2019’s festival season – reviewed!

The story of this summer's biggest musical moments, told through the words and photos of NME

Festival season is pretty much a year-round thing now, with inner-city winter festivals popping up all over the shop. The main schedule still runs, roughly, from April to August, and within those months there have been some career-defining, game-changing evenings.

From Billie Eilish pulling ginormous crowds at Glastonbury and Reading & Leeds, to world-beating headline sets from Stormzy (at the former) and The 1975 (the latter), it’s been a classic summer that’s seen youth burst forth and show that, in fact, we’re spoilt for choice with regards to future headliners. Stormzy and The 1975 have set the pace, and next year should see a whole new generation grabbing those top slots.

From April’s Coachella to the August curtain call of Reading & Leeds, here is the story of 2019’s festival season, told through the fingertips and camera lenses of NME.

April

Coachella

Coachella is the festival season’s traditional curtain raiser, and this year brought plenty of talking points. During his headline set, Donald Glover waved goodbye to his Childish Gambino moniker in dramatic style.

Reviewing his set, NME‘s Rhian Daly said: “If this really is one of the last times we see Glover on stage then at least he’s succeeded in pulling off a nearly perfect show. It’ll be sad to see him go but, as he pointed out earlier, loss is a part of life. We’ve just got to make the most of what we’ve got while we have it. As a Coachella headliner, the man perhaps not known as Childish Gambino for much longer has certainly done that.”

Elsewhere, Billie Eilish showed her headlining credentials when debuting songs from debut album ‘WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?’. Of the set, NME said: “As with every other chapter in her story so far, her Coachella debut points to things getting even more mind-blowingly wild for her soon. Tonight (April 13) Eilish made her mark, not only as a hype act that can justify every positive word said about her, but as a future headliner and, perhaps, the future of pop.” Read the full review here.

Coachella also saw sets from The 1975, Kacey Musgraves, Tame Impala and more.

Read NME‘s review of the biggest talking points from Coachella 2019 here.

May

The Strokes at All Points East 2019. Photo: Andy Ford/NME

All Points East

May was all about the return of The Strokes. After making their comeback at a few US dates at the start of the month, the band’s big comeback came at London’s All Points East, where they topped the bill on a day that included sets from other returning heroes The Raconteurs, plus Interpol, Parquet Courts and many, many more.

As NME‘s Dan Stubbs said in a review of the set, the show was “a masterclass in the effortless cool that made us love them in the first place”. He went on: “It’s now 18 years since the New Yorkers released their game-changing debut, ‘Is This It’, and their DNA can be found in artists throughout the line-up. If the band themselves have aged well, looking pretty much the same as they ever did, minus a few of Albert Hammond Jr’s curly locks, their music is still as fresh as the day it was born. Come back soon, please.”

The Strokes’ Nick Valensi at All Points East 2019. Photo: Andy Ford/NME

Elsewhere at All Points East was a headline set from Christine & The Queens, who brought her immense live show to Victoria Park, and covered David Bowie’s ‘Heroes‘, in support of second album ‘Chris’.

“Backed by pyro to set the spectacle for one of the biggest headline performances of her career so far, Christine and the Queens introduced a gangway to APE’s main East Stage so that her dance troupe could get up close and intimate with the enraptured crowd,” NME‘s Will Lavin wrote in a review.

Mumford & Sons closed out the festival on the first day of June, and their Gentlemen Of The Road takeover of APE was a brilliant celebration of the capital.

NME‘s Jordan Bassett said in his review: “They round off the night by bringing out musicians who’ve played throughout the day for a joyous, chaotic singalong of The Beatles‘ ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’, a gesture that feels like a summation of everything – inclusivity, the capital, celebrating each other – the day stood for.”

While at the festival, NME also sat down with vulgar Swedish punks Viagra Boys for a chat, in which they discussed their disdain of the right wing, but why they won’t write any songs about it.

