This weekend, THE 1975 will fulfil a lifelong ambition and headline Reading & Leeds festivals for the first time, and to mark the occasion, the musical changelings have released a searing, politically-charged punk track named ‘People’. With the gears of 2020 album ‘Notes On A Conditional Form’ already turning, frontman MATTY HEALY tells Dan Stubbs about the band’s aims to save the world, freak out the squares and tear Reading & Leeds a new one. All he needs to do in the meantime is resist the urge to perform his Dubai gig with the words ‘GOD LOVES FAGS’ scrawled on his chest. What could possibly go wrong? PICTURES: MARA PALENA
Don’t get arrested.
Those are the last words I say to Matty Healy on August 14, 2019, the day The 1975 play their first ever show in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, a city Healy describes, on the phone to NME from the ludicrously named Armani Hotel, as “a trip, man, like being at Waterside Shopping Centre for three days. Trafford Centre vibes. I mean, incredibly beautiful people but it’s like a fucking massive airport terminal. Anodyne is the word. Removed from the human experience.”
Dubai isn’t necessarily the kind of place you’d expect to find Matty Healy: committed hedonist and full-time stoner; wearer of an ever-changing array of threadbare vintage band T-shirts; reigning Greatest Frontman In Pop, and an outspoken champion of women, youth, the environment, minorities and the LGBTQ+ community. In Dubai, a place where women are discriminated against, adultery, premarital sex and alcohol consumption are punishable by flogging and it’s illegal to be gay, he is, essentially, in the belly of the beast. Yet it’s here that Healy is warming up for what’s set to be one of – if not the – most important shows in The 1975’s mythology: their headline set at this weekend’s Reading and Leeds festivals, hallowed ground to which the band would make an annual pilgrimage as teenagers. The 1975 dream so far has been leading up to this moment – an occasion so noteworthy they’ve just released a brand new track, a ferocious glam-punk snarl named ‘People’ – which will be christened on the Reading & Leeds stages.
The big homecoming follows a run of shows on relatively new frontiers for the foursome, including Hungary, Romania and Russia – another place where anti-gay sentiment runs deep. Does Matty not have any reservations about playing places that are so opposed to his own ideologies? “No, because there are definitely people here that are victim of those oppressive ideas, and I’m not a diplomat or a politician,” he says. “It’s like the Palestine/Israel thing – I would go and play both places. Not because I’m taking a side but because there are young people there who are not representative of the government, and I believe that in countries that may be war-torn or separated due to political ideologies, the only thing that unifies people is culture and art. It’s more my job than anybody’s to go places like this, you know.”
In Dubai, sadly, Healy is finding that religious ideology means some of his most ardent local fans – many of them teenage girls – won’t make it to the show tonight. “I’ve been meeting so many kids walking around and I’m like, Are you coming to the show? And they’re like, Oh, I can’t, my dad would not allow me, or my religion doesn’t allow it, and all that kind of thing. So that’s sad because I think that art is for everybody. But I understand that I’m quite a – I don’t know what I am – an outspoken… bisexual… I don’t know, whatever I am. So they’re probably not really into my vibe over here, the dads.”
In fact, Healy has been made patently aware that his kind must play by the rules in Dubai. On arrival at the hotel, a note awaited him – from the authorities, via the promoter – “reminding me that, you know, having sex outside of marriage is jailable. Basically, if I try and fuck someone here in this hotel – which I wouldn’t – but if I did that, I could be arrested or deported.”
Did you hoover your pockets before you got there in case of drug crumbs?
“Oh, I hoovered everything. George [Daniel, drummer and Matty’s 1975 co-conspirator] was like, Do you have a bag – any bag – that’s never had any drugs in it? And I said, No. So he said, OK, you have to go and buy new bags and you have to hoover all your clothes, so that’s what I did. I mean, I was at immigration for an hour – they went through every pocket of everything that I had.”
So drugs are not worth getting arrested for. But principles? That’s a different matter.
