In praise of…The Wireless Festival 2013 (Day 3)
This past weekend saw The Wireless Festival 2013 touchdown for its ninth year, with a new location in The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The Wireless has come a long way since its early years and this year’s line-up was a who’s who of urban and dance artists from both sides of the pond. I hate the term ‘urban’ but for the purpose of this write-up we’ll stick with it. There’s been a distinct shift from the indie and left field dance acts that dominated the early years of Wireless and if ever a sign was needed that urban music was this generation’s mainstream pop music (as well as the soundtrack to corporate sponsors cashing in) this was it.
The three day line-up included some real heavy hitters: Jay-Z, Justin Timberlake, Kendrick Lamar, Nas, A Tribe Called Quest, Snoop Dogg, Miguel, A$AP Rocky, Rita Ora, Trey Songz, Jessie Ware, Joey Bada$$, Wretch 32, Frank Ocean, Katy B, 2 Chainz, Tinie Tempah, John Legend…I could go on but I think you get the picture. This was a seriously big line-up. There were a lot of artists on the bill that I had little interest in, but what I respect the organisers for is the broad selection of artists that seemed to cater for most tastes.
After a 35 minute walk in relentless heat from Stratford station through the Olympic Village; we finally enter the festival. The first act I catch is dubstep/grime artist P-Money on the Yahoo! Stage. We wandered into the tented stage mainly to get some respite from the heat and walked into the raucous atmosphere P Money had whipped up as he spit his bars over some dubstep favourites. This was definitely a good way to start proceedings.
Next up was 2 Chainz over on the Pepsi Max Stage. This was a contentious one and trying to convince some friends to see him was a tricky one. Some view him as the scourge of hip-hop, but in my opinion 2 Chainz doesn’t profess to be a lyrical monster. He makes club tunes with witty punch lines, knows his lane and doesn’t take himself too seriously. Judging by the several hundred packed into the Pepsi tent it appears I’m not alone in that opinion. With the Atlanta rapper running later than scheduled, the DJ does a good job in placating the crowd with a mix of the current club crowd pleasers. When the G.O.O.D. Music collaboration ‘Mercy’ comes on, the crowd is whipped into frenzy. The expectation rises as 2 Chainz’ verse approaches and he doesn’t disappoint coming out right on cue. He then proceeds through what are his best moments, namely featuring on other people’s hits. Anything he may lack in stage presence he makes up for with witty crowd banter and humour between songs and he comes across as a pretty humble guy. The high-point is when he nearly brings the tent down with ‘Birthday Song’, one of the most ignorant songs anyone will sing along to today. 2 Chainz does exactly what the masses have come to see him do…keep the party going.
Next it was out of the shade of the Pepsi Max tent and over to the sunshine of the Main Stage to see what turned out to be a hugely disappointing A$AP Rocky. I’m a fan of A$AP but he looked lost in the vastness of the main stage and lacked the necessary stage presence to connect with a lot of the fans that had started to gather for Nas and A Tribe Called Quest. The set list also left a lot to be desired and I got the feeling he’d have been better served on one of the tent stages.
Nas was up next and thankfully reclaimed the Main Stage vibe that A$AP had so badly lost. As a live performer Nas really has come into his own and he radiates the confidence of a hip-hop elder statesman. Backed by a DJ and live band, Nas gives the crowd exactly what they want and tears through nearly 20 years of hits. It was quite a sight to see a main stage festival crowd swaying in 30 degree sunshine to Illmatic favourites ‘NY State of Mind’, ‘The World is Yours’ (changed to London for today), ‘It Ain’t Hard To Tell’ and ‘Life’s a Bitch’; and that was before the set list reached rowdy renditions of ‘Made You Look’, ‘The Don’ and a crowd singalong to ‘If I Ruled the World’. Nas himself seemed to appreciate the overwhelming positivity of the occasion and broke out into smiles as he surveyed the crowd. It was a job well done and was the perfect act to get the crowd in the mood for more legends from the golden-era…A Tribe Called Quest.
One of acts I was most looking forward to was Tribe and they didn’t disappoint. With all that’s been written and reported on Tribe over the years, the chances of ever seeing them together on stage again seemed slim. That made the occasion all the more special and where lesser artists might’ve buckled under the pressure, Tribe rose to the occasion. A packed main stage crowd were served a treat as Tribe went through classic after classic. An animated Q-Tip provided the perfect foil for a Phife Dawg physically restricted due to health issues. Phife’s delivery was as sharp as ever though and quickly shut down any fears his health issues may take something away from his performance. Meanwhile Ali-Shaheed Muhammed held things together nicely behind on the decks throughout. Whether or not they were doing it through gritted teeth, Tribe’s on-stage chemistry had the crowd hanging on every verse. ‘Bonita Applebaum’, ‘Electric Relaxation’ and ‘Oh My God’ had the crowd swaying and by the time they made it to ‘Scenario’, ‘Award Tour’ and ‘Can I Kick It’, the crowd were fully in the palm of Tribe’s hand. Another example to some of the younger members of the crowd of what golden-era hip-hop had to offer.
By the time Tribe come off stage, the Main Stage crowd has swelled to enormous levels. This is because next up are this evening’s headliners Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z, collectively known as ‘Legends of the Summer’ (really not a fan of that name). These are two artists that epitomise just how mainstream hip-hop and R&B has become and as showmen both are at their peak. Backed by an excellent backing band Timberlake and Hova have hits by the ton to get through and proceed to give a two-hour show with the slickness and swagger of the Rat Pack. They weave in and out of their greatest hits, crafting an awesome hybrid of two of their biggest Neptunes hits ‘Give It To Me’ and ‘Rock Your Body’. The only time proceedings lull is when Jay-Z clears the stage to let Timberlake play some of his slower material and Timberlake in turn departs to let Jay-Z perform songs from Magna Carta Holy Grail. Before long they’re sharing the stage again and are even joined by Rihanna for ‘Run This Town’. The show peaks with a version of ‘Empire State of Mind’ intro’d by Timberlake singing ‘New York New York’ like a modern day Frank Sinatra. The impressive thing about these two artists, is the onstage chemistry the two appear to have and for the two hours they occupy the stage, the hardest cynic would be hard-pressed to point to this as two greedy megastars pairing up to swindle fans out of even their hard-earned cash. I may have a problem with the Legends of the Summer tag but on tonight’s showing, I can definitely see where they were going with it.
So the verdict on The Wireless Festival? Well in my opinion it’s that of an overwhelming success. The organisers assembled a clever lineup that covered almost all bases; appealing to the younger urban music fan to those that appealed to the older hip-hop fan that loved the music before the phrase “urban music” had ever been made up in a record industry boardroom. The tickets may have been pricy but it’s hard to think of another festival that would have given you any more bang for your buck. The vibe was largely a happy one, helped immensely by the current heatwave and the sheer size of the Olympic Village meant for space in abundance. My two only gripes are that the organisers really need to think about the acts they put on the main stage in future, because artists like Big Sean and A$AP Rocky would be better suited to the tent stages. Secondly the transport situation leaving Wireless was a nightmare and what should have been a one hour journey home became two hours. Those gripes aside the Wireless organisers can be allowed to feel pleased with themselves on very well put together event. Here’s to next year and another heat wave to greet it.
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