Photo: Justine Trickett
Reading Festival was definitely going to be interesting this year. From the controversy over headline act Eminem to the fact that it’s one of the last of the summer, it could be forgiven for being at slightly less than its best – especially in comparison to the giants who have come before it.
Not to worry, though, because Reading more than rose to the challenge this year – delivering one of the most blistering weekends that's been experienced for quite some time. From Eminem and A$AP Rocky to The Bronx and Alkaline Trio, there was definitely something there for everyone.
“A$AP Rocky is rock ‘n’ roll,” insisted Pete Wentz, during Fall Out Boy’s main stage set, and Reading managed to pull off being one of the most rock ‘n’ roll festivals in a while. And of course, it wouldn’t be a festival weekend without a little bit of rain...or, loads.
The sun is shining, the grass is dry and the music is loud – it’s a perfect start to the weekend, and what better way to kick off Reading festival than by having a dance to Robert Delong in the BBC Radio 1 Dance stage? His hit ‘Global Concepts’ electrified the crowd in a festival setting, with the audience singing along almost to its entirety. And yes, he did make people 'fucking dance'. Up and comers JAWS hit the BBC Introducing stage, performing a set that will definitely have won them a whole host of new fans. Then, over in the NME/BBC Radio 1 tent, FIDLAR brought their brand of garage rock all the way from LA, injecting some raucous skater punk energy into the English crowd. The band have previously performed at Reading last year, but have said that they barely remember it, due to frontman Zac Carper almost having an anxiety attack when crowds of people showed up. He seems to be handling the crowds better this year, though, as a performance of crowd favourite ‘No Waves’ garners a strong reaction. The band also share new material from their upcoming 2014 album, but most of the tracks were from 2013 album Fidlar – including ‘Cocaine’, ‘Cheap Beer’ and ‘5 to 9’.
Then came those hyped up Birmingham boys Peace, who included a cover of Disclosure’s ‘White Noise’ in their set – despite having drawn the wrath of Diplo with this choice, after he wrote on Twitter, “Dear every indie band u don't have to cover disclosure in ur set to be relevant.” Dressed in a shimmery jumper, after removing a furry leopard-print coat (“I’m going to have to take this off,” he told the crowd), frontman Harrison Koisser gave it his all – including Peace’s own hits, ‘Wraith’, ‘Follow Baby’ and ‘Lovesick’.
A very different crowd quickly gathered to see the brilliant Frightened Rabbit – beards and checked shirts abounded in the tent as the band took to the stage. Scott Hutchison seemed genuinely touched by the amount of people showing up to hear their Scottish alt-folk rock, particularly as it was the band’s first time playing Reading Festival. Latest single ‘Backyard Skulls’ went down a storm, with the singalong chorus standing out as a definite highlight. ‘Holy’ and ‘Swim Until You Can’t See Land’ added to the epic set, with closer ‘The Loneliness and The Scream’ bringing things to a noisy, exciting finish.
If it seemed like there’d been quite a few people for Frightened Rabbit, it was nothing compared to the crowds that Bastille drew – with the audience stretching so far outside the tent that it was difficult to even catch a glimpse of them on the large screens outside of it. In fact, at times it felt more like a spontaneous karaoke session as lead singer Dan Smith’s vocals were all but drowned out by the thousands singing along. As well as the band, Bastille also had a three piece string section on stage, as they played tracks ‘Things We Lost In The Fire’, ‘Laura Palmer’ and a cover of City High’s ‘What Would You Do?’ – which led to one fan asking his friend if it was originally by Kelly Rowland. Bastille were joined on stage by To Kill A King for their closer ‘Pompeii’, which fit the definition of stadium-rock despite being at a festival, with pounding drum beats and Smith’s vocals seemingly resounding for miles.
A$AP Rocky also rocked the NME/BBC Radio 1 Stage, telling the crowd that he was here to “tear this stage down in front of y’all”. Including a Schoolboy Q cover of ‘Hands On The Wheel’, the biggest highlight was closer ‘Fuckin’ Problems’, which saw A$AP inviting ‘bad bitches’ from the audience on stage with him. He performed with members of the A$AP Mob, such as DJ Scott, and included ‘Long Live A$AP’, ‘Wild For The Night’ and ‘Work’ in his set.
