In only its second year, the opening day of Brighton’s WILD LIFE festival, curated by Disclosure and Rudimental, boasted a stellar line up and the diverse mix of genres delivered a pulsating experience for festival-goers and performers alike over the weekend. Situated in a festival site that was very reminiscent of the likes of Reading Festival, but with the added proximity between stages, Park Life’s little brother offered swift access between sets and fantastic value for money, culminating in an unforgettable weekend.
Of the festival’s five stages, the Big Top Stage was similar in size and feel to the aforementioned Reading’s NME stage and on Saturday offered mainly indie-electronica, including the pleasantly-surprising chilled beats of SG Lewis and conversely, an underwhelming set from dance act De La Soul, who failed to engage the crowd to its full potential. The hotly-anticipated Rat Boy played an enthusiastic set on the same stage to a more modest crowd but ultimately did not succeed in transferring his studio quality to his live performance, with the exception of the infectious recent release ‘Move’. Likewise, the omission from the line up of fellow BBC Sound of 2016 longlist artist and personal recommendation Mura Masa was somewhat disappointing.
Elsewhere, Saturday’s Main Stage first household name was US rapper Busta Rhymes, who more than succeeded in energising an expectant crowd on arrival and was my first taste of the main stage. Despite overlooking Skepta’s main stage appearance that followed, my decision to switch to personal favourite Flume back on the Big Top Stage proved the correct one without any doubt. Inside a full capacity tent, the Australian producer evoked an impassioned atmosphere to accompany his stunning, Skin-inspired set list.
As dusk approached, the more intimate Supercharged stage’s faster-paced dance and drum and bass offerings appealed to many, not least Bristolian duo My Nu Leng, who provided an unrivaled non-stop set, a welcome change in proceedings that further highlighted the mix in genres I was unfamiliar with and had come to expect.
Saturday drew to a close with a lengthy set from Disclosure in front of the masses. Having seen the dance act on a number of previous occasions, I felt their headline set was accomplished but unspectacular in spite of a number of collaborations and this reaction appeared to be echoed by a large proportion of the crowd, which was somewhat disappointing for the festival curators. That said, day one’s offering alongside a stunning sunset backdrop surrounding Brighton City Airport felt like an overwhelming success, leaving a buzz among ticket holders for the prospects of day two.
Admittedly, Sunday’s WILD LIFE main stage bill offered more in terms of quality and breadth, which began with up-and-coming artists Jorja Smith and Anne Marie, and their respective hits ‘Blue Lights‘ and ‘Alarm‘, which stood out for me personally.
Grime sensation Stormzy graced the main stage next, in front of a rampant crowd, only enhanced by his cover of Lethal Bizzle’s ‘Festa Skank‘ and more so by his final two tracks, the infamous ‘Shut Up‘ and ‘Know Me From‘, the first of which created pure pandemonium. His modest set in terms of length was juxtaposed fantastically by multi-instrumental sensation Jack Garratt, whose characteristic charm, coupled with awesome covers of Craig David’s ‘Seven Days’ and Justin Timberlake’s ‘Senorita‘ culminated in a feel-good start to the day’s proceedings. The feel-good factor was retained in the form of Brit Award winner James Bay, as the main stage line up continued to give. He was no doubt the rockiest artist of the weekend and highlights included tracks synonymous with the singer-songwriter, ‘Let it Go‘ and ‘Hold Back the River‘. In terms of generating an atmosphere, nothing eclipsed that of Bastille, who attracted a huge crowd and drew mass appreciation from young and old. Whilst it has been three years since the release of their debut album Bad Blood, a second album is in the works and its tracks featured on the set list, which inevitably also included the likes of the hugely popular ‘Pompeii‘ and ‘Bad Blood‘.
Early evening saw rapper-turned actor Ice Cube return to his NWA roots in style. His highly-entertaining set peaked during ‘Straight Outta Compton‘ the relevance of which was heightened by the relatively recent release of the film of the same name, documenting NWA’s rise. Graphics from this provided a prominent backdrop to the set, which also featured a fitting tribute to the late Muhammad Ali and Prince. Elsewhere, whilst Pusha T’s Big Stage offering was somewhat repetitive and ultimately underwhelming, Section Boyz’ set truly reflected the Supercharged stage’s name as they delivered a pulsating set.
WILD LIFE organisers undoubtedly saved the best until last on the Big Top Stage in the form of Canadian producer Kaytranada, in what was arguably the best non-main stage set of the weekend. Stunning visuals based on the 99.9% album artwork, a mix of electric beats, interlinked with unique samples and remixes of songs such as Desiigner’s ‘Panda‘ (which was overplayed massively over the course of the weekend) brought musical appreciation from a crowd that even Bastille members joined towards the end. The lengthy, practically non-stop set annoying clashed with curator Rudimental’s main stage finale, of which I only caught the final few songs, the highlight being an Ella Eyre-less ‘Waiting All Night‘.
This was nonetheless a fitting finale to an incredible weekend that was a massive credit to WILD LIFE organisers. Should curators Disclosure and Rudimental continue to attract such a wide range of incredible music talent to the Brighton venue from such far afield, WILD LIFE is surely destined for further critical acclaim and huge future success.