The Reading & Leeds Festivals are a rites of passage for artist and audience alike. Taking place every August Bank Holiday Weekend, the twin events signpost the end of summer as exam result