“It’s a long time since it has been called ‘Reading Rock’.” In a recent interview with NME, Reading And Leeds boss Melvin Benn dismissed the perception of Reading as a ‘rock festival’, using the dance stage – which was introduced in 2000 and headlined by The Black Eyed Peas, Red Snapper and Laurent Garnier – as evidence. Reading lost the ‘rock’ part of its name in 1989, and while guitar bands still form the backbone of the line-up, it’s possible to go the whole weekend without seeing a single one (and not just by stuffing your cochleas full of earplugs and cowering in the car park). For while Mumfords busy themselves with windswept choruses and Metallica do their level best to blow the power, the BBC Radio 1 Dance Stage will be buzzing. Feast on NME‘s picks from the line-up below.
Drum’n’bass is a bit of a closed shop: the big names of now (Goldie, Shy FX) tend to have been big names since the ’90s. Mark Wilkinson is one of the few new faces to break through into the scene’s top flight in recent years. It’s not hard to see why. The 26-year-old Londoner pairs skittering breakbeats with punch-the-air vocal hooks purpose built for festivals. See his latest single ‘Hopelessly Coping’, featuring vocals from Zimbabwean singer Thabo. Four minutes of breakneck bliss. Random fact: he used to be a gardener.
Dillon Francis is one of moombahton’s leading figures. What the hell is moombahton, you ask? It’s an American house music variant that borrows from reggaeton and bass-heavy electro house, with a Latin slant. Think Diplo – who’s a big fan of Francis, by the way – with a Spanish accent. It’s a big deal in the States, which might explain why Skrillex and Calvin Harris appeared on Francis’s seven track EP ‘This Mixtape Is Fire’ earlier this year. Its best track, ‘Bun Up The Dance’ sees jerky two-step beats and ragga vocals erupt into frenzy of whooping synths. The definition of banging.
American DJ and producer Mark Kinchen had a hand in one of house music’s best loved tunes, ‘Push The Feeling On’ by Nightcrawlers from 1992. His 1995 remix is many people’s favourite version (including Pitbull, who sampled it on his appalling 2009 single ‘Hotel Room Service’). More recently MK has remixed Lana Del Rey (‘West Coast’), HAIM (‘If I Could Change Your Mind’) and Duke Dumont (‘I Got U’), while his own ‘Bring Me To Life’ has been big in Ibiza this summer. House music with pedigree.
Having survived her appearance on ‘Fancy’ by Iggy Azalea, which got to Number One in the US, and soundtracking last year’s The Fault In Our Stars with her own ‘Boom Clap’, Charlie XCX is currently working on her fourth album, which, she says, will be her most electronic to date. She’s collaborating with SOPHIE, aka Samuel Long, the producer of the fabulously bonkers ‘Lemonade’ from 2014. It seems a safe bet the results will be as colourful as her Reading And Leeds sets.
William Phillips is part of the Disclosure family. Last year, he released the ‘Patterns’ EP on their label, Method. No surprise then that he shares the same set of influences: UK garage, classic house, a dash of rave culture. These styles came together to fine effect earlier this year on ‘Holding On’, which took a skippety garage beat and melancholy pianos (Phillips is a self-taught pianist) and floated loved up vocals from Josef Salvat and Niia over the top. Where to go if you like your dance music with a heart this weekend.
Ross Birchard has spent a good part of the last few years co-producing Kanye West’s most interesting songs, and then working for an assortment of other rappers including Drake and Lil Wayne on the back of the results. It explains in part the six-year wait for the follow-up to his 2009 debut, ’Butter’. ‘Lantern’, released in June, felt like a bid to put some blue sky between himself and the hip-hop world and get back to the beautiful sonic oddness of tracks such as ‘Fuse’. Mission accomplished. And he’s a whole lot more interesting as a result.
Like mysterious London enigma Jai Paul, Ben Khan makes warped R&B. Soulful vocals and smooth textures are refracted through an electronic lens. The result is something spikier, a bit rougher and far more interesting than the mainstream variety. Khan’s main instrument is the guitar and his music has hints of Parliament’s funk. The title track of this summer’s ‘1000’ EP defies categorisation. The clipped, typewriter beats could come from electro, while the fat synth licks have shades of Dam-Funk. It so unique you can forgive him for rhyming “lady” with “baby”, as he does on ‘Red’. Look out for both this weekend.
Russell ‘Rustie’ Whyte said that he wanted his second album, ‘Green Language’, released last year, to be more serious than his 2011 debut, ‘Glass Swords’, on which he reckoned he was taking the piss (his words). The baby went out with the bathwater a bit. While there were some killer tunes on ‘Green Language’, such as ‘Attak’, his collaboration with Detroit rapper Danny Brown, and the poundingly heavy ‘Raptor’, it felt too safe in places. Rustie is at his best when he doesn’t care what people think. It’s the same story with his DJ sets.
Adam Englefield and Jacob Manson are proof that house music’s obsession with the ’90s remains in full effect. Their latest single, ‘Feel Good (It’s Alright)’, is a an extravaganza of pianos and a dancefloor diva belting out “You make me feel goOOODDD!” over and over. It would have slotted perfectly into one of Graeme Park’s sets at the Hacienda in, say, 1996. And it’s a total blast, because, when you’re ‘on one’, as ravers used to say, feelgood piano house sounds pretty flipping perfect.
Joshua Leary recently tweeted: “Despite smashing the clubs, I am extremely disappointed to have once again been ignored by the Bass Music Awards.” Well he might be. The Merseyside producer – who has also worked with Kanye – is one of the most inventive and imaginative around. Last year’s ‘Waterfall’ EP was stunning. ‘Salt Carousel’ pitched booming sub bass against scratchy synths that fizzed around like a wasp with a damaged wing, while ‘Fuck Idol’ took the bass so low it sounded like it could destroy planets. His live sets are thunderingly heavy too. You’ve been warned.