Wireless Festival 2014 Review

We've revisted Jimmy Coultas' thoughts on the final day of Wireless Festival 2014 in Birmingham.

Jimmy Coultas

Last updated: 17th Feb 2015

Image: Kanye West live @ Wireless Festival (Credit Gobhinder Jhitta)

This is a review of Wireless 2014 - find New Look Wireless Festival tickets here.

Anniversaries tend to bring out the best in events, and this year Wireless celebrated a decade of activity by relocating to the Midlands for the first time, bringing a smorgasbord of urban superstars to the city for it's biggest ever festival.

After the previous days had seen the crowds wowed by Outkast, Bruno Mars and, in the absence of Drake, an extended set from Rudimental, we went to see what the new site was like as it closed out the weekend. It also gave us the opportunity to check out a man, who for us, was the festival's biggest draw - a shy and retiring character by the name of Kanye West.

Located in Perry Park deep into the suburbs of the city, it's clear that Birmingham has already taken the festival to heart, with the swathes of youth that pour into the fields as we arrive mid afternoon indicating the numbers have been good for it's debut.

Once we're in we immediately get down to the small matter of checking out the music, and for anyone with even a passing interest in the genres of hip hop and R&B, you're spoilt for choice.

The two tents which support the main stage provided occasional respite from the weather, and also gave us the opportunity to soak up the sounds of Angel Haze, Tori Kelly (with a little help from surprise guest Professor Green), and Meridian Dan. The latter's crowd control was a particular highlight, the grime starlet having the packed Future Stage eating out of the palm of his hand.

But it was all about the main stage to these eyes and ears, with an extremely transatlantic feel showcasing the powerhouses of 21st century urban music. Our first experience of it involves a beguiling Iggy Azaela stridently dominate the stage, that infamous derriere even more impressive in the flesh.

Her accent may be questionably more heavily flavoured with the thick southern drawl of the states more so than her Australian upbringing, but as pop sirens go she is certainly worthy of the attention lavished upon her recently. Her Arianna Grande collab 'Problem' (announced as the UK Number One hours after she finishes) and 'Fancy' (above), are two particular highlights.

She's followed by Tine Tempah, whose amiable grooves ramps up the feelgood factor a couple of notches. It's hard to dislike a thoroughly British success story, and the crowd clearly love him.

It's evidenced by a continued ability to get each and every hand in the throng waving furiously from side to side through a high octane set littered with UK references, the Shard, Southampton and Scunthorpe among the love in with Blighty.

All this coincides with the first burst of sunshine we witness during the afternoon as well, but the serotonin he coaxes from the crowd is ratcheted to stratospheric levels when Pharell Williams takes over.

It's been well documented recently just how huge an impact Williams' touch has had on the current popular music agenda, and this show is hellbent on reinforcing that belief with a tour de force that surges throughout his various recording guises and collaborations, his recent work with Daft Punk and Robin Thicke all present and correct.

In fact it's clear that another of those collaborators, a certain Nile Rodgers, has left his influence on his live show too, with the same "did you know we did this?" philosophy rampant throughout his performance. As well as cuts from his recent album Girl  ('Marilyn Monroe' one high point), the performance plucks a cluster of Neptunes produced anthems.

The N*E*R*D section sees the crowd jostle to the rock flavoured anthems 'She wants to move' and 'Lap Dance', with Pharell also cavorting through Snoop Dogg's 'Beautiful' and 'Drop it like it's hot', Jay-Z's 'I Just wanna love u' (above) and Gwen Stefani's 'Hollaback Girl', each igniting the crowd.

There's even time for a heart touching moment where Pharell invites people to "party with him" on stage, at one point duetting with a girl called Adrienne who's clearly overcome by the emotion of it. Cue a short speech about believing in yourself and your dreams, Pharell all the while milking the crowd's response at every juncture. 

It's all a little saccharine, but he manages to just about keep on the right side of the path with it, and makes for the perfect interlude for the final track of the show, a predictably rip roaring rendition of 'Happy' that sends him off in style. Not even constantly sticking to the Alabama pronunciation of Buuur-ming-ham can tarnish what is a tub thumping embodiment of his musical C.V.

If the first super producer of the day was riding in on a tidal wave of positivity, it's not the same vibe that is coming from the next one. With Kanye West having performed two headline slots at London previously, inviting a degree of derision during two 20 minute plus rants, all the talk is if he'll repeat his diatribe here.

Love him or loathe him, he's certainly an enigma of music, and there can't be many emcees who use Pink Floyd's 'Time' as part of their opening music. When he does rip onto the stage, it's to a crescendo of furious guitars and synth stabs as last year's release Yeezus' most anthemic single 'Black Skinhead' explodes out. This is no one dimensional gangster rapper.

Sporting a studded Martin Magiela mask, the show heavily relies on his output of this decade at the beginning, a show built on the toxic anger and narcissism that has made West the feted star he is.

There's the epic tour de forces of 'Mercy' and 'Clique' from his overblown G.O.O.D Music showcase Cruel Summer, each delivered with a breathless intensity which make a mockery of the people who say he can't rap. The neon stage effects then aid a crush into 'New Slaves', the stabbing chords backed up by a crowd singing along and loving every moment.

Then the rant does come... but it's clipped to a mere five minutes and, in true West style, augmented with that trademark amalgamation of self deprecating arrogance ("maybe not even I'm invincible"). Whether the criticism has affected him or otherwise, it's the springboard for a finale which never lets up.

Early classics like 'All Falls Down' and 'Diamonds from Sierra Leone' are greeted by huge cheers, and the menace that accompanies his renditions of 'Jesus Walks' (above) and 'Blood on the Leaves' is warmly taken to heart, respite only offered by the cut up soul of 'Bound 2'.

He's an antagonistic firebrand, to put it mildly, but West is a brilliantly enthralling live spectacle, and crowns off a thoroughly enjoyable day at Wireless. 

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