Slaves On The Exhilarating Carnage Of Reading Festival

Backstage at Lowlands festival in the Netherlands, Isaac Holman – the drumming half of Slaves – is enjoying the August sun and hanging out with Years & Years (“Their dressing room is next to ours. They’re really nice guys.”). But for the Kent duo, completed by guitarist Laurie Vincent, playing in the less exotic climes of Reading at the end of the month will have far greater significance.

“It feels like a homecoming to us,” the drummer says. “Reading was the first festival that I properly went to as a punter. I was maybe 14 or 15 years old. I just remember getting completely trashed and off my face. I can’t even remember who played – I spent most of my time sitting in the campsite getting messy – but I remember being a bit scared of everyone going crazy [in the campsites] on a Sunday night – there were people’s tents being hurled into big fires.”

For a time in the early 2000s, such behaviour sometimes heralded the end of the weekend: those who were there recall portaloos set ablaze and bonfire explosions. “It was carnage and exhilarating,” laughs Holman, “I remember being terrified but at the same time loving it.”

‘Carnage’ and ‘exhilarating’ are two adjectives you might use to describe Slaves’ gigs; where Isaac and Laurie perform with the unpredictable energy of young men whose pints have just been spilled, unshackling a cartoonish, wild-eyed assault of punk energy, as they deliver three-minute salvos about nine-to-five commuter monotony (‘Cheer Up London’) and sasquatches (‘Where’s Your Car Debbie?’). Playing on the NME/BBC Radio 1 stage (on Saturday in Reading and on Sunday in Leeds), they look set to plant their flag as one of the most-talked about bands of the weekend – and Holman suggests that upgrading to the main stage would be a “milestone”.

What does he think their chances of headlining the festival are? “It’s hard to gauge because we never thought half of the stuff that has happened to us would ever happen,” he shrugs. “Of course, it would be nice. I was never in the crowd thinking, that could be me. It was never a burning desire of mine to be in a band, let alone a successful band. I just went to festivals to get fucked really.”

Reading And Leeds bookmark a breakthrough summer for the pair; one that has seen them release and enter the top ten with debut album ‘Are You Satisfied?’, be lauded by the likes of Skepta (“it’s a mutual fan club”) and Jamie T and slay two shows at Glastonbury.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” Isaac reflects. “The album charted at Number Eight which we never expected. When it was finally out there, we felt…” He grapples for the right word. “Relief. We felt like we’d been sitting on it for quite a while. It was a like a weight had been lifted in a way. We never even expected to get played on the radio, so just being in my mum’s car and hearing our tracks come on was surreal. Doing the John Peel stage at Glastonbury and walking out to all those people… You sort of feel you’re going to get a massive adrenaline crash low when you go back home and are twiddling your thumbs.”

For Reading, they’ve no surprises planned: it’ll be the same tourniquet-tight set they’ve honed through relentless touring. And unlike his younger self, Isaac won’t be wasted. “I don’t enjoy getting off my face anymore. When I go to festivals now, it’s just nice being in a field with loads of other like-minded people. I think festivals are a really spiritual thing in a way.

“Last year, we played lots of festivals and even though we enjoyed it, we were apprehensive because we never thought anybody would come and watch us – and they rarely did. But this year has been the first time we’ve been playing to people who want to see us.”

Slaves ever-swelling crowds’ means the seams of the NME/BBC Radio 1 tent may be under threat this weekend. “I’m hoping it’ll be rammed. There are some brilliantly obsessed people out there. We’ve had a few come dressed as mantarays [in tribute to ‘Feed The Mantaray’], which is flattering. People have come up just to thank us. You can tell the music’s having an impact, which is nice – we want to be a band that means something to people.”

As the Dutch prepare to be dazzled, he whispers a conspiratorial conclusion – perhaps in case he gets hauled up in front of The Hague. “Don’t get me wrong, playing festivals across the world is great, but me and Laurie are looking forward to Reading more. It’s the home show. It’s the one for us.”