We’re nearing the end of festival season now, and that just leaves Reading & Leeds to close the summer off with a bang. With a lineup as sprawling and diverse as ever, we give the full breakdown of what to expect this August Bank Holiday, and what you can’t afford to miss…
For a festival like Reading & Leeds renowned for keeping its finger on the musical pulse to the extent it does, it comes as little surprise that this year’s Main Stage headliners encapsulate such a wide breadth of sounds represented here. The Foo Fighters stand as the obvious connection to the festival’s rock and indie roots, and there’s still plenty of that to be found across the board – Royal Blood, You Me At Six, Enter Shikari and Twin Atlantic remain the ever-popular festival dominators they have been for years; A Day To Remember, Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes and the return of The Distillers provide a welcome crossover into heavier, more abrasive waters; The Wombats, Blossoms and The Hunna fit the indie quota nicely; and Yungblud, Milk Teeth and I Don’t Know How But They Found Me represent the new breed positioned to be household names making the jump to the biggest stages. But looking at who else is topping the bill, it shows just how wide the diversification of Reading & Leeds has become, as The 1975 and Twenty One Pilots open the doors for the most cutting-edge and contemporary of pop, while Post Malone does the same for hip-hop. In the former camp, the most notable name is without question Billie Eilish, whose world domination this year has seen her recent promotion to the Main Stage come as no surprise, alongside Charli XCX and Alma as the maverick alternatives to more traditional pop stars. As for hip-hop, both Lil Uzi Vert and Juice WRLD arrive as two of the premier names in the paradigm-shifting trap and emo-rap scenes, while the funk and soul influences of Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals and the glass-sharp UK hip-hop of AJ Tracey only serve to provide even more diverse sounds again.
A Day To Remember
It’s been rather quiet in A Day To Remember’s camp recently; in fact we’ve really not heard from them at all in the UK since 2017, and the only new music they’ve released in three years is their collaboration with Marshmello a few weeks ago. It would be only right to assume that there’s something big planned for these Reading & Leeds slots, then, especially when this is a band that, with a stage like this and the slot they’ve got, should be able to wallop this out of the park with no trouble. Indeed, A Day To Remember’s live track record has been pretty flawless in recent times, and given that their bracing fusion of metalcore with punk melodies and pop sensibilities has only gotten more and more refined over time, there’s no reason that this should be anything less that utterly show-stopping. And plus, their hits are roughly about as good as festival anthems get.
Say what you want about her, but Billie Eilish has had a phenomenal year in terms of how far she’s come and the success that When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? has reaped. The fact that she’s actually had to be moved up to the Main Stage from the BBC Radio 1 Stage to meet demand speaks volumes to that, but there’s already no doubt that she’s due to draw one of the biggest crowds of the weekend. And again, it’s not like this sort of creaking, deliberately minimalist dark-pop is for everyone, but the cult of personality around her and her sound is alluring enough, and it’ll be fascinating all the same to see if it can be pulled off again on a stage like this, just like with so many other festivals this summer. It’ll be one of the talking points of the festival regardless, and that’s not something to miss out on.
Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes
Even if End Of Suffering didn’t hit quite as hard as would’ve been preferred, there’s still every reason to believe that Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes’ Main Stage return will be one of the sets of the weekend. For one, they’ve practically become Reading & Leeds favourites over the course of the last few years, but third from the top of the entire bill is breaking new ground for them, and it’ll be interesting to see what they can bring to match up to it. Of course, Carter’s now-famous rabble-rousing within the crowd is pretty much guaranteed, but this feels like an occasion that demands even more than that. There’s sure to be some surprises overall, though a great set from one of the best British rock bands around is effectively a dead cert.
