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Wireless Festival, in Finsbury Park, attracted huge numbers to see global superstars and upcoming UK grime artists

14 July, 2017 — By Dan Smith, Lizzie Lawley

Nas on stage at Wireless Festival. PHOTO: ASHLEY VERSE

WIRELESS Festival’s clever transition over recent years from hosting largely big international acts to giving a bigger platform to homegrown talent, while retaining some big commercial names, seems to have been a smart move. The festival, which took place in Finsbury Park last weekend (July 7-9), attracted huge numbers as ever, and, more importantly, some well-deserved respect for the UK grime scene from globally known artists, who made their views clear during their respective sets. Notable moments from this year’s event included tears from Dave, Skepta’s Pride solidarity and G Eazy’s very public feelings about Donald Trump. Some artists, including AJ Tracey and Dave, made a huge attempt to meet their fans and do photos after their sets – a welcome personal touch. Here’s a round-up of some of the many acts across the weekend:

DAY 1

Swedish X-Factor winner Zara Larson, sporting pink camo trousers and a crop top, promoting her single Lush Life, brought a pop vibe to the opening day of the festival, singing many of her original songs, as well as Clean Bandit’s Symphony, on which she appears. The crowd cheered on the singer’s powerful vocals waving Swedish flags. American rapper Noname performed tracks from 2016 album Telefone, sparking a singalong to Diddy Bop. Already a name in America, this is one of her early UK festivals – one to watch.

Fetty Wap seemed to be less energetic, saying little. Still, his effortless stage presence turned out a haunting a capella first verse to Trap Queen. G Eazy’s third Wireless show was full of excitement. After opening with hits including You Got Me and I Mean It, he spoiled the crowd with a selection of unreleased songs, telling them they may call him by his real name, Gerald, and initiating a mass “F*** Donald Trump” chant. AJ Tracey showed his honourable side, wishing his dad a happy birthday and reminding guys to “watch out for girls” as the dancing began to get dangerous. Big Narstie pleased his crowd, ripping off his T-shirt to cheers, winning a bigger reaction when he brought out his little sister for her song Sober – an inspiring moment as the siblings contrasted sweet melodic vocals complementing Narstie’s hard-edged rapping. Chance the Rapper, wearing a T-shirt from his “Thank U Obama” clothing line launched earlier this year to pay respect to the former president, was accompanied by Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment who feature on many previous albums. Francis and Lights appeared, playing the keyboard and dancing with Chance to May I Have This Dance. Chance paid tribute to Kanye West, playing footage of himself and Kanye on screen while performing some of his songs, including Ultrabright Beam, on which he features.

DAY 2

Grime artist Dave’s set was moving. He broke down in tears after dedicating a song to friends in prison due to gang crime. After apologising for being unable to bring out friend AJ Tracey for Thiago Silva, the 19-year-old rapper picked a young man from the audience to fill in. The most poignant moment came when the young fan announced that Dave’s music helped him get into Cambridge University and to cope with his grandma’s death and his parents’ divorce. Brothers Rae Sremmurd were full of enthusiasm. After taking turns to descend from the stage and join the crowd, the siblings performed hit single No Flex Zone while throwing pineapples into the crowd. For sheer energy and crowd reaction, south London grime artist Yungen’s set proved one of the best on the Pepsi Max Stage. Despite it being just his second Wireless performance, Yungen was the headline act for this stage. After demanding bigger moshpits from a crowd who were able to shout out all the lyrics, he got everyone to put their middle fingers up to Friday, as the Saturday line-up was “way better”. Saturday headliner Skepta, performing on the same day as Pride, showed support for the LGBT+ community by donning black shorts embroidered with a rainbow flag, ending his set with an image of the flag on the screen behind him. Skepta’s brother JME and friend Jammer, both of whom are part of his grime collective, BBK, joined in for part of his set, as did Lethal Bizzle for I Win. Despite a minor mic issue, Young Thug maintained the crowd’s attention, going straight into 2014 single Stoner. Friend Milly joined him for his first three songs, and Kojo Funds also joined in.

DAY 3

The festival’s closing day was a lot more busy, attracting a slightly older crowd. Ty Dolla Sign’s set really took off as he performed 2013 single Paranoid. After throwing plastic bottles into the crowd, the rapper then took off his chain and hurled it for one lucky fan to catch before jumping off the stage and attempting a failed crowd surf, as security pulled him away back to the stage. Canada’s Tory Lanez managed to evade security and jump over the barrier into the crowd with a less than impressive crowd surf but far more successful than many other artists’ attempts. He made massive efforts to please the crowd. US superstar Nas began with a selection from award-winning Illmatic album, dedicating a song to New York rapper Prodigy, whose has often been compared to Nas and who died last month. Nas also briefly expressed his political views in The World is Yours, changing the lyrics to “f*** Donald Trump and the problems of the world today”. Despite a great performance and Damian Marley’s guest appearance, the crowd didn’t seem to sing along to many of his songs, likely because Nas hasn’t released much new material in recent years. Starting with hit Starboy, Canada’s The Weeknd lit up Finsbury Park with fireworks and his vibrant orange jacket contrasting to the changing screens behind him, ensuring that he and his jacket were the main focal point. The musician and producer proved he is just as good a singer live as he is on recordings, dancing with his microphone stand and ramping up the energy with his enthusiasm. Overall, an excellent ending to a great festival.

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