Wild Life's eclectic mix of genres made it an interesting proposition for music lovers and people-watchers alike. Curated and headlined on respective nights by dance acts Disclosure and Rudimental, the Brighton-based festival had a diverse line-up including performances by MNEK and Gorgon City as well as chart-botherers like Jess Glynne, George Ezra and Years & Years. There were also a huge number of sets from DJs such as Annie Mac, Skream, Redlight and Jamie XX. Soul II Soul were an old-school but understandable inclusion, being British and early examples of the kind of dance-chart crossover that many of the above have achieved or are aiming for.
But as a hip-hop head, there were a couple of names that really stuck out prior to the festival; Nas and the Wu-tang Clan. How would the shufflers and 20 year old EDM fans respond to hip-hop legends who have been embarking on anniversary tours for albums released before they were even born?
My pervasive fear beforehand was that a generation steeped in layer-upon-layer of irony would be incapable of enjoying these acts at face value; that they would be seen as a form of grimey retro kitsch rather than authentic music by a crowd whose main exposure to hip-hop comes from Drake videos and endless identikit trap tunes. I could clearly envisage a crowd busily updating social media without once glancing up at the revered performers on stage, only stirring to life when Gravel Pit kicked in.
I was also paranoid there would be a proliferation of that bizarre form of musical know-it-all know-nothing; the type of poser who will happily tell you what a classic album Illmatic is without actually having listened to it properly. “Oh yah, 36 Chambers is just amaaaaazing. I adooooore Ghostface Killah”.
My fears were allayed slightly when Mark Ronson got a huge reaction after dropping some Ol’ Dirty Bastard, but then I realised that Shimmy Shimmy Ya and Got Your Money have been played at every single student party in the universe since news hit the middle-classes of ODB’s untimely death, (probably about two years after the event).
Nas delivered a great set on Saturday, as he always does, but the atmosphere remained a little flat throughout most of it. This was encapsulated by the young group of two lads and two girls next to me snorting bumps of what looked suspiciously like Canderel off their fists. I overheard one of the lads say “it's boring, innit?” to his girlfriend. While this grated slightly as it was during the first verse of the first song, N.Y. State of Mind, everyone’s entitled to their opinion (although he could have fucked off to one of the three other arenas if it was so dull).
But his mate proclaimed himself a fan, then proceeded to spend most of the hour-long set stood facing the wrong way and chatting, pausing only to mangle the chorus of If I Ruled The World and whoop at the end of every song. Sigh. It seemed many of my pre-festival worries had been confirmed. What an old curmudgeon I must appear in the face of such youthful exuberance.
Unfortunately true to reputation the next day, several of Wu-tang’s biggest hitters were no shows; no Method Man, no RZA, no Raekwon. From past experience, a gaping Method Man-shaped hole is enough to cripple a show; quite simply he has always been one of the best in the game at getting a crowd onside and keeping the energy up. There were also some technical issues, as apart from Ghostface and Cappadonna, the mics were way too quiet (as was the overall sound). Combine this with a crowd which on the whole was not particularly well-versed in the Wu back-catalogue and you have a show which never really hit the heights, despite DJ Mathematics’ outstanding display of turntablism, which never fails to impress.
Elsewhere for hip-hop I managed to catch a few minutes of Earl Sweatshirt, but despite the caveat that he clearly has talent, he was as dull as he was the last time I saw him. Sorry Odd Future aficionados, I just can’t quite click with his music. The organisers should probably have made sure he didn’t clash with Nas as well, which explained the half-empty tent. Relative unknown UK MC Novelist performed too, but I was sadly unable to find time to see him. There was also a very brief and weirdly unheralded cameo from Dizzee Rascal during Rudimental's set, flitting in unannounced for a quick verse before disappearing just as quickly.
Somewhat bridging the generational and genre gaps between rap and dance were Skepta and JME, stalwarts of the UK grime scene and replacements for Sam Smith on the main stage on Sunday. They brought more energy to the crowd than anyone else over the weekend. The crowd were already hyped up by the time Wiley and Frisco joined them onstage to tear through a couple of Boy Better Know tunes, including the anthemic Too Many Man. I personally find BBK and the genre in general quite hit and miss (good stuff great, bad stuff very dull) but Skepta and JME displayed that they are skilled MCs in the truest sense; not only impeccable on the mic, but also keeping the fans amped up throughout their set.
And there lies the rub; fans. While the young crowd may have been trying their best to support Nas and Wu-Tang, it's just not that easy if you don't know the songs, or can’t relate to the music. Throughout the weekend it was fandom that provided the highlights; Andy C's legion of RAM-heads going ape-shit, David Rodigan's enthusiasm for music radiating to the crowd (and making his reggae-Tim Westwood persona endearing rather than embarrassing), and the curators' palpable appreciation for the acts they'd booked.
It seems clear that Rudimental and Disclosure selected many of the acts as fans of their music, and in this respect I imagine Wu-Tang and Nas represent a sort of "fantasy festival" pick for their inaugural line up. Personally introducing Nas, a member of Rudimental seemed genuinely humbled when he said he can't believe he's gracing the same stage. Perhaps the immediacy of modern times prevents many of us from showing what fans of old would consider due reverence for their idols? In this instance the truth seems a bit more pedestrian; despite the curators' evident enthusiasm, this was simply the wrong crowd for classic hip-hop. You can lead a dance music horse to hip-hop, but you can't make it rap along to It Ain't Hard To Tell. Or something.
Despite these musings, Wild Life was very well organised, and genuinely had something for almost anyone who enjoys electronic music; house, hip-hop, drum and bass, garage, dubstep, and a wealth of subgenres were all catered for to some degree. I haven’t even mentioned half the DJs who played over the weekend, and if next year’s event is anything like this, Wild Life’s future on the festival scene is assured.
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