BBC Radio 1 Stage
Like the Main Stage, the BBC Radio 1 Stage provides the sort of genre cross-section of rock, indie, pop and hip-hop that runs the gamut of what Reading & Leeds offers, but sticks even more closely to the biggest artists of right now, and those looking to make their audition to hit that bigger stage, or – in the case of the indie-pop double-header of Chvrches and headliners Bastille – potentially top the bill. But again, like the Main Stage, it’s these headliners that display an impressive amount of diversity, with Dave standing as the most vital UK hip-hop artist currently working, and Mura Masa filling the more electronic niche that automatically has the benefit of no longer following Billie Eilish. And really, every camp is represented rather well; the indie side arguably boasts the most comfortable crowd-pleasers in Sundara Karma, Circa Waves, Pale Waves and The Amazons, but there’s also The Night Café, Clairo, Mini Mansions, Sea Girls, Pip Blom and Bloxx that are all primed to make some serious waves in the coming months. Meanwhile, pop and R&B is led by current A-listers Stefflon Don and Mabel, with Hayley Kiyoko, Joji and King Princess all on the cusp of making that jump, while hip-hop draws on a number of its many stripes, as Fredo and Slowthai stand as pillars of strength in UK hip-hop; Lil Baby, Gunna, Roddy Ricch and NAV arrive as some of trap’s most in-demand names, and Machine Gun Kelly splashes in further pop and rock influences for something different altogether. Finally, there’s rock, and while not as widely represented, there’s still the high-profile return of PVRIS, as well as The Story So Far and Boston Manor coming off the successes of their most recent albums, and The Faim looks to solidify themselves within pop-rock’s mainstream for good.
Dave’s Psychodrama has not just been one of the most critically-lauded hip-hop albums of the year, but one of the most critically-lauded albums, full stop. Even with the rise of UK hip-hop and its growing prominence, the fact that this is an album that’s picked up international plaudits – something that really doesn’t happen within this scene – speaks volumes to the effect it’s had. And so, it’s put Dave in the position of an artist capable of great things, something that a headline set like this really opens the doors for in terms of what exactly can be brought. He’s already proven to be a master of catching public attention with his headline-grabbing Glastonbury appearance, but this feels like the next step up from even that, topping the bill with even more potential to make those enormous steps.
In terms of the indie hype-sphere, Pale Waves’ presence does feel like a shot in the arm to some degree. My Mind Makes Noises wasn’t fantastic by any means, but now that they’ve filled a distinctly 1975-shaped hole in the scene now that band have moved to bigger things, there’s definitely reason to pay attention. And if nothing else, they’ve got all the right ammo to knock out a killer festival set in a handful of genuinely great hooks, melodies that hit that sweet spot between indie and pop, and a look and personality that makes their presence feel unique and worth it overall. It might be something of a strange choice given that there’s not a great deal behind them, but that’s usually the case with the best festival bands, and it wouldn’t be too surprising if Pale Waves head down that same path.
It’s no secret that PVRIS are among one of modern rock’s best-loved bands, and with new music just on the horizon that doesn’t look set to change anytime soon. Thus, it really does seem like a no-brainer that this set will be great, especially from a band who – in the live environment, at least – have never really put a foot wrong. There’s a sense of captivating stage presence that oozes from this band, and Lynn Gunn is the sort of vocalist that can effortlessly capture fiery highs and chilly lows in her range phenomenally well. And like we said earlier, there’s new music coming, and it’ll be an enormous shock if that doesn’t at least somewhat factor in here. Basically, just expect great things all around.
BBC Radio 1 Dance Stage
Once again standing as Reading & Leeds’ primary source for dance, electronic and house music is the BBC Radio 1 Dance Stage, with its typically rock-solid lineup of new names and established favourites spanning the electronic music landscape. The headliners only typify that solidity, comprised of drum ‘n’ bass innovator, perennial festival favourite Andy C, Scottish house wunderkind Denis Sulta, and Scouse duo CamelPhat fresh off the back of enormously successful singles like Cola and Panic Room. Of course, it’s not like other hitmakers aren’t in short supply either, with Dillon Francis and Fisher already having multiple smashes both in the UK and internationally to their names, Loud Luxury riding a tremendous high off the international success of Body, and Tough Love having some of the most immediately recognisable dance tracks of the past few years. But even then, there’s still room to for the boundaries to be stretched, as Kim Petras and Becky Hill bring in their own particular brands of pop, and The LaFontaines combine their electronic side with hip-hop, pop and indie-rock.
