Review: Reading Festival 2015

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FRIDAY

A week’s worth of rain had left the campsites resembling the Dead Marshes of Middle Earth by Friday morning, so the yet untrodden arena floor outside the main stage was thankfully solid by comparison. Mariachi El Bronx provided a gentle soundtrack to sooth the hangovers from the night before. This year’s festival was host to a large number of duos, and the first of those was Drenge. From their performance it was clear that the hype surrounding them is justified. Palma Violets injected some life into the increasingly wet and muddy crowd with their energetic set. Fans seemed to be taking well to Panic! At the Disco‘s new musical direction, whilst they also dropped in a cover of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody‘, prompting the first big singalong of the weekend. Another band that has taken a shift in direction recently is headliners Mumford & Sons. New songs such as ‘Believe‘ and ‘The Wolf‘ were perfectly suited to the setting they found themselves in, and the band seemed right at home on the big stage. If Friday’s headline performance was anything to go by then this may have been the first of many major festival headline slots for these chaps.

The Struts are one of Britain’s brightest hopes for the future of rock music, and they proved that with their brief but captivating set on the NME/BBC Radio 1 Stage that was an early highlight and a tough act for others to follow. Old-school emo torchbearers American Football were welcomed back to the UK like heroes by their fans, before Don Broco continued their meteoric rise in their fifth consecutive appearance at Reading. Swim Deep effortlessly turned the clock back to 1991 with their retro indie tunes, then made way for fellow Brummies Peace, whose more psychedelic take on a similar formula was equally well-received. Where these bands put a fresh spin on their 90’s forbearers, Limp Bizkit merely sounded dated by comparison. Their continued success is something of an enigma; a huge crowd gathered to watch the Nu Metal pioneers, but aside from a ferocious ‘Break Stuff‘ the most interesting moment of their set was a verbatim rendition of Rage Against the Machine’s classic ‘Killing In The Name‘.

The Ramona Flowers were a little different to some of their peers on the BBC Radio 1 Dance Stage, but their pleasant combination of indie and electronica won over some new fans. Over in the Lock Up tent, The Bots played a blinder; the young duo from L.A. showed that they have talent beyond their years. Later on, The Bronx made their second appearance of the day, albeit in their original, hardcore punk incarnation. They made short work of proving why their ferocious live reputation is so well-deserved. Equally well-deserved was New Found Glory‘s headline status on the bill. The pop-punk pioneers drew from their vast catalogue of anthems, and dropped in a punked-up cover of Mumford & Sons’ ‘The Cave‘ in case anybody present was thinking twice about missing the main stage headliners. The closing, classic ‘My Friends Over You‘ got the whole tent jumping, ending the night on a high note.

SATURDAY

Babymetal have generated a lot of interest in recent times, and that was reflected in the large crowd that gathered to see them so early on Saturday’s main stage. To say they are a bit odd is an understatement, but this trio of synchronized dancing, singing Japanese teens are backed by some fantastic musicians and have the tunes to complement their somewhat bizarre stage show. L.A. punks FIDLAR had a tough act to follow, but they showed they’re more than up to the task. Marmozets upped the ante once again – the Bingley math-rockers looked like they were having the time of their lives on their first main stage appearance at Reading as they put on one of the highlight performances of the weekend. You could tell there were a lot of Pierce The Veil fans present on Saturday by the amount of rainbow tie-dyed T-shirts bearing their name that were frequently dotted around the field. They continued the day’s run of excellent performances, making it look easy. Relative newcomers Royal Blood have done incredibly well for themselves in their short existence – a number one debut album, a support slot with the Foo Fighters, and now third on the bill on Reading’s main stage. The Brighton duo went down predictably well with their adoring crowd, and surely won over a whole load of new fans. Another band with a bright future is Bring Me The Horizon – their new album has only just come out, but it’s clear that this upcoming material is their best work to date. ‘Happy Song‘ and ‘Throne‘ were greeted with the same enthusiasm as long-established favourites like ‘Chelsea Smile‘. Seeing one of the largest crowds of the weekend devotedly singing along to every word made one wonder whether they’re witnessing the next generation’s go-to rock festival headliners. For now though, that position remains with Metallica. This was their fourth appearance atop the Reading bill, and although they may be getting a bit rusty in some areas (we’re looking at you, Lars Ulrich), frankly they don’t care what you think. Frontman James Hetfield was in his element and has never sounded better. Songs were played from throughout the band’s long career, including the often neglected Load and Reload albums. ‘King Nothing‘ received its first UK live outing since 1999, but it was the likes of ‘Battery‘, ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls‘ and ‘One‘ that most people were there to see. A three-song encore, culminating in the obligatory ‘Enter Sandman‘ rounded off the night’s events very nicely.

It was incredible how London punks Slaves could get such a powerful sound out of their minimalist setup. They didn’t just expect the attention of the NME/BBC Radio 1 Stage audience – they demanded it, with a raucous run-through the thick end of their recent debut album, and a touching tribute to drummer Isaac Holman’s late goldfish, Gerald. Soon after, South African post-grungers Seether took the Festival Republic stage by storm with their moody chartbusters of the last decade. The BBC Introducing Stage was crammed with fresh talent. Psychedelic garage rockers Crosa Rosa were a highlight, wowing those present with tunes from their rather excellent debut EP Pantophobia. Demob Happy also made a good impression with their similar fare, showing that the future is bright for British rock.

