The arrival of the new Reading & Leeds line-up usually generates a lot of fierce debate. This has historically included valid criticism, with – as is still the case across much of the industry, sadly – initial announcements placing female artists in the lower rungs of the bill. There comes a time when all traditions must change, though, and the first names for R&L 2022 are cause for celebration.
The 33 names already confirmed to be taking over Richfield Avenue and Bramham Park next August bank holiday weekend form the most exciting Reading & Leeds line-up announcement in recent memory. There’s diversity and eclecticism, first-time headliners standing shoulder-to-shoulder with veteran R&L bill-toppers, and a supporting cast of on-the-rise artists ready to provide some real moments next summer.
Having given first chances to a new generation of bill-toppers in recent years via the likes of The 1975, Kendrick Lamar and Twenty One Pilots, is this a further sign from R+L that the days of the same old tired headliner roster – where invariably the same seven or eight acts rotate through the big slots of the weekend each year – are over?
In terms of increasing variety, adding a second main stage might prove to have been a genius move from R&L boss Melvin Benn. At this year’s festival, the running between Main Stage East and Main Stage West might have altered the atmosphere a little bit – gone was the sense of anticipation in trying to squeeze into a good spot in the second stage tent when hardcore fans had been camped out ready for their faves all day. But any of the 2022 headliners feel like they could fill that void within minutes of walking on stage and starting up their first song.
So who is topping the bill and bringing the party to Reading and Leeds next year? British hip-hop don Dave will headline the festival for the first time, bringing his critically-acclaimed, fiery social commentary to its biggest stage. On the same day, Houston’s Hot Girl Coach herself Megan Thee Stallion – a former NME cover star – will also make her debut appearance at the twin fests in what promises to be an iconic, infectiously fun close to the night.
Sheffield will take over another day of main stage action, with rock lords Bring Me The Horizon making the leap up to R&L headliners for the first time. “We’re gonna go hard – we’ll make sure it’s insane,” the band’s frontman Oli Sykes told NME recently. “I’ve always said that we’d play it when we’ve earned it, and it’s finally come. We have the songs, we have the bangers… I know that we can put on a show that’s festival-headline quality.” That’s something they’ve long proved at slots lower down the bill over the years – and their raucous 2018 secret set – so we have no doubt they’ll eviscerate both sites.
Joining them in repping the Steel City will be none other than returning heroes Arctic Monkeys, presumably with a brand new album to freshen up a set of indie classics. By August 2022, it will have been eight years since Alex Turner and co last topped the bill at Reading & Leeds and if their return is anything like that set, it’ll be nothing short of legendary.
Finally, on day one in Leeds and day three in Reading, the US will take the reins with Rage Against The Machine – initially meant to headline the cancelled 2020 edition – back to turn the festivals into one giant mosh pit. On the other main stage, the BandLab NME Awards 2022’s Innovation Award recipient Halsey will headline the fests following their 2017 appearance. Given that she’s built a career on invention – and her past tours have been akin to works of art – we’d expect something very special from this one.
In recent years, Reading & Leeds might have become less focused on the rock sounds it previously skewed heavily towards, but the 2022 line-up so far seems to return to those roots while serving the boundary-free listening habits of modern music fans. Enter Shikari, Wolf Alice, Fontaines D.C. and Måneskin will all fly the flag for guitars over the weekend, but the bill is far from monotonous when it comes to genre. In fact, it feels brilliantly curated – the headliners warmed up for by acts that feel like kindred spirits, but the earlier part of the day an eclectic free-for-all where you can skip from the pop brilliance of Griff to the big riffs of Fever 333, or the indie anthems of The Lathums to the dubstep beats of Wilkinson.
We might only know the first 33 acts for Reading & Leeds 2022 so far, but already it feels like an exciting leap away from the predictable nature of old, continuing the forward-thinking approach we noted when Billie Eilish smashed it in 2019. Here’s hoping organisers can maintain that high quality – we’ll be counting down the days until the last weekend of August.