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Live Review: Wireless 2013 – Friday

Since its inception in 2005, there haven’t been many festivals that have been able to compete with – the newly Yahoo! sponsored – Wireless. From its first outing eight years ago now, which featured a lofty cast of headliners including New Order, Basement Jaxx and Kasabian, it’s always been a showcase of surefire bang-for-your-buck and its safe to say 2013’s event is no different. It saw the likes of Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z and Rihanna all take to stages around Stratford’s Olympic Park, and that was just the Sunday evening.

Sometimes though, festivals aren’t all about the big marquee names, instead they can be a route to alternative music discovery. That is, if you’re one who’s keen to venture off the beaten path. Case in point: arriving at the rather dusty and dried-out Olympic Village, we quickly found our way to a secluded – or at least as secluded as one can be in a festival with tens of thousands of other people – bandstand tucked away in an area of greenery. On said stage was fast rising East London soulstress Phoenix Martins. Where on record, Martins may produce something infinitely more R&B, here a full band accompanies her and it makes for an about-turn in sound.

Martins’ studio output – namely recently released debut single ‘Heartstrings’ – certainly feels crystalline and polished, but today, draped in glorious sunshine, she’s striking a lot closer to the bone. Trading off spidery, classicist guitar lines, it’s her powerhouse vocals that truly steal the show: a resplendent quality on record or stage, one that’s particularly present in the aforementioned ‘Heartstrings’. It’s towards the end of her set that we see another side of Martins, however. An initially rather stark take on The Weeknd’s – already quite stark – ‘House of Balloons’ gives rise to Martins bounding from the stage tracing a path around the curious bystanders she’s drawn in, allowing the music to consume her.

It’s an alluring state to the day and one that we’re keen to carry on replicating, albeit perhaps with a little less intimacy; it is a festival, after all. And so, it’s off to the main stage for us where a certain Notion 064 cover star is preparing to head out to a rammed central arena.

With Kaleidoscope Dream, Californian R&B supremo Miguel delivered one of last year’s strongest records, and on the basis of today he’s still got a lot more to give. It’s the equivalent of watching an 80s rock show seeing Miguel make a BIG entrance, draped in leather and bounding around like a man possessed following a brief introduction through the record’s title track. Alongside the expected big-hitters from that record – ‘Adorn’, ‘Don’t Look Back’ – the are moments of welcome whimsy amongst the stadium-assured pomp; namely, a reworking of Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’ that unsurprisingly elicits a rowdy response from the raucous, increasingly sunburnt crowd. For all the festival antics though, there’s still something hugely endearing and humble about the man. This is perhaps best encapsulated by his reaction to being flashed by a fan: “dope.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves, Miggy.

As it turns out, there was plenty of dope to go around, though we mean that purely in the musical sense. Back-to-back sets in the Pepsi Max tent from Bingo Players and Zane Lowe lead to a veritable cornucopia of flailing limbs, of which the latter’s chart-heavy mash-ups are the greatest perpetrator – placing Yeezus cuts against the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ ‘Heads Will Roll’ being the main offender.

Our time in said tent concluded with what had to be one of the sights of the day care of the inimitable Frank Ocean. In what I imagine a Backstreet Boys concert would have been like circa 1997, Ocean was greeted by screams that verged on the supersonic and more tears than an OC season finale. Suffice to say, it was a strange atmosphere but it served to prove the way in which Nostalgia, Ultra and Channel Orange have resonated with people. ‘Thinkin’ Bout You’, ‘Bad Religion’, ‘Super Rich Kids’ and a bevy of other Orange cuts were greeted by rapturous responses and watery-eyed sing-alongs. The atmosphere was electric and Ocean soaked it all up; clearly honoured by the affection.

It’s safe to say that while Wireless may not have strayed too far from its roots over the last eight years, but it hasn’t really needed to. It’s a dependable, assured bet for a quality line-up and upmarket, pop theatrics. For that, Wireless, we thank you.

- Alex Cull


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