Wide Awake Festival 2021 review: a portrait of a punk scene that’s still thriving

September 3, Brockwell Park: Less than a mile from The Windmill, the cluster of bands that cut their teeth at the venue graduate to the next level at this inaugural event

The inaugural edition of new London festival Wide Awake takes place less than a mile from Brixton venue the Windmill, a place that’s served as the HQ for most of the exciting music being made in London over the last five years.

Many bands have come through the Windmill’s doors, using it as a place to grow and experiment, before graduating to the next stage, and today’s line-up for the first ever Wide Awake in Brockwell Park serves as a who’s-who of this scene, a movement that continues to thrive.

The day begins with IDLES, who play an early afternoon headline set before travelling up the M4 to their hometown of Bristol to headline their own festival on the Downs, a marker of how far the punks have come. Their Wide Awake show sets the tone for the day, with moshpits and carnage just after lunchtime. Tracks from third album ‘Ultra Mono’ slot into the set seamlessly, but its older tracks ‘Samaritans’ and ‘Mother’ that still pack the greatest punch, easily showing just why IDLES have paved the way for so many bands on today’s lineup.


Right after them are Porridge Radio, who continue to make up for the 2020 festival season they cruelly lost on the back of stunning five-star album ‘Every Bad’, released last March. With sugary new single ‘7 Seconds’ and promising new material backing up tracks from the album, it’s clear their momentum won’t be stopped any longer.

Though the music at Wide Awake largely skew towards the recent trend of bands with sardonic, sprechgesang vocals and wiry guitars, there are some welcome – and necessary – detours across the day’s programme. A stunning example of this comes from Lynks, who delights the festival’s smallest stage with deliciously dirty lyrics and club-ready beats. The set is something between a rave and an aerobics class, as they lead the animated crowd through choreographed dance routines and sing-a-long lyrics.

Wide Awake
IDLES performing at Wide Awake 2021. Credit: Luke Dyson.

“Because this is such an up-and-coming post-punk music festival, I think we should do a choreographed dance routine,” they say before ‘Stay On Trend’, before later on the set blurs the boundaries even further, as Shame’s Charlie Steen – a ringleader of the post-punk scene Lynks speaks of – comes on stage to perform his part on ‘This Is The Hit’, joining in giddily with the routines himself.

Self Esteem also proves some blissful pop relief among the post-punk gloom. After a weekend-conquering set at Green Man last month, Rebecca Taylor’s evening set is rapturously received again here, with new single ‘I Do This All The Time’ already a bonafide anthem.

Elsewhere, in a far corner of Brockwell Park, Daniel Avery curates a stage of cutting-edge, boundary-pushing dance music that rubs shoulders with the festival’s punk-leaning bread and butter. There’s a punk energy to his bubbling techno, meaning that the London-based DJ – who was raised on a diet of Nine Inch Nails and other rock royalty – fits in perfectly here. Proving these credentials, he opens his raucous set with Slipknot interlude ‘742617000027’.


On the main stage though – which is suitably named the Windmill stage – the programme reads like an A-List of alumni from the Brixton venue. Beginning with a set from the scene’s new stars Tiña, who have become the first band to release a full-length album on label-du-jour Speedy Wunderground, the main stage then welcomes sets from Squid, PVA and Goat Girl, all acts who are indebted to the scene that formed in the roads and venues surrounding the park.

Wide Awake
Porridge Radio performing at Wide Awake 2021. Credit: Luke Dyson.

One of its most recent success stories is Black Country, New Road, who point to the future in their sometimes chaotic, often gorgeous late afternoon set. The band have always been forward-looking, meaning ‘Sunglasses’, arguably their biggest hit, is omitted here in favour of a spate of new material. ‘Track X’, a highlight of debut album ‘For The First Time’, hinted at a more tranquil sound from the band moving forwards, and today’s set confirms this. A host of expansive new material is debuted, leaning on acoustic guitars and piano and hinting at a distinctly different future for the sax-wielding rabble.

Then come Black Midi. It’s still a wonder that the band’s undiluted eccentricities can hold their own on main stages after dark, but Wide Awake is a festival that encourages weirdness and, as they veer from squalling noise into twang country songs without blinking, the packed crowd takes it all in their stride.

If the first-ever Wide Awake felt like a homecoming for many, it surely does most to Shame, who close the main stage. Forming next door to the park at the Queen’s Head pub in Brixton, the band have been on an ascent to this moment ever since, and they attack their vicious headline set with passion fit for the moment.

“Here’s a new song,” frontman Steen jokes before they play ‘One Rizla’, the first song they wrote at the Queen’s Head aged 16. It’s a marker of how far they – and everyone playing today – have come.

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