Festival season might be drawing to a close, but not before tens of thousands of teenagers in bucket hats and spaghetti-strapped vest tops descend upon the sun-bleached grass of Richfield Avenue for the summer’s last hurrah. Then again, while the August Bank Holiday Weekend’s signature rite-of-passage party has been a staple of youth culture for decades, in recent years it has pursued a path of reinvention. Once a destination for alternative and rock diehards, the Reading of 2022 is a broader church, enticing fans of pop and particularly hip hop in through its gates, and finally keeping up with the times by offering a lineup that’s far more diverse than the Readings of old (women headlining again? Finally!)
It begins in suitably outrageous style at Main Stage East with Frank Carter & the Rattlesnakes. Their slightly-sunburnt frontman rockets around the stage throughout opener ‘My Town’ and practically barrel rolls over the crowd more than crowdsurfs during the swaggering ‘Tyrant Lizard King’. The apex of the chaos comes, however, after ‘Devil Inside Me’, which he performs in just his boxers, and later, at the behest of the crowd, pulls them down. It makes Black Honey’s silky set of indie bangers look tame in comparison, but their forty five minutes on stage is still compelling, even if it takes a subtler approach.
Over in the Festival Republic tent, there’s a stunning display taking place courtesy of Witch Fever, who fill the cavernous space beautifully with their sludgy riffs. On top of that, frontwoman Amy Walpole proves captivating, sinking to her knees under the glare of red lighting in the hypnotic ‘Congregation’ and screaming animalistically throughout closer ‘Reincarnate’. Meanwhile, the neighbouring Radio 1 Dance Stage is heaving with people desperate to hear viral sensation PinkPantheress’ ethereal alt pop tunes – in fact, there are rows and rows of punters outside the tent craning their necks to do so. Those lucky enough to make it inside the tent are faced with a rainforest-like climate, stiflingly hot with sweat dripping from the walls, but if they can withstand it, there’s plenty to enjoy, with the sugary ‘Just For Me’ commanding monumental singalongs and bouncy mosh pits.
Little Simz also draws a healthy crowd on Main Stage East, unsurprisingly so given the blinding success of last year’s mainstream breakthrough record, ‘Sometimes I Might Be Introvert’. The delicate quality of her quiet confidence is on full show here as she wraps her tongue around the crisp bars of the likes of ‘Introvert’ and ‘I Love You, I Hate You’, and it’s awe-inspiring to witness, particularly when she removes the giant sunglasses from her face halfway through and the shy wonder on her face at the size of the crowd becomes apparent. Sometimes, Simbi might be introvert, but up on stage, she blossoms.
Meanwhile, the punters in the Festival Republic tent are close to feral for Cleopatrick’s gritty alt-rock. Their performance is fairly simple men-behind-mic-and-drum-kit fare, but something about the low pulse of these riffs and the cool swagger of the lyrics still carries off great live, even if it is occasionally muddy sounding. The crowd for Glass Animals isn’t quite so savage for their colourful pop wizardry, but the Oxford quartet more than rouse them for closer ‘Heat Waves’, with colossal singalongs from the front of the crowd to the back.
Tonight’s headliners are history makers - Megan Thee Stallion is not only the festival’s first solo female headliner for 27 years, but the first black woman to do the honours, while Dave, at 24 years old, is the youngest artist yet to top the bill. The former pitches her show as the peak of hot girl summer, full of thumping boss bitch anthems, seemingly endless twerking and sassy one liners (“Loving yourself is hot girl shit!”), but a long battle with security to bring fans on stage causes the show to drag. Dave later states, “I’ve been waiting for this moment for so long,” at the top of a show full of passion and heart. It’s only a shame some of the musically thinner parts don’t quite permeate the rows further away from the stage, failing to reach the pockets of the crowd who get drunk and distracted. Despite the hiccups, today’s been full of the stuff that makes for long-treasured memories.
Heading back into Richfield Avenue’s hallowed grounds, and Saturday afternoon finds everyone’s favourite robot-turned-human Poppy splicing sugary sweetness and hellishly heavy riffs as if they’re the most natural bedfellows in the world. Backed by a band all sporting Catwoman masks and serving up butter-wouldn’t-melt between song spiels, the interim offerings - an opening ‘Concrete’ and a punishing ‘BLOODMONEY’ from 2020’s career-changing ‘I Disagree’ finest among them - are like a Disney nightmare reimagined by Nine Inch Nails: moments of eyelash-fluttering sweetness immediately warped with industrial whelps and an impressively weighty vocal from our titular heroine.
