Q: What’s 24 years old, not often wearing many clothes and capable of leading a few thousand teenagers in a rousing chorus of “you fucking wanker!”?
A: Slowthai, and he’s on top form at Reading. Opening with ‘Kodak Moment’, his set is pretty much a non-stop flurry of bangers, with occasional pauses so that he can remove another item of clothing. Two songs in, stripped to his boxers and grinning like a maniac, it’s clear that he’s got the crowd eating out of his hand.
“Does anyone here know a drug deaalller?” He asks rhetorically, drawing out the last syllable until it barely sounds like a word any more. Whether or not the crowd do, they scream anyway, knowing that this line of questioning can only lead to one song. He happily obliges, cannonballing into ‘Drug Dealer’ with enough energy to flatten a house.
A force of nature throughout, even an exodus to see AJ Tracey starting over on the main stage isn’t enough to make the energy level drop. The remaining three-quarters of the crowd just go even more nuts to make up for it. The theatrics don’t stop, either – a moment of calm between songs leads to two members of his entourage being sent into the crowd to cause chaos, and the biggest circle pit we’ve ever seen opens up, the edges almost touching the side of the tent.
By the end of the set, Slowthai’s clearly exhausted. “This next song is about ketamine.” he gasps, throwing every ounce of himself into getting through the rest of the time slot. The notes of the final track play out, and he leaves the stage, barefoot and covered in sweat. Reading won’t forget that in a hurry.
The main stage mid-afternoon slot is a tough one for any artist to fill. The sun is at its peak and shining directly on the stage, and any hope of ‘an atmosphere’ is dashed by the crowds of disinterested, slightly tipsy festival-goers who are really just hanging around because nobody they really like is on yet. Bearing all that in mind, it takes something special to cut through the noise and make an impact. Enter AJ Tracey, who does just that.
Ridiculously flashy chain swinging as he strolls onto the stage, he looks so at home that you half-expect him to start re-arranging the furniture. The confidence is well-placed, as he barely needs to sing opening track ‘Butterflies’, the crowd do it for him at a deafening volume. “The Sun’s out, so I thought we could do something summery” he shouts as the opening notes of ‘Psych Out’ play. Once again, the crowd know every word.
It isn’t just the crowd singing the whole song though, as AJ barely needs a backing track, spitting every bar perfectly and barely pausing for breath. In a genre where a lot of artists are happy to let the pre-record do the heavy lifting, it’s a refreshing change of pace.
And speaking of changes of pace, halfway through the set, opera starts playing, and AJ Tracey leaves the stage. Images of lingerie models flash across the screen, and the DJ comes on the mic “AJ’s just taking a little break,” he explains. “In fact, I think he might be cooking something back there, do you know what he’s cooking?” It’s an odd one, but the crowd know what’s going on and chants of “pasta!” are thrown on stage. AJ comes bouncing back out and plays his breakout hit as pyros go off either side of him.
Last time he played Reading, he headlined the 1Xtra stage – he was big, but he was still a genre act. This year’s main stage slot shows that he’s broken out of that box and is heading into the mainstream. In fact, judging by today’s performance, he’s already there.
Amber, bless her. The poor girl ended up being half an hour late due to technical difficulties, which meant she clashed directly with one of the biggest sets of the weekend, Billie Eilish.
The technical difficulties didn’t stop when she finally got on the stage either, meaning all of The Japanese House couldn’t hear themselves at all.
Fair play to both the band and the crowd, The Japanese House pulled it together, and we couldn’t really tell that Amber couldn’t hear herself, and the crowd still sing along and shout “we love you, Amber”.
“Thanks for staying for my set,” she says at the start. Oh, those pesky pop stars and those festivals running off schedule.
Flares. Bucket hats. Sunshhiiiyyynneee. It can only be Blossoms. Stockport’s finest take to the Main Stage to warm up for the two (two!!) headliners.
The obligatory festival band of the weekend do what they do best; be nice and chill and summery on a Saturday evening. They throw a couple of curveballs though. They walked on stage to Kanye West’s ‘Black Skinhead’(??), an appropriate choice for a bunch of blokes from Manchester, and did a cover of David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’. Standard.
