The annual Reading & Leeds Festival is the oldest and (if we’re talking dual sites) biggest music festival that the UK has to offer, and throughout the majority of its years it has managed to maintain a predominantly, though not exclusively, rock focused bill year in and year out.
Though, let’s be honest, that’s been slowly altering and changing over time, especially in the past couple of years, instead trying to keep to where the music landscape seems to be going whilst also trying to ensure as many audiences are catered for as possible. Whether you’re after a rock, metal, pop, or hip-hop fix, you’ll no doubt be covered.
For the Sunday date of the line-up of the festival site over at Reading, we caught a bunch of acts that you can read more about below, including a headline slot from Hollywood Undead on The Pit.
BBC RADIO 1 STAGE:
DON BROCO – 7/10
The rise of Bedford’s Don Broco has been nothing short of meteoric. They’re playing Wembley Arena next year, and it’s set to be a sell out, yet it still feels unnatural to see them this high up on the bill, with fans flocking into the tent in droves. But as the unmistakeable groove of ‘Pretty’ booms over the speakers and the band emerge to volcanic cheers, there’s no denying that well and truly left the underground behind. It’s not a bad thing either, because massive jams like ‘You Wanna Know’ and ‘Come Out To LA’ are best suited to equally massive crowds.
When played alongside their fiery newer material, ‘Priorities’, the title-track from Broco’s debut album, feels a bit of a damp squib in comparison, and doesn’t prompt anywhere near as lively a crowd reaction as the likes of the stonking ‘Money Power Fame’. As a sea of people whirling their T-shirts over their heads closes the set (well, what else would you do to a track called ‘T-Shirt Song’?), Don Broco establish themselves as kings of the festival party.
SLAVES – 8/10
You might be wondering what you’re about to witness as ‘We Like To Party’ by the Vengaboys pumps out in the BBC Radio 1 Tent, but it’s none other than punk rock duo Slaves. These guys get a lot of flak for their repetitive choruses, but frankly, a repetitive chorus at a festival goes down like an ice cold Heineken on a hot day. Shouting along to the unrestrained snarl of ‘Debbie Where’s Your Car?’ and ‘Cheer Up London’ is cathartic and effortless and a whole lot of fun, as is their cover of Skepta’s ‘Shutdown’.
The band are keen to get the crowd involved, pulling ecstatic fans up onstage during ‘Feed The Mantaray’ and ‘Cut And Run’, and it’s remarkable how only two people manage to command such a huge stage. Saving the best for last, the now iconic riff of ‘The Hunter’ causes a veritable earthquake throughout the tent, closing the set on an unruly, delirious high.
THE PIT/LOCK UP STAGE:
SLEEP TOKEN – 9/10
The weather outside is nothing short of awful, so it’s a good thing then that the enigmatic and truly excellent Sleep Token are under cover at The Pit stage, because this is a set not to be missed. You’d think a band whose faces are entirely obscured by masks would find it difficult to engage an audience, but you’d be wrong.
Mysterious frontman known only as Vessel delivers utterly spellbinding vocals over doomy guitars, and they even manage to make a cover of Outkast’s upbeat classic ‘Hey Ya’ into something melancholy and haunting. Terrifyingly brilliant.
FRANK CARTER & THE RATTLESNAKES – 8/10
’Secret’ sets at Reading & Leeds never seem to stay secret for very long, which explains why the tent is packed to the brim with fans anticipating Frank Carter’s return to the festival. Swaggering out on stage in a denim jacket and sunglasses to the aptly named ‘Juggernaut’, Carter is every inch a rock star, hurling himself into the crowd as chaos erupts all around him.
“Lil Pump had the biggest mosh pit at Leeds,” he spits, “That’s a rock music thing. They stole that from us. Let’s show ’em how it’s done!”. As the rolling riff of ‘Lullaby’ begins, a circle pit large enough that it surely breaks health and safety laws kicks off as Carter surveys the chaos with a savage grin. Mayhem.
MILK TEETH – 5/10
Having just nabbed themselves a Heavy Music Award for Best UK Breakthrough Band, Milk Teeth arrive, with the addition of Em Foster from Nervus on guitar, looking remarkably fresh faced compared to the rain drenched crowd.
Tracks like the grungy ‘Swear Jar’ and older cut ‘Brain Food’ are solid – but the performance is dry, and dare we say, a bit dull. The gravelly screams during ‘Fight Skirt’, and guitarist Billy Hutton making his way into the crowd, serve to wake everyone up a bit, but it’s a shame that anyone needed waking up in the first place. Material? Awesome. Show? Predictable.
BLACK FOXXES – 7/10
Alternative rock trio Black Foxxes, on the other hand, make for a more interesting watch. “I’m just trying to get through the set without throwing up,” admits frontman Mark Holley, whose incredibly versatile vocals give an extra bite to their live performance.
There’s a lot of roaring crescendos in their music, which seem lost on the rather tepid crowd, though the impossibly catchy ‘Manic In Me’ livens them up a bit, thanks to the killer rhythms from Ant Thornton. The mellifluous ‘Breathe’ sees Holley become a madman, flinging his guitar around with gusto, before the delicious slow-burner ‘River’ calms things down a bit. Thankfully, there’s no throwing up in the end.
LOWLIVES – 6/10
Formed of ex-members of No Devotion, The Ataris, and The Defiled, supergroup Lowlives have been drumming up a fair bit of hype. Sadly, that hype doesn’t appear to have reached the festival fields, as they’re greeted with a response that’s as wet and dismal as the weather. It’s a crying shame really, as they’ve got some real bangers in their small catalogue.
Unreleased track ‘Hey You’ is catchy with great harmonies, and the chorus of ‘I Don’t Like You’ is so infectious that it manages to win over the lifeless audience. It’s a good set that deserves a better crowd, but the songs themselves are promising enough that it can only be up from here.
SCARLXRD – 6/10
If you want to feel old, then head down to see Scarlxrd. Leading the new wave of “trap metal”, which infuses trap beats with nu-metal, the UK rapper takes the stage to a tent full to the brim with (mostly) teenagers fresh out of their GCSE exams – and they’re utterly enamoured. The fact that he’s managed to draw a crowd this large is doubly impressive considering that this is his second set of the day (he played earlier over on the BBC 1Xtra Stage), and there’s moshing aplenty to hits like ‘Heart Attack’.
Scarlxrd has one hell of a scream on him, though his encouraging fans to “split someone’s head open” is all a bit 2006 pseudo-edgy. Still, there’s no shortage of energy as he scales the scaffolding, his ear-splitting screech signalling yet another enormous pit. The kids really are alright. Just leave ’em to it.
HOLLYWOOD UNDEAD – 7/10
If one-dimensional indie rock a la Kings Of Leon over on the main stage isn’t really your bag, Hollywood Undead are offering up something a little more appealing: some fun. The rap rockers have come a long way from their MySpace days, as illustrated by the sea of merch clad fans under The Pit tent’s striped canvas.
Charlie Scene, J-Dog, and the rest of the squad have ditched the masks and seem a little more grown up, without taking themselves too seriously. Well, it’s a bit hard to when you’re singing about weenies. Classics like ‘Undead’, ‘Another Way Out’, and the notorious riff of ‘Everywhere I Go’ make for one hell of a party, and a cheeky cover of ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ raises a laugh, though sadly there’s a noticeable absence of any of their newer material.
The show is much like the band themselves – brash, crass, and at times straight up vulgar, but it’s all with tongues placed firmly in cheeks. Down some Jäger and get stuck in. Go on, you’ve heard ‘Use Somebody’ more than enough times already.