Reading Festival gets off to a blinding start with Bloxx, No Rome, Pale Waves, Dave and more

Bangers o'clock.
Photo credit: Jamie MacMillan / Dork

What makes you an indie? It’s sort of a generational thing, right? The scuffs on your bucket hat will set the reference point. But 2019’s vintage isn’t about just boring old lads with their North West guitar shuffle and not-so-vintage biker jacket. It’s a wider, more high fidelity church; one at which Bloxx are leading the Friday afternoon service.

Opening up the BBC Radio 1 stage, they’ve grown into a well-oiled machine. While dressed all in monochrome, musically they’re a veritable rainbow of slightly off-kilter delights. A faded-by-design filter that sits just off the alt-pop high way, ‘Monday’ might be chronologically challenged, but it sounds like a proper Reading anthem in waiting. By the time it descends into full-on riff-riding, any deal is firmly sealed. In Fee Booth, there are the green shoots of a proper indie icon in waiting. ‘Coke’ shows an ear for a song that befits a band far higher up the poster, while ‘Novocain’ broods admirably for a day of bright summer sun. “I won’t wait until you figure it out,” it proclaims. Very apt.

Starting your set with ‘nobody loves the opening band’, when you aren’t in fact actually the opening band, is a brave slice of accidental shade. Referencing the fact you’re using a backing track may be even braver. Still, there’s something bulletproof about iDKHOW. Dallon Weekes has brought all his Panic! pedigree with him, as the two-piece funk pop their way across Reading’s biggest arena. There’s star power here aplenty.

Reading’s original new band stage, the Festival Republic tent is supposed to be a proving ground for new artists. It doesn’t really feel to be that way for No Rome. But then, that’s pretty obvious, given tonight’s headliners. The secret sauce behind so much of The 1975’s recent flourishes, it’s no shock to anyone to see the brightly coiffured popster pull a mighty crowd. Though there are some early sound issues, that direct link to the hottest band on the planet right now isn’t simply about association. On his own right, Rome possesses a smart brain for the organic, but a talent for delivering it glorious 4K high definition. By the time closer ‘Narcissist’ rings out, there are as many recording phones in the air as there are arms. Every word sung back, there’s something special brewing.

Reading isn’t just about Real Music anymore, oh no. We’ve just witnessed a proper pop concert happen at tea time in a circus tent, thanks to Hayley Kiyoko. Has anyone done four separate dance breaks in a half an hour set at this festival? We need some answers, maybe history has been made here. What is actually quite the historical moment though, is the number of pride flags getting waved in the air and the fact that everyone in this packed out tent is screaming the lyrics to ‘Girls Like Girls’. If there’s a bridge to a gayer, poppier Reading festival, Hayley Kiyoko is building it. All hail the Lesbian Jesus.

Guess the band: “This is pretty fucking emo for us”. Obviously, it’s Pale Waves. The emo-pop overlords took to the Radio 1 stage on Friday evening to absolutely smash it, basically.

They’ve long been compared to their Dirty Hit big brothers, The 1975, sometimes out of laziness but sometimes with good reason. Today it’s the latter. With just a few hours until The Band At Large take to their headline slot, it’s easy to see why Pale Waves could follow in their footsteps.

Heather Baron-Gracie is on top form. The temptation to stand behind the mic cradling her guitar is gone, as she bounces around the stage, giving drummer Ciara a cuddle at one point, and flinging her guitar to the side as she gets into the crowd towards the end of the set.

There’s only one slow jam in the whole set, ‘My Obsession’, but the rest is bangers dot com, peaking early at ‘Television Romance’ and ending on a major high with debut ‘There’s A Honey’.

Being the big Pale Waves stans us Dorks are, we’ve seen them a few times (just a few, mind), and can confirm this is one of the best times they’ve ever done this playing live malarkey. They look chuffed to bits with themselves about it as well.

Now, of course, we hope these four go right to the top of the main stage, but this weekend they’ve proved they’ve got the chops for it. They’re a charisma machine with more than enough tunes to go around. Another album and they’ll be unstoppable.

There are no surprises with Royal Blood and their full-bodied sonic assault. That’s not what they’re about. Direct, propulsive and making an unholy din, there’s no doubt that they’ve got the ability to connect on a primal level. Joined on stage by a pair of backing singers, it’s still that bass-and-drums, rhythm section gone rogue assault that drives them forwards. There are new songs in the set – ‘Boilermaker’ has a strut that feels positively confrontational – but it’s those radio monsters that properly do the damage. As they finish with a thundering ‘Out Of The Black’, there might be nothing subtle about Royal Blood, but they won’t be forgotten soon.

With Royal Blood on the main stage and Circa Waves in the Radio 1 tent, it’s Reading’s very own indie lad jamboree. Despite the clash, Circa Waves take to the stage of a very full tent full of very loud fans (buoyed by ‘Mr Brightside’ getting played over the speakers before they come on).

They don’t waste any time, either, smashing straight into ‘Wake Up’, complete with on-stage fireworks – it’s enough to rouse anyone from their evening nap. After sprinting through three or four more tracks, they finally pause for breath, lead singer Kieran surveying the crowd before shouting “We’re Circa Waves and we’re from Liverpool, Reading, are you with us?” The response is deafening.

As far as crowd interaction goes, that’s about it. There are a couple of predictable calls to “open this pit up”, but other than that the band focus on nailing song after song, hyping up the crowd on the force of bangers alone. Towards the end there’s a call for everyone to get on each other’s shoulders, before Kieran smiles and jokingly says “thanks for coming to see us instead of Royal Blood”. There’s a final massive cheer and the band go out with a bang. The winner of the indie jamboree is still undecided, but there’s no doubt that Circa Waves put on a hell of a show.

If you’d told us a few years ago that 2019’s hottest new act would be a rapper who was called Dave, we probably would’ve laughed you out of the room. Well, maybe not, we aren’t that mean, but we probably wouldn’t have believed you.

With that in mind, it’s rather surreal to be standing in a rammed full tent as thousands of screaming fans anxiously await his arrival and chanting ‘Oh, Thiago Silva’ at a deafening volume. The lights dim: cue the screaming. The sound guy comes on to test the mic: more screaming. It’s a level of devotion most acts spend a lifetime trying to achieve.

When he does emerge, Dave immediately leaps into ‘Psycho’, the first track off his blistering debut. That’s when it all gets a bit lively, with mosh pits opening up to the edge of the tent and an army of bucket hat clad teenagers singing along to every word. Dave stands there grinning from ear to ear. “you lot can sing better than me!” he says, before leading the crowd in a rendition of ‘Voices’ that puts shivers down the collective spine.

Not that it’s all contemplation and singalongs; there’s flames, fireworks and smoke throughout the show, and enough high energy bangers to keep the crowd leaping around for the entirety of the set.

That’s without even mentioning the obligatory Chosen One, plucked from the crowd for ‘Thiago Silva’. “I need you to go mad every time this guy opens his mouth,” shouts Dave, one arm around the crowd member. He needn’t have worried, the mystery man nails every word, even hyping up the audience himself at one point.

A victory lap of ‘Samantha’, ‘Location’ and of course ‘Funky Friday’ rounds off the set before Dave thanks the crowd once more and bounces off stage. The legions of sweaty, tired fans reluctantly pour into the night, and the chants of ‘Oh Thiago Silva’ continue well into the distance.

Read standalone reviews for Clairo, Charli XCX and The 1975, and find more photos from the day here.

Words: Abigail Firth, Jake Hawkes, Stephen Ackroyd

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