“I would go to jail for what I stand for, you know – I feel like I’m in one of the only punk bands in the world,” says Matty. “I’m profoundly anti-religion and I always have been. I don’t agree with a dogmatic, pious adherence to scripture, because I believe that creates more pain for more people on a global level than it does solace for people on the individual level. I think it’s a selfish act. But I also understand that religion and culture are two very, very, very different things. So I understand the idea of if you say to somebody, I don’t know, ‘your religion is stupid’, it can for some people be the equivalent of somebody saying, ‘your face is ugly’, because it’s so deeply ingrained in who they are. I would never come over here and be disrespectful to people to make a point. But I’m never going to not stand up for women. I’m not going to not stand up for gay people. I’m not going to not stand up for minorities. So it’s my job to come out here and…”
But you’re going to have to really watch what you say tonight, no?
“Well, I’m not allowed to have ‘GOD LOVES FAGS’ written on my chest, which I probably am going to. So that will be interesting.”
And risk getting arrested before your headline slot at Reading and Leeds? The big one? The one it’s all been building up to?
“Yeah, that’s the only thing that I’m thinking. But you know, people need to say this kind of shit, man. There’s not many bands like mine that come to this part of the world. What kid in Dubai, who’s coming to a 1975 show, wants me to say nothing?”
But it’s not those kids you have to worry about.
“Well, that’s my job.”
Do you feel like John Lennon being followed by the CIA?
“[Laughs] You are NOT allowed to write that I feel like John Lennon being followed by the CIA! But I feel very, very watched. And yeah, I don’t know what’s gonna happen. I’m sure that it’ll go fine. But if they want to arrest me for what I believe in, then all I’d be doing is doing the same thing that all of the people I’ve ever looked up to did, you know. Billie Holiday, all those kind of people.”
Which is, what – having the courage to act on your conviction?
“Yeah, you know, I’m not gonna fucking get up at award ceremonies in the west and say all of this shit, and then go to the east and be a shrinking violet, because that’s not true.”
So you were posting something about wanting to get 1975 hijabs on your merch stalls. I’m guessing, from you, that’s not a piss-take.
“Oh, no, listen, this was an idea that was given to me by some of my hijabi Muslim stans, my ‘haram-baes’ as I call them. The reason I want to get hijabs done is because I see thousands of kids at my shows in hijabs and where’s the representation? If my merchandise is there to represent your love for my band, where’s the Muslim representation?”
I mean, it is provocative to do it, and you’re going to get stick for it.
“Yeah, but what I see at my shows every single night is kids in 1975 t-shirts and 1975 caps and in hijabs. So why don’t they get to have, you know, a piece of merchandise for them? I want them to feel valued.”
So you’ve just been to Russia for the first time, too. The tentacles of The 1975 are spreading. As you meet people in these places, are you finding that people worldwide are more alike than you thought?
“I said this a million times: every 1975 show is exactly the same. They have slightly different coloured hair over here, or they’ll have a slightly different skin tone over here. But at 1975 shows I play to the same group of kids every single night. And the kids in Russia were so cool. The coolest. I mean, imagine being young and liberal and a bit like me in Russia? I can’t imagine what it’s like.”
You mean, just not having that inherent freedom that we take for granted?
“I can go on stage and say whatever the fuck I want about anything in the UK. And you know, nothing’s ever going to happen to me in the UK. In Russia – this is difficult to talk about – I’m not that worried about my physical safety because I’m over that now. I worried about it for like three years but someone kicks my head in or someone stabs me or something like that: whatever. What I was worried about was like, maybe because of [2018 track] ‘Loving Someone’ and all of the pro gay imagery in my in my show, I was worried about a right wing group turning up to the show afterwards. I wasn’t worried about me, I was worried about the kids.”
Do you have a bodyguard?
“Yeah, yeah, I had so much extra security – so much extra.”
No, like personal security?
