How Arctic Monkeys can make their Reading & Leeds Festival headline set one for the ages

The Sheffield heroes return to the UK to headline this weekend. Our columnist looks to history for some tips on becoming legends of the fest

Arctic army, by your beds. The week you’ve been pruning your quiffs and fluffing your Mecca dobbers for has finally arrived – Arctic Monkeys are back, en route to Reading & Leeds Festival this weekend and primed to be the best thing you’ll see for the rest of the year, outside of Trump’s mugshot.

But, the band will no doubt be asking themselves, how to go down in R&L history? Well, there are a few tried and tested tricks…

Be long-awaited

Ideally you’re looking at laying low for at least 10 years before making that unforgettable, Pulp-in-2011 comeback. You want to make 25-year-olds ecstatic at finally getting to see you live, 35-year-olds relive their prime party years to cries of “go on, just a nibble” and R&L’s regular audience of 16-year-olds get flashbacks to the simple childhood days before the divorce. But the four years since the Monkeys played the UK, and the eight since they last headlined R&L, is just about enough to qualify, so do call it a comeback.

Make an entrance

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Strolling on to classic orchestral pop or the soundtrack of gangster classic The Long Good Friday, as the Monkeys have been doing at recent festival shows, makes for a lovely mood-setter, but not quite the I-was-there event entrance such legend-making occasions require. Think Kurt Cobain being wheeled onstage in a wheelchair in 1992 wearing a psychiatric ward gown and blonde fright wig, then turn it up a notch. Considering the lunar lounge theme of the Monkeys’ last album, ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’, I’d suggest floating down from the rafters in astronaut suits fitted with cravats and pocket squares.

Just play hits

Honestly: ditch the deep cuts and B-sides and just play wall-to-wall hits. It might seem like the most obvious festival set cliché in the world, but it’s effective simply because so few acts actually do it. Bowie at Glastonbury 2000: all the hits. Macca at Glasto 2004: a significant portion of the hits. And that’s pretty much it. So get on the stage, start playing hits, and when you run out of hits, get off the stage. Print your setlist off the ‘Singles’ section of your Wikipedia discography if you have to. To be fair, bar ‘Potion Approaching’, the Monkeys’ festival sets of late have stuck fairly solidly to this ethos – but remember, the odd homecoming treat of ‘Fake Tales Of San Francisco’ or ‘When The Sun Goes Down’ is nothing to be scared of when striving for R&L glory.

Wear an eye-catching outfit

For maximum R&L myth-making, you need an onstage image that will be burned forever into the retinas of anyone lucky enough to see it. Kevin Rowland’s turn in a revealing white minidress and stockings in 1999 should be your benchmark, but Googling “Björk festival WTF?!?” should provide plenty of ideas too.

Don’t scrimp on special guests

After the (ahem) glory day of Macca versus Bruce at this year’s Glastonbury, the surprise guest bar has been significantly raised. The days of just popping to the dressing room next door and offering the singer of an earlier band a couple of lines to hang about for your encore are long gone, and Miles Kane is definitely not going to cut it. You’ve got to aim high, push hard against the most steadfast of agents and resist any temptation to throw in the towel and call Rick Astley. There’s history to be made here: we’re talking Kate Bush or bust.

Macca and Bruce at Glastonbury 2022. Credit: Getty

Think BIG

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Steam, fire and lasers? Seen it all before, pal. Over decades of “but I’m not a soldieeeer“s and “live and let die“s, we’ve grown immune to all the usual pyro tricks, and any regular festival-goer is becoming tired of finding butterfly confetti in bodily crevices months after the event. These days the truly legendary festival sets push the boundaries of what’s technically possible at a big gig in a field. Surely it’s time to utilise the most cutting-edge digital-mapping app technology to light up everyone’s phones in spectacular patterns a la Coldplay’s wristbands, or for the Monkeys to splash out on a gigantic teddy picker capable of lifting fans out of the crowd and depositing them onstage to play drums on ‘Crying Lightning’.

Break everything

To return to Nirvana in 1992: when all else fails, simply stack all of your instruments and equipment in a big pile at the front of the stage and throw guitars at it until the entire stage looks like a drone strike on Denmark Street. Legend assured.

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