“There’s a duty, but at the same time I don’t think there’s a duty to make your music and lyrics specifically address that,” frontman Sebastian Murphy told NME. “Our songs are mostly written about what’s going on in our lives. Not every band needs to take themselves so seriously. I’m not very good at political commentary, so I’m not gonna go write a political song. There’s enough of that, in a way. You know, ‘Nazi punks fuck off’.”

He continued: “Our music has got a lot of humour in it. I don’t like taking life all that serious, so that I’d have to write a song proving that I hate the right. I hate the fucking right, but if you wanna ask me about it then ask me a question about it – but I don’t need to write about it to prove anything to anybody.”
Watch the full interview above.

All Points East 2019 also featured headline sets from Bring Me The Horizon, The Chemical Brothers and Bon Iver.

Primavera Sound

A sunny haven for hipsters, Barcelona’s Primavera Sound leads the way in edgy, diverse music that runs until sunrise. This year’s festival was branded The New Normal, publicising a line-up that featured a 50-50 gender split, in the hope that this will become the norm at festivals around the world.

At this year’s festival, Miley Cyrus was a last-minute replacement for the absent Cardi B, while Christine & The Queens and Charli XCX debuted new collaboration ‘Gone’.

Charli’s set, as NME‘s Gemma Samways wrote, was “future-facing” and “bombastic”.

“Charli is there for a good time, not a long time. It’s an invigorating end to a day that proves if you actually give female artists a platform they’re more than capable of delivering the goods. Primavera Sound one, everyone else nil.”

Primavera Sound

In the NME review of the festival, Charlotte Krol described the weekende as “a gender-equal lineup for a thrilling, sunshine-filled weekend of eclectic music”

Reviewing Miley Cyrus’ gig at the festival, we said that is showed that “her latest reinvention is her best yet” in a “triumphant” show.

“It’s Cyrus’ old favourites, ‘We Can’t Stop’, ‘Party in the USA’ and closer ‘Wrecking Ball’ that really open the floodgates: a sea of fans on shoulders, tears, hugs shared, and people singing so loudly that Cyrus frequently hands the mic to the crowd. Elevated on huge guitar speakers at the end for ‘Wrecking Ball’ with wind blowing her hair, Cyrus screams out her 2013 hit like an ‘80s power ballad queen. We bow down.”

Read the full review of Miley’s set here.

Primavera Sound 2019 also featured sets from Robyn, Carly Rae Jepsen, Tame Impala, and more.

June

Glastonbury 2019. Photo: Danny North / NME

Glastonbury

June is always defined by Glastonbury, but it felt particularly special this year. Maybe it was the stonking weather. Or the fact that we hadn’t set foot on the hallowed turf for two years, following a fallow year in 2018. Or maybe it was because it featured the most progressive, exciting line-up the festival has seen in years, which included the first British rapper to headline the Pyramid Stage in Stormzy. Either way, Glastonbury 2019 was one for the ages.

Stormzy Glastonbury

Stormzy headlining Glastonbury 2019. Photo: Andrew Whitton/NME

It was Stormzy’s set that arguably defined the weekend. In the NME review of the set, Dhruva Balram said: “Stormzy’s Glastonbury headline set was a platform to elevate others, a statement of intent, and bloody brilliant.”

Billie Eilish also brought a highlight to the Other Stage at Worthy Farm, with NME‘s Thomas Smith describing it as a “once-in-a-generation show”.

“In a matter of months, she’s transitioned from Instagram icon to pop sensation – and this almost certainly won’t be her last time at the festival. From what we’ve just witnessed, there’s every chance that she lands the top spot on the Pyramid eventually. “It’s like the whole world is looking at me right now,” she says mid-set, both excited and wistful. It’s hard to imagine anyone turning away from this spectacle now.”

Read the full review of the set here.

Billie Eilish at Glastonbury

Billie Eilish at Glastonbury 2019. Photo: Andy Hughes/NME

Along with covering all the best sets across the weekend – re-visit all the NME coverage of Glasto’ 19 here – we also sat down with some of the stars of the show to discuss their sets.