Dillon Francis is no stranger to festivals like these, and it’s easy to see why. There’s an affability to his work that a lot of electronic musicians can’t quite seem to muster, with the sort of propulsive moombahton hooks that always have so much personality to them. There’s no real secret to his appeal; it generally comes down to a rock-solid knowledge of electronic music and how to blend in between styles, and a sense of fun and colour that, even on its own, does a lot of heavy lifting. Nothing all too complicated then, but Francis knows how to hit all the right beats to really make this work.
There tends to be something of a token outlier most years on the Dance Stage, and The LaFontaines are categorically it for 2019. That’s definitely not a bad thing though, with a blend of indie, pop, rock, hip-hop and electronica that’s leagues ahead of their stage peers in terms of genre-mashing diversity, and with their set being so early in the day, sets the bar nice and high for what’s to come. It certainly helps that there’s an energy and verve that the band always bring live, with a playfulness and rambunctiousness that their sliding across various sounds and genres only elevates even further. By now it’s clear that people don’t really know where to keep The LaFontaines on festival bills, but it’s to their credit that they can show up and win everyone over all the same.
On paper, Tough Love might seem like an odd booking, a duo who haven’t released a single themselves since 2017 and haven’t had a charting hit since 2015. But going back to them, they still hold up remarkably well, carrying a bouncy house looseness in So Freakin’ Tight and Pony (Jump On It) that might feel slightly of its time, but has a kinetic propulsion that’s ultimately imperative for a festival set. It’s definitely more of an odd booking, that much can be admitted, but if an appearance like this and a rather late surprise announcement hints at a new well of creativity coming from this duo, this feels like a good way to get it running.
The Pit / The Lock Up
Since adopting the secondary branch of The Pit a few years ago, The Lock Up has undergone a fairly significant change, moving away from exclusively punk and hardcore in its old incarnation to something that still has that in spades, but alongside the biggest and most exciting names in all of modern rock’s scenes. And, of course, that means that emo-rap has a significant presence this year, not just with Ghostemane headlining (arguably one of the easiest conduits between a more traditional heavy rock sound and emo-rap), but bringing the current rising star of nothing,nowhere. after an unfortunate cancellation last year, alongside Paris Shadows and – to underline even more heavily how quickly this scene is evolving – Internet phenom Poppy and her blend of bubblegum pop and nu-metal. It’s not like the more traditional fare has been pushed away completely though; Bowling For Soup serve as a hefty dose of nostalgia in terms of a more punk-leaning headliner, but with Laura Jane Grace & The Devouring Mothers, PUP, FIDLAR, Plague Vendor, Press Club and Queen Zee all bringing distinct flavours of punk, and Blood Youth and Higher Power as some complementing hardcore on the side, that ethos still shines bright among so many changes. Finally, Enter Shikari return for their second set in a headline slot of deeper cuts, bringing with them plenty of the heavyweights of modern and upcoming rock, like the intelligent and irrepressible pop-rock of The Maine and Hot Milk, the seething metalcore bounce of Of Mice & Men, the titanic melodic crunch of Dream State and Puppy, and the all-encompassing energy and exuberance of Stand Atlantic and Palaye Royale.
Laura Jane Grace & The Devouring Mothers
It goes without saying that Laura Jane Grace is an important figure in modern punk, but when viewed from a musical perspective, that’s often attached to her work with Against Me!. With Laura Jane Grace & The Devouring Mothers, however, it’s a far more intimate prospect that lends itself beautifully to the smaller climes of The Pit, while still having a raucousness and firebrand energy that’ll undoubtedly make for a fantastic experience. Alongside Bought To Rot being a great album in its own right, this is the sort of set where everything falls together wonderfully, and the results are bound to reflect that.
The rise of Poppy at this point has transcended the usual rollout of ‘YouTuber makes music’ and has become something truly original in its own right. What started as a weird bedroom-pop side-project has now evolved to encompass abrasive elements of darkwave and nu-metal, while still having the porcelain, almost uncanny presence of Poppy herself front and centre. And really, the appeal of her set this weekend comes from the unknown; there’s the potential for a brand of volatility unlike anything else on the entire bill, and given the way that alternative music is trending lately, that’s something to really celebrate here.
