Stormzy, Foals And More Proved That Reading And Leeds Is Still One Of The UK’s Most Vital Music Festivals
Check out our review of one the summer's best festivals HERE...
Reading and Leeds 2016 was all about artists proving themselves. For instance, Stormzy, a last minute replacement headliner on the 1Xtra stage following Travis Scott’s cancellation, said: “This is Reading Festival – they get some of the biggest bands in the world,” (acknowledging how some might be surprised at his presence at a famously rock orientated festival, despite playing the year before), yet put on one the weekend’s most chaotic shows, with mosh pits springing up everywhere and revellers climbing up the tent’s scaffolding. A$AP Rocky remarked how he was the only hip-hop artist on Sunday’s main stage line-up, yet the ‘Everyday’ rapper pulled in one of the weekend’s biggest crowds.
Meanwhile, Foals showed why they belong at the top of one the world’s biggest festivals. The Oxford outfit sounded incredible throughout, delivering a hit-packed set that even bore a treat for the group’s devoted fans: a very rare live performance of ‘Cassius’, one of Foals’ more popular songs that rarely sees the light of day. A special moment.
Boy Better Know, the grime collective featuring the likes of Skepta, JME, Wiley and more, also showed why they belonged on the main stage at the festival. ‘Shutdown’ went off. ‘Man Don’t Care’ went off. ‘It Ain’t Safe’ went off. The whole set was a triumph, proving just how far Grime has come and how the genre has been universally accepted by mainstream audiences. Following the set, nobody was left doubting that BBK belong on the biggest stages. Plus, Skepta is officially the only person who can make a lime green T-shirt and cobweb print trousers combo look cool. (Also, credit to JME for once again wearing a T-shirt with his own face emblazoned across it.) How much longer can Grime be contained within the UK? Surely the US now beckons…
Viola Beach, who tragically died in a car accident along with their manager earlier this year, were given touching tribute slot on the main stage. Presented by Radio 1’s Huw Stephens, a 15-minute video package (featuring interviews and footage of the band) was played out to a large crowd on the main stage. A classy move.
Elsewhere, Anderson .Paak (accompanied by his band The Free Nationals) delivered a high-energy set, Disclosure showed that (despite only having two albums out) they have hits by the bucket load to justify their headline slot and Courteeners claimed the award for having the most flares and smoke bombs set off during their set. Plus, Biffy Clyro showed that they really fu**ing know how to headline a festival. It’s strange to think they were only elevated to headliner status a few years ago – the trio dealt with the billing like they do it every other weekend.
No name on the Reading and Leeds bill this year stood out more than Owen Jones’. No, it wasn't a typo on the poster - The Guardian columnist, author and activist really was there - and he had an early morning slot, with the scribbler joking as he took to the stage: “why are you here? Aren’t you all hungover?” to the packed-out Alternative tent.
Serious political discussions at major music festivals are mostly reserved for Glastonbury’s Left Field area, and you might want to shout at me “YEAH, FOR GOOD REASON!” but Owen Jones was a positive addition at Reading and Leeds, and he spoke with great passion and enthusiasm about Orlando, Jeremy Corbyn, Brexit and more. Reading and Leeds might be known (to some) as the post-exams piss-up festival, its spaces crammed full of teens watching incredible artists whilst off their heads. And there (obviously) was a lot of that happening. (Rightly so.) But, despite this, it really was heartening to see so many people coming out to listen and discuss serious topics, if only for 30-45 minutes.
Reading and Leeds’ 2016 line-up was one of the most eclectic in the festival’s history. Grime, hip-hop, reggae and EDM now rub shoulders with rock, indie and metal like it’s always been that way.
Traditionalists might not like seeing Reading and Leeds veer away from its rock roots, and it’s possible that a lot of the acts on the bill might have felt that pressure - the pressure to prove that they belonged there, to fight and win people over. Apart from Die Antwoord, who were wrongly given a set during the daylight and failed to really connect with the audience, Reading & Leeds 2016 was crammed full of artists who proved that they were assets to the festival. Reading and Leeds might be changing, but it continues to be a vital festival in the UK. The future is bright. Bring on next year.