Things weren’t quite running to schedule by the time And So I Watch You From Afar hit the stage in The Pit, but the slightly altered schedule didn’t bother their audience, who were too entranced by their delightfully atmospheric noodlings to care. Baroness premiered a song from their upcoming album ‘Chlorine and Wine‘, which seems set to become a live staple. Gojira lived up to everybody’s expectations and all but flattened the place with their crushingly heavy grooves. Events were closed on Satuday by spooky Swedes Ghost. ‘New’ frontman Papa Emeritus III exerted his command over the congregation, leading them through their dark sermon. Some people snuck off early to see Metallica, but the devotion of the few was rewarded with a finale of ‘Monstrance Clock‘. All hail the church of Ghost!

SUNDAY

Lonely The Brave drew quite a large crowd for their early set. Their perfect blend of arena rock anthemics and soulful melodies were well suited to the open air setting, though many seemed more interested in sitting back and nursing their hangovers than paying much attention to what the band had to offer. Against Me!, however, demanded the attention of the gathered masses, as they delivered 45 minutes of searing punk rock fury. The news that The Gaslight Anthem are soon to enter an indefinite period of hiatus came as a huge disappointment to their legions of fans, but this was quite a send-off. The Cribs had a tough act to follow, but they made light work of the task – the band of brothers gave a master-class in hooky indie rock. The Maccabees were welcomed back to Reading with open arms after the inevitable success of their new album, Marks To Prove It. They may only be a month old, but songs from this album were greeted like old favourites, and rightly so! Surprisingly, the crowd seemed somewhat thinner by the time The Libertines hit the stage, but that didn’t do anything to curb their enthusiasm. Their renewed vigour is evident in the new material they displayed – songs like ‘Fame and Fortune‘ and ‘Gunga Din‘ fitted right in alongside the likes of ‘Up The Bracket‘ and ‘Can’t Stand Me Now‘. There were a few issues – the guitars were sometimes painfully out of tune, and Pete Doherty made more than a few slip-ups in his playing, but you couldn’t knock the raw energy that emanated from the stage. The entire field sang along to the distinctive guitar hook of ‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun‘, bringing the weekend to a close in style.

Those looking for something a bit different to start the day went to watch The Skints on the NME/BBC Radio 1 Stage. It’s doubtful that any of them regret making that decision. As the eclectic London quartet blazed through their short set, it was plain to see why they’re being hailed as the future of British reggae. “I bet you’re all still up on your party drugs from last night!” said guitarist/singer Josh Waters Rudge as he addressed the audience – even if that wasn’t true, it looked like half the crowd gathered for house superstar deadmau5 would be up well into the early hours of the following day! His masterful mixing-on-the-move approach to the performance made it more than just a DJ set, and he successfully kept the whole, packed-out tent rocking for the duration of his time on stage.

Bristolian alt-rockers Turbowolf absolutely never disappoint live, and the Sunday in The Pit was no exception. The crowd reciprocated their enthusiasm tenfold, culminating in an excellent play-through of ‘Let’s Die‘. However, even Turbowolf looked tame in front of Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes. Frank may not have played punk since his exit from Gallows in 2011, but it’s clear he hasn’t lost any of the fire he had back then – he wasted little time in crowd surfing all the way to the sound desk at the back of the tent to sing ‘Devil Inside Me‘ before heading back to the stage. He may have been feeling the pressure due to his wife and nine month old baby watching from the side of the stage, but it was another success in a career full of successes. Another Frank hitting the stage was Frank Iero with his band The Cellabration. Although the sound was as muddy as the ground outside, the former MCR man seemed to be enjoying his creative freedom. There were plenty of crowd surfers as Cancer Bats continued the punk rock fury. Frontman Liam Cormier frequently ventured down to the barrier to scream along with the hardcore fans and gave high-fives all round before they left the stage. While She Sleeps had a hardcore following already in place, poised ready to sing their hearts out to every song. Their devotion is clearly not misplaced, as the band tore through 45 minutes of blistering metalcore. If they continue on like this, it can’t be long until they join their steel city comrades Bring Me The Horizon at the top of the pile of modern metal bands. There is no doubt, however, that the headline slot belonged to Refused. The fact that nobody paid them much attention the first time around has been made up for by the love they’ve been shown by just about every punk-oriented metal band that has come out since their classic The Shape Of Punk To Come album back in 1998. Since reforming in 2012 they’ve gone from strength to strength and are still a force to be reckoned with in a live setting. The material from this year’s Freedom sounded just as fierce as anything from their original tenure. Frank Carter popped back to lend his voice to ‘The Deadly Rhythm‘ and ‘New Noise‘ which sounded incredible. By the time they exited, the crowd were literally begging for another song, but it was not to be. What a way to finish the weekend!

All in all, it was another fantastic year for Reading Festival that leaves one to wonder how the promoters can possibly top this bill next year. Only time will tell…

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