth, it’s a decision enforced by logistics, as Joe Talbot’s band have a huge hometown show that same day, but it carries symbolic weight: Wide Awake ticket holders should anticipate a day of music like no other.

Co-promoters Bad Vibrations, LNZRT and Snap, Crackle & Pop promise “leftfield indie, post punk, electronica, techno, jazz and more from an array of artists you won’t find anywhere else at a festival in London.” While on-going uncertainties over the UK’s charmingly haphazard/utterly fucking clueless guidelines on travel have meant that a number of international artists, including Tinariwen, Songhoy Blues and Tropical Fuck Storm, have been forced to withdraw from the original line-up, Wide Awake still sports an embarrassment of eclectic riches across its six stages.

A special mention must be made of the festival’s main stage, named after the off-the-beaten-track Brixton pub in which the UK’s most exciting, dynamic and unclassifiable music scene has been incubated, in loose alliance with South London independent record label Speedy Wunderground, launched by producer Dan Carey, who transitioned from co-writing/producing for Kyle Minogue, Sia and Lily Allen to recording (and later releasing) singles inside 24 hours for emerging artists such as Kate Tempest, Sinead O’Brien, Squid and PVA.

In years to come - maybe even as soon as next year - the idea of thrillingly individual, fast-rising guitar acts Squid, Goat Girl, Black Country, New Road, Black Midi and Shame sharing one stage on one day will seem like a dream, a once-in-a-lifetime ‘did that really happen?’ moment. 

It’s happening. And if you can, you really should be there to see it. Here, in alphabetical order, are 10 reasons why…

Louder line break

Black Midi

Bowie on Top Of The Pops. Nirvana on The Word. At The Drive-In on Later… Undeniably electrifying, iconic TV moments. And here’s another, Black Midi performing their debut single bmbmbm live at the 2019 Mercury Prize ceremony, the moment The Scene With No Name leapt off the Windmill stage and literally front-flipped (see 3:13) into the national consciousness. 

The Londoners’ brilliant Schlagenheim album lost out to south London rapper Dave’s Pyschodrama on the night, but a marker for a new age of British guitar music was laid down. If you’re in any doubt about music’s continued capacity to confuse, anger and unsettle, check out the comments below this YouTube clip: “I don’t understand how this noise is considered music and it’s making me feel old” is one of the more polite reactions. 

See them: Windmill Stage, 20:05


Dry Cleaning

An eleventh hour addition to the bill, replacing Dream Wife, off-kilter post-punks Dry Cleaning might just be the UK’s biggest ‘buzz’ band of the moment. The South London quartet’s superb New Long Leg album crashed into the UK charts at number 4 in April, and music’s most reliable hype channels have been gushing in their appreciation of vocalist Florence Shaw’s fabulously deadpan, disjointed and uniquely surreal lyrical musings: her disdainful delivery of the oblique insult, “You’re a spoon pal, you are”, on the album’s title track is a joy to behold. 

Look out too for Magic Of Meghan, a left-field salute of sorts to the Duchess of Sussex. “You're just what England needs, you're going to change us,” intones Shaw: the same could be said of Dry Cleaning.

See them: Moth Club Stage, 18:10


Goat Girl

Released in January, Goat Girl’s sci-fi synth-heavy second album, On All Fours, produced by Dan Carey, finds the Peckham post-punk quartet painting a disquieting vision of modern life, laced with anxiety and ennui: “When you’re within a world that constantly makes you feel as though you’re living out a really bad dream,” notes vocalist/guitarist Lottie Pendlebury, “disillusionment is inevitable.” If this all sounds rather down-beat, rest assured their live sets crackle with intensity.

See them: Windmill Stage, 17:20


Idles

At the risk of being that guy, Idles’ much-lauded third album, Ultra Mono, is arguably the weakest of their career to date: that it was also easily the best guitar album made by a British band in 2020 speaks to just how impactful both 2017’s Brutalism and 2018’s Joy as an Act of Resistance remain. 

