Returning for a second year, Wireless is THE weekend festival for all fans of hip-hop, pop, and dance music. With a promising line-up packed with global superstars, Wireless Festivalhad a lot to live up to. This is the first time the UK’s second city has hosted the event, but Birmingham has been treated to a fantastic billing fit to rival any big name festival. Unfortunately an early casualty caused heartache for many fans; rapper and Friday’s headliner Drake dropped out due to illness the day before his set, which came as a major disappointment to many (especially myself!)
Regardless of this, anticipation was high walking through the gates on Friday. With the sun glaring down on Perry Park, the crowds flocked to the foot of the Main Stage for opening act B.o.B., who drew a passionate and vocal crowd of early birds, treating them to chart toppers such as ‘Airplanes’ and ‘Nothing On You’. The reception he received was overwhelming considering he performed so early on, and it is rather a shock that he was so low down on the bill, as his energy and popularity could easily have warranted a much higher spot on the Main Stage, or even a headlining slot on a smaller stage.
Rapper A$AP Ferg on the Main Stage
A$AP Ferg performed second on the Main Stage after being moved up from the BrumBrum Stage during Friday’s rescheduling. Admittedly I had not heard much of Ferg’s music before, and I was originally fairly sceptical at how his set would pan out, however he quickly cemented himself as a fan favourite with numerous crowd interactions which included starting off mosh pits and walls of death, as well as encouraging fans to crowd surf up to him. To top it off he invited two rappers from the crowd up onto the stage with him to showcase their talents. A very likeable guy overall and joined by his incredibly energetic and rather insane MC – they took the step-up in their stride.
Controversial hip-hop artist Azealia Banks, clad in a hot pink leather bodysuit and joined by a troupe of oddly dressed backing dancers, graced the Main Stage during a time where the weather sadly took a turn for the worse. Whilst she started off well, the crowd did not seem as pumped for her as for previous acts – which it could be argued was down to a lack of excitement and vibrancy within her set – and any disgruntled or indifferent fans at the stage then had their minds made up for them due to the weather conditions, and so a mass exodus of those seeking shelter ensued.
Odd Future member Earl Sweatshirt, playing on the BrumBrum Stage, drew a diverse crowd with a huge mix of people, which is homage to the sort of music that these guys produce. Earl’s vocals were on point, and his joy at performing was evident throughout, making for an enjoyable set fuelled by both overflowing passion and overflowing beer cups all over the place, hitting new heights when other Odd Future member Lucas Vercetti made a guest appearance.
One of the highlights of Friday was the wonderful Chance the Rapper who was joined on stage by a backing band rather than a DJ. The music as a result had more authentic sound, and the atmosphere was similar to that of a full band concert. With soulful bellowing trumpets and crashing cymbals merging with Chance’s vocals, combined with a noisy crowd in a party mood throughout, the amalgamation was a beautiful thing to behold, with the sing-a-longs to ‘Juice’ and ‘Cocoa Butter Kisses’ being among the best moments of the weekend.
Meanwhile, on the Future Stage – which hosted acts who are poised for great things in the near future – the roof was being blown off by the hip-hop duo Krept and Konan. Having worked previously with big UK names such as Giggs and Wretch 32, they are paving themselves a straight path from the bottom directly to the top. The pair pulled a huge crowd despite many festival goers taking shelter from the rain, but subsequently gave them more than enough reason to stick around. Tying up their set with ‘Don’t Waste My Time’, the crowd were so pumped that the song ended up being performed twice, capping off a brilliant set from this hot new talent.
The musical mastermind that is Labrinth sent the Main Stage crowd into raptures, setting the bar high for the upcoming headliner. Songs such as ‘Earthquake’ and ‘Express Yourself’ were incredibly well received, the former especially, and were sung back across the whole festival park. Never before have I seen an act have such phenomenal stage presence while simply standing still; though smothered underneath his green trench coat, it genuinely felt like he was taking up the whole stage.
Australian EDM duo Knife Party signed off the BrumBrum stage on Friday, with what was less of a musical performance and more of a lights and visuals show in a cramped tent. A true rave from start to finish, well known hits ‘Internet Friends’ and ‘Bonfire’ were treated to remixes incorporating massive drops, frenetic melodies and enough bass to make the back of your throat vibrate. For those who love an act you can dance to non-stop, with none of that cliché talking in between, Knife Party should be high on your list of bands to see live.
Rudimental put on an energetic show on the Main Stage
With Drake’s removal from the bill throwing a lot of doubt up in the air and causing a lot of schedule changes throughout the Friday, British sensations Rudimental were promoted to headliners. The BBC festival band of the summer for 2013 took to the stage in front of a crowd consisting of nearly every man, woman and child in the park – and treated them to musical ecstasy. With each song sounding identical or even better than the recorded versions, the band were moving and shaking all over the stage, encouraging the crowd to do the same. If that wasn’t special enough, they were joined by featuring artists Ella Eyre and John Newman for the songs ‘Waiting All Night’ and ‘Feel The Love’ respectively, giving a sneak peek of both acts who were performing at the festival later on. It was an absolute joy to behold, and if Rudimental weren’t already popular enough throughout the UK, this summer’s festival circuit is really going to cement them in the musical history books
Singer John Newman performed in the middle of a busy Saturday, treating Perry Park to his soulful voice and some chart-topping summer tunes to accompany the sunshine and the chilled atmosphere surrounding the place, with tracks such as the UK number 1 ‘Love Me Again’ and ‘Losing Sleep’.