The Maine’s rise from strength to strength has been well-documented, but it’s worth stating just how good they really are, and how, amidst a pop-rock landscape prioritising sterility and formula, a band like this genuinely pushing forward is always worth celebrating. What’s more, they’ve amassed the sort of catalogue where they can fill a decently long set with great songs and have them all hit, all while embracing a variety and pliability that’s been worn across their discography like a badge of honour. There’s no great spectacle to be expected here, but for what’s bound to be one of the sharpest, most watertight sets of the weekend, you can’t really go wrong with The Maine.
Festival Republic Stage
The main purpose of the Festival Republic Stage has always been to showcase the rising talent in rock and indie ready to shoot up the ranks in coming years, and this year seems no different. It’s worth noting, though, the bigger names that have already begun making the move, or are already all the way there, and while that can apply to all of this stage’s headliners – the off-kilter folktronica of Crystal Fighters; the slacker-indie-rap of Hobo Johnson & The Lovemakers; and the straight-down-the-middle indie of Peace – there’s still a decent amount peppering the remaining bill. Basement and SWMRS have done plenty of the last twelve months with their respective brands of grunge and garage-pop-punk, as has the candy-coated pop-rap of Hoodie Allen, the unflinchingly earnest folk-pop of Ten Tonnes, the shimmering indie-pop of Anteros, the twee yet unfailingly charming indie-folk of Cavetown, and the heady indie-R&B of The Japanese House and No Rome. Beyond that, it’s all about the new talent, with indie-rock dominating in the form of The Chats, Hockey Dad, Sports Team, Black Honey and The Snuts, though variety is still a key factor. This is perhaps best exemplified with Bakar and his unique fusion of indie-rock, grime and punk, but there’s also numerous forms indie-pop brought to the table courtesy of Night Riots, Dreamers, Bleached, Sophie And The Giants and Vistas, pop from Jeremy Zucker and Æ MAK, and R&B from Pink Sweat$.
Although they aren’t among the most ubiquitous of the current wave of indie hypesters just yet, Anteros are definitely one of the more distinctive. Their debut established themselves as band capable of real groove and melodic sharpness, delivered with a confidence that’ll see them go far. And while this mightn’t be the most high-profile set they’ll ever have, they’re probably one of the strongest candidates to see a leg-up from a set like this, ready to hit the higher stages before long if all goes well. They’ve been remarkably solid up to now, so there’s really no reason that shouldn’t be the case.
Basement have undergone something of a rebirth recently with regards to their standing in UK rock, and while Beside Myself wasn’t the greatest display of their talents to date, it did show a honing of their melodic and atmospheric chops in a way that’s turned them into a rather formidable live act. They’re certainly capable of taking to bigger stages than this, but this feels like the perfect opportunity for Basement to really consolidate the best of their current era, and that’s the most exciting thing.
It’s easy to knock Hoodie Allen down for some relentless corniness and a take on hip-hop that’s deeply rooted in upbeat pop tones that have a natural plasticity to them, but in terms of sheer hookcraft and enjoyment, he can be hard to beat in the right mood. In other words, it’s the perfect amount of exuberance for a festival crowd, bringing a lightness in touch that few hip-hop artists across the weekend can really put their names to. It’s bound to be lightweight and throwaway, but the potential for real, honest-to-goodness fun automatically negates any negative connotations that might have.
BBC Radio 1Xtra Stage
While hip-hop has arguably a greater presence than even this year, the BBC Radio 1Xtra Stage once again doubles down on that for a lineup of the hottest and most in-demand artists from grime, UK hip-hop, drill and trap. The headliners speak for themselves; Not3s has become something of a ubiquitous presence amongst UK hip-hop scenes, while Octavian stands as one of the most hyped and promising rappers in recent years, and Dappy’s appearance sees the former N-Dubz man and now scene veteran look to forge the next leg of his solo career. And to be fair, across the board these are artists who have already established profiles for themselves; Headie One, D-Block Europe, NSG, Deno, Digdat and Aitch already have multiple UK Top 40 singles under their belts, while Maleek Berry, K-Trap and Bexey have all been hotly-tipped for a while now. The stateside names aren’t being left out either, led by 2019 XXL Freshmen DaBaby and Comethazine (the former also arriving off the back of his Billboard Top 10 hit Suge), and joined by fellow US hitmakers YBN Nahmir and DaniLeigh.