When the Bristol five-piece last played a major show in London, at Alexandra Palace on the weekend ahead of the 2019 UK General Election, their righteous fury was shot through with hope that the British people might embrace progressive change: that this hope was soon cruelly quashed at the ballot box only makes their open-hearted, incendiary art more vital and necessary in 2021.

See them: Windmill Stage, 13:30


Korokoro

Drawing upon influences from Afrobeat, jazz, West African Pentecostal churches and London’s grittiest after-dark nightlife, Korokoro - named after an Orobo word meaning “be strong” - might just steal the show at Wide Awake as darkness falls upon the Bad Vibrations Stage. 

Their life-affirming soundscapes could come from nowhere but London: “We didn’t want it to sound too clean, that doesn’t really fit into the London sound,” says percussionist Onome Edgeworth. “We wanted it to sound rough, like going out and hearing music pushed through speakers or the energy of people dancing at Afrobeat parties: it’s music we’ve seen work on dancefloors.”

See them: Bad Vibrations Stage, 21:00


Lynks

If Frank Carter and The Rattlesnakes performing Ace Of Spades at the Download Pilot festival in June came as a surprise, this was as nothing compared to the wide-eyed wonderment rippling across Donington Park when Carter welcomed self-professed “alt.pop gimp” Lynks to the stage for new single Go Get A Tattoo

Inspired by the late, legendary Leigh Bowery, Lynks shamelessly self-identifies as the “best musician in the entire world” and he/she/they bring an exuberant, irresistible energy to every louder-than-than life LGBTQ+ anthem in his/her/their armoury. 

See he/she/they: So Young Stage, 17:45


Porridge Radio

Fronted by Dana Margolin, arguably the most exciting thing about Brighton‘s Porridge Radio is that this is a unit still growing into their own skin: the leap from the quartet’s excellent Every Bad album, released in March 2020, to striking stand-alone single 7 Seconds, released in October 2020, is evidence of the increasing power and weight of Margolin’s songwriting. 

“I’ve always known that we’re the best band in the world” ran the pull-quote on the band’s NME cover feature last year: Wide Awake seems like a perfect platform for Margolin to prove that to anyone as yet unconverted to their cause.

See them: Bad Vibrations Stage, 14:30


Shame

That Alphabet, the opening track on Shame’s current album Drunk Tank Pink sounds like Repeater-era Fugazi if Ian MacKaye was raised in Peckham rather than Washington DC, is a testament to the quintet’s fire and fury. While Charlie Steen’s lyrics on the album deal with isolation, live Shame are all about community, their capacity to bring a room together making them the Windmill’s quintessential homegrown heroes. Watching them close Wide Awake on the Windmill Stage promises to be A Moment.

See them: Windmill Stage, 21:30


Slift

Slift might hail from Toulouse, France, but spiritually and sonically the trio would be right at home in the Palm Desert, California scene which spawned Kyuss. The group’s second album, 2020’s Ummon, is the sort of filthy, rumbling, psychedelic space-rock which unites the children of Sabbath and Hawkwind, and as the heaviest band on the Wide Awake bill, their late evening set will be the perfect wake-up call for those flagging in the festival’s final quarter.

See them: So Young Stage, 19:45


Squid

To be honest, we were torn here between giving this final slot to Squid or Dublin’s moody post punks The Murder Capital, but in the open-minded ethos of Wide Awake, a festival which might actually introduce you to artists who could genuinely change your life, we’re giving the nod to the Brighton quintet for the sheer fearlessness of their approach to making music. 

If the idea of Slint, Can, King Crimson, Sonic Youth and Einstürzende Neubauten jamming in one room until the ceiling collapses is your idea of a good time, then the quintet’s Bright Green Field debut, produced - yep, you’re ahead of us - by Dan Carey could be your new everything.

See them: Windmill Stage, 15:00

WA

(Image credit: Wide Awake festival)