Among the chats was a sit down between NME editor Charlotte Gunn and festival highlight-maker Lewis Capaldi, just minutes after he continued his then-beef with Noel Gallagher by coming on stage to a VT of Noel slagging him off in an interview while dressed as Liam, before exposing a t-shirt with Noel’s face inside a heart.

Stepping straight off the Other Stage into our chat, we talked about the whole Noel situation, as well as how much he loved Stormzy’s headline set.

Then we dressed him up in a suit of armour made of Stella boxes, because… why not.

Lewis Capaldi Glastonbury 2019

Lewis Capaldi at Glastonbury 2019. Photo: Danny North/NME

Watch the interview below.

Another highlight came from Kylie Minogue, whose legends slot set was described by NME‘s Dan Stubbs as “a surreal pop spectacle with a fake wedding, rainbow confetti and two famous dudes (Nick Cave and Chris Martin, for the record)”.

Read the full review of the set here.

The Killers also played 12 years since their 2007 headline set that was plagued by sound issues. “They rolled loaded dice, and we hit the jackpot. The Killers: whales of the rock’n’roll casino, at last,” NME‘s Mark Beaumont said in our review of the headline set.

The festival was wrapped up by The Cure, who headlined the Pyramid Stage on the Sunday night. Reviewing the show, NME‘s Andrew Trendell said: “Even with the dream closer of ‘Boys Don’t Cry’, there were no frills, no banter, just joy. Showmen have their place, so does pure class and grace. No words can amount to what The Cure gave Glastonbury tonight.”

Read the full review of The Cure’s headline Glastonbury set here.

Watch our video wrapping up all the highlights from the festival below and see ya next year, Glasto.

July

Iggy Pop at Mad Cool Festival 2019

Iggy Pop at Mad Cool Festival 2019. Photo: Andy Ford/NME

Mad Cool

Once again, NME headed to Madrid’s Mad Cool Festival in July for a scorching celebration of eclecticism and stone cold bangers.

The Cure carried on their Glastonbury high with a giddily joyous set, and there were also headline shows from The National, whose set “sucked in every man, woman and insect”, and Bon Iver, who brought “a fine end to the ‘22, A Million’ era”.

Bring Me The Horizon were also at the Spanish weekender. “Their current show is an unhinged death metal panto, an unashamedly entertaining spectacle that suggests Bring Me The Horizon could be the Iron Maiden of their generation: grafters who never leave an audience feeling short-changed,” NME‘s Jordan Bassett wrote.

Read the full review of their set here.

Bring Me The Horizon at Mad Cool 2019. Photo: Andy Ford/NME

Across the weekend, we also spoke to a whole manner of bands from across the line-up, including Prophets Of Rage, who told Jordan Bassett that their second album is “a celebration of resistance”.

“If you’re not rocking the crowd, then your message will fall on deaf ears,” Tom Morello told NME. “So first and foremost you have to rock the crowd. Today I visited the famous Picasso painting Guernica which is the great anti-fascist painting – it’s one of the great pieces of political art of all time – and musically it’s the same kind of thing that we mean to do: you touch people emotionally with the beauty and the power of the art and then it can convey a message that’s deeper than just escapist fluff.”

Watch the interview below, and catch up on all of NME‘s Mad Cool Festival coverage here.

British Summer Time

Florence + The Machine at BST Hyde Park 2019

Florence + The Machine at BST Hyde Park 2019. Photo: Ben Bentley/NME

July saw a host of gigs in London’s Hyde Park under the British Summer Time banner.

A highlight of these was Florence + The Machine‘s homecoming show, bringing the ‘High As Hope’ era to a close.

“Over the last 10 years, Florence has become an increasingly safe pair of hands as a festival headliner, solidifying this when she stepped in to headline Glastonbury after Dave Grohl’s broken leg in 2015, then going on to headline BST Hyde Park for the first time the following year,” NME‘s Will Richards wrote of the set.

