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 of these - the Unwind Stage - was tucked away near the entrance, where duo AlunaGeorge are 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 fails to hit the mark. There’s the nagging feeling that this music is more suited to a smoky, low-ceilinged club than a tent during the daytime. But Francis still gives it her all, putting in a laudably enthusiastic performance for the small but curious crowd.
The other, bigger, tent, tucked away behind the main stage, plays host to Australian hip hop perennials Hilltop Hoods. Considering their lack of profile in the UK, the group draws 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 are 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 puts in his highly energetic performance, it’s a canny move on West’s part.
British star Labrinth gets similar adoration if not quite the same buzz of excitement from the crowd. The singer and multi-instrumentalist manages 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 seems a bit lost on the huge stage. Bouncing from one end to the other, he’s 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 just stand there and his pounding tunes would have had the crowd unable to resist dancing.
Nicki Minaj keeps 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 opens with a handful of her heavier tracks, the onslaught of swearwords making you wonder why the multitude of pre-teens present in the audience have 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.
Nero serve up their eye-popping, bass-heavy show. Sat behind a stack of speakers and TV screens, the duo run through their hit album with playful confidence. They even throw 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 arrives with as much bombast as Minaj but then fails to prolong the excitement. While much of the crowd faithfully sings along, there’s 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 Weekend and Minaj herself add a frisson of excitement, but you can’t help but want more from a Saturday night headliner.
Words: Will Marlow
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Originally published: 11th Jul 2012