Declan McKenna’s big return gets even bigger at Reading 2023

A huge main stage showing at Reading reminds us of the true scope of his work and fanbase.

Words: Finlay Holden.
Photos: Patrick Gunning.

Having recently dropped his first new material in two years, we all knew Declan McKenna was about to make a big return, but a huge main stage showing at Reading reminds us of the true scope of his work and fanbase.

Eclectic, grand, adventurous, rapturous; there simply aren’t enough adjectives to pin down this born performer. Having launched his career straight into the stratosphere with THAT early single, cemented his abilities with the debut album to follow and then completely reinvented himself for 2020’s otherworldly ‘Zeros’, McKenna remains dynamic as he moves into a new era.

Stumbling on stage with a repurposed metal detector, Declan falls straight into the guitar lines of ‘Why Do You Feel So Down?’ and the adoring arms of his “spiritual home”. A flock of toy seagulls fly the sonic skies of current single ‘Sympathy’, but amongst the sea of faces their numbers are dwarfed – better up that inflatable budget next time, Dec.

‘Key To Life On Earth’ and ‘Isombard’ follow McKenna’s rapid bounce between projects, while a robotic impersonator ushers in something new; ‘Nothing Works’ dives into a whole new world with a fluorescent, bouncing energy that totally contradicts ‘Sympathy’. We might have no idea where exactly he’s going next, but the common denominator is a whole lot of fun – Declan and crew toast to that very sentiment.

With flags adorning the front few rows, there is, of course, the one song that got us here in the first place. Contrasting fresh offerings with old hits, shoulders are mounted en masse before a single lyric or even wail of ‘Brazil’, a song that has become an indie anthem for a generation of teens.

Whirring back into action for the explosive ‘British Bombs’, back-to-back political statements disguised as bangers prove just how much the young artist has to say. Already conquering the world aged 24, the path ahead is for Declan alone to carve out.