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This year’s Reading Festival boasted one of its most eclectic line-ups of late, with the curation taking in rock, pop and grime across all stages. Underground punk hero Frank Carter had his first main stage slot, and found his calling with his third band, the Rattlesnakes. Their bluesy chug — heard to full effect on their unofficial anthem “Devil Inside Me” — is a sonic update on Carter’s earlier work, and all the more accessible thanks to the hooks that permeate the base of purposeful, fuzzy hardcore-punk.
Grime is the first British musical movement in years to boast a true, distinct subculture. It made perfect sense that Boy Better Know — the collective formed by central genre figureheads Jme and Skepta — was given a prime slot on the main stage.
Solo 45’s “Feed ’Em To The Lions” offered a lyrical challenge to rival artists set to distinct clanging beats, before Chvrches’ twinkly, ethereal pop was recreated note-perfectly on stage with “Recover” and “The Mother We Share” fizzing with top-end sweetness.
Headliners Foals sounded considerably meatier and bass-heavy than they do on record, with single “My Number” standing out among a set that hinged on Yannis Philippakis’s tight and rhythmic guitar work. Breakthrough track “Cassius” had a rare live outing; it’s the source from which Foals’ distinct, clean rock originated, and their sound has evolved from its conception without losing its stamp of individuality.
Radio-friendly rockers You Me At Six were the surprise artist on the Pit stage on Saturday, and I found myself baffled at the size of the singing, swaying audience. Behind the colloquial relatability of the lyrics are rather uninventive chord patterns that sound as if they were written with the radio in mind, and rely on tried-and-tested devices such as octave jumps and repetition to flesh them out.
Slaves present a similar issue on the main stage in that their intentional, verging-on-caricature embodiment of the frustrated working class feels like a lunge for popularity rather than a heartfelt truth. Phrases such as “We are all slaves” make the right socially-questioning noises, but the ramblings of “Girl Fight”, where Isaac Holman describes witnessing women brawling while stumbling home with a takeaway, sound like a parody of the subculture they supposedly grew from.
Electronic undertones to Låpsley’s soulful chamber pop give her the feel of another current buzz act: the clean, minimalist electro pop of Christine and the Queens. Part Enya, part “I Am a Bird Now”-era Antony and the Johnsons, it’s Låpsley’s velvet lower register that will be her currency.
Whatever one feels about The Red Hot Chili Peppers, they should be applauded for their ability to infuse singles and deep cuts alike with the unmistakable funk that ensures that listeners, reluctant or otherwise, know their songs. It’s almost become a sport to declare one’s hatred for the Chili Peppers, but the instant familiarity of “Can’t Stop”, “Dani California” and “Scar Tissue” — even the laid-back groove of new cut “Dark Necessities” sounds like something they wrote years ago — makes for a set that’s reliable if predictable. The Chili Peppers’ currency is consistency, and their sound will always polarise, but as a headliner for a commercial festival, they’re an obvious choice.
Consistency was something eluding Fall Out Boy, however, as the Sunday co-headliners struggled to inspire the same passion for the dance-rock of their latest work as they did for their earlier hits such as “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down” (which they inexplicably played second despite it offering a guaranteed climax) and “Dance Dance”. Their 2013 album Save Rock And Roll struck the right balance between stadium pop and the artful, poetic rock that found them fame, and its title track, complete with Elton John impersonations from Patrick Stump, was a highlight here.
Biffy Clyro’s live sound brims with warm vocal harmonies and the earthy tones of Simon Neil’s guitar. The fullness makes them sound like a band of 10, and it’s on a stage that allows the knifepoint riffs of “Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies” and reverberating swells of “Folding Stars” to grow and permeate the air that the Scotsmen are most at home. An impassioned rendition of “Many of Horror” sounded like the distillation of empathy, loss and the human condition distilled into music; the air appeared to stand still as the weary voices of Reading rose to sing along with Neil, sharing in his lament of lost love, and fireworks escalated the last performance of the weekend to a closing ceremony.