Afterthoughts: Wigflex City Festival 2019

Wigflex City Festival sounds like one of those far-fetched plans made in the pub after at least six pints. 15 venues, a unique beer, a range of acts from jazz through to techno, art installations in every venue, custom fragrances in the ambient room… I mean, come on now! All this in one day? You must forgive me for going in a little apprehensively. I felt like maybe Lukas Wigflex and co might have stretched themselves a little thin – well, egg on my face…

I’d never been to Nottingham before the festival. I was aware that HP sauce came from there, and that’s pretty much it. Arriving around 4 PM, I picked up my wristband and got stuck in straight away. I was greeted by The Street Party area in two of the four avenues that make up Sneinton Market. It was already pretty buzzing. Illusef & Arcane were in the booth playing UK house and dub techno, keeping the place ticking over nicely. There were vegan food stalls, giant chess, and craft beers… classic stuff but always welcome. I pottered round having a look through my map and getting a handle on things. With the amount going on I was only ever going to get a little sample of what the festival had to offer, but I was excited for what was to come.

I first moved off to Fast City Arts, where the ambient acts were playing. I’d been on the train for a long time and wanted to chill for a bit. I entered a dark, small room filled with bean bags where Lukas Wigflex was performing an ambient set, mixing slow and quiet pieces with nature based field recordings. Above was a light installation created by local artists Will Bradley and Tom Smith. One guy in the front was fast asleep. After Wigflex came Trekkah Benjamin with a much darker and more rhythmic sound. A mate throws a can at another… “Grow up”, comes the reply… time to move on.

Next I made a few quick stops. First in the upstairs at Rough Trade and at Nottingham Contemporary, a large arts space with vast exposed concrete walls and a sparse and spacious interior. It’s now around 6 PM and venues are starting to fill up. Onto The Secret Courtyard and the space is at capacity with a long queue outside. The small unassuming yard surrounded by the National Justice Museum is booming and Honey Dijon is commanding the appreciative audience with a selection of disco house bangers and the crowd all sings along enthusiastically when she drops the acapella to Ultra Nate’s ‘Free’. The grins on the faces of the dancers are matched only by Dijon herself. She is transmitting her enjoyment to the crowd and they are giving it back ten times over. Hands are in the air constantly and Dijon maintains the excited energy expertly.
Also – to my great amusement – I saw a fella who looked remarkably like Joe Lycett in a bucket hat… so that was nice.

Around 7:30 PM I’m back at The Street Party for Gilles Peterson. What can I say about him that hasn’t already been said? In his usual fashion he was spontaneously bouncing around between genres, never settling anywhere for long. As always, he utilised his position and reputation to play tracks that few other selectors could have pulled for. During the last half hour of his set he plucked out Nina Simone’s ‘My Baby Just Cares for Me’, and then proceeded to blend it into some classic jungle. By the end the bunting had fallen down and the inevitable limbo contest got underway. Peterson ended his set to rapturous applause from the dancers.

At around 9:30 PM I moved onto see James Holden & the Animal Spirits at Nottingham Contemporary. I expected it to be a bit quieter, assuming that most of the crowd would be after something clubbier… but I was proven wrong again. The venue was rammed, I’d go so far as to say heaving. Up until now, I had been really impressed by the quality of the sound throughout the spaces but I found that it was pretty muddy during Holden’s set. The quality of his performance still shone through to an engrossed audience. Think arpeggiators, live drums and saxophones drenched in reverb.

After this my night was all about techno. I caught a very good, if slightly quieter set from Machine Women in the Basement at Trade, then DJ Stingray and SPFDJ at Brickworks. The bpm was at least 140 most of the time I was there, if not higher. “SHAKE IT. DON’T BREAK IT.” The vocal from Airod’s ‘System Connexion’ is one of the few bits I can remember from the barrage of kick drums unleashed by SPFDJ. I stumbled out to run for my train just after 4:30 AM…

How the Wigflex crew managed to get away with this event is beyond me. Two major outdoor spaces in the middle of a city, a huge roster of artists, a whole section of the city pretty much turned into a big party, and of course a huge crowd and loads of booze… it’s the stuff that local council’s nightmares are made of! Still, get away with it they did and in a fantastic fashion!

I’d have to sum up the whole event as being just downright fun. Along with the high quality of sound systems, venues and staff, one of the main consistencies of the day were the big grins on the faces of the artists and crowd alike. From the first acts I saw to the last, from funk DJ’s to techno, everyone just seemed to be having a thoroughly nice time. I’m pretty sure even Stingray was probably smiling under his balaclava! Artist and crowd fed off each other, culminating in a day where everyone felt as though they could just get loose and enjoy themselves. Rather than rest on their success, the Wigflex crew have already announced next year’s date as May 3rd (get it in your diaries) and I for one can’t wait!

For me the day ended at half seven that morning when I was woken up by the train guard at St. Pancras. I was shattered and feeling the effects of a whole day partying. My face was still dripping with theoretical egg, but I hadn’t lost my grin… Hats off to you Wigflex, see you next year.

Words: Justin O’Brien

Featured Images: Samuel Kirby

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