“Oh, yeah, I’ve got one, and I’ve got my shot pack, my little backpack I keep with me that has, like, well, I don’t want to tell everybody what it has. But basically, I’ve got a pack with me that if I do get shot, we can kind of deal with it pretty quickly, until I get to the hospital – sealant, you know, like a powder kind of thing that you pour into the wound so it doesn’t over-bleed. You don’t have to be John Lennon [to get shot], you could be Christina Grimmie [shot by a fan in Florida in 2016], or you can be Dimebag Darrel [of Pantera and Damageplan, shot on stage in 2004]. There’s mentalists out there. And my job is that I go and put myself in front of 10,000 people every single day, and when, if you add the numbers up, there’s gotta be some crazy people.”
You do wilfully do some quite provocative stuff. Like, for example, you went on James Corden’s US Late Late Show recently and played a song that’s openly critical of America. Did you think: am I gonna get away with this?
“Well, I don’t know if I’ll be invited back. But listen, we’re at one point in history and I have, whatever it is, a power or influence or whatever, I’m not going to dampen it because [TV network] CBS are nervous or because we have a conservative government, you know? You’ve invited The 1975 to your show, right? You’ve not invited… You put a band in, I keep slagging off too many bands by accident….”
“Yeah, you’ve not invited Westlife. If you don’t know who we are, joke’s on you.”
A performance like that spreads around the world because it’s noteworthy, so the message of that song propagates more. It aired just before the recent weekend of gun violence in the US.
“But it was recorded ages ago – it wasn’t live. It just happened to be serendipitous. I think that when you’re talking about American gun violence as part of your art, it’s going to be relevant probably once every two or three weeks.”
That’s true. But you also put out a song about climate change that came out on a day when Britain was frying in 38 degrees heat. I mean, that was serendipitous as well, right?
“You can’t control that!”
Think back, if you can, to July, and the peak of that insane heatwave that hit the UK. That’s when The 1975 released the first taste of their new album ‘Notes On A Conditional Form’, a companion piece to ‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships’ that was originally intended for release this summer but is now confirmed for February 2020.
The track was the latest version of ‘The 1975’, the instrumental mood-piece that’s opened each of the band’s three albums to date. This time, it serves as an ambient accompaniment to a stirring speech by Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who’s waging war on climate change. “The original idea was to get Greta to do the opening track for the album,” says Matty. “So when the singles have all come out, you put the album on and you’re waiting for ‘The 1975’ to start and Greta comes in. But that would probably be in, like, January by now. And once we recorded it, we were like: this is not a statement for January, this is a statement for now. A lot of ‘Notes…’ has been based on now, what’s happening right now, you know?”
What was the first meeting with Greta like?
“Well, it’s the first time I’ve been truly starstruck.”
What’s amazing is she’s just one young person, but the presence and momentum she’s created is incredible.
“Yeah, because she doesn’t give a fuck, she doesn’t care about anything apart from what she’s talking about. She wakes up and lives every day trying to save the planet. I’ve never met anybody like that.”
So she wasn’t thinking, like a lot of teenagers might, ‘Ohmigod, I’m gonna be on a 1975 track!!’
“She didn’t give a fuck! She was respectful. Basically, her and her dad understand that because of the world, to make a real difference to young people you need to be in pop culture. So I’m making ‘Notes…’, and I’m thinking about ‘The 1975’, the opening track, and the conversation we always have is: What’s the most modern statement we can make? Where are we? Where are we as a band? What do we sound like? I looked at Jamie [Oborne, 1975 manager] and I said, Well, it’s Greta isn’t it.”
It might be the last version of ‘The 1975’, if ‘Notes…’ closes The 1975’s ‘Music For Cars’ era, as you’ve said it will.
“Yeah, it very well might be but I’ve got something so fun up my sleeve after ‘Notes On A Conditional Form’ and I don’t know if it will start with ‘The 1975’.”
Was there any concern that people would think you were just cynically hijacking her zeitgeisty energy?
