Now a faint shimmer of its former rock purist roots, Reading Festival has rightfully shifted with the times to diversify its line ups year on year. And although (for the most part) it’s now synonymous with boozy post-results blow outs, top 40 crowd pleasers and corporate advertising, it’s long standing festival charm still shines through.
As fresh faced punters spilled into the arena on Friday, the buzz in the air was palpable. And no wonder really, with scorching heat and a star studded line up cemented for the weekend, there was plenty to be excited about.
Drawing huge numbers to the Festival Republic stage, Joji’s artsy amalgamation of R&B and synthpop conjured essential midday listening. The former gross dares Youtuber (aka Filthy Frank) proved he is so much more than an internet gimmick.
Then, hopeful producing duo Prospa - with only a handful of releases under their belts - brought the spirit of the 90s back to the Dance tent, channeled through euphoric vocals, rave anthems and punchy breakbeats.
Drawn in by the sea of Bowling for Soup tees strewn across the festival site, The Lock Up seemed like the alternative go-to destination to end the evening. A pop punk trip down the nostalgia tunnel with bangers like '1985' and 'Girl All The Bad Guys Want' causing just the right amount of singalong chaos.
Without doubt, the talk of Saturday came from Billie Eilish. Her early set time seeing one of the busiest moments of the entire festival. Responding to constant name chants she humbly asked the crowd to “shutup”, somewhat overwhelmed by her own meteoric rise to obscure-pop stardom.
Of course this did nothing to impede a worthy performance of big energy and fan favourites.
Shifting the tone to darker sentiments, Ghostemane shredded the Pit to pieces as skies outside melt to black. The heavy mash up of metal, trap and contorted bass inspiring constant eruptions of mosh pits and one epic wall of death.
But who else other than Andy C could tie up the day’s proceedings so spectacularly? The four deck, double drop artisan flexed his usual DJ masterclass at the Radio 1 Dance stage, ebbing and flowing through vocal liquid, jungle breaks and crunchy DnB for two flawless hours.
Now it’s easy to talk up the main acts but there’s a whole buffet of alternative talent to be scouted at Reading too. The Smirnoff Waterfall, a hidden little Disco oasis, championed the grooviest of up and coming talent with acts like Anz and Boyoca shining through.
If it’s further surprises you want the Alternative stage had it covered, showing everything from impromptu DJ sets, to stand up comedians and, for this year, a political takeover hosted by Extinction Rebellion. And then there’s BBC Introducing, featuring ones-to-watch from all styles and genres.
Refusing to slow down, Sunday witnessed a double hitter from Reading regulars Enter Shikari. The familiar nu-metal meets electronica rockers tore up the intimate Pit and open air main stage in equal measure. Keeping levels up, Chris Lorenzo and Chris Lake’s collaborative project Anti Up continued to breathe new life into the flagging masses. The prolific producers merging their skilful grasp on the Bass and House genres into something refreshingly different.
Despite knock out performances from headliners The 1975 and Post Malone, it was rock hall-of-famers Foo Fighters that really brought home the bacon. “We’ve been doing this for over 25 years” says front man Dave Grohl, wowing the audience with extended guitar licks, instrument swaps, and even a raised platform drum solo.
It’s polished, it’s gnarly and exceptionally well rehearsed. A surprise on-stage appearance from Rick Astley further added to the timeless band’s showy, madcap presence.
With fireworks exploding over head, and sweat dripping off every battered body in the front pit, there could be no better climax or nod to Reading’s long, illustrious rock history - celebrated by a band who’ve been grinding it from the start.
Words: Kristian-Birch Hurst / Image: Festival Republic