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Festival review: Reading Festival 2018

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This bank holiday weekend, thousands of music fans headed to Reading or Leeds for arguably the biggest live event this year in Glastonbury’s absence.

Reading and Leeds festival is typically known for showing some of the best names in indie and rock. In previous years, the headline slot has been filled by bands such as Blur, Oasis, Arctic Monkeys, The Strokes and Nirvana - we all know someone whose wet dream that is.

However, this year the festival introduced more rap and urban names onto the billing, including a headline set from Kendrick Lamar, which made this year’s line-up one of the most controversial with fans in the festival’s history. Many even took to social media to declare that ‘music is dead!’ - but if anything, this weekend showed us all that is certainly isn’t.

Let’s chat about Reading Festival itself. Personally, as a Yorkshire gal, I have been going to Leeds Festival all my teen life. I’ve always believed that it was superior, but going to Reading Festival for the first time, I was open to changing my mind. I didn’t.

It depends on what you count as enjoyable, or a ‘good atmosphere’, as to which festival you prefer out of the two. With the line-up being the same, it’s the people there and the festival organisation that makes it. If you enjoy friendly northern banter with everyone you meet - Leeds. Prefer to generally keep yourself to yourself, and just enjoy your festival without fear of being set on fire? Reading. Actual, real mosh-pit fan? Leeds. Fan of half heartedly jumping around? Reading.

It was clear all weekend that Northerners do go harder - and that’s either a good or bad thing depending on what you like, but Reading simply doesn’t have those same vibes as Leeds does. There was just something missing from the heart of it.

The line-up, though? Incredible.

Opening the main stage on Friday was Big Shaq, the alter-ego of comedian Michael Dapaah who became a viral sensation with ‘Man’s Not Hot’ last year. Reading Festival literally opened with a meme! The perfect welcome for the kids.

Other acts to grace the main stage through the day included indie legends and Reading regulars The Wombats and The Kooks, who played their sets in the middle of a rap sandwich (a wrap?) made up of Post Malone and Travis Scott.

The Festival Republic stage boasted its strongest line-up on Sunday, with sets throughout the day from soon-to-be-peak-time-main-stagers King NunYonakaDream WifeThe Night Cafe and Bad Sounds.

The highlight from the BBC 1Xtra stage was certainly Steel Banglez who managed to incite absolute madness and draw a crowd so large it was pouring out the sides of the tent.

Nothing But Thieves gave their all in the Radio 1 tent, but it wasn’t long before many people left to run down to main stage for a dose of pop punk. While Fall Out Boy effortlessly played hits such as ‘Irresistible’ and ‘Sugar We’re Going Down’, Wolf Alice helped fans Hannah and Katie get engaged on stage before jumping into 'Don't Delete The Kisses'. It was a set that once again proves they’re one of the best guitar bands around at the moment.

The line-up over the whole day was great - I didn’t see a single full set due to constantly running about trying to catch whatever I could of so many cool bands. It would have been a 10/10 day - but who the fuck booked Harry Hill?

Saturday was the same - a flawless line-up where the beats of Dua Lipa’s ‘Dreams’ were complemented by the beats of the sun’s rays finally shining down. For the pop music fans, this was definitely the day to get excited about.

Dua’s set was certainly a, if not the, highlight of the whole weekend - once again proving that genre doesn’t define quality at places like this anymore. The huge mix of characters in her crowd were brought together as they joined her in chanting her new rules, and raised a middle finger in the air along to ‘IDGAF’.

Just prior to that, new-comer and BBC Sound of 2018 winner Sigrid absolutely tore up the Radio 1 stage. Sigrid is a completely raw artist - jumping around the stage with clear love of music and performing. Though we know that looks and style don’t matter, it’s refreshing as a young woman to also see another successful young woman have so much fun wearing no make-up, some baggy dungarees and hair thrown back in a ponytail. She’s come a long way since we reviewed her in October - having released her Raw EP now there was an even better vibe as fans sang along to new tracks such as ‘Schedules’ and ‘High Five’.

Pharrell Williams took to the main stage with N.E.R.D before Panic! At The Disco played a set to many mixed reactions. Online, the reaction to their set from fans has been ‘best thing I’ve seen in my life’ whereas at the festival itself, they were berated by the crowd for feeling a little subpar. It wasn’t as phenomenal as a Panic! set could, or should, have been.

Drum and bass band Pendulum played an electrifying set, sending the Radio 1 tent absolutely wild before Kendrick Lamar played his much anticipated headline show. It was perfect - whether you’re a fan of his music or not, it’s difficult not to enjoy watching something with so much passion and effort so evidently put into it. Kendrick Lamar showed us a glimpse of the new future of Reading and Leeds - a festival for all genres, all fans - something that brings everyone together.

A grim, rainy Sunday was kicked off by pop quartet Marsicans, who we’ve noted before as one of the most talented and underrated bands around right now. The ever mysterious 'secret set' slot was filled by none other than Peace, who played the tiny BBC Introducing stage to a far from tiny crowd. Sunday turned out to feel an 'indie-r' sort of day; the Reading Festival the middle aged men dream about. Aussie Britpoppers DMA's fit right in - with an ecstatic crowd welcoming them back to the festival grounds for another year. They're certainly a festival staple for years to come. 

Mancunian indie-rock Gods Courteeners hit the main stage to clouds of colourful smoke emitted from flares, commonplace during their sets no matter where they play. Courteeners are fun to see - the atmosphere is always wild, and they are good live - but they've played the same set for years now... it's becoming a little boring and during Reading they just ploughed through the same old songs in pretty much the same old order.

Punk duo Slaves put on yet another stellar performance, smashing through old favourites and new hits from recently released album Acts Of Fear and Love including particular bangers 'Photo Opportunity' and 'Chokehold'. They even covered Skepta's 'Shutdown' and did it really, really well.

One other highlight to mention, as always, is Tom Grennan. He feels like a relative newcomer, but his debut albim is one of the best of the year so far - 'Royal Highness' a particular treat. Energetic, passionate and bloody well talented.

So, let's point a middle finger up to the snobs who say 'music is dead'. Music is very much alive in all it's forms, be it a 2002 punk band begging for some kind of revival or Paul McCartney. Be it in the form of a rap or a guitar strum, a political lyric or a whining line about an ex-girlfriend. How terrible would music be only ruled by the Gallagher brothers?

Dear Reading & Leeds... please, continue with this 'controversial' line up. Music isn't clique-y - music inherently brings people together, and this line-up gave something for everyone.

See you next year.

Photos: Anna Wiggan.

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