Reading Festival continues to evolve as Foo Fighters, The 1975 and Billie Eilish shine

Behind Glastonbury, you’ll struggle to name a UK festival more iconic than Reading & Leeds. CelebMix headed down to the 48th edition of Reading Festival…

Five years ago when Macklemore & Ryan Lewis jumped up the Reading & Leeds line-up, it was a sign of changing times. The stalwart festival had stayed true to its rock roots for decades but suddenly a duo of pop/rap Americans were one place short of closing the whole weekend. And as Macklemore waded through the crowd to cause madness with ‘Can’t Hold Us’, many began to think… why shouldn’t Reading & Leeds evolve.

Evolve it has. Amongst prestigious rock names like Metallica, Arctic Monkeys, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Kasabian, headliners have also included country-inspired Mumford & Sons, house-heavy Disclosure and rap icon Kendrick Lamar over the past four years. Some die-hard rock fans have criticised the changes, but as Reading & Leeds sells out again in 2019, the festival continues to grow bigger and better.

This year, there’s a little bit of everything. The 1975, Post Malone, Twenty One Pilots and Foo Fighters find themselves at the top of the posters to fill the big headline slots, all returning to Richmond Avenue.

Out of the three, there’s no hype quite like that of the Foo Fighters. Music fans wearing merch from their 20+ years of activity buzz around the campsites’ dirt paths and are treated to a whopping three hour set of Dave Grohl and co. later on.

There are new rock faces on the line-up who still carry that torch too. On Sunday, The Amazons share a photo backstage alongside Machine Gun Kelly, Yungblud and YONAKA’s Theresa Jarvis with the caption “And they said Rock was Dead”.

And over the weekend, there are few more potent sets than that of The Amazons. Two years ago the Reading formed band packed out the Festival Republic Stage so much that it became clear the only way was up. Now, with sophomore record Future Dust under their belts, they strut onto the Radio 1 Stage on Sunday afternoon in peak confidence. Again, people pour out the back of the tent and as they rattle through tracks such as ‘In My Mind’, which Jarvis joins for, ‘Black Magic’ and ‘Junk Food Forever’. Lead singer Matt Thompson smirks with the knowledge this is their festival in years to come. A headline slot is inevitable.

Machine Gun Kelly’s constant self-referral as a rockstar is always one that causes some to roll their eyes. Recent diss-tracks aimed at Reading Festival favourite Eminem haven’t done too much to endear him, but he pulls in a big crowd nonetheless. The Gunner’s controversial character does help fan favourites ‘Candy’ and ‘Rap Devil’ go off with a bang, however.

Kelly brings out Yungblud for latest single ‘I Think I’m OK’, a favour he’s returning having walked onto mainstage for the latter’s early afternoon set. Yungblud is another name proving rock isn’t dead with his forward-thinking take on heavy riffed bangers. He must run a marathon in half an hour as he bounces from one side of the stage to another whilst overseeing the constant opening and closing of mosh pits to the likes of ‘Machine Gun’ and ’21st Century Liability’. Another name that will certainly climb the stages in the future.

But it really isn’t all rock anymore and some of the festival’s top moments come in all the other genres. Matty Healy treads a fine line between being gloriously obnoxious and one of the generation’s most clued-up minds as he fronts The 1975’s Friday night show. It’s a pretty special hour and a half too. There have been few bands afforded such a get up in Reading Festival history, Healy even jokes about it as he struts out on a custom part of the stage “added just for me”. Flying LED blocks don’t stop moving, Healy strolls along a conveyer belt and backing visuals are genius. The band have quite some catalogue too. Older flicks like ‘Chocolate’ and ‘Love Me’ mix with the fizzing autotune of ‘I Like America & America Likes Me’ and latest switch-up single ‘People’ in a set crammed with crowd-pleasers.

Post Malone and Twenty One Pilots share the headline slot for the middle night. Post Malone’s rise over the past two years is jaw-dropping and his set of hits is delivered with such force you can’t help but be taken aback in the best way. Meanwhile, Twenty One Pilots are good, they always are. Although there’s something ‘wow’ missing that other headliners do boast over the weekend.

Other closing sets include Camelphat on the Dance Stage whose heavy bassline must rattle through the city, Mura Masa delivers an exquisite hour-long set of dancefloor fillers alongside the ever charismatic Fliss and frequent Reading Festival performers Bastille are at their best yet as they overfill the Radio 1 Stage on Sunday night.

Nowadays, pop’s biggest names are being called upon by organisers too. Reading & Leeds was actually Charli XCX’s first ever festival and she’s played sets across stages ever since. This year, she graduates onto the Main Stage. During her 45 minutes of electropop, she admits that daylight shows aren’t really her thing, but it doesn’t stop her grabbing headlines. Her long-term fans know XCX isn’t too big a fan of her infamous hits ‘I Love It’, ‘Fancy’ and ‘Boom Clap’, preferring to play new avant-garde material. Nonetheless, they make the cut for Reading and rally a busy Main Stage crowd ready for her to stride into a Diplo-influenced Spice Girls cover, SOPHIE-charged ‘Focus’ and Christine and the Queens collaboration ‘Gone’.

XCX is the face leading a new pop wave and her friends appear across the days too. ALMA takes to the Main Stage just after midday on Saturday, a tough slot for the best. She does her best to get Reading bouncing to ‘All Stars’ and ‘Chasing Highs’ but you can tell she knows she deserves better – being told to wrap up before having a chance to debut her new single adding salt to the wounds. Kim Petras is another likeminded pop head who appears and nails a pretty flawless half-hour set on the Dance Stage to a small but committed crowd.

Of every artist over the weekend, there’s one teenager who deserves all the plaudits. That’s Billie Eilish. Before you see the youngster live, you may question the hype. Why is a 17-year-old with screeching pop tunes getting so much attention?

Initially, Reading Festival organisers had made that mistake too, pushing her onto the Radio 1 Stage before moving her just weeks before the festival. It’s a good thing they did too. Even in comparison with the headliners, Eilish has a crowd that could well be the weekend’s biggest in the Saturday sun and she’s nothing short of sensational. From simple pop hits like ‘bad guy’ to mosh pit ready ‘you should see me in a crown’ and ballads like ‘ocean eyes’, she’s the full package. A headline slot is already deserved and Eilish knows it.

Tickets are now on sale for 2020.

Did you attend Reading & Leeds festival this weekend? Who was your favourite act? Let us know @CelebMix on Twitter. 

Written by Toby Bryant

Student journalist: music, sport, culture and just about anything in-between… Have worked for The Courier, NME, Daily Mirror, FourFourTwo & British Rowing, amongst others.
@toby_bryant_ on Instagram and Twitter.