Festival Review: Reading Festival 2014 (including Bombay Bicycle Club, Vampire Weekend, + more)

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Having a massive festival in my home town is a blessing. Some people hate it. When a local supermarket swapped salad for spirits, there was outrage (it was awesome). I love that I don’t need to travel far to get there, I can pop home if I fancy and I know where everything is. It’s my third visit to Little John’s Farm, and it’s never failed to impress. Twinned with Leeds Festival, this year’s lineup contained over 250 acts, including comedians, upcoming bands, rappers, rock bands and dance acts (just to name a few), firmly cementing its status as one of the biggest festivals in the UK.

Much has been made about the diversification of content over the years, which is understandable considering its former billing as Reading Rock Festival. The festival has added several new stages in the past number of years, including a stage dedicated to ‘urban’ music and a stage dedicated to dance music. In all there are eight stages across the arena.

Day 1 – Friday actually began in disappointing fashion as Australian indie-dance group Panama (interview) were unable to perform due to their van breaking down en-route to the festival. Fellow countrymen RÜFÜS (DU SOL) made up for their absence with a rousing set filled with hits from their debut album Atlas. Despite their low-billing and relatively low profile in the UK, the Sydney three-piece kept the tent shaking and the audience dancing throughout their 30 minute set, opening with ‘Modest Life’ and closing with ‘Desert Night’.

The afternoon continued with a change in gear and a trip to the ‘BBC Introducing’ stage to check out Natasha North, an up-and-coming folk/alt-pop artist. Her new EP, Fire, comes out on September 21st. Another excursion into the dance tent followed, to check out the highly rated Sigma who impressed in the afternoon sun, and AlunaGeorge who returned triumphantly to the festival after a strong 12 months that included the release of debut album Body Music.

Vampire Weekend followed, dazzling in the summer sunshine and appearing totally at ease during their slot on the main stage. Shining throughout the set, the cool-as-ice Ezra Koenig led the New York four-piece through a fun and exciting hour of hits, with the biggest cheer reserved for ‘A-Punk’, a track that can truly be described as an indie-pop anthem with its catchy shouts and lyricism. I caught a bit of Gorgon City (review) who seemed to be well received by the crowd.

The evening continued with massive performances from both Metronomy and The Courteeners, whose sets both drew from their four excellent albums. Dressed in all-white, Metronomy created and maintained a carnival atmosphere during their near-hour long set, keeping the crowd dancing from the first drum-beat through to the end, playing two of my favourites in ‘Heartbreaker’ and ‘Love Letters’. After a brief break, The Courteeners took to the stage for their third Reading appearance. Opening with ‘Are You In Love With A Notion?’, the Manchester four-piece continue to prove why they can help fill the void left by the likes of Oasis. Headlining the NME/Radio 1 Stage days before the release of fourth album Concrete Love, their career spanning set sent the audience into ecstasy throughout, playing crowd pleasers (in ‘Lose Control’ and ‘Not Nineteen Forever’), closing the first day with ‘What Took You So Long?’ and red and white cannons.

Day 2 – The following day began with the chance to see (interview) perform in front of a rapturous crowd. The Danish singer-songwriting sensation has taken the world by storm in the past 18 months, and she proved why she’s able to do this with hit-after-hit from her debut album No Mythologies To Follow, including her newest single ‘Walk This Way’. Ørsted spent more time in the crowd than she did on stage, mesmerizing the audience throughout her set.

The afternoon continued with Foster the People, who I previously saw in 2012 following the release of their first album Torches. This time they were back, this time on the main stage, with a second excellent album in Supermodel under their belt. Despite the people stood next to me being convinced they were watching Vampire Weekend (a day too late), their set was incredibly enjoyable, combining content from both albums with the biggest cheers kept for ‘Pumped Up Kicks’, undeniably their breakout single. Imagine Dragons quickly followed, proving their doubters wrong (myself included) about the ability to transfer their sound from inside the tent last year to the main stage this year. After their rapid rise, the group announced they were to take some time away to finish their massively awaited sequel to Night Visions.

