FEATURE: The Detail’s in the Devil: Have We Seen the Best of the Reading and Leeds Festivals?




The Detail’s in the Devil


IN THIS PHOTO: A shot from this year's Leeds Festival/PHOTO CREDIT@matteachus 

Have We Seen the Best of the Reading and Leeds Festivals?


THE brilliant festivals at Reading and Leeds


IN THIS IMAGE: An early line-up poster for the Reading and Leeds Festivals (there have been alterations since)/IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

have seen some magnificent line-ups through the years. I will mention a few years that have gone down in history but I wonder, as the festivals diversify and widen, whether we will see the Devil’s favourite music making a return. I love the fact Hip-Hop and Pop can find a place at Reading and Leeds but I wonder whether it is in the true spirit of the festivals. There are festivals for Pop and Hip-Hop artists and, whilst it is important to be as all-inclusive as possible; are there any huge Rock festivals that bring explosions and the best bands tearing the place up?! Maybe there are some smaller festivals making headway but we really do not have any big festivals that promote and showcase awesome, kicking bands. Think about the last couple of Glastonbury line-ups and this year’s Reading and Leeds Festivals. I think it is grand Dua Lipa has played the main stage and is getting props – her eponymous album charted well and got some big reviews. It is important, at any festival, to diversify and open up the line-up, especially when it comes to gender and race. Having a less blokey and white line-up in any situation is always good. I do not object to more genres splicing alongside the best Rock acts around but, when looking at this year’s line-up and the best artist high up the bill is Kendrick Lamar – a U.S. Hip-Hop artist who can bring plenty of passion and fire to any gig.

It is not his inclusion I object to. Look at the so-called ‘big’ and ‘great’ names working alongside him: Fall Out Boy, Kings of Leon and Panic! At the Disco. Not only are those bands past their best but they do not have the songs, clout and reputation to inject credibility. Old hands like Muse are still kicking about and, apart from them, where are the traditional Rock artists who used to define the festivals? I like the fact there is a broadening of tastes and sounds but you still need to have that core of Rock/Alternative acts – where do those who love that kind of sound go to?! There are plenty of bigger, hard acts that could headline and enthral Reading and Leeds but there is still that problem where festivals are booking older, weaker acts based on past glories and their back catalogue – popular once but no longer cool and relevant! I agree it is rather fruitless comparing music of the past vs. today and living back then. Maybe there is a deterioration in terms of quality but you can argue music is much more diverse and eclectic now. I am glad acts like Post Malone have made the cut this year but I worry about the headliners and the fact that, in fact, festivals like Reading and Leeds are becoming safer and less exciting. It is great to see people’s minds opened to new music and a wide spectrum but how many will go away from this year’s event with a head full of memories?!


IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

More and more, it is down to smaller festivals like Camden Rocks to provide the sort of music that gets people bouncing, singing and thrilled. Now, less than one-third of festival headliners are Rock bands. We are embracing different genres but I think the decline speaks about the state of Rock and whether festival headliners are interesting in this day and age. This article highlights some of the Rock acts playing at this year’s event. Shame, Starcrawler; The Sherlocks and Shed Seven have pitched up and there is an argument that Reading and Leeds is aimed more at a younger audience in a streaming age – where you have a wider range of sounds that reflect changing times and a break from the past. I can get behind the assumption and view that there are some good artists around putting fizz into Reading and Leeds and it is good there are other genres mixing into the blend. My argument comes when we look at those BIG NAMES that are top of the bill and you salivate over. Look back at 1990 when Inspiral Carpets and the Pixies were topping the bill; 1992 had PJ Harvey, Nirvana and Public Enemy playing; 1995 had Smashing Pumpkins and Neil Young play Reading; Blur and The Charlatans were playing the festivals in 1999; Beastie Boys and Garbage were big draws in 1998; Oasis and Pulp featured in 2000; Arctic Monkeys and Radiohead provided tantalisation in 2009.


IN THIS PHOTO: One of this year's Reading and Leeds artists, Dua Lipa/PHOTO CREDIT: Erik Madigan Heck for GQ

Any one of those years would have got me out of my seat and over to Reading! It was nine years since Reading saw Radiohead rule and, whilst the line-ups before 2018 were less diverse and interesting; there was a lot more excitement, theatre and memorability. I am not slamming Reading and Leeds at all because they are not the only ones culpable. Aside from Radiohead’s headline appearance at Glastonbury last year; how many recent years have been defined by truly epic and pulsating sets?! We are living through a time where there is more choice and great options than any other time in music history. You have thousands of artists emerging and it seems, for all the variation, there are few artists capable of providing a scintillating and epic headline set. I am not even talking about Rock and keeping things pure: a huge act like Beyoncé or Cardi B, to replace the older and boring acts like Fall Out Boy, would be better. I know it is not healthy looking back and thinking everything now is weaker now than back then – although there is truth in that – but I feel big festivals like Reading and Leeds are comprising quality and excitement in order to be broader and more inclusive.

I welcome a wider community but I look at the poster for this year’s festival and it makes me sigh. There are few acts I would see and, considering the cost of one day there, are punters getting value for money? Fine if you want to see a line-up that reflects your Spotify playlist and tastes but why books fading and bygone acts like Kings of Leon?! They have not made anything decent in years. Fall Out Boy are distantly average and Sum 41…there must be more recent artists who are worthy of slots?! All the finest acts are lower down the bill why the headliners, aside from Kendrick Lamar, are distinctly boring. I realise music has changed since the 1990s but I am not suggesting we go back and feel anything that does not measure up to the 1992 line-up is inferior. There are many positives to be found in this year’s line-up. Upcoming artists like Wolf Alice and Dua Lipa are great bookings but look at artists high up the bill like The Kooks and The Wombats! You cannot blast those who are nostalgic and then book artists who have not recorded anything new and are being booked based on their past glories. If you want to take that approach then why not book decent and edgy artists! Don’t go for obvious bands like Foo Fighters and Muse: throw Arctic Monkeys back in there or get Chrissie Hynde ruling the stage! In order to reflect the modern times, we are doing well regarding equality – more women and minority artists – but lacking distinct quality at the top of the bills. Long gone are those titans artists that could get you sweating before you have even bought a ticket; a weekend that you will kill to attend – do you really look at this year’s Reading and Leeds Festivals and open your eyes wide. I don’t. Hooray for progression and sonic boldness but will the Devil smile and feel there is enough to keep the festival fires burning?! Based on the ‘big’ names booked for this year – and rain lashing as we speak – it seems, in many ways, a lot of the magic and passion…


 IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

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