Opening with the brilliant 'Diamond Eyes', Deftones frontman Chino Moreno and the noise-metal icons fired through mosh-pit anthems that included 'Be Quiet And Drive (Far Away)', 'My Own Summer' and 'Elite'. Diving into the crowd to have his shirt torn by clamouring hands and have flowers placed around his neck, the band ended with the awesome closer '7 Words' - proving themselves to be one of the highlights of the day.
Metal heroes System Of A Down drew a massive Main Stage crowd to see their tear through 17-song performance of classics and fan favourites. Opening with 'Aerials' before a volatile rendition of 'Suite-Pee', Serj Tankian and co were clearly in high spirits as they drove the massive Reading audience into a series of viscious circle pits. Highlights of their show included 'Psycho', 'Chop Suey' and 'Spiders' before ending with the brilliant closing 'Toxicity' and 'Sugar'. Their chemistry is as apparent ever, but we can only hope for new material and their return to come sooner rather than never.
Battling Green Day for audience numbers but still pulling an impressive and lively crowd over to the Festival Republic Stage were CHVRCHES, who were undoubtedly the best performance of the day. Showcasing exquisite synth-pop gems from their upcoming debut album, The Bones Of What You Believe, they enraptured the packed out tent. All present seem certain that it will be a massive challenge for anyone to top this all weekend. Expect huge things from these talented Scots in years to come.
Over on the main stage, a dancing pink rabbit heralded the arrival of old-school punks Green Day, in their first UK festival appearance since frontman Billie Joe Armstrong’s stint in rehab. During opener ’99 Revolutions’, however, the band left no doubt that they were every bit as exciting as ever, playing ‘Know Your Enemy’ and ‘Stay The Night’ at a frenetic, hectic pace that barely left the audience enough time to catch their breath.
“This is the greatest festival in the world,” Armstrong told the crowd, who roared their approval back at him. Similarly to their set at Brixton Academy two days earlier, the band played Dookie in full ahead of the album’s twenty year anniversary next year – with an interlude for a partial cover of ‘Highway To Hell’. Armstrong kept up his usual antics; inviting a fan on stage to sing with him during ‘Know Your Enemy’, showering the crowd with a watergun during ‘St Jimmy’ and firing t-shirts into the crowd. Despite ‘Good Riddance’ being played for every meaningful TV moment, Armstrong still managed to imbue it with a sense of poignancy and retain all the emotion and none of the cliché during the second encore. The huge crowd fell to an almost silence, before singing along in unison.
The perfect end to the first day.
The second day of Reading brought the rain, which meant that Belgium band Balthazar saw a lot more people huddled into the Festival Republic tent than they might otherwise have had. Still, the drop-ins won’t have been disappointed, as Balthazar played a set filled with dark, fairytale-esque music that wouldn’t have sounded out of place at a creepy late-night carnival. They ended their set with 'Blood Like Wine’, a track with an anthem of ‘raise your glass’ that had even the newest fans singing along.
US band Skaters were up next, with London member Josh Hubbard was brimming with enthusiasm to be here – something which clearly showed through during their set of self-defined ‘humblecore’. The band took the Festival Republic tent by storm, electrifying the crowd and definitely going above and beyond with their tracks – and marking themselves as ones to watch out for.
Jagwar Ma delighted once again with a set of perfect summer songs, hazy and laidback, and ideal for soothing everyone’s hangover and setting them up to be in a good mood for the rest of the day – although their psychedelic rock was perhaps an odd choice for the BBC Radio 1 Dance stage. The pulsating beats aren’t exactly dance music, so their Beach Boys-esque surf-pop melodies and baggy Manchester sounds felt a little out of place. Despite that, the band still managed to impress.
