If you only go to festivals to see the same lumbering oldies, then you’re missing the whole point
Deciding which decade of music was officially the best? A highly contentious subject. From yer gran staunchly defending the status of Doris Day as the Queen of Pop (credit where it’s due, she’s got some bangers) to Uncle Keith insisting that Thin Lizzy marked the absolute pinnacle of guitar solos, everyone has their own strongly worded opinion on exactly why music was the best in their day.
I’ll hold my hands up; I’ve definitely been guilty of mythologising the past, too. Yep, with the power of hindsight, it’s easy to wax lyrical about 2008, a year which gave us debut albums from Foals, Vampire Weekend, Laura Marling, and Late of the Pier, just as it’s easy to rose-tint a festival which hosted Robyn, a fresh-faced debut era Adele and Sugababes on the same bill. It’s also a bit short-sighted. Respect where it’s due to T4 On The Beach ‘08, but with a whole decade of distance, you tend to forget that all those pop legends shared a stage with, er, Pigeon Detectives and Basshunter.
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There will always be people moaning about festival line-ups – you can’t please everybody, after all – but as of late, there have been loads of fans claiming that the quality of current music as a whole has declined to “disgusting” depths. Yesterday, a tweet comparing the current poster for Reading and Leeds with the bill from eighteen years ago went viral, and the turn-of-the-millennium edition of the festival they picked out for comparison was headlined by Oasis, Pulp and Stereophonics, and also featured Placebo, Elastica, Beck, and Shed Seven.
Fair enough; the 2000 edition of Reading & Leeds more or less reflected the times, as a solid line-up should. Oasis were one of the biggest bands in the world. Even if ‘Standing on the Shoulder of Giants’ – released that year – took them in a different direction, it remains one of the fastest selling albums of all time. It’s also hard to dispute the fact that Elastica, Pulp and Placebo are all excellent bands, in their own ways. And as for Stereophonics, if Kelly Jones’ gravelling Welsh tones appeal to your sensibilities, there’s no doubt that you would’ve haaaaaaaaaad a niccceeee dayyyy. Forget about the fact that the well-known ‘Just Enough Education to Perform’ track hadn’t even been released yet, and that by 2000 many, if not all, of the aforementioned bands playing were well past their prime for a second. It’s easy to forget the details with a bit of distance.
There are fairer criticisms to be made about Reading and Leeds’ line-up; “disgusting” irrelevance is not one of them. Admittedly, the bill’s top tier remains a bit of a sausage fest. And if anything else on the line-up deserves closer questioning, it’s probably better directed at the curious phenomenon of noughties indie nostalgia creeping in from the fringes. What place, you may wonder, do some of these bands have at a festival in the year 2018?
In other news, this writer doesn’t really understand the appeal of Post Malone. But ‘dya know what? It’s probably because I’m old and jaded. As much as I might be personally bewildered by the concept of his popularity, our pal Posty is probably going to make a bunch of kid’s summers. And that, friends, is what festivals are all about.
Last night Brockhampton played their first ever UK show at London’s KOKO, a venue that felt comically minuscule when it came to containing one of the biggest new groups in the world. The queues to go into the gig extended out the doors and far down towards Camden Town tube station; the usually busy bar was empty as fans prioritised securing places near the front. They performed on a playground set-up, with six metal swings hanging over astroturf, and this was was a landmark show; the sort to bang on about in years to come.
As he conducted the sweat-drenched room through a hushed rendition of ‘Bleach’, it was clear that Kevin Abstract knew the energy in the room was a rare and special kind. It wasn’t Sex Pistols first Manchester show nor Black Flag at The Peppermint Lounge, but Brockhampton’s debut voyage to the UK will surely hold similar legendary status in years to come.
This weekend, the best boyband since One Direction continue their trip towards Reading and Leeds, and they’re in formidable company. Kendrick Lamar – one of the most creative and trailblazing figures in rap – headlines on the same day. It’s a well-overdue shift to the top of the bill, after Lamar practically owned the entire festival from lower down the line-up three years previously.
Meanwhile, Chicago artist Noname, who released one of the best mixtapes of 2016, ‘Telefone’, also returns to the UK after playing just one single teensy gig at Electrowerkz two years ago. She’ll be at Reading and Leeds too. Then there’s Rex Orange County, Wolf Alice, Creeper, Maggie Rogers, Dua Lipa, Black Foxxes, Petrol Girls, The Magic Gang, Dream Wife, Sunflower Bean, Nadia Rose, J Hus, Shame, and countless other bands and artists at the top of their game. They’re not established legends with the clout of Oasis, but these are the musicians setting today’s agenda. If you only go to festivals to see the golden oldies, then you’re missing the whole point. How on earth are we meant to find the next generation of huge bands if people aren’t willing to stop reminiscing about how the last one was better?
In these dark and difficult political times, it’s more important than ever to listen to the new guard of voices making incisive and vital art about racial inequality in America, lack of education around consent, gun crime, digital disconnection, homophobia, hatred. Roll your eyes and make disparaging comments about the scandalous and “disgusting” inclusion of dance and rap at your sacred rock festival, sure, but you’re the one being left behind. Dive in and give some new music a chance.