“Yeah, yes. But I’d rather not be 100 percent sorted and be accused of being a hypocrite than do fuck all. I’d much rather be called a champagne socialist than be an artist that isn’t talking about the most pressing issue on the planet. Everyone’s going, Well, what about your car? Well, funnily enough, I don’t have any cars anymore. I’ve got an electric scooter and electric bike in London. And on a personal level, I am doing my thing. But also: fuck off. Like, go and fuck yourself.”
I mean, it’s difficult to be 100 percent bulletproof with climate change, realistically. Greta is now sailing across the Atlantic for two weeks on a yacht so she can spread the word in the States. As brilliant as that is, it would be impractical for touring…
“Yeah, and I was talking to her dad and he said, ‘One of the reasons we are going on a boat is because I’m not having the right-wing conservative media of old men – who are already talking shit on a 16-year-old girl – having any ammunition when she gets there’.”
She has to live by the sword?
“Yeah, exactly. And I think The 1975 getting on a commercial plane to go to a country to try and spread a positive message is not going to be the reason that the world sets on fire. What’s hard with The 1975 is fetishization of woke culture – it’s difficult for me to tell everybody what we’ve done without trying to sound like we’re showing off, but we have carbon offsets, we have no plastic on tour, no plastic in the office, no plastic in any of our packaging and every guest list is paid for and [the money] goes to reforestation for charities. We are doing everything that’s physically in our power to be culturally powerful in the most socially responsible way. And I’m doing it for me, and I don’t have to fucking explain myself to every single person.”
So there was a bit of a backlash to the Greta track. What kind of things were people saying?
“Oh, just incels with Karl Marx icon photos on Twitter calling us cunts, pretty much. There was no considered discourse that went on. It was grown men pretty much personally attacking a 16-year-old girl.”
Isn’t that what’s especially powerful about Greta, that it’s difficult to attack without looking like a total arsehole?
“Well, that’s because you are if you do.”
Recently, the polarisation of debate has been playing on Matty Healy’s mind. He sees how the way that online discourse typically plays out – with all of the destructive power of two wrecking balls swinging at each other – is undermining the kind of message he wants to put out. When he called buffoonish UKIP toff Neil Hamilton a “cunt” on Twitter for taking a pop at Thunberg, he quickly deleted it, annoyed at himself for sinking to Hamilton’s level. “It’s like, if you’re trying to make the world a better place through being nasty to people, it’s not going to work,” he says. “Debate is not about finding a middle ground any more – it’s about point scoring. We – the young and the liberal – even though it’s not our job and it’s not our responsibility, we need to be the most patient, the most compassionate and we need to be the most understanding of the ignorance that does exist.”
It’s in this spirit that The 1975 released brand new track ‘People’ to the world yesterday evening, with its key lyric, spat with righteous venom over: “People like people/They want alive people/The young surprise people/Stop fucking with the kids.”
Matty says it’s a message he first tried to express on ‘Give Yourself A Try’, but one which is presented in the simplest terms here: we’ve forgotten the fundamental fact that we humans like other humans.
“Exactly – that’s what it is,” he says. “We are humans, indulging in the human experience, and that is a shared thing. And we act like we’re all doing something different.”
And we’ve all become these kind of angry alpha animals going after members of the pack?
“Exactly. We want to be these outward, angry, important figures. But what we really want to do is stay at home and wank and order Deliveroo.”
When I first hear the track alongside a tantalising few snippets of ‘Notes On A Conditional Form’ at the Dirty Hit label’s London HQ in July, I can’t help but break out into a broad smile. The 1975 have, for some time, pushed their audiences as far as they can with each subsequent release. This time, they’ve gone further than ever before and delivered a savage shot of hardcore punk. They’ve long taken flack for some of their more indulgent moments, whether the holiday romance power-balladry of ‘I Couldn’t Be More In Love’, the boyband frippery of ‘She’s American’ or the smooth jazz-sax solos of, well, loads of it. But this seems to be them saying: we could do straight-up guitar music too, but we mostly choose not to. I went to that listening session expecting a surprise – and was still surprised nonetheless. “I grew up with people like Converge and Minor Threat and Gorilla Biscuits,” Matty says of the hardcore sound. “And I think that ‘Notes…’ is an interesting record, because it has our most aggressive moments and our most tranquil moments and they’re quite harshly lined up against each other.”
