Wildpaths 2021 Review: A Festival Like No Other

After Covid 19 caused it to adapt last year to an outside venue fittingly titled Wild Fields, Wild Paths is back and it’s safe to say, better than ever. The festival hosted over 200 artists in 20 venues ranging from the main stage of Waterfront to the intimate Rumsey Wells where only 30 odd people cram into probably one of the coolest pubs you will ever see. With acts such as Jose Gonzalez, Puma Blue and Gengahr performing in the past, this year saw headliners Sports Team, Biig Piig and Palace taking the reins. 

While the festival began on Thursday with a host of conferences including some from Spring King’s Tarek Musa and Giles Peterson on Friday afternoon, it was Friday evening where Wild Paths erupted. Sports Team took to the main stage at the Waterfront and brought with them their boundless energy. With Sports Team being known for their indie rock bangers like Here’s The Thing and Going Soft, guitarist Rob Knaggs’ ballad Long Hot Summer gave the audience a well deserved break from the high tempo of their performance. 

Those who have seen Sports Team live will know that at any gig there is only one person that can steal the show, lead singer Alex Rice. For most of the set it seemed as though Alex was a part of the crowd as he came down level with the audience. Towards the end of the set, he had the whole crowd singing “I just wanted to be your…mid noughties MTV star” from Kutcher. As the first set of our festival weekend, it was a sign of great things to come.  

A change of sound and scenery took us to the beautiful church venue at Norwich Arts Centre where Steam Down were performing. Fusing hip hop, r&b, soul, and jazz the group had the whole crowd dancing from the moment they took to the stage. Founded by Ahnansé the group’s chemistry was infectious and the frequent saxophone solos from him left the crowd speechless on a number of occasions. One of the highlights of the whole weekend though, was the last song from Steam Down’s set where Afronaut Zu performed his track Oh My God with purple lights surrounding him. Zu’s vocal performance was mesmerising and it felt as though the venue was picked purely for this song to be played. The cherry on the top came as we bumped into TINYMAN who let us take a picture with him.  

There was also plenty of local talent at Wild Paths too and on Friday the late-night set from DJ group Mighty Thirsty at the Rumsey Wells was proof of this. In a tiny cramped room with paintings of 16th century monarchs and historical figures wearing a mask or holding a pint, each DJ ensured the crowd were fully pumped, not that much encouragement was needed. Mighty Thirsty were a great way to see off the night and leave us itching to see more acts on Saturday.  

Saturday certainly didn’t disappoint. We began the day at the Shoe Factory Social Club, a former shoe factory that now uses its space to host music, theatre, dance and poetry events. It was here we saw the rising Birmingham rapper, Kofi Stone fresh from his first ever sold-out tour. Although Kofi’s trademark is his introspective, reflecting lyrics over laid back soft production, do not be tricked into thinking Kofi won’t be an incredible performer. During his track Its Okay To Cry, he had the crowd singing along to the chorus and even came down into the crowd as he effortlessly showed his rapping ability. When it came to Busker Flow, Kofi sprang into a performance that had the crowd going wild. Afterwards, we had an opportunity to meet him and I think he must be the most chill man I’ve ever met.  

While we only managed to catch the end of Biig Piig’s set at the Waterfront, we were able to see her again later at the Shoe Factory as she performed with fellow creative Lava La Rue in the NiNE 8 collective. Another act fusing genres with some killer raps from La Rue, Nasty Nige and Bone Slim with the neo soul, r&b sounds of La Rue and Biig Piig made for an incredible set full of energy – getting the late evening party started.  

The night ended with DJs Bunk x Fwrdmtn at Space Studios. With a relatively concealed entrance, you could easily spend your three years here in Norwich completely unaware that the venue even existed. But you know what they say, good things come in small packages. With a packed dance floor and luxurious rooftop setting, Space Studios was the perfect place to end Saturday night. The DJs made sure to supply plenty of tunes that let the audience take their hair down. We even got to dance with some of the artists we had watched perform earlier on that day, much to the crowd’s delight.  

By Sunday ourselves and many others were thrilled by the prospect of being able to relax to some calmer rhythms. A personal highlight from the day has to be from St Lawrence Church, where The All Day Breakfast Club filled the church with some melodious disco sounds. Songs from their new EP such as Sugartown Parade and Old School Struggling raised already high spirits through the roof. Formed by six insanely talented women, the band made a powerful impact within the walls of St Lawrence, getting the whole crowd involved as they offered out pancakes to the best dancer. Sadly, although perhaps unsurprisingly, we went home empty handed. They call themselves ‘South London’s favourite disco band’, but after Wildpaths I think it’s safe to say that All Day Breakfast Club might now hold the top spot for Norwich’s best-loved supplier of disco (or at least Venues!).  

Once again, we returned to The Shoe Factory to continue the final evening of music, this time to see the likes of Marlowe and Olivia Dean. Marlowe brought energy back to the slightly weary festival goers with an electric set in the site. Always honest and raw in how he presents his past struggles, he put on an emotional performance, repeatedly reminding the crowd that despite the tumultuous times we’re in we can still always spread love. Even if It does sound a little soppy, there’s no denying that Wildpaths brought people back together again by sharing their love for music.  

Olivia Dean was the final act on the Shoe factory stage for the weekend, and there’s no denying that she deserved this coveted spot within the weekend line up. Bouncing onto the stage in a cowboy hat and platform Ugg slip-on shoes (yes, you read that right), Dean looked just as comfortable as any performer with 30 years more experience than herself. Grooving along with her band on their final tour destination, Dean united a crowd when performing her hits, The Hardest Part and Ok Love you Bye. With a voice filled with soul, it’s easy to see why she is one of the biggest rising stars of the UK music scene right now.  

Last but not least, we headed over to the majestic setting of The Halls to see the closing headliner of the festival, Palace. Their laid back yet warm vibes provided the necessary ambience to fill the vastness of the space and by the end the London dwellers had everybody wanting the festival to last for another three days. Their most loved songs Live Well and Bitter were welcomed by the audience with roars of praise, while their lesser known tracks slotted well in between to create a set that any indie fan would have cherished. Perfectly melancholic while still upbeat, there didn’t appear to be one unmoved person in the venue. Palace was certainly a real treat to end a fantastic weekend.  

With live music back in full swing again, to have a festival on your doorstep where you can explore the city is something not to miss. Wild Paths will certainly be back next year, be sure to check it out to see some incredible local and national/international talent.  

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Tom Manning and Elizabeth Woor

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August 2022
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