Reading and Leeds are the two festivals that have stood out over the past few years for their willingness to adapt to the changing musical zeitgeist, displaying through their lineups a genuine response to the demand of their audience, of which students have always comprised a large part. Since 2008, the previously traditional ‘metal day’, on which the main stage would usually be dominated by heavier acts, has been eschewed in favour of a move towards indie and alternative rock; it was this policy that has seen the likes of Radiohead and Arcade Fire booked as recent headliners, as well as the already-legendary Libertines reunion back in 2010. This year, though, sees that fluidity and diversity ramped up to a whole new level, with a slew of new stages introduced to the twin festivals.
First up, the delicate and often difficult balance that Festival Republic previously had to strike between the punk and hardcore-dedicated Lock Up Stage and the one-day Dance Stage is no more; the latter is now its own entity, with the empty one-day slot on the Lock Up filled by a host of heavier rock bands. There’s also a brand new addition in the form of the 1xtra stage, bringing a full programme of hip hop and grime artists to the festivals for the first time; Wretch 32, Toddla T and Action Bronson are lined up for headline slots.
That’s not to say, though, that there’s any neglect of the festivals’ traditional duty of care to rock and indie bands; Friday (Leeds) sees Biffy Clyro top the bill on the main stage, finally freeing themselves of the tag of perennial sub-headliners thanks to their number one double record Opposites. Even more exciting, though, is the unexpected return of Nine Inch Nails, who’ll play before Biffy and should preview their new album Hesitation Marks alongside classic material. The same day will see another reunited American outfit, Fall Out Boy, take the third slot on the main stage, whilst Phoenix make their first headlining appearance on the Radio 1/NME stage in support of the critically-acclaimed Bankrupt!, with support from Azealia Banks, Disclosure and the festival circuit’s hottest property, Haim.
Following last year’s unannounced set at Reading, Green Day return to headline both legs, appearing on Saturday at Leeds. With no shortage of material thanks to last year’s ¡Uno, Dos, Tre! trilogy and frontman Billie Joe Armstrong firing on all cylinders after a tumultuous end to 2012, a typically sprawling set is in order. The rest of the day’s main stage lineup should appease anyone still hankering for the ‘metal day’ of old, with System of a Down making their first appearance at the festivals since their reformation, and the never-more-vital Deftones back for the third time in five years. That heaviness is offset over on the Radio 1/NME stage, with Skrillex and A$AP Rocky topping the bill, although Frightened Rabbit and Deap Vally have the day’s indie quota covered.
Returning to Reading twelve years after his first appearance is Eminem, who’ll make his Leeds Festival debut on the Sunday. Fans will be hoping for a first taste of his eighth studio album – slated for release this year – alongside the metric tonne of classics he has in his arsenal. Chase and Status will warm up the main stage crowd for perhaps the world’s most iconic living rapper, whilst Foals make the step up that their incendiary Holy Fire deserves to round out the top three. Mercury Prize darlings Alt-J are top of the pile over on the Radio 1/NME, but equal heed should be paid to appearances from Australia’s premier psych-revivalists Tame Impala and Smiths legend Johnny Marr, who has spent the year so far delivering career-spanning sets that thoroughly justify his reputation as one of the world’s most influential guitarists. Elsewhere, Savages and DIIV will both play the relatively intimate Festival Republic stage – probably for the last time, with bigger things very clearly ahead of them. Magnetic Man head up the Dance Stage, already old hands after holding down the same slot two years ago.
Boasting one of their most dynamic lineups in years, Reading and Leeds continue to expand and improve in an undeniably tough financial climate. That ambition deserves to reap rewards, and should secure the future of two events that are fast becoming British institutions.
Weekend tickets for Reading Festival are sold out. Weekend tickets for Leeds Festival are available from all major outlets
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