Back at the office, Matty said ‘People’ was written with the aim of playing it at Reading – something that, at a festival with such strong rock lineage, would be as heavy as anything else heard through that PA. Today, Matty reveals the origins of the song actually date back to Alabama’s Hangout festival in June when, before playing the song ‘Loving Someone’, he spoke about the abortion ban that was passed in the deep south state. “The reason I’m so angry is I don’t believe it’s about the preservation of life, it’s about controlling women,” he told the crowd. “It’s not about that — you can hide behind that as much as you want and push your Christian narrative that sex is something to be ashamed of and therefore forcing women to have birth is some kind of — I don’t know — some good punishment for their moral indiscretion. You are a disgrace! You are not men of god! You are simply misogynistic wankers.”
After that, says Healy, things quickly became very serious – fresh from the stage, the band were informed they should consider leaving Alabama at the earliest opportunity. Rather than recount what happened off the top of his head, Matty asks if he can read a statement, as follows: “I wrote ‘People’ on my tour bus in Texas on the day the abortion bill was circulating in Alabama. After playing our show there in Alabama, we were advised to leave quickly due to Alabama being an Open Carry state [ie, one where citizens may carry guns in public]. So we did, and we soon stopped in a truck stop in Texas. I bought some Cheetos that were next to a collection of knives for incels and various bumper stickers encouraging women to give oral sex to truck drivers as some kind of trade for the privilege of being in the truck and in the presence of such a great man. I was pretty pissed off. I am pretty pissed off. God bless.”
“I’m pissed off, man,” he reaffirms. “You know, I have a lot of love and I experience a lot of love from my fans, and my family and my friends. But I’m pretty fucking angry.”
So you were actually told to leave the state of Alabama?
“Yeah because when I started [speaking], there’s that moment where some guys started booing and throwing shapes at the front. And I, for some reason, just go, ‘Boo me? Fucking shoot me, I don’t give a fuck’. And I saw the security guards’ faces go a little bit weird, because you remember, it’s an open carry state. And there’s no metal detectors there.”
So people may have had firearms at the actual festival?
“Yeah, definitely. So when people started to boo me and stuff like that, and I could see a couple of rednecks get a bit pissed off, the suggestion was: don’t hang around. Not necessarily that you’re going to get shot. Maybe someone will come and beat the shit out of you or something like that.”
But they were your people, no? They were there to see you?
“Well, I was like, Listen, I know that I’m at a music festival, so I know that you all stand for freedom of expression. I know that I’m not doing this at Trump rally. But this is going on the internet. I’m saying this because internationally we’re being watched right now. I wasn’t scared of getting booed by the fans. I was scared of somebody caring as much as I do and doing something about it.”
“All this shit was a lot easier when I was on drugs as well, because, chemically, I didn’t give a fuck,” he says. “I could walk through a fucking minefield with a head full of smack. So that a bit more of a challenge now.”
The message of ‘People’ is powerful in its simplicity; the message of delivery is interesting, because it’s unreconstructed, old-school punk. Is there greater power in saying something so simplistically?
“Yeah, I think that the most powerful things in the world are music and comedy. I think comedy is, maybe, two percent more important, because that’s where that’s where the truth is. The reason that you laugh at something is because it’s true.”
Given your onstage quips and goofing around in recent live performances, you could probably have a side career as a comedian if you wanted to…
“[Laughs] Well, that’s just where the truth is. Because if you make someone laugh, you make someone realise. I always make jokes about religion, because that’s where the truth is. I think that we’re having an epidemic in comedy as well, where people are saying there are things you’re not allowed to make jokes about. Those are the things you have to make jokes about.”
You retweeted Ricky Gervais is the other day. This is his big bugbear: people telling him what he can and can’t talk about. And he’s like, I can – I’m a comedian.
