Live Review: Wireless Festival

Hyde Park, London, 1st-3rd July

In its seven years on earth, Wireless has emerged from a primordial soup of opportunistic corporate festivaldom to become one of the worthier causes on the circuit. Over the years, the inner-city sojourn has honed its line-ups from the nebulous, genre-hopping selections of yore into a beautiful pop bricolage, having found a way to leave no corner of what we used to call HMV unrepresented. Granted, with such a wide range of music available, most punters choose their day and stick to it (80 per cent of Friday’s turn out for Chipmunk et al have probably never heard of Sunday’s headliners, the up-and-coming indie six-piece [a]Pulp[/a]). If you do stick around for the whole weekend, though, its revolving door policy takes on the form of a kind of musical kaleidoscope that throws up some unexpectedly intense patterns.

With this in mind, it’s with genuine curated grace that [a]Foals[/a] stand atop the sonic flotsam-mound on the festival’s closing night, packing out the canopied second stage shortly before [a]Pulp[/a] make their London comeback on the Main Stage. As well as a set of sharp puzzle-pop, their stage backdrop offers a lesson in violent typography. A supernova shower of strobe renders their BOLD TYPE moniker a pulsating life force that sears itself across the back of your mind, like a frame from an Adam Curtis conspiracy reel. It’s a bit overwhelming trying to decipher it all – why is Yannis dedicating ‘Miami’ to [a]Grace Jones[/a]’ onsite private toilet? Is that guy stood in front of me really wearing a [a]Foals[/a] T-shirt with comedian Adam Buxton’s face where Yannis’ should be? When everyone jumps in time to ‘Cassius’, is it true it causes a small earthquake in China?

Rewind to what snobs refer to as ‘mainstream tastes’ and Friday’s headliners [a]The Black Eyed Peas[/a] are no less visually embattling, as a legion of shapeshifting Optimus Prime speaker stacks transform onstage from boombox to lycra-clad dancer to psychedelic coin-laundromat (OK, the last one’s not true). But, unfortunately for Fergie, and, er, the other one, the wind’s picked up and the soundman’s spilt his lunch on the mixer, meaning the theatrical might of pure pop is undermined by the dreadful sound. Combined with the queasy, Tron-like visuals, you end up feeling like you’re trapped in a SIM card transmitting an unwanted muffled call from the back pocket of a drunk swaggeroonie in some dank nightclub in Ibiza. Oblivion shrugs once more on Saturday as [a]Battles[/a] fail to see the woods for the crack-eyed trees. Their occasionally transcendent, over-poised aural equilibrium trips into a quick collapse when their kit pretty much explodes during the opening notes, meaning it’s off to see LMFAO, who are in the midst of pogoing around the Unwind Stage.

Their cheesy but effective club rap feels like a snapshot from an LSD hallucination in an ’80s fancy dress factory, but as they urge the crowd to bounce with dumb party rock abandon, it’s hard to believe one of these Hollywood Chuckle Brothers, as brash as they are puerile, could have descended from such prestigious roots as Motown co-founder Berry Gordy. But, believe me, it’s true. A quick whip around the indie mainstays of the day suggests the culture for fops holding guitars and synths is in rude health, with [a]Yuck[/a] doing a fine job of sounding like [a]Sonic Youth[/a] bemoaning the lack of pimento olives in their local Waitrose (which, to be fair, is a concern closer in the hearts of many of today’s audience than anything Thurston Moore ever sang about). On the Main Stage [a]The Horrors[/a]’ sonic warfare spooks all the birds in Hyde Park into migrating early, Meanwhile [a]The Naked And Famous[/a] prove to be deeply gratifying while being doggedly neither of the things they profess to be, their Kiwi flair lovingly received as they tear through ‘Young Blood’ like the world’s about to end and we’reº all being rocketed off to a heaven populated only by the beautiful under-22s.

Finally, Richard D James must be in a generous mood as the lauded man otherwise known as [a]Aphex Twin[/a] stands behind the most elaborate (and no doubt expensive) stage set-up for a second stage at any event that this writer has ever seen. A scattergun planetarium is projected across the tent, dancing in time to his frenetic musical cues, while two giant 3D heads tower on each side of the stage, reconstructing James’ own face as it contorts through various stages of decomposition. It’s terrifying. And while Aphex’s appearances are rare enough these days, and it’s even rarer to have them consist of sounds that people really want to hear, there’s a collective inhalation of awe as the eccentric producer drops ‘Windowlicker’ within the first 10 minutes of his set.

Having given the people what they want, their ears are open and willing as they absorb the next 90 minutes of music not made for this earth; croaking glitch meandering into jungle reveries, picketed every few minutes or so by a genuine classic, like the ethereal ‘Vordhosbn’, which reminds us why this man inspired the intelligent ‘I’ of the dance music genre once known as IDM. For its sheer unexpected exuberance, and the strangely reconciliatory way it sits beside the weekend’s other acts, the set mimics Wireless’ recently discovered deeper cause: lots of people doing their own thing, but doing it together.

Alex Hoban