From one rapid rise to a truly meteoric one, CHVRCHES (interview) capped off an incredible 12 months with an awesome performance in the fading sun. The Scottish trio dazzled, owing to the success of their excellent debut, with Lauren Mayberry’s voice punching from the front to the back during their 40 minute set that included ‘The Mother We Share’, ‘Recover’, ‘Tether’ and several more tracks as well as ‘Under The Tide’ where vocal responsibilities were passed over to Martin Doherty.

Bombay Bicycle Club (video interview) followed, with an almost infinite number of well-received tracks from their four marvelous albums. I haven’t a bad word to say about the band, who brought out both Lucy Rose (interview) and Rae Morris to provide guest vocals for ‘Lights Out, Words Gone’ and ‘Luna’ respectively, all of which occurred against a backdrop of album graphics. Steadman’s voice, much like Mayberry’s, resonated from front to back to keep the crowd moving, closing with ‘Always Like This’ and ‘Carry Me’.

It wasn’t over. A quick dash to the main stage meant I arrived just in time for the start of Arctic Monkeys career-spanning set, and goodbye to AM. Having headlined the festival in the past, the band who told us we “shouldn’t believe the hype” impressed the huge crowd, keeping the crowd singing throughout a set that contained nine tracks from AM and more than the same amount from their other excellent albums. Meanwhile, on the NME/Radio 1 stage, Nero provided an alternative with a massive DJ set.

Day 3 – Normally by the Sunday, everyone is tired, worn out and ready to go home. Not this year. Armies of weary-eyed bodies marched back into the arena to catch Clean Bandit whose rise to fame is similar to that of CHVRCHES and largely attributed to the success of single ‘Rather Be’ and the positive reception received from subsequent singles ‘Extraordinary’ and ‘Come Over’, all of which formulate part of debut album New Eyes. The day continued with another trip to BBC Introducing to check out MOTHER and Man Made, the latter of which seemingly championed by Johnny Marr at present. BBC Introducing hand-picks a lineup full of the best newcomers from the British music scene and have stages at all BBC affiliated festivals – so if you’re bored in the future and want to see the best new acts – you know where to go!

Bondax followed. I’ve seen Bondax twice play DJ sets but was pleasantly surprised to see they were set to perform a live set including guest vocalists. They debuted lots of material from their upcoming debut album; however their set could have been better served by revising their set-list and playing a well-known single earlier in the set. Nonetheless, still excellent! My early teenage self then burst with excitement with two sets from The Kooks and Klaxons, both on the comeback trail after a few years of relative inactivity. The Kooks completely filled the NME/Radio 1 tent for their 40 minute set, with thousands outside battling their way in, performing from across their three (and soon to be four) albums. Klaxons faced a similar circumstance inside the dance tent, receiving a rapturous reception after every track during a massively energetic experience on the stage.

The end of the weekend was nearly upon us, but not before an awe-inspiring set from Australian sensation Flume, who mesmerized the crowd who never stopped moving (and crushed me on the front barrier throughout) in a set taking from his hugely successful eponymous debut and a number of epic remixes, including what can only be seen as a Flume x Ta-ku x Biggie Smalls mashup. All of this while sipping on champagne. The dance fever continued across the site as the UK dance success story of Disclosure closed the festival alongside Blink-182 with an hour and ten minutes of dancing and singing. The set itself was excellent, however I’m not convinced Disclosure actually have an hour and ten minutes of hit content. At least 15 minutes were filler, and unlike last year’s performance and their headline set at Glastonbury this year, there were no guest vocalists. All this in mind, the brothers didn’t let the occasion overawe them, with the entire tent dancing along to breakthrough single ‘Latch’ at the end of what can only be described as an incredible weekend of live music.

Will I be back next year? Of course. It’s tradition.

Review by Ollie Salter | @ollie_salter_

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