“That’s the point. Like, I saw this ridiculous debate on This Morning or something where a comedian, a bad one, was on with another comedian. She was like, Listen, if you were at a conference full of Catholic priests, I wouldn’t get up and make jokes about Catholic priests and children. It’s like, that’s exactly where you make the jokes, if they’re good enough. Bad jokes, yeah, let’s get rid of bad jokes. But good jokes cut through this bullshit. They’re a knife through the atmosphere.”
Do you think that punk music is still the ultimate delivery mechanism for saying something simple and important?
“I think it is but punk makes me excited and sad at the same time, because if you look at punk and OG hardcore, ’70s to the early ’90s, and all of the movements that happened, these kids believed that they were going to change the world. Not just culture, which they did completely, they thought that they were going to change the world.
As you do?
“I would like to think so. But what happened is after they did all that, Donald Trump became the president. So did punk really work?”
Dunno. What would the world be like if we hadn’t had it?
“Exactly, so, it’s the only device that I have. Punk music, for me, it’s always had a momentum to it. It’s always had a thrust and a momentum to it. And it is always, well, if you’re not going to listen to the lyrics, I’m going to make sure you listen to the music. And if you’re not paying attention to the music, I’m going to jump on your fucking head.”
Before releasing the track, Matty had been posting to Instagram pictures of his collection of vintage T-shirts, guitars and punk ephemera. It seemed almost like he was warming the fans up for the shock of ‘People’.
“You see, I don’t think about these things, but you’re probably right. I feel more like I’m in a punk band than I ever have done,” says Matty. “I’ve always had amongst my peers this revered collection of vintage collectibles that were kind of punk-orientated, and it really excites me to share my passion with people. So, OK, a 15-year-old who’s never heard Converge until they heard it on my Instagram the other day, yeah, when they hear ‘People’ for the first time, surely they’re going to understand that a bit more, you know?”
Then he takes something of a conversational left-turn.
“And I think the thing I’m most excited about right now is turning into a cartoon, you know?”
In Matty-speak, this means exaggerating oneself – becoming more than reality. It explains a lot about their 2019 festival shows, in which Matty moons about the stage during ‘Love Me’ like the reanimated corpse of Michael Hutchence. It’s everything from the giant screens, neon colours and sloganeering to the ever-changing looks: sometimes he can be found in dungarees and primary colours looking like a kids TV presenter; others, in a tux like a particularly unlikely new James Bond.
“All of my favourite bands, by the time they became what they really are, they were like cartoons,” says Matty.
So, for example, Iggy Pop is a cartoon character, right?
“Iggy Pop, Marilyn Manson. The Ramones.”
They say if you can draw a character unbroken with a single pencil line, then it’s a good cartoon.
“Yeah, anyone iconic should be recognisable in silhouette.”
So the ultimate is Mickey Mouse, Bart Simpson… but we know their personalities too. What is the cartoon character Matty Healy like? Someone who says what he wants but caveats it all? Funny when required, serious when required. How do you see that character?
“I don’t really. It’s just me, but I think that would probably be a fair observation, what you just said.”
So it’s about allowing yourself to go to those places without being worried about it. Exaggerating yourself?
“Yeah, you don’t get to stand there and… Stand by your fucking art. I’m sick of artists making music that sounds great but doesn’t mean anything. And I’m not saying that every song needs to be fucking ‘Love It If We Made It’ or political, but songs need to be about something.”
The 1975’s videos are instrumental in etching out that identity, and the clip for ‘People’ seems to ratchet things up a notch, taking the intense visuals of the live show and cramming them into a 10-foot by 10-foot cube in which the band perform. “It’s just this chaotic, terrifying madness,” says Matty. “I just wanted it to be representative of where we are. It’s about urgency.”
“A silhouette in front of chaos,” says Matty, is the aesthetic he’s been chasing throughout his time in The 1975. And it’s an idea that germinated after seeing Nine Inch Nails play at Leeds festival in 2007.