Perhaps the rockiest band at the festival (which surprisingly isn’t a difficult feat), heart-throbs Rixton took to the Future Stage on the Saturday. With a unique blend of pop, rock and R&B similar in style to bands such as 5 Seconds of Summer – perhaps typified by their original rendition of Route 94’s ‘My Love’ – their faith in their sound and the sheer passion they demonstrate will surely see them go far.
The performance of Clean Bandit saw the BrumBrum stage crammed to its fullest capacity throughout the entire weekend, and I don’t blame the crowd wanting to see what was a clean-cut set full of their hottest tunes, such as ‘Rather Be’. Though it could be said that Clean Bandit did not provide much of a stage presence or a party atmosphere, it was entirely justified by the incredible musicianship they demonstrated.
Big Boi and Andre 3000 of Outkast
The announcement of Outkast performing after their 8 year hiatus will have been a massive throwback to most of the crowd with the relative success of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below and timeless classics like ‘Hey Ya!’ and ‘Roses’, both songs which when performed garnered a frenzy of joy left, right and centre. Outkast subsequently said that the set was designed for their own enjoyment rather than conforming to what everyone else wants, but they thankfully still didn’t neglect their biggest hits, and harnessed their care-free attitude to deliver a set that seemed to them more of a hobby than a fulltime job.
Bruno Mars put on a spectacle on Saturday
Grammy award winning singer-songwriter Bruno Mars came on to face a crowd spanning all ages, opening his set with the song his worldwide tour has been named after, ‘Moonshine’. However simply naming the songs that were played does not do Bruno Mars and his band enough justice. There were songs within songs, sampling of other artists’ songs, mashups, dramatic pauses and playful banter, switches between acoustic and electric, and a whole set-long choreography that would make anyone jealous of their dance moves. He exuded a cheerful aura which was so contagious that you couldn’t help but smile throughout, even when playing classic heartbreak songs ‘Grenade’ and ‘When I Was Your Man’. Mars’ control over the crowd and understanding of the mood was spot on, making playful jibes at the front rowers who were recording every second by improvising the line “f*** your Instagram” out of nowhere in the middle of a song. The roar for an encore was deafening, and after a tense period of time, Bruno Mars rose from the back of the stage performing a drum solo that lead into ‘Locked Out Of Heaven’ and ‘Gorilla’, combined with pyrotechnics, lights and fireworks. It was an absolute spectacle and Bruno Mars – and not forgetting his backing band The Hooligans – was undeniably the best act of the weekend.
Having recently garnered a lot of attention in the charts with songs such as ‘Fancy’ and ‘Change Your Life’, Iggy Azalea drew a big crowd of eager onlookers waiting to see what she was really about. Those expecting a diva prancing around the stage singing pop tunes would’ve been shocked, as she made the stage her own and delivered a solid set consisting wholly of fan favourites. What she lacked in crowd interaction compared to some of the other acts she made up for in her confident and imposing attitude in both the interludes and the songs themselves.
English rapper Tinie Tempah hit it big in 2010 with the song ‘Pass Out’, and since then has been a mainstay in the UK pop music scene, and judging from his set at Wireless Festival it is more than easy to see why. Full of excitement and pumped with adrenaline at playing his first Birmingham Wireless show, he blew away the crowd with his repertoire of hits including ‘Miami 2 Ibiza’, ‘Trampoline’ and ‘Mosh Pit’ – which saw the inevitable mosh pits break out all over the crowd – and seemed blown away himself at the response he got throughout the set, stopping to do shots on stage with his DJ in celebration.
For a man in his forties, Pharrell Williams probably understands the current music scene more than anyone else around. Sporting the now famous hat that never leaves his head, his set was a mixture of new songs, old songs, and songs he had collaborated on, more or less in that order. The raucous delight when songs such as ‘Hollaback Girl’ and ‘Drop it Like it’s Hot’ started was evidence of how surprised yet overjoyed the crowd were at their inclusion. A sing-a-long act from the get go, the weight of the nostalgia his song choices brought improved the already strong set and kicked off the Sunday sunshine with a bang.
The anticipation had been building all weekend for Sunday’s finale, and after hearing the rumours of apparent meltdowns at the London shows, the tension could be felt in the air as a fashionably late Kanye West marauded onto the stage. Stripped of any sort of the fancy fireworks and pyrotechnics from the night before, Kanye’s stage set up consisted of just one giant screen that switched between a camera shot following his mask-hidden face with the colours eerily negative and artsy shots that emphasized his silhouette. His setlist showcased his extensive discography, right from The College Dropout to Yeezus, leaving no stone unturned with hits such as ‘Heartless’ and ‘Touch The Sky’ and fan favourites such as ‘Through The Wire’ and ‘Blood on the Leaves’ which he was so eager to perform that he gave a sneak peek within his set, and then finished it off for his encore. It’s easy to pan Kanye West as egotistical and unnecessarily rebellious, but it is about the whole experience rather than just his personality; his demeanour on stage and his no-nonsense attitude (including his 5 minute speech about following your dreams) are all part of the act and it’s not right to dismiss him because of it. His performance was of a predictably high quality and every second was spot on.
Kanye West, masked and soaking in the atmosphere
All in all, the line-up for Wireless Festival was one of the strongest of the summer, and the weight of the expectation upon it came across clearly when talking to anyone at the festival. However there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that each act delivered a performance fitting of any great festival, and put on a memorable show that will have not only seen them appease their current fans, but will also have found them new fans. The Future Stage showed that there is a load of new talent coming through at the moment, while established acts put on a spectacle that could have been headlines set for each of them, and the headliners were quite simply sublime (it could’ve been you, Drake!). It was a brilliantly memorable weekend of music: a joy for those who attended – and a missed opportunity for those who didn’t!