Yesterday was the first edition of Wide Awake Festival, one of the first festivals to go ahead since the pandemic struck, and the first festival I’ve been to since 2014.
It was amazing.
I felt awful in the morning, physically and mentally, and really nearly decided I was going to stay at home, but managed to cajole myself into attending by promising that I could leave after IDLES' set if I wasn’t enjoying it. Once I’d got past the new rigmarole of not only producing my ticket but also my COVID vaccination pass, I was very glad about the decision I’d made, as all the emotions I associate with live music came flooding back. I caught the end of Lazarus Kane’s set, who I’d not heard before, and was instantly buoyed by how great it is to be in a tent with a thousand people all vibing along to whoever is on stage.
IDLES were absolutely incredible. They played their headline set at 1:30 because they had another show to play that night, but there were clearly a lot of people who had come to the festival primarily to see them, and seemingly every other person was in an IDLES shirt. Hearing Joe Talbot talk about love, shame, community, and dismantling the patriarchy/Tory government was exactly what a lot of us needed after 18 months of the pandemic, and combined with the loud, angry sensibilities of the band, the whole experience was incredibly cathartic. It was a valuable reminder that even as we can hopefully start to return to “normal”, there are still plenty of issues that are worthy of our anger and attention.
Squid were up next and were pretty fun, which is exciting as I have tickets to see them later in the month anyway, and I also got to catch bits of Crows, Kikagaku Moyo, Goat Girl, and PVA before the two bands I was really here to see; black midi and Black Country, New Road.
Both bands have been at the top of my “to see live” list for the past couple of years, and neither disappointed. Black Country, New Road eschewed any sort of crowd interaction, or even saying anything in between songs, in favour of simply doing what they do best, and playing music. Having met at music school, each member is clearly very, very good at their chosen instrument, and their musical experimentations have the feeling of coming from musicians who have mastered and grown bored with the previously-trodden path. Their frontman Isaac Wood gave as entertaining performance as ever, even trying his hand at some death growls (more for comedic effect than anything) to the audience’s delight, and my crush on their saxophonist, Lewis Evans, is only growing, doubly so now that he’s also playing with black midi, who were up next.
Both bands have clearly influenced each other, and that is perhaps most obvious with black midi’s addition of a horn section and a steel guitar. Geordie Greep and co went for a slightly more theatrical approach than BCNR, with a WWE-style announcement before the band came on stage, and a mong fight between members serving as a segue between songs. The shirt, tie, and full tracksuit look is a tough one to pull off, but somehow Greep manages it. Their music was as energetic and chaotic as ever, and the addition of horns only adds to the sense of mania that runs through black midi’s music. For both acts, being part of the crowd was an incredible experience; to see everyone bounce up and down, to be moving as a single oversized organism, to be experiencing something beautiful and great at the same time as so many other people.
One of my biggest reasons for moving to London was to be able to see more live music, and Wide Awake more than vindicated that desire. It sounds super corny, but I really think music, especially live music, can have a healing effect on people. I woke up this morning feeling so much better about myself, my future and the world around me than I did yesterday, and I think a big part of that was down to the festival.