N4 is active with more than its usual share of bustling Londoners, as the first batch of 135,000 strong ticket holders spills out from Finsbury Park station and makes their way towards the opening day of the 18th edition of the renowned Wireless festival. The eclectic mix of fashion forward young people, sporting aesthetics that mirrored the expressive styles of the artists they were coming to see, down Magnums, ginger beer and free tester shots of tonic wine on offer from an adjacent start-up cart before making their way through the festival’s big black gates.
Founded by Live Nation in 2005, Wireless has gained a reputation for hosting memorable “I was there when..” performances, with huge guests like Jay-Z and Drake making surprise appearance at past editions. For many South-East England teens, it’s their first festival experience; and today, wide-eyed attendees excitedly share their anticipations for each performance and speculate about who may be brought out this year as they wait in line. Many attendees seem to have caught a severe case of Ice Spice-mania, as a surprising (bordering on alarming) school of testosterone heavy men prance around in curly ginger wigs and Lil Uzi Vert-style bootlegged pink American flags with the people’s princess’ face draped around their shoulders. “I can’t believe Ice Spice is going to be opposite my nan’s house” I hear one glitter painted attendee say as she gets her wristband. The 30 degree sunshine complements the aromas of food trucks, Victoria Secret vanilla body mist, Dior Sauvage and coconut scented hair gel, as London’s melting pot festival opens in full swing.
The day begins strongly, with BBC 1XTRA DJ Kenny Allstar setting the scene with a two-hour curation of music that sends eager, topless boys scrambling over one another in mosh pits. As the tastemaker rap DJ opens the festival with his bag of UK music, the crowd moves in unison, showing their appreciation for the artist with whoops, wails and the occasional shoe throw. Lyrical familiarity means those on the outskirts have their own mini performances between themselves, taking on new personas and wild hand gestures as they impersonate each artist with unflinching accuracy.
21-year-old Destroy Lonely’s performance proves just as mosh-worthy, as the American neo-punk rage rap artist celebrates the release of his debut studio album ‘if looks could kill’, featuring his eponymous smash hit lead single. His performance is followed by Atlanta-born Ken Carson, a fellow signee to Playboi Carti’s Opium label. Both performances ignite a head-banging response from the audience, as devotee’s stomp their New Rock boots to the booming bassline of the artists’ raging raps. The two have collaborated on each other’s projects in the past, with Carson featuring on the deluxe version of Destroy Lonely’s studio project debut, and Destroy Lonely collaborating with Carson on both the music video and recording of his 2022 hit ‘MDMA’. And duly, Ken Carson brings Destroy Lonely out on stage to close. Both are among a new generation of musicians powering a movement of nu-wave Black punk rap, producing expressive musical creations that fuse screamo vocalisation styles, excessive future bass synths and punk aesthetics with nods to trap influences.
Bearing the internet awarded crown of ‘the People’s Princess’, Ice Spice brightens up the stage next with a short but sweet set. People run to the pen as pink and white bubble writing and Y2K mascots replace Carson’s horror-influenced visuals. Ginger wigs and high vis jackets with “certified munch” on the back flock in numbers to see their ruler make her London debut. Disappointment over her royal highness’ 20 minute lateness are quickly replaced by squeals of glee, as fellow internet royal PinkPantheress joins the stage for a performance of ‘Boy’s a liar, Pt. 2’. The music is marred by adoring shrieks once Pantheress comes out in a signature striped dress, ready to soothe audiences with her soft, melodic vocals. Dancers in pleated skirts support Ice as she twerks, smiles and blows kisses to the audience. Wireless hasn’t had the best record of supporting women over the years, albeit with attempts to make amends. Today, only one woman is officially booked for Main Stage, but there are a series of female-led performances and guest spots that are show-stopping and suggest more should be present.
An equally energetic performance is delivered to the crowd by the explosive voice of small-and-mighty Lola Brooke, blasting through the speakers of the nearby N4 stage. In a full red leather outfit (the perfect visual expression to her fiery, seductive performance style and lyricism) she asserts her presence with ‘So DISRESPECTFUL’ and her witty remix of ‘Shabooya’, delivered with an alluring Brooklynite attitude as the audience mirrors her dance moves. Pointing fingers with bejewelled manicures go wild as she begins her breakout single ‘Don’t Play With It’, which she starts while perching comfortably on the shoulder of a straight-faced security guard. The crowd backs up Brooke’s vocals, screaming every lyric with an adopted New York punchiness and ferocity.
Next on the Main Stage is London’s very own Lancey Foux, offering a UK take on experimental rage rap. His loyal audience strains to touch his dungarees as he struts up and down the stage catwalk with Michael Jackson-esque foot work. He brings out rising St. Louis rapper Sexyy Red, with the pair giving a teaser for an unreleased collab ‘mm hm’, which has already been ripped and put on to SoundCloud.
Over on the N4 stage, Latto and her posse are sending shock waves through an equally devoted audience. As she raps into her bedazzled gold microphone, pink convertibles burst on the screen behind a crew of skilled, energetic dancers. Her performance is as attractive as it is memorable, with smoke machines and stage fireworks punching in time to her ‘Bitch from da souf’ lyrics.
Shortly after, back on the main stage, arrives the world-renowned, multi award-winning producer Metro Boomin. He exceeds high expectations, providing a tasteful selection of some of his most famed hits. On either side of the stage, a dynamic selection of visual filters paints himself and the audience in high contrast reds, trippy delayed turquoise masks, lagging sepias and VHS edits with purple bubbles floating on screen. Carrying the British flag as an accessory, Metro waves it in the air as he hypes the audience. To round off his stellar showcase, he invites Future on stage for an unforgettable performance, sending audiences berserk as they experience their very own “I was there when..” moment. The pen is packed out, and those who missed out on a space watch and mosh intently from the outskirts.
Another Opium signee, Atlanta rap duo Homixide Gang are next up on the N4 stage, electrifying audiences with songs from their recently released sophomore studio album, and other hit tracks. Shortly after, underground sensation Yeat takes to the Main Stage to mark his Europe debut with an energetic performance, despite his woollen balaclava covering his nose and mouth the entire time. Across the way, another mask-wearing musician sends audiences crazy. Mancunian Meekz excites audiences as he surprises them with Afro Swing group NSG.
Finally, Playboi Carti rounds off the evening with a performance as theatrically memorable as it is musically. Nightfall is soundtracked by future bass chords, as he emerges onstage with a posse of men in all black who contort their bodies in time to his raging. His electrifying performance is watched, moshed, and scream-sung along to by the whole of Finsbury Park, all in awe of his stage presence and pioneering creative vision, capping off a night to remember.
Tiffany Ibe is Mixmag’s Digital Intern, follow her on Instagram
Written by: Tim Hopkins