Shortly after, HO99O9 bring their canon of abrasive anthems to the Festival Republic Stage, delivering an energetic set to a sweaty tent intent on creating their fair share of afternoon mosh pits. In the wake of Rage Against the Machine pulling the plug on their headline performance, the New Jersey trio step up to the plate to give revellers their fill of furious, socially aware punk-rap.
Over on the Radio 1 Xtra Stage, JPEGMAFIA’s twisted, experimental hip-hop sets the tent (thankfully only metaphorically) alight. Ploughing through a high energy performance, Peggy plucks tracks from throughout his hefty discography, even dusting off his 2013 cover of Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Call Me Maybe’. The show culminates in a tribute to the disbanded BROCKHAMPTON, as JPEG fires off a rendition of their 2021 collab ‘CHAIN ON’.
It’s a holy trinity of indie over on Main Stage East that lines up to see Reading through to the night. First up and arriving to a ravenous crowd are Fontaines DC, whose transition from rabble-rousing newcomers to a hefty, genuinely important band of their generation couldn’t have gone more seamlessly. Having knocked out three superlative albums in four years, the Dublin quintet are already in the position where a 40-minute set feels barely enough to touch the sides. We get a rattling ‘A Hero’s Death’ and the moody, brooding ‘Jackie Down The Line’ replete with full arms-behind-back Liam Gallagher turn courtesy of singer Grian Chatten, but there’s no ‘Big’ or ‘Too Real’ - their earliest hits already consigned sadly to the back burner. Still, a moment of pure festival-spirited joyousness arrives during ‘Boys In The Better Land’, when young fan Dexter gets pulled from the crowd to rip through its guitar riff to gargantuan cheers: Alex from Glasto, you’ve got competition.
Wolf Alice open their sundown performance with ‘Smile’, as they continue their ascent towards the summit of the lineup poster. Ellie Rowsell, whose talent was once shrouded in a thick veil of shyness, is visibly blossoming into one of the UK’s most valuable rock stars, holding the gargantuan crowd in the palm of her hand while the band juxtapose the fragile pop of ‘How Can I Make It OK?” with the frantic punk of ‘Play The Greatest Hits’. 2015 single ‘Bros’ makes for one of the day’s most poignant moments, with grainy old footage of the quartet airing on the big screens, bringing a peppering of nostalgia to the dusk-illuminated field.
Co-headlining tonight over on Main Stage West, Bring Me The Horizon indisputably know how to put on a spectacle; there’s whistles and bangs aplenty as the metal titans shower the crowd with flashing screens, pyrotechnics, dancers and even an appearance from unlikely recent collaborator Ed Sheeran for ‘Bad Habits (Remix)’. If some of their lyrics don’t quite stand up to being blasted 50ft high on a screen then, by the end of an enjoyably OTT 90 minutes, maybe you can just accept that nuance isn’t really Bring Me’s thing.
And so to the moment we’ve all been waiting for. The long-awaited return to UK soil of - arguably, probably - the best band this country has turned out this century. The day when ‘The Car’ starts its engine and shows us which road its authors have been secretly driving down on the path to LP7. Except, largely, it doesn’t: save for the debut of funk-laced, bass-strutting newie ‘I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am’, tonight is more an exercise in looking in the rearview mirror. But what a view there is to behold when they do.
Though tonight won’t quite land in the upper echelons of the Monkeys’ most iconic moments, their 2014 Glastonbury headline circa ‘AM’ setting an all-time bar for how to launch an album campaign, there’s still nothing but joy to be found from reuniting with one of the best back catalogues in modern music. An early salvo of ‘Do I Wanna Know?’, ‘Brianstorm’ and ‘Crying Lightning’ kicks things off with a bang, while the sultrier wares of 2018’s ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’ mix with broodier cuts from across their canon (‘Pretty Visitor’, ‘Do Me A Favour’) to create a tempestuous mood cemented by the cathartic purge of ‘505’. Maybe they need to pop a little more oil in the engine for the encore; we’d switch out ‘One Point Perspective’ and ‘Arabella’ for a couple of more upbeat bangers. But by this point, Alex Turner and co have earned the right to do whatever the fuck they want knowing that the criticism will only ever be measured against their own infinitely lofty bar.
