Wireless Festival London review: Local artists created magic onstage

Wireless Festival London review: Local artists created magic onstage


s it turns 17 years old, there is no doubt that Wireless Festival is maturing. What was once a weekend of rap and hip-hop in London has now morphed into three separate events – two in London and one in Birmingham – hosting eye-wateringly top-drawer international artists over a fortnight. The party, which kicked off at Crystal Palace, served as a reminder of the increasingly pivotal role that the UK, and especially its capital, has taken in the global urban music scene.

‘If you’ve got a song with London in it let me know.’ That was J Cole, Saturday’s headliner, telling a predictably ecstatic crowd that he’s always on the lookout for fresh material about the city. Shameless flattery, perhaps. But as he brought out special guest BIA to sing their joint bop London, packed with slang and references to Shoreditch, it suggested this was more than a surface-level obsession.

Other headliners Tyler the Creator and A$AP Rocky were also plugged into London’s culture, with the former dissing Theresa May early on in his riotous set and the latter getting a post-performance haircut at a south London barber with superstar girlfriend Rihanna.

Little Simz performs on day 3 of Wireless Festival

/ Photo by Burak Cingi/Redferns

So, it was no surprise that more local artists succeeded in creating magic onstage. Islington-born Little Simz was intense and profound, delivering complex musings on topics such as narcissism, war and misogyny. Ghetts, from Plaistow, achieved the impossible task of livening up the crowd during a graveyard slot, stirring it into multiple moshpits at 3pm with forceful, shadowy grime numbers like Skengman.

While undoubtedly a step forward for UK rap, the cleaving of Wireless into separate parts did mean some British stars were glaringly absent; Dave’s lyrical wordplay and emotion were sorely missed, for example. Growing pains, perhaps, for a festival playing catch up with the creative vibrancy of its city of birth.