On Saturday at Reading Festival the clouds were kept at bay and performances from Eminem, At The Drive In, Shame, Wolf Alice, and Flatbush Zombies were dazzling.
The main star of the evening was Eminem and his set the most highly-anticipated and well attended of the weekend: you couldn't get anywhere near unless you arrived early, it was seriously dense. Subsequently, sound became an issue, and close analysis of lyrics - which is key to getting lost in an Eminem set - wasn't easy for everyone.
But what the show did thrive on was pulling out all the stops to ensure his headline status and endemic existence in the upper echelon of the industry is deserved. A world class guitar band as good as, if not better, than Kendrick Lamar's were there and brilliant to watch. Guest vocalists, fireworks, and Trump digs were also all on show.
But one of the most exciting things about Eminem has always been his element of risqué and this felt somewhat muted throughout the performance. The infamous last verses of 'Stan' were skipped over in a medley of Curtain Call hits for instance.
On the other hand, rappers who showed no signs of glossing over their most controversial material at this year's Reading Festival were Brixton Hill rap crew and former street gang 67. They've been bucking the trend since 2015 by harking back to the darker traditions of gangsta rap. Their lines about mind-forged manacles and blood down Palace walls are probably a world away from the London most people at Reading are familiar with, yet an honest portrait of gang life is sublime, terrifying and amazing at the same time.
Their revealing lyrics were sung back with an enthusiasm and pulsing accuracy unmatched by any other crowd so far this weekend, and as UK rap is now pretty overrun with egos and solo acts it was genuinely enthralling to see a collective exchanging such visceral energy on stage. Indeed, the gentrifying forces of bored sixth form kids (read: Reading Festival-goers) who have sent grime music soaring in to the Mercury Prize shortlists and minds of NME automatons should take note of 67.
Elsewhere, Brooklyn’s Flatbush Zombies, whose 2016 debut album has brought an eccentric comic book wit to the wordplay and Hollywood references of fellow East Coast groups like Public Enemy, headlined the 1 Xtra Stage. It was even like a bizarre microcosm of Reading ’92 when halfway through the set the trio began throwing themselves around the stage to 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'. From their bizarre costumes to their garish animated visuals, Flatbush Zombies have already crafted an inimitable aesthetic off the back of a single studio album, so the crowd was no less ecstatic to hear some “unreleased shit” than they were for hit songs like Bounce and New Phone, Who Dis?
Rock was also well represented last night. No one felt more energetic and original than the awesome At The Drive In, and a 17 year gap between albums made seeing the post-hardcore heroes even more exciting. After all, if they're susceptible to long splits and going off to do other things, you've got to make the most of them whilst they're around. Although one radio presenter who met them on site indicated that the long term future is looking good.
It's a shame, though, that they were up against Frank Carter and The Rattlesnakes, who is probably more well known to the median age of festival folk here; it was criminally under attended. But then again it’s remarkable a band as challenging as them have had the hold on the mainstream they’ve had. They sing of dark dread, paranoia and have lines about tears of blood. Focusing on Bixler–Zavala's imagination is like entering a whole other twisted parallel universe – and it’s breathtaking to observe. He’s so invested in what he’s singing about, and so buoyed by the heavy punk and wild, effect-laden solos from the genius guitarist Omar Rodriguez,Lopez that he seemed in a trance like state, fearlessly climbing amps and throwing microphones. Such was the band's abilty to appear in the moment yet on another planet, the show was like a dose of Ayahuasca without the subsequent shit and vomit the mystical jungle vine induces.
Elsewhere, new UK bands, Shame, Wolf Alice and Tigercub were the pick of the bunch.
During what singer Ellie Rowsell referred to as Saturday’s “not-so-secret secret set”, Wolf Alice proved that they’re always best at their loudest and most brazen; the noise-rock misanthropy anthem that is recent single 'Yuk Foo' was a set highlight to challenge any of Sonic Youth’s most esoteric hits. Then playing the feedback heavy Fluffy and Giant Peach rather than the more lachrymose singles from their debut album was an inspired move for the band’s short surprise gig. It was enough to re-assert that Wolf Alice are Sofia Coppola in musical form, masterfully ordering the anger, sense and sensibility of girlhood into art, and above all making frustration sound like a hell of a lot of fun.
A little like The Fall if they liked Oasis, a little like Oasis if they liked The Fall, a lot has already been said this year about Shame’s admixture of abstract lyrical wit and lad-rock camaraderie, and you probably couldn’t tell any young South London barfly much about this band that they hadn’t already found out for themselves. But emerging from the subterranean buzz of the capital’s pubs and into the epileptic lightshow of Reading’s Festival Republic Stage seemed to take this band to newer and glorious heights. Whilst so many ill-read and amateur guitarists have swindled far bigger stages and audiences this festival weekend, Shame came to remind their dedicated contingent of fans how it’s really done.
A highlight of the lock up stage was undoubtedly Tigercub. They broke through in 2013 with their insanely catchy single ‘Little Rope’ that led to a tour with Dinosaur Pile Up. Since then, the Brighton band have worked tirelessly on the live circuit, graduating supporting the likes of Royal Blood. They’ve also progressed so much sonically, and singer Jamie Hall cooks all the melodies with a 60s-level quality. Adding his gifted ear for hooks to the fuzz-laden bass and hard-hitting will massively appeal to fans of Queens Of The Stone Age. Although the crowd was small anyone who sees the coverage on the BBC will wish that they were there; Tigercub are, quite simply, one of the very best rock bands in the UK at the moment in no danger of ever sounding pastiche. Tigercub’s life could be about to get a lot louder.