Shaking off the post-Arctic-Monkeys-return comedown, Reading’s Sunday fun-day starts off with a bang as WILLOW bounds on stage armed with her pop-punk gems to help the kids fight off their three-day hangovers with a good ol’ fashioned mosh. Recent single ‘hover like a GODDESS’ from forthcoming LP ‘COPINGMECHANISM’ gets a vibrant outing, but it’s viral hits ‘Wait A Minute!’ And ‘Meet Me At Our Spot’ which get the warmest welcome.
Following her on the Main Stage, Florida rapper Denzel Curry keeps the energy, firing off bangers including ‘Walkin’ and ‘Ultimate’, the latter which sees a member of the crowd jump up on stage to try (and fail) to recreate an Alex From Glasto moment. Missed viral moment aside, Denzel is electric and commanding on stage, with the crowd disbanding into mosh pits as soon as he gives the nod.
Over to the Radio 1 Dance Stage and 100 gecs - aka hyperpop heavyweights Laura Les and Dylan Brady - arrive on stage in matching wizard outfits and proceed to make glitch-pop magic for the next 45 minutes. Tracks from their game-changing debut album ‘1000 gecs’ including ‘Stupid Horse’, ‘Money Machine’ and ‘Ringtone’ show the duo at their best, despite sound issues meaning that their bonkers pop lacks the punch it truly deserves. Following a short break during which they both bang a glockenspiel on the floor, they get down to teasing their long-awaited second output ’10,000 gecs’, dropping new tracks ‘Hollywood Baby’ and ‘I Got My Tooth Removed’ about, you guessed it, Laura getting her tooth removed.
Ashnikko follows the duo with a masterclass in show-stopping festival sets. There’s sexy dancing, witty stories, and so many bangers there’s barely a time to catch your breath post-busting a move. With highlights including ‘Slumber Party’, ‘Working Bitch and ‘Cry’, by the time she closes on ‘Daisy’ there’s no one in the tent not totally buzzing from her infectious energy.
Fresh off of a set at All Points East the day before, a slightly-hungover Charli XCX kicks off her set with fifth album ‘CRASH’ highlight ‘Lightning’, busting moves with her two backing dancers as if she’d gotten her full eight hour sleep in. Packing her set with bangers including early hits ‘I Love It’ and ‘Boom Clap’, the feral scream she lets out after introducing 2016 banger ‘Vroom Vroom’ is equalled by the adoring crowd, who eagerly dance their way over to co-headliner Halsey on Reading’s East Stage.
Having been struck down by “terrible food poisoning” while they headlined Leeds on the Friday night, the energy that they were hoping to deliver in their first headline slot is doubled in their triumphant returning Reading set. A powerful and poignant set that sees them thunder through the rock-leaning cuts from last year’s ‘If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power’ while backed by stirring visuals, Halsey proves herself to be one of the most compelling performers around. And that’s all before their closing fireworks start…
With many a trending topic having lamented tonight’s late line-up change - Zack de la Rocha’s injury causing Rage Against The Machine to cancel their whole European run - as soon as super-subs The 1975 drop the opening notes of ‘If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)’, thundering cheers greet them - and the band use the next hour and a half to prove the naysayers wrong.
“It’s. Just. Fucking. Bangers!” says frontman Matty Healy, introducing his band’s set as they power through a self-described “Greatest Hits”. ‘Love Me’ and ‘Chocolate’ get early outings, while the “best 1975 song” ‘Paris’ is followed by a fairly-new addition, ‘Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy)’ from 2020’s ‘Notes On A Conditional Form’.
Teasing October’s eagerly-awaited ‘Being Funny In A Foreign Language’, recent single ‘Happiness’ gets a triumphant response before upcoming pure-pop track ‘I’m In Love With You’ has the whole crowd singing along instantly,.
By the time the group finish the run with undisputed bops ‘The Sound’, ‘Sex’ and ‘Give Yourself A Try’, any lingering doubts have been squashed. An electrifying set put on by a band at the peak of their pop powers and loving every minute of it, their new tagline “at their very best” hardly begins to cover it.
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They’ve also shared a new behind the scenes docu-series.
They’re off on the road in August.
Their new album ‘The Car’ arrives next month.
They’ve also shared the video for their latest single ‘OK’.
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