Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Festival review: Sunday @ Wireless with Rihanna

(Written for skiddle.com website, originally published here.)

Any naysayers that say Wireless Festival isn’t a proper festival (no camping, in the middle of a city) might have rethought their stance had they seen Hyde Park on the Sunday. The intermittent downpours and trodding feet of 65,000 revellers turned the normally grassy ground into a mudbath worthy of any countryside festival. Not that anyone cared. The atmosphere was one of easygoing excitement, no doubt bolstered by an even poppier and dancier line-up than the previous two days.

It wasn’t only the rain that made a return to Wireless on Sunday. Rising star Labrinth was given a second slot, this time elevated to the main stage – echoing his already meteoric rise to chart success. He played the same set as Saturday, but his performance felt looser, more confident, more fun. He seemed more at ease on the bigger, more exposed stage. Closing his set with his big hit Earthquake, he also seemed genuinely moved to be there, thanking the crowd for the experience.

In the Pepsi Max tent, another act that’s generated plenty of buzz this year – 23-year-old US rapper A$AP Rocky – put in an energetic and aggressive performance. With a similar set up to Hilltop Hoods on the previous day – two rappers and a DJ – it was hard not to compare the two acts. A$AP Rocky was a much more serious affair, with none of the party vibe generated by his more experienced Australian counterparts. The crowd was less bouncy as a result, but judging by the amount of lyrics being shouted back at the US star, he has a dedicated and growing following.

Party vibes were flowing with abundance from the main stage as pop duo Rizzle Kicks performed with infectious enthusiasm. Rizzle and Sylvester bounded up and down the big stage with apparent glee, churning out the tunes from their hit album Stereo Typical. Inexplicable covers of the James Bond theme and The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army filled out the setlist, but it was the hits that got the most joyful crowd reaction.

French DJ and producer Madeon was the first of three dance acts lined up for the big finale in the Pepsi Max tent. Another act generating plenty of buzz in 2012, the 18-year-old drew an impressive crowd, all keen to check out his heady, disco-fuelled house set.

The next DJ and producer out the gate was the US’s Kaskade. Best known for his floaty collaboration with Deadmau5, I Remember, the American DJ hit the up-for-it crowd with a surprisingly heavy techno house set. It was perfectly pitched, with the whole tent unable to just stand and watch the impressive light show by the end of it.

It was a mere warm-up compared to Calvin Harris, however. The tent filled quickly and the crowd spilled out, stretching back up towards the main stage. It suddenly seemed silly, given he’s having his most successful year yet, that he wasn’t on the main stage. A screen outside the tent prevented those unable to get in from missing too much, and as Harris mixed his hits with classics such as Where’s Your Head At, Save The World and You Got The Love, people got playful in the mud.

It wasn’t to be the last outing for Harris’s global megahit We Found Love that evening, either. Initially billed as Rihanna’s only UK gig this year, the hype about her Wireless appearance had been dampened somewhat by her performance at Radio 1’s Hackney Weekend two weeks previously. Even the Egyptian-themed set was the same. But once she took to the stage, front-loading her set with three big hits: Only Girl, Disturbia and S&M, the Barbadian singer had the London crowd in the palm of her hand.

Rihanna was accused of lacking charisma in her early days. Still only 24, there’s no danger of that now. Her casual but engaging 90-minute performance saw her carrying the mantle of being one of the biggest pop stars in the world with ease. For casual fans it was sometimes hard-going: there were many songs from her recent album, and long sections of mid-tempo album tracks seemingly designed to showcase Rihanna’s thigh wobble rather than engage a crowd. But when the hits came out – songs that the whole crowd know by heart – it was impossible to resist singing along.

Festival review: Saturday @ Wireless with Drake

(Written for skiddle.com website, originally published here.)