It was then time to head back over to the Festival Republic tent for Swim Deep, who were definitely a festival highlight. From lead singer Austin Williams’ too-earnest-to-be-ironic cover of Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ to the moment he clambered up to sit atop the lighting rigging – and then glance down to the crowd as if to say, “What now?” – they were impressive and very, very entertaining. ‘Honey’ caused a singalong from fans, who packed out the tent to see the band, and closer ‘King City’ prompted a huge response. Still, the crowds were nothing compared to when The 1975 came on stage next, drawing the biggest audience to the Festival Republic tent that’s been seen in a long time - and certainly the most screeching teenage girls. Anyone not already in the tent could barely get close, and those inside were in danger of being crushed at times. The band definitely delivered, although sadly most of the crowd left after hearing ‘Sex’, with ‘Chocolate’ being played earlier in the set. At least the true-blue fans remaining could get close enough to sway along for the last song, ‘You’.
Chance the Rapper played the new BBC 1Xtra stage, with the audience awash in a sea of snapbacks. The show was the rapper’s first outside of his native Chicago, and his Acid Rap mixtape had been well-hyped before the concert. Luckily, he managed to live up to the press. Accompanied by DJ Oreo, he covered Kanye West’s ‘All Fall Down’, as well as playing ‘Brain Cells’ and ‘Pusha Man’. Imagine Dragons also enticed crowds to the NME/BBC Radio 1 Stage, running through a number of songs from their debut album such as ‘It’s Time’, ‘Demons’ and ‘Amsterdam’. They also performed ‘Round and Round’ from their Continued Silence EP, and of course closed with their biggest hit, the apocalyptic ‘Radioactive’, prompting an enthusiastic singalong from the assembled fans.
Over at the main stage, Foals were another festival highlight with their set, proving that they have it what it takes to be headliners in future years. Frontman Yannis Philippakis called Reading the ‘best festival in the world’, adding that the festival meant a lot to them. “We waited a long time to play this stage,” he finished. Philippakis went on to entice the crowd to go ‘absolutely fucking apeshit’, and there’s no doubt that’s what happened. The set lasted for an hour, including ‘Inhaler’, ‘My Number’ and finishing on ‘Two Steps, Twice’. Not content simply with playing an amazing set, Philippakis also crowd surfed during the show and even climbed onto the monitors – not missing a note on his guitar the entire time.
Chase & Status drew an insanely massive audience to the main stage for a staggering light show and lively dance set that saw a raft of special guests and collaborators join them, including Nottingham star Liam Bailey for a raucous outing of 'Blind Faith'. So lively were the crowd that at one point, Festival Republic boss Melvin Benn was seen at the side stage concerned about the crush caused by the masses of ravers.
Vocalist MC Rage had to address the problems from the stage, halting a performance of the dance collective's 'Let Yourself Go' to ask audience members to step back prevent fans at the front being injured. "A lot of people are being crushed and we can't carry on. Reading are you with me? Then fucking move back then," said Rage as he requested calm among the audience. "Anyone who is on the floor please step over the barriers. Seriously we need everyone to push back."
The energy remained, hanging thick in the air for when Eminem took the stage and finished the night off with a sincerely impressive headline performance. He was joined on stage for the set by an eight-piece band and Mr Porter and, of course, Dido appeared during his rendition of ‘Stan’. Opening with ‘Survival’, the track immediately had fans singing along – despite the fact that it was only revealed last week.
Eminem kept a constant stage banter going with the crowd, referencing his past drug addiction after pointing out a ‘fucked up’ raucous girl in the audience, and even covered some of his Bad Meets Evil songs during the set. As well as the Bad Meets Evil covers – which is the rapper’s side project – he also covered B.o.B’s ‘Airplanes, Part II’ during the 28 song set. ‘Don’t Give A Fuck’ and ‘Cleanin’ Out My Closet’ all garnered a strong response, but the excitement increased even further when he launched into ‘The Way I Am’ – and shot off the charts during a medley of ‘My Name Is’, ‘The Real Slim Shady’ and ‘Without Me’.
Closing the performance with an encore of ‘Lose Yourself’, it was undeniable that Eminem had given fans and naysayers alike one of the strongest performance of the weekend.
In a definite contrast to the rain of the previous day, Sunday was hot hot hot – so when better to see San Cisco? It certainly felt like the Australian four-piece brought the weather with them, with their sunny indie-pop blasting out through the Festival Republic tent – with hit ‘Awkward’ definitely getting the biggest cheers of the set.
