Katie Shepherd reports back from this year’s empowering (and still thoroughly ‘rock’) Reading festival
I’ve heard a lot of people say that Reading and Leeds just “aren’t rock anymore”. Certainly, you could look over the names like Eminem, Glass Animals and Giggs high up on this years’ line up and struggle not to agree with them. I suppose that in comparison to the festival’s early years as Reading Rock Festival, it was certainly a more eclectic mix this August bank holiday.
And yet, I would argue that rock was profoundly abundant at Reading and Leeds this year.
Rock was in the moment Muse brought out Brian Johnson and performed AC/DC’s hit Back in Black, and it was in Eminem as he united what felt like almost all 90,000 festival goers in chanting “fuck Trump”.It was in the politically charged energy and anger that ignited almost every stage with declarations of love and acceptance and unity in the face of current social climates. It was everywhere. Hell, even the cheesy fries in Green Camp were oozing with rock.
Because seeing rock as a genre is, let’s face it, outdated. But that doesn’t mean rock itself is. And as the boundaries of genre have dissolved over the years, rock has evolved to encompass so much more than white men on electric guitars. It has always been more than that.
My weekend began at the main stage with Mallory Knox, whose latest album has seen the five-piece delve further into the depths of personal struggles and mental illness, but to come out more polished and certainly more at home on the main stage than ever before. The Cambridge boys were followed by Rat Boy, whose nineties vibes and exceptional energy left nobody doubting that he deserved his spot on that stage and on everyone’s playlists for a long time to come.
The main stage later hosted Two Door Cinema Club, who rather underwelmingly preceded Bastille, who in contrast, proved to have grown exceptionally since their performance on the same stage just two years prior. The band’s latest release Wild World stole the show with songs like Blame, Send Them Off! and Currents not only invigorating the crowd but providing particularly poignant moments lyrically.
It wasn’t just the music, however, but the concept running through the set that made Bastille a stand-out performance of the weekend, with their news-reporter and Theresa May look-alike glaring down at the crowd throughout, reminding us all of what it is we really are fighting against. It was barely subtle anti-right wing narrative delivered with vocals so silky and energy so joyfully contagious it could have convinced your tory nan to vote Labour.
One of the highlights of my weekend at Reading was actually a mid-afternoon set on the Radio 1 Extra stage, as San Francisco’s George Watsky made his Reading and Leeds debut. The rapper owned the tent and every one of us in it, commanding our energy with his flawless high-speed rapping, his witty and bitingly relevant lyrics and fresh talent. From the growling Woah Woah Woah to the bouncy Sloppy Seconds the crowd was captured, and the chants of “Watsky” that continued well after the set ended were a testament to his performance. An artist that is wholly deserving of any and all success that comes his way.
Whilst Kasabian were the Friday night headliners, I decided to wrap my day up with old favourites You Me At Six over on the NME stage. The band, who have been going on for thirteen years now, proved once again that they know exactly how to remain timeless, inspiring a gorgeous cocktail of vigorous enthusiasm and whole-hearted unity amongst a tent of strangers. Even when faced with technical difficulties, the band did not falter, instead leading the crowd in an acoustic rendition of Loverboy; “see, we don’t need power” Josh Franceschi said, and he was right. It was a beautiful moment.
The evening fell into a pool of moonlit partying and a magical, albeit occasionally concerning lack of restriction, before the sun dragged Saturday in. Along with its blue skies and hungover teens, Saturday came through with performances from The Pretty Reckless and PVRIS on the main stage – a band exactly where they are meant to be.
Loyle Carner was the highlight of the NME stage on Saturday, pulling in an impressive crowd for someone that released his first album just six months ago. This did not seem to phase him however, as he delivered a powerful performance that perfectly balanced between the catharsis of his lyrics and the exuberance of their execution.
Korn, too, gave an eager crowd a set to remember, but it was of course, headliner Eminem who truly ordered our excitement. I had, in truth, prepared myself to be disappointed by him. After all, how could anyone – Eminem or not – live up to that kind of hype? But, he actually did.
Now I don’t know if the sheer amount of wine I had consumed beforehand had anything to do with this, but I can only tell you that Eminem was the most fun I have had in a long while. His return to stage saw him on form, with a crowd-pleasing set-list dominated by Curtain Call and hits like Love the Way You Lie and Not Afraid, supported by his band D12 and female vocalist. There was something excitingly empowering, too, about his performance, not least in Mathers’ impressively unifying “Fuck Trump” chant. “I don’t want to cause any controversy so I won’t say no names…” he said archly, “but this motherfucker Donald Trump, I can’t stand him.”
Perhaps the only thing more magical than being a part of a crowd of thousands furiously yelling their hatred for the president, was being a part of a crowd of thousands singing Wonderwall with Manchester’s own Liam Gallagher on the Sunday night. The crowd were sold immediately, however, by Liam’s parka, retro sunglasses and appropriately rocky Rock N’ Roll Star as he commanded the crowd through a solid setlist that sewed the older Oasis tracks in with his latest solo work perfectly.
Sunday hosted another surprising highlight of the weekend, Halsey, who brought her sultry vocals, effortlessly sexy stage presence and powerful showmanship to the NME tent late that evening. From the haunting Gasoline to the drama of the more recent Heaven in Hiding, I was in awe of her talent; this woman is not wrong, she can put on a show. A show enough to rival the majority of performances across the weekend, and one you absolutely must see if you get the chance.
Closing the weekend for Reading, and the first night of the festival for Leeds, was Muse. They were captivating from the second they stepped on stage with latest single Dig Down. Entranced by the stage effects and bewitched by Matt Bellamy’s vocals, the crowd was theirs. The set was filled with unmissable moments, though none were as stunning as when the band brought out Brian Johnson with a brilliant performance of Back in Black. A winning pairing of Uprising and Knights of Cydonia provided a poetically apt and empoweringly defiant end to a weekend that proved music is, as it always has been, at the heart of a movement for all.