Ah Reading and Leeds festival. You are the obnoxious, pubescent, lairy younger brother to Glastonbury. You are the crèche for so many first-time teenage festival goers. You are our closest insight into what a self-contained post-apocalyptic “society” would look like. You are near impossible to wax lyrically about in the same way as your middle-class sister festivals; I’m talking about you Latitude, and your poncy “Literary Arena”. And yet you predictably sell out, year after year.
For those who have been going year after year to Reading and Leeds festival you might well wonder if they noticed that music changed at all in last decade and a bit. Guns n Roses, Blink-182, Limp Bizkit, Cypress Hill, Weezer, the Libertines…all that’s missing in this afterlife reunion is Everett True pushing in Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain on a wheelchair FROM THE GRAVE. I don’t know what convinced organisers Festival Republic that now in 2010, at the start of new decade, was the time for a eulogy for our yet un-departed beloved 90s bands. Maybe now’s a good time before the health scares a la Bono. Strangely enough, it’s oddly refreshing to see one major festival line-up not derived from the zeitgeist of bands doing the festival circuit. I’d even go as far as to say it is their most interesting line-up in years. There’s still plenty of interesting alternatives for those nauseated by the MTV-glazed nostalgia of the main stage line-up. So here are a few of the acts across all the stages that you shouldn’t miss.
#1 Arcade Fire
When the 2010 headliners were announced, it was something of a surprise to many that Arcade Fire topped the bill amongst Guns n Roses and Blink-182. As huge as they might be in alternative music circles, they don’t quite command the notoriety of their fellow headline acts; hence poorly spelt indignant Facebook groups such as “Wait who the fukk are Arcade Fire [sic]?” Well hopeful it should be a long-awaited return from one of the bands that defined the noughties. With their third album released this August and Reading and Leeds their only UK summer tour date, it is well-recommended that you formally introduce yourself to their Friday/Saturday night performance.
#2 Modest Mouse
I’m going to just come out and say it: Modest Mouse are the greatest late 90s/early 00s band playing on bill – sorry Weezer, but you’ve been nose-diving since 1996’s Pinkerton. Modest Mouse picked off where the Pixies left off with their jagged abrupt guitar sound but made it their own with Issac Brock’s lisping existential lyrics. These are the guys partially responsible for bringing Indie rock to masses with 2000’s Good News For People Who Like Bad News and 2007’s We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank. But before you find a suitable rock to throw as thanks, I’m talking Indie bands like Arcade Fire, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and The Shins. That’s okay, you can thank them personally.
Say what you want about Paramore being a guilty pleasure or what not, but they do what they do very well. And if Hayley Williams twittering her nipples gets them some wider attention then that’s great, not that nudity was really required. While headliners Blink-182 have been not-so-busy monopolising the teen movie soundtrack business for years, Paramore have been churning out post-punk hit after hit. Latest album Brand New Eyes is their best yet, a darn great pop album. Sure you might have to stand far away from the crowd to avoid a fray of jailbait teenage girls, but there’s no shame in appreciating it.
Phoenix might have been making great albums for years now, but 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix propelled them deservingly into mainstream success. With a lengthy back catalogue of pop hits, Phoenix is one of the few bands to master the guitar and synth arrangement; perhaps inspired by long-term friends: synth-masters Daft Punk and label-mates Air. Live they combine their lovable French charm and carefully choreographed lightshow into an unmissable performance.
Somehow Caribou has been snuck onto the bill in a rather innocuous slot on the Festival Republic stage. Thankfully Daniel Snaith is under no shortage of recognition elsewhere with this year’s critically acclaimed album Swim being nominated for Canada’s prestigious Polaris Prize. Rightly so given the array of electronic brilliance present in Swim; every song is constantly morphing, never ending quite how you might have expected. Snaith manages to create tracks that sound almost like dancefloor music without ever compromising his deep sense of electronic experimentation.
#6 Four Tet
Inevitably drawing comparisons with Daniel Snaith, Kieran Hebden has been experimenting with electronic sounds and live instrumentations for many years under the name Four Tet. Despite having also released a critically acclaimed album this year, There Is Love In You Yet, his sound is more reminiscent of schoolmate William Bevin, or Burial to you and me. Clipped female vocals, long building drum samples and jittery synths place him closer to the dubstep scene, but there’s still plenty of experimentation that earned him his early label as “folktronica”. One of the most varied and complex albums of this year that should make for an unusual dance stage performance.
#7 Crystal Castles
Crystal Castles’ live performance is a bit like watching a sugar-rush-induced toddler rampage. Singer Alice Glass launches hysterically from one frenetic barely -recognisable song rendition to the next, all while scaling any stage obstacle in site. Often more than not festival organisers have been less than pleased with this display, cutting her and beat-maker Ethan Kath off mid-set, like disciplinarian parents. That said Glass might have toned things down if the new album, originally named Crystal Castles II, is anything to go by. With the new album, Kath has ditched the furious Atari riot electronica for glacial undulating synths and airy-yet-dark vocals, which should provide something of a relief to their exhausting to watch stage act.
#8 LCD Soundsystem
“It smells like human pooooo” sung James Murphy in falsetto at LCD Soundsystem’s Glastonbury appearance, at Wireless festival he threatened anonymous bottle-throwers that he would “kick your face in…and then pay your medical bill”. With all this British festival experience is there any man more qualified to manage the crowd at the NME tent headline slot then James Murphy. Having released their supposedly last album This Is Happening earlier this year, this may well be one of the last few UK appearances that LCD Soundsystem makes for a while. So trust me, this performance will be far more exciting than the aging one-manned un-union tour on the main stage.
In HEALTH’s music video for their single ‘Die Slow’, the band play in some sort of harem to a crowd of writhing bodies covered in blood. While I’m not sure their Reading and Leeds performance will exactly replicate that, it will probably be almost as intense. In a way the video is strangely illustrative of HEALTH’s sound, with Jake Duzsik’s wispy sensual voice overlaying an unsettling undercurrent of violent electronica that threatens to burst out at any minute. Expect nothing less than a ferocious set for their pedal-strewn, feedback-blaring appearance on the dance stage.
#10 Mystery Jets
“Have you heard the birds and bees / Have all got STDs?” croons Blaine Harrison on new album Serotonin, evoking memories of the 80s AIDs epidemic. Well memories I don’t have, but even I can hear this record is drenched in the 80s with its not-so-subtly-metaphorical lyrics about ecstasy highs, promiscuity, and naïve idealism. Feigned nostalgia aside, what I am distinctly sure about is that this is Mystery Jet’s third album, and all three are near-filled with irresistible pop hits; the likes of which makes them the best 80s band actually from the noughties on the bill. That makes sense, right?