Review: Reading Festival 2015 (The Wombats, Glass Animals, Charli XCX, + more)

Reading Festival 2015
Photograph by Marc Sethi |

Partially flooded campsites, controversy over a DJ locked in a cage at Leeds Festival, a regional train strike, and frequently poor weather did very little to dampen the spirits of the thousands and thousands of music fans who embarked on their annual pilgrimage to one of the most iconic UK music festivals – Reading. With numerous stages paying host to dozens upon dozens of acts in both Little John’s Farm & Bramham Park in Leeds, the Reading and Leeds weekenders have become synonymous with the beginning of the end of the summer festival season. Now seen as a rite of passage for the younger generation of music fans, celebrating academic success (or drowning their sorrows from failure), this years lineup can be seen as one of the most diverse ever, with acts ranging from the likes of grime collective Boy Better Know to iconic acts like Metallica, to up-and-coming artists being showcased across the weekend, as well as a superb secret set from Foals.

Friday began with a trip to the Dance Stage to witness an excellent set from Australian dance act Hayden James. Coming to prominence in recent years with an excellent selection of tracks released through Aussie label Future Classic, 2015 has been a year like no-other thanks to the success of major hit ‘Something About You’, leading to sets across the world including at legendary American festival Coachella in April. A visit to the NME/Radio 1 Stage for Don Broco was well worth it with the Bedford quartet showcasing tracks from sophomore album Automatic alongside tracks from their excellent debut Priorities.

A return to the Dance Stage followed to witness sheer carnage in the form of set from Porter Robinson. A revolution within the electronic music scene, Robinson can boast three Beatport #1’s before turning 21, and his talent and versatility was demonstrated with a hugely popular 60 minute set. Artists feed off of the energy of a live crowd and this crowd was left hanging on every synth and vocal sent throughout the tent. A highly anticipated set from alt-J followed on the Main Stage, and was received incredibly well by the crowd, starting to swell rapidly in anticipation for headliners Mumford & Sons.

Day one ended musically for me with a roof-raising set from drum & bass star Wilkinson. Having released music on legendary label RAM Records and Hospital Records, Mark Wilkinson set a benchmark for the weekend during his 60 minutes, dropping track after track including hits from his 2013 album Lazers Not Included. A weekend at a festival isn’t complete without a trip to the Silent Arena (with three on site, it’s wrong not to go!), ending a hugely exciting first day.

Saturday began as Friday ended, with a handful of great acts to see during the day. Rising reggae star Kiko Bun dazzled during a brief slot on the 1Xtra tent, powering through original tracks ‘Where I’m From’, ‘Sometimes’ (amongst others) alongside Cadenza collaboration ‘How Many Times?’ in a set that blew any cobwebs in the system away. Up-and-coming Swedish star Elliphant followed in a packed dance tent, creating a carnival-styled atmosphere as she performed tracks from across her relatively short musical career, including original material and collaborations with Major Lazer, whom she is supporting on their UK tour in the autumn.

DJ Fresh followed as special guest mid-afternoon, raising the roof during an intense set. Popstar Charli XCX (one of many weekend highlights) dazzled during her early evening set in the dance tent, performing hit after hit from albums True Romance and Sucker, while also debuting new material that was incredible well received. Saturday ended with a headline set inside the Festival Republic tent (well known for showcasing up-and-coming acts as well as indie-pop favourites) from The Wombats, ending Saturday night from tracks from across their three albums including a slew of tracks from comeback album Glitterbug.

While the 2015 lineup for the festival has been lightly criticised for not containing the same major star power as previous years, I personally feel like it should be praised for creating one of the most well-rounded lineups in recent times, leading to a number of inconvenient clashes over the weekend!

Sunday at Reading can be quite difficult, purely due to fatigue (I think I managed six hours of sleep over the four days of camping), but the determination to make the most of the final day shines through in everyone. Sunday began with a hugely impressive set from up-and-coming London MC Isaiah Dreads, who at only 17 years old has performed at huge festivals across the summer and, like Kiko Bun, is definitely one to watch. A monster set from Snakehips helped get rid of the inevitable Sunday hangover, playing out original material as well as favourite tracks from other artists (Hoodboi & Lido to name a couple), while the afternoon continued with a wonderful performance, and the last UK show before a new record is released, from Glass Animals – their ‘peanut butter vibes’ sending a packed NME/Radio 1 stage into euphoria while showcasing tracks from excellent debut album ZABA for the last time.

A massively awaited set from Jamie XX followed. While not a name new to many people, the release of his debut solo album In Colour on Young Turks has proved revelatory for many music fans this summer – with collaborations with the likes of XX members Romy Madley Croft & Oliver Sim, rapper Young Thug and dancehall star Popcaan, Jamie xx created a musical masterpiece that draws inspiration from across the musical universe and a huge collection of classic samples (The Persuasions’ ‘Good Times’), which translated perfectly to the festival throughout an immensely atmosphere (and all vinyl) DJ set which could still be continuing to this moment without disappointment.

A brief excursion back to the dance tent for up-and-coming dance/pop crossover act Blonde, now performing a live set as opposed to pure DJ sets was followed by a huge performance in the Sunday teatime slot from pop revelation Years & Years who have experienced a meteoric (and deserved) rise to fame, now accompanied with debut album Communion.

Sunday night, and the festival, ended with a headline set on the Main Stage from The Libertines, an NME tent performance from deadmau5, a Festival Republic set from Frank Turner, while I opted for UK grime collective Boy Better Know inside the Dance Tent. Grime music in 2015, despite not being new, has reached a level never before witnessed amid growing global popularity. BBK are seen as pioneers and a major driving force in the grime/urban music scene. Formed initially as an independent record label for releasing music, brothers Skepta & JME founded the group alongside Wiley, adding the likes of Jammer, Shorty, Frisco, Maximum, Solo 45 & Preditah to the group along the way. A tent so full that numerous fans climbed onto the scaffolding to get a better view paid host to a legendary coming-of-age, career spanning set that included hits from across the collectives career, which is destined to grow with albums from JME (Integrity>) & Skepta (Konnichiwa) out in 2015.

Reading Festival has become an annual tradition for me in the last four years and hopefully will continue for a long time to come. Providing a platform for more up-and-coming bands than ever before, while showcasing some of the biggest artists in the world today, the Reading & Leeds festivals are arguably some of the most accessible festivals for people nowadays, providing a huge amount of musical diversity over the weekend. While criticised in some parts for straying from its roots as a pure rock festival, it has evolved into an unstoppable juggernaut that plays an integral part in the British festival calendar, something that will continue for years to come. I’m already counting down to 2016!

Review by Ollie Salter | @ollie_salter_

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