Wireless Festival 2023 review: rage-rap moshpits dominate

We sent writer Ben Jolley to Wireless Festival to report on one of London's most beloved annual events.

Skiddle Staff

Last updated: 11th Jul 2023

Tens of thousands of rap and R&B fans swarmed to Finsbury Park in London over the weekend as dozens of the biggest names in the UK and US scenes descended on the capital. With an impressively-varied line-up that catered for multiple tastes - varying from drill to grime to trap - the festival enjoyed a sell-out year, as groups of all ages got down early for a chance to secure their place on the front row. And with the scorching sun baking bodies for most of the weekend (aside from Saturday’s sporadic downpours), the atmosphere remained fully-charged for all three days. 


Image credit: Matt Eachus

This was certainly the case during Playboi Carti’s guitar-heavy headline show on Friday night which, at times, felt like the devil child of thrash metal and rage rap; due to its unending intensity, it felt as though the crowd had momentarily been transported to Download festival. While letting out his demonic auto-tuned howls over blistering bass, a gang of head-banging skinhead performance artists pushed the show into a subliminally political realm, which was elicited further by the clever staging as Carti rose on a platform and clung on to its chains. Even though his sonically-challenging yet strangely-compelling show had more in common with Slipknot than other artists on the Wireless line-up, the crowd was immediately swept up in this new-generation rockstar’s raging energy as he provided a vision of rap’s rock-infused future. 

In a similar world to Carti, Travis Scott’s return to Wireless - his second time headlining - proved to be one of the most-hyped shows of the weekend, as fans arrived on Saturday wearing Astroworld tour merch. It was easy to see why they were so keen because his show was the most explosive and energetic of the weekend. Performing on a barren volcanic mountain, Scott glided across the rocks (which resembled a lost planet thanks to trippy cinematic visual effects) as flames shot into the sky and the tens of thousands in the crowd lost their inhibitions during mosh pit-starting hits like Goosebumps


Image credit: Nile Williams

As if that wasn’t enough, a career-spanning performance from hip-hop legend 50 Cent helped make this year’s Wireless one for the history books; even the security crew had their phones out to record this rare UK show, which ended In Da Club and a cannon launching confetti into the sky. 

Back on the main stage, Ice Spice’s short but sweet set - for an audience full of teenage boys ready to go crazy for their queen - was nothing short of rapturous. Even though the New York artist only performed a handful of songs due to her being 25 minutes late, all was forgiven when she finally appeared. Joined by two dancers, she bounced around on the spot while performing her fast-paced rap anthems like In Ha Mood. Then, with the arrival of British TikTok star PinkPantheress, the park went into overdrive as the pair performed their infectious mega-hit Boy’s A Liar


Image credit: Jahnay Tennai

This unexpected guest appearance was also indicative of the festival paying attention to criticism that they and others have faced in previous years about a stark lack of representation on line-ups. For its 2023 edition, then, Wireless made a conscious effort to close the gap as dozens of female artists performed across the weekend: Brooklyn rapper Lola Brooke climbed onto her security guard’s shoulders to perform along the front row, Atlanta artist Latto swung her microphone suggestively during Big Energy which had everyone doing their best to fill in for Mariah Carey’s vocal acrobatics, and TiaCorine snapped selfies on fans’ phones during her viral hit FreakyT

These sets were a total contrast to Saturday morning, which started off totally subdued, with the smooth 90s-R&B-style harmonies and finger clicks of new boyband No Guidnce, and the girl group Flo. The former, performing at their first festival show, drew a large crowd despite the rain. The four-piece had everything on point, including matching outfits and impeccable harmonies, both of which recalled Boyz II Men. Their own songs Lie To Me and Committed had the crowd swaying while a cover of Sweet Female Attitude’s Flowers, which started off piano-led and a Capella before the original garage beat kicked in halfway through, proved to be a crowd-pleaser.

Up next, Flo performed songs from their debut EP (which was released exactly one year before this performance) and their freshly released 3 of Us EP with a full live band and a troupe of synchronised backing dancers. Tracks like Fly Girl and Immature proved the trio can really hold their notes and, with the inclusion of a cover of Destiny’s Child’s Independent Woman, the 90s R&B throwback was complete.

While the organisers had faced negativity from ticket-holders for Lil Uzi Vert’s cancellation, a smattering of special guest appearances helped to make up for that last-minute cancellation: Metro Boomin brought Future out to perform Mask Off, Lil Tjay welcomed Fivio Foreign for two tracks and YouTuber/footballer iShowSpeed (who received probably the weekend’s most rapturous reaction), and Sunday night headliners D Block Europe were joined by British rappers Clavish, Nafe Smallz and Chip


Image credit: Matt Eachus

Elsewhere across the site, there were breakout-style areas where people could chill out, eat and dance. These included the Casa Bacardi house stage, a Red Bull-branded indoor club, a wide range of food stalls and, at an extra cost, a VIP area that had its own DJs, Connect 4, table tennis, comfy beanbags and, if you were lucky, a chance to catch a glimpse of your favourite star. Also, despite being tucked away past the food trucks, Climate Live’s bus - which hosted panels about trans awareness, the link between nature access and race, and sets from Loud LDN artists including Laurel Smith, KYNO and Driia (the latter’s DJ set had everyone dancing in the rain) - had people stopping by to see what was going on. 

Overall, Wireless 2023 was an unforgettable weekend that showcased both the scene leaders of UK and US rap - in all its different forms - alongside a smattering of R&B and even some nostalgia for good measure.


Ben Jolley


Check out our What's On Guide to discover even more rowdy raves and sweaty gigs taking place over the coming weeks and months. For festivals, lifestyle events and more, head on over to our Things To Do page or be inspired by the event selections on our Inspire Me page.








Header image credit: Matt Eachus


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