In the field of interchangeable trap artists, it’s something of a blessing that DaBaby is currently seeing the huge success that he is. Suge is the sort of immediately likable hip-hop song that’s more than worthy of its US Top 10 slot, and a 2019 XXL Freshman position has already solidified him as a name to watch going forward. So, with genuine talent under his belt and hype that’s been largely deserved up to now, this feels like a well-deserved slot, not only in terms of building an international profile that he’ll undoubtedly benefit from, but also as a chance to see one of the most charismatic new figures in mainstream hip-hop before he truly blows up.
With a list of previous collaborators including Wale, Wizkid and Fuse ODG, it’s clear that Maleek Berry is making some serious waves in R&B and Afrobeat. His profile only seems to be building as well, especially with the success of recent single Flashy, and a high-profile Reading & Leeds set feels like the ideal push to really hit that level of stardom that’s coming his way. There’s also the benefit of so prominently standing out sonically from his peers across the stage lineup, yet another factor that ensures Berry is one to definitely keep an eye on.
Not3s has become one of the most in-demand artists in British R&B and hip-hop thanks to his knack for bringing in smoother melodies that congeal into some remarkably sticky hooks. It’s why his name has popped up all over the place in the past few years, though with this headline set, he now has the prime opportunity to show what he can do outside of the featuring slot. He’s arguably the most recognisable name amongst the current crop, and getting to show what he can do to this extent should be ample evidence of why.
BBC Music Introducing Stage
By far the smallest stage at Reading & Leeds, the BBC Music Introducing Stage represents the starting block for artists looking to make their leap to the level of playing festivals like this with the backing and support of BBC Music Introducing. This year the bill is headed by the arena-eyeing indie-rock of The Mysterines, the upbeat indie-pop of Marsicans and the genre-bending alt-pop-rock of LION, but there’s plenty from the UK’s underground and upcoming scenes that’s been represented here. There’s already a crop of artists here who’ve been making waves, like Kid Kapichi with their driving post-punk, or the thrashed-out garage-punk of BlackWaters, but buzz has begun to surround SPINN and Larkins with their easy-to-enjoy indie-pop, the sleek alt-pop of RØYLS and the pliable indie-rock of Alfie Templeman.
While BlackWaters’ story might be fairly conventional – meeting at university and starting their musical journey together from there – they’re hardly slouching when it comes to growth. Last year’s People Street EP picked up a fair amount of attention for indie-rock soaked in punk and garage-rock tones, and with a penchant for a heavier, more forceful presentation, it sets the bar fairly high for something impressive live. They’re still only starting out, like every act on this stage, but BlackWaters already have a level of gusto and professionalism to their music that’s sure to take them far soon.
Kid Kapichi’s Sugar Tax remains one of the standout EPs of this year so far, a snarky, quintessentially British slice of post-punk that captures the snarl and hunger of a young band raring to do more than their small stature would currently allow. With that in mind, this looks to be the perfect springboard for that, especially with the overall reception that EP and its singles received and an already formidable reputation for their live show. There’s already a lot to watch out for with Kid Kapichi, and this looks to only justify that.
If there’s one act on this stage that fits the definition of superstars-in-waiting, it’d be RØYLS. With members from both sides of the Atlantic and production from Jon Feldmann to their names already, this is a band who’ve only just released their debut EP, and yet they’re already primed for huge things. Thus, this feels like possibly the last time they’ll be hitting a festival stage this small, especially with a brand of tight alt-pop that’s shooting for the stars in a way that they’ll most likely be hitting sooner rather than later. For the scene’s next favourite band, definitely catch on to RØYLS early.
Words by Luke Nuttall
Reading & Leeds Festival takes place from 23rd-25th August at Richfield Avenue, Reading and Bramham Park, Leeds. More information can be found at https://www.readingfestival.com and https://www.leedsfestival.com.