“That is what created our live show,” he says. “I saw ‘The Great Destroyer’ live and that was it. Nine Inch Nails changed my life lots of times, but that show especially.”
Reading and – in particular, being as they are from Wilmslow in the north of England, Leeds festival – have been instrumental in shaping Matty Healy and The 1975. This weekend – tonight, in fact, Friday August 23, 2019 – a lifelong dream will come true as the band take the headline slot, debut ‘People’ and also – for the first time – their madly innovative, environmentally-friendly merch repurposing scheme, which allows fans to bring their own old T-shirt and have it screenprinted with ‘NOACF’ overlay, meaning every piece is unique.
What, exactly, does the occasion mean to him?
“I mean, you know, I never thought that the 1975 would headline Academy One in Manchester.”
Er… yeah you did.
“OK, but when I was 13, if you were headlining the Academy One, you were massive to me. It’s like, how do I explain Reading? I’ve been there 12 times camping, Leeds and Reading. I went every year from 13 until I was 20 and some since. It was just about being there and being part of the culture. I would walk around Wilmslow and I would be the only one of me. I would get to Leeds and it would be a hundred-thousand of me.”
And you were thinking, where do you all live the rest of the year?
“Exactly. It’s so liberating. You realise that you’re part of this enormous community. One of the most looked-after places I’ve ever been was in a Slayer pit at Leeds. People were throwing each other around but the second that there was any real danger, everybody got involved and helped that person out, and that’s about community.”
Do you think people still find their community at festivals?
“I’d like to think that due to the lack of ability to charge your phone, it still happens more than you would expect.”
But people know like-minded people are out there now because they see them on the internet.
“That’s true. It’s probably slightly less eye opening because alternative culture is just culture now. This internet culture crossover music thing has happened but I’m all for it.”
Are you the type who would go with a schedule of bands you wanted to catch?
“Oh, yeah, yeah. But I’d also just be fucked.”
“No, no, no, I was right in the middle of the riots! And I had a big moment. Like, there was that game that kind of started that year in 2004, 2005, the security they got were some brutal, Irish nationalist team there to fuck shit up. So what started happening was the festival, kids would kind of back the security into a corner, and then the security would run at them and then you’d have to run away. We were 16 so we were treating it as a game. But yeah, the thing that happened to me, which is why I’ve still got a huge scar on the bottom of my lip, is I was stood there and the security, dressed as Robocop, they’d made a circle around the perimeter of something, I was walking over to check it out and somebody launched a tent pole, and the tent pole hit the security guard right on his shoulder and fell down directly in front of my feet. So I looked at him and bent down to go and pick it up and give it him. And as I stood up, he punched me as hard as he could in the face and knocked me cold out. The only time I’ve ever been knocked out in my life, and I woke up back in my little campsite because my mate Kit was with me and he dragged me back. And yeah, I remember those years, it was getting pretty fucking gnarly, you know?”
But that didn’t put you off going back?
“Oh, no, fuck that, it was amazing!”
And now they’re going back to claim their crowns: Reading headliners at last. Matty Healy, preparing for his big moment, taking to the stage at the festival that – quite literally – is etched on his body for life. As a teenager, Matty enjoyed the thrill of the ruck, the sheer fun of it. Today, Matty picks fights for the things he believes in. And all he needs to do is get through this Dubai show. Easy.
Except, the next morning, I wake up to the news that Matty brought a male fan on stage in Dubai and kissed him, in direct and glorious contravention of the anti-homosexuality laws and punishable by up to 10 years in prison. In the aftermath, Healy sends some concerning tweets and his dad – the actor Tim Healy – steps in to tell the fans that he’s safe and that the family are proud of him. I consider whether I was joking when I’d told him not to get arrested then realised, no, it didn’t surprise me that he’d done it. It didn’t surprise me that he risked the biggest moment in his band’s career to date for it. And it didn’t surprise me that he got out in one piece. Cartoon characters can get hit by a falling piano and pick themselves up again. And Healy is gonna be one hell of a cartoon tonight.