Back-to-back on the 1Xtra Stage, Section Boyz and Stormzy wrap up day two at Reading Festival with sets that underline grime’s position as the pioneering genre of the day. Both shows are fast, frenetic and filled with moshpits – worthy successors to the rock acts on which Reading Festival made its name.
As Stormzy’s audience recovers from the chaos unleashed by final song ‘Know Me From’, he thanks everyone for coming out to see his headline show when they could have been watching heritage rock act The Red Hot Chili Peppers on the Main Stage. You couldn’t move in the 1Xtra Stage and the crowd spills messily outside the tent. While Stormzy pants, “Reading, I am never gonna forget this,” and five circle pits revolve like separate solar systems, Flea is probably doing another bass solo.
Earlier in the evening, south London rap group Section Boyz open with ‘Mad Man Ting’, its energy rewarding the efforts of fans who ran across the field to catch the start of the show. The Chilis play for two hours, but there’s probably more excitement distilled in this short set. The six-piece punctuate the gig with a call-and-response of the words, “When we say Section you say – Boys!”. Meanwhile, the shimmering ‘Bando’ and the bassy ‘Bimma’ – the latter with a gloriously demented, insistent synth line – prove that Section Boyz have the tunes to back up their commanding stage presence.
Soon afterwards, Stormzy bounds onto a stage backlit with a video screen bearing his catchphrase ‘MERKY’, warming the crowd up with singalongs to Skepta’s ‘That’ Not Me’ and JME’s ‘Don’t Care About All That’. It’s a celebration of grime and a show of its generosity; the success of the genre is a point of pride for all those who work within it. (The gesture also acknowledges Skepta and JME’s crew Boy Better Know as the current kings of the genre; London punks Slaves similarly closed a secret set on the BBC Introducing Stage with the former’s anthem ‘Shutdown’.)
He moves on to his massive hit ‘Shut Up’, a song so menacing it belies his stature as the nicest man in grime (for the avoidance of doubt, Stormzy took his fans to Thorpe Park for his 23rd birthday in July). “I come from a little place called South London,” he says after ‘Standard’, a rallying cry for self-actualisation and knowing exactly who you are. He asks, “How many of you are waiting for the new album?” (answer: seemingly every member of this teeming, sweating audience), before he reveals a new track fell flat at the recent V Festival. When the audience fills in the chorus of the brand-new ‘Cold’ on only its second refrain, it’s clear that Stormzy is with his people.
Peeling off his shirt, he implores everyone here – even those who don’t believe in grime, surely a small demographic – to bounce to ‘Know Me From’. Everyone does what they’re told, proving grime packs more than its weight at Reading Festival 2016. Not bad, since it’s been around roughly 20 years less than, say, the Red Hot Chili Peppers.