Going pop. It’s a line you’ll read in a million reviews of a million bands who’ve dared to write a catchy chorus and one that’s been levelled at PVRIS in recent weeks. Dropping two new singles that push that side of the musical divide, it’s disingenuous at best to suggest that’s not always been part of their DNA. Working with shades of colour in which the interesting things happen, genre is such an outdated concept at this point that it’s far easier to qualify PVRIS by their palette. Sure, they’re comfortable in a world of high contrast black and white, but underneath that exterior, a full rainbow of possibilities glow bright. New song ‘Hallucinations’ especially feels to pulse with potential, it’s chorus a reassuring stomp of bright, big ideas. It’s rock music, sure, but more important than that, it’s far from boring.
As the first UK artist to get a spot on XXL Magazine’s coveted Freshman list, Stefflon Don hasn’t exactly been short of attention-grabbing accolades. That, coupled with her verse on Wiley’s summer anthem ‘Boasty’, are enough to boost her profile – and the anticipation for her Reading slot – into the stratosphere.
Coming on dressed entirely in silver, she opens with ‘Real Ting’ and is quickly flanked by a team of backing dancers. The crowd surge forwards as she powers through the track, dancing and rapping at breakneck speed. She pauses afterwards and walks to the front of the stage. “You guys are lit, lit, lit!” she shouts, before diving straight back in. The bass seems to be keeping time with her dance moves, and fireworks are going off every 30 seconds. It’s all A Bit Much, basically – and we’re loving it.
A machine-gun volley of tracks follows, with the energy levels through the roof throughout. More dancers come on as she performs ‘Ding-a-ling’, and soon the whole stage is a sea of perfectly synchronised limbs, all moving enough to make you dizzy. She takes a break to point out all the pretty girls in the crowd, with an obliging scream from the audience as she picks each one, but it’s a brief interlude and the party’s soon in full swing again.
“I’ve come all the way from London town to be here!” She proclaims. Now we’ve checked, and that’s only about 40 miles, so probably not enough of a distance to be bragging about. On the other hand, if we were putting on a show this good, we’d be pretty proud of ourselves too.
The pop star to backing dancer ratio at the Radio 1 stage this year has been incredible. We’ve been treated to Hayley Kiyoko, Stefflon Don and now Mabel all bringing us full dance routines every five minutes.
Sliding into the gap between both headliners, 45 minutes was just long enough for Mabel to snatch her crown as the new queen of UK pop. She rattled through ‘all of the hits’, and even though she was guest-less, the crowd more than made up for the lack of Not3s and Kojo Funds on ‘Fine Line’ and ‘Finders Keepers’.
Obviously, the tent is absolutely rammed (she’s a pop star with ONE. NAME. guys she’s a big deal), but why wouldn’t it be? She’s BRINGING IT.
Headlining Reading is a big deal for most artists, but for Post Malone, used to selling out stadiums across the world, it’s probably just another day at work. He wanders the stage delivering hit after hit and repeatedly telling the crowd how thankful he is for them, and how much it means to him that they’ve come to see him, but the energy levels rarely come from him.
Instead, it’s the absolutely massive crowd that bring the excitement, legions of people drunkenly screaming along to every song and having the time of their lives. As the set goes on, Posty does amp it up a little bit, telling us he’s going to play a song from the most recent Spiderman movie, then belatedly correcting himself as he realises ‘Into The Spider-Verse’ is no longer the newest outing for the Webslinger. There’s also the small matter of a literal wall of flames that appears on stage at one point, which consists of more pyro than the rest of the festival has seen all weekend.
As the set comes to its conclusion, though, things nosedive. “Do you mind if I play guitar?” he asks, and there’s an audible silence from most of the crowd as he starts strumming. Luckily it doesn’t last long, and the one-two punch of ‘Rockstar’ and ‘Congratulations’ swiftly correct course and put the set back on track.
At the close of ‘Rockstar’, in a moment that is clearly meant to be theatrical but comes off as farcical, Post Malone walks over to an acoustic guitar, lit by a single light. He gravely picks the guitar up and smashes it on stage – it’s truly cringe-inducing.
All in all, the performance leaves mixed feelings. When he gets it right, Post Malone is untouchable, and his fans are some of the most dedicated around. But it’d be nice if he stuck to what he’s good at (pop-rap bangers) rather than just doing whatever he feels like (badly playing guitar).
The set is also soured somewhat by the context. Trap, a predominantly black genre from America’s deep South, is now so firmly entrenched in the mainstream that it can command a headline slot at Reading festival – but only if the person delivering it is white and from upstate New York. That’s not a criticism of Post Malone or his set, but it’d be nice if he gave a more explicit nod of acknowledgement to the genre that he rode to the top.
Read standalone reviews for Billie Eilish and Twenty One Pilots.