“A safe booking can often equate to a boring one, but Florence takes the opportunity tonight and uses it to hammer home her beliefs and do something a little different.”

Read the full Florence review here.

Also headlining BST Hyde Park 2019 was Robbie Williams, whose closing set was described by NME‘s Nick Reilly as “the ultimate come and get me plea” for Glastonbury to make him a headliner.

“One of Britain’s most enduring stars proves in spades that he’s still got what it takes to command the biggest stages of them all. Having conquered the likes of Wembley, Knebworth and now Hyde Park – there’s only one stage left for Robbie to tackle. On the basis of tonight’s showing, the fields of Worthy Farm should be the next challenge. Over to you, Glastonbury.”

Read the review in full here.

August

The 1975 at Reading 2019

The 1975 headlining Reading Festival 2019. Photo: Jenn Five/NME

Reading & Leeds

At Reading & Leeds 2019, the August bank holiday double-header felt more important than it has for over a decade. “It’s been quite some time since Reading and Leeds felt so vital and in tune to what our nation’s youth crave: great music from across the spectrum,” NME‘s Thomas Smith wrote following the events.

“The evolution will certainly not please everyone – there’s already a chunk of the older attendees lamenting the festival’s ‘decline’ – but that’s the beauty of it. Don’t worry grandads, the kids are doing alright.”

This revelation has a lot to do with the festivals giving The 1975 their first major festival headline slot on the Friday night. “Where they go from here is anyone’s guess,” NME wrote of the set. “‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships’ didn’t just cement them as one of the most popular and critically acclaimed bands of their generation, but simply one of the best. There were no promises like there were in 2016 for what comes next, but after a glorious headline show like last night, they don’t owe us a single thing.”

Read the full NME review of The 1975’s headline set at Reading Festival 2019 here.

Clairo also showed that youth is being pushed to the front at the festivals, with NME saying: “From the bedroom to the main stages, a generation’s hero comes good on the promise” of her set. Read that review here.

Billie Eilish

Billie Eilish at Reading Festival 2019. Photo: Jenn Five/NME

Billie Eilish once again showed that she’s a future headliner, bringing possibly the biggest crowd the main stage at Reading has ever seen to her set on the Saturday afternoon.

“It’s a triumphant cap-off for a remarkable summer,” NME said of the set. “By this time next year? Well, it wouldn’t be a stretch for her to headline the whole damn thing.”

It was then down to Foo Fighters to show the youngsters what it takes to remain headliners for decade upon decade, pulling out all the stops (and special guests) in a set that showed just why they remain on top.

“This isn’t just another Foo Fighters show,” NME‘s Nick Reilly said of the set. “They don’t take anything for granted. It’s the reason why they find themselves at Reading’s top table for the fourth time. As fireworks blast into the night sky while ‘Everlong’ closes the set, you sense that a fifth time is an inevitability. We’ll see you there.” Read the review in full here.

Foo Fighters at Reading

Foo Fighters headline Reading Festival 2019. Photo: Jenn Five/NME

We also caught up with all manner of our favourite acts backstage across the weekend, getting the scoop on new collaborations, upcoming albums and a whole host of festival memories.

Speaking to NME at Reading, Charli XCX revealed that she has a very special collaboration in the can.

“I was loosely speaking to Robyn, and I was also loosely speaking to Matty Healy,” she told Hannah Mylrea after her stellar show on the main stage.

“And also Grimes and I did make a song for the album, and we really liked it and it was really good, but we made a techno song with no words. And I was going to put it on the album and then I just spoke to her and was like ‘should we not be writing a pop song’, and she was like, ‘Yeah we should write a massive pop song’. So we were like we’ll come back to that, cause it was like a techno banger. Hopefully we’ll be able to revisit that.”

Watch the interview in full below.