A wander back over to the BBC Radio 1/NME stage meant that there was enough time to crowd into the tent to see Wavves, who shared tracks from their latest album Afraid of Heights, as well as playing ‘Idiot’ and ‘King of the Beach’. The BBC Live Lounge at the BBC Introducing Stage had previously hosted secret sets from Bastille and The 1975, but Sunday saw a change of pace when Wretch 32 was the surprise guest. As well as ‘Don’t Go’, Wretch played brand new single ‘Doing OK’ before ending with ‘Blackout’ (and not ‘Traktor’, as fans seemed to have hoped). Back in the Festival Republic tent, there was a surprisingly sparse turn out for Merchandise – despite the fact that they were one of the more interesting bands at the festival, and the fact that they have a dedicated cult following. Still, lead singer Carson Cox informed the crowd that they were ‘kicking the shit’ out of Leeds Festival, and the band didn’t seem dissuaded as they played a heavy on the punk rock set, including ‘Time’ and ‘I Locked The Door’.
Girl group HAIM rocked the BBC Radio 1/NME stage, to a crowd holding up signs including ‘Kiss me!’. The California sisters had apparently been ‘waiting’ for the show, and seemed genuinely excited to be at Reading; interacting with their fans after almost every song and making their trademark faces during their performance. Playing singles ‘Falling’ and a suitably epic version of ‘Don’t Save Me’, they also had their usual improvised interlude, which saw an impressive display of musical talent. HAIM closed their set with awesome renditions of ‘Forever’ and ‘Don’t Let Me Go’. Expect to see them on the main stage next year.
Back at the main stage, Fall Out Boy played the last show of their current world tour at Reading Festival, drawing a very excited crowd – and the reception to the tracks played from latest album Save Rock and Roll showed that it was more than just a nostalgia-fest. Singer Foxes came on stage to reprise her part in ‘Just One Yesterday’, and the new songs continued with ‘My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark’, ‘Alone Together’ and ‘The Phoenix’. Seeming overjoyed to be there, the band also played hits ‘Dance, Dance’, ‘Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down’ and ‘Thnks Fr Th Mmrs’, closing with an emotional performance of ‘Saturday’ – and, as usual, after an impassioned speech about the importance of rock n' roll, bassist Pete Wentz threw himself into the crowd at the end, attempting to high five everyone in the front row.
Disclosure packed the BBC Radio 1/NME stage as Friendly Fires’ Ed MacFarlane joined them on stage, but Nine Inch Nails drew the biggest crowd back at the main stage. Despite lead singer Trent Reznor earlier taking to Twitter to complain about 'lying' Reading Festival promoters and headliners Biffy Clyro ('who the fuck are they?'), there was no evidence of any resentment or reluctance to be there, despite speaking only to thank the crowd and spit the typically Reznor jibe of "fuck rock and roll, by the way" (a dig at Fall Out Boy perhaps?).
Instead, with an extravagant light show beneath a perfectly brooding sky, Nine Inch Nails tore it up on stage, with Trent Reznor’s glower only serving to up the anticipation and excitement. With a setlist including ‘March of the Pigs’ and ‘Sanctified’, as well as newer songs ‘Disappointed’, ‘Came Back Haunted’ and ‘Copy Of A’, Nine Inch Nails totally owned their set and the audience – even if there was a little disappointment at the lack of ‘Closer’.
Finishing not just the day, but the entire Reading weekend is a huge task, but Biffy Clyro went above and beyond to prove that they were up to it – and were arguably the biggest highlight of the weekend. Definitely not ones to skimp on the pyrotechnics, there were flames a-plenty, including one memorable moment when Simon Neil set fire to his guitar during ‘The Captain’, while closing the set. Using a flare, the guitar lay aflame on the side of the stage while the crowd – and band themselves - went wild.
As well as the aptly-titled ‘Biblical’, ‘Golden Rule’ and of course ‘Mountains’, Biffy also treated fans to older tracks including ‘Question & Answer’ and ‘57’.
“We’re Biffy fucking Clyro,” Simon Neil told the crowd at the end. “We love you.” Well done, Reading - you definitely saved the best til last.