Legends of live music or rite of passage for school leavers, monumental in rock history or trying too hard to cover all bases; there are all kinds of views to be found on Reading and Leeds, and as one of the UK’s major festivals it’s likely that most music fans will have one. Reading was my first festival, back in 2011 as A Levels faded into oblivion and the prospect of abandoning the south for University in Liverpool drew closer and closer. And you know what? As an entry level first time festival, it was a lot of fun.
I fell in love with Big Deal and Little Comets in the cramped corner of the Festival Republic stage, and was blown away by the sheer force of Crystal Castles in the NME tent. The Strokes were pretty good, even if Julian Casablancas sang with the air of someone who’s been dragged along to their own birthday party, and Muse played Origins of Symmetry in full to a crowd of mostly bemused students whom the magic was lost on. I see the appeal of toasting albums when headlining festivals, but it just wasn’t the right audience. It wasn’t till Plug In Baby that the crowd fully went for it.
Anyway, I’m dwindling in festival nostalgia territory here, but it’s worth noting that this was the Reading when the only hint of anything other than rock was the Dance Stage on Friday. Now it’s a gigantic behemoth that tries to cover all bases in a Glastonbury-type manner. Glastonbury gets away with it because it IS Glastonbury, but Reading and Leeds’s attempt to become the festival of all trades means it often spreads itself too thin. Bear that in mind as the headliner debate unravels.
I’m going to go through the festival headliners day by day and offer my thoughts accordingly:
Friday: Foals and Disclosure
Both of these acts, for me, are a no brainer. Foals’ frenetic, draining live performances have always been destined to steer them to the top of festival bills, and they’ve already proven they’re capable of it, having headlined Latitude back in 2013. What Went Down, while not their strongest album, certainly channels the more ferocious elements of their previous efforts, and will work wonders on the Main Stage.
Similarly, while Disclosure’s second effort Caracal might not have had the same impact as Settle, they certainly have enough tunes in their arsenal to make for a memorable set to finish Friday off. And just think of the number of guest vocalists across their releases! There’s bound to be a few surprises along the way. More than anything, the duo’s style highlights the festival’s desire to expand the sound of the two sites, a trend which can only be healthy for the festival community as a whole.
Saturday: Red Hot Chili Peppers
Maybe it’s just me, but having spent my early teenage years basking in the glow of Stadium Arcadium, the follow up I’m With You just didn’t make the same impact. It took five years for that to be released, and five more have passed since then. I’m not disputing their legacy for one moment- one listen of Blood Sex Sugar Magik would dissuade me from ever doing so- all I’m asking is, just what do the Chilis mean in 2016?
Having said that, they also tick a lot of boxes to be headline material at Reading and Leeds; they’ve clocked up enough years to know how to carry a crowd, and they’ve enough hits to pack their slot fit to burst. Finally, maybe my adolescent adoration of Stadium Arcadium is getting to me, but I would argue they also carry enough nostalgia for many music fans to build up the crowd’s endearment as the night goes on.
Sunday: Biffy Clyro and Fall Out Boy
Writing this next one is going to be tough. I’ll get Fall Out Boy out of the way first: as much as I wasn’t that fussed about American Beauty/ American Psycho, it was another solid effort from a band who have had an incredibly successful comeback. Their early pop punk gems combined with their new pop rock singles will make for a winning set.
Now, I love Biffy Clyro. They gave me imagination for feeling young, and I still can’t decide whether I think Puzzle or Infinity Land is their best album. 2013’s Opposites had several stellar tracks that were full on alternative anthems, but stripped of the math-rock and post-hardcore tinges that characterised their early releases, it was probably their safest album to date. Yet its success made them all the more capable of stepping up to headline Reading and Leeds.
Three years later, the Biffs are headlining again, and I wonder if enough has happened to warrant them doing so. We’ve been told April or May is when to expect their latest effort, but even if the goods are delivered on time, is that enough time to let the record fully sink in? Hordes of Glasto-goers have criticised the decision to put Coldplay on top for the fourth time, but five years feels more like a suitable gap, and at least they’ve had two albums out in between.
Overall, I want more of Friday night. There are countless bands that made a mark in 2015 that deserve to be given a shot at headlining status; funnily enough, Latitude, the first to give Foals headliner status, has done the same this year with The Maccabees. More festivals should be following their lead and give new timers a chance to make their debut- we don’t want to be ten years down the line with a serious drought of main stage closers. Or maybe Reading and Leeds will just try and knock us with six in 2017?