Seven years into its life, the Wireless Festival, set proudly in Hyde Park in the centre of London, could now lay claim to being a big gun on the festival calendar. This year’s line-up was a heady mix of big name dance acts, popular British pop acts and hotly-tipped rising stars such as D’banj and A$AP Rocky. All this was topped off with three of the world’s biggest pop stars – Drake, Nicki Minaj and Rihanna.

This Top 40-heavy line-up of pop and R&B acts inevitably attracted a youthful, glammed-up crowd, as concerned with reattaching false eyelashes and flexing tattooed biceps as they were with protecting themselves from the intermittent downpours. 

Wireless did offer some protection from the capricious weather in the form of two tents. The smaller, the Unwind Stage, was tucked away near the entrance, where duo AlunaGeorge were given the unforgiving 2pm opening slot. Their 2012 take on 90s R&B, with its electro riffs and Aluna Francis’ compelling vocal, has had music blogs frothing at the mouth, but here it failed to hit the mark. There’s the nagging feeling that their music is more suited to a smoky, low-ceilinged club than a tent during the daytime. But Francis still gave it her all, putting in a laudably enthusiastic performance for the small but curious crowd. 

The bigger Pepsi Max tent, tucked away behind the main stage, played host to Australian hip hop perennials Hilltop Hoods. Considering their lack of profile in the UK, the group drew a big crowd (bolstered by the hordes of Aussie travellers ensconced in the capital, judging by the flags being waved around) who know enough of the words to make it feel like the band were more than just a curiosity for those present. Not that it mattered if they were. The three-piece are adept at getting a crowd going, with plenty of call-backs and chanting alongside their already infectious tunes. 

The joyful crowd reaction was nothing compared to what came next, however. 
The Aussie flags disappeared, the crowd surged forward and the lengthy and dramatic build-up to the arrival of D’banj on stage began. The Nigerian singer-songwriter is currently enjoying chart success with his Afrobeat crossover hit Oliver Twist and has been signed to Kanye West’s label. Judging by the adoration and excitement in the crowd as D’banj put in his highly energetic performance, it’s a canny move on West’s part. 

British star Labrinth got similar adoration if not quite the same buzz of excitement from the crowd. The singer and multi-instrumentalist managed to show off each of his skills during his performance, moving from microphone to guitar to keyboard without missing a beat. One album in, he still manages to churn out the hits, including, to the great pleasure of the crowd, his No 1 Tinie Tempah collaboration Pass Out. 

Over on the main stage fellow chart star Example seemed a bit lost on the huge stage. Bouncing from one end to the other, he was very much leaning on his band to beef up the performance, behaving more like a lead singer than a solo star. He needn’t have worried. He could have just stood there and his pounding tunes would have had the crowd unable to resist dancing. 

Nicki Minaj kept the crowd waiting half an hour after her supposed start time. But when one of the world’s biggest pop stars arrives on stage, platinum blonde hair and frilly knickers blowing in the wind, these things are quickly forgotten. She opened with a handful of her heavier tracks, the onslaught of swearwords making you wonder why the multitude of pre-teens present in the audience had been allowed to watch her. It’s a showy and hugely enjoyable performance, the arrival of her globe-straddling hit Starships reminding you that everyone, even a hardened hip hop fan, is a sucker for a catchy pop tune. 

Back in the big tent dubstep maestros Nero served up their eye-popping, bass-heavy show. Sat behind a stack of speakers and TV screens, the duo ran through their hit album with playful confidence. They even threw in the odd surprise, such as a dubby take on The Streets’ club anthem Blinded By The Lights. 

This year Wireless timed it so all the other stages were finished in time for the headline act on the main stage. Enter Drake, who arrived with as much bombast as Minaj but then failed to prolong the excitement. While much of the crowd faithfully sang along, there was a palpable lack of fun to the proceedings, the problem being the music itself: there’s only so much energy you can generate with Drake’s meandering and thoughtful style of hip hop. Appearances by fellow Americans The Weeknd and a returning Minaj added a frisson of excitement, but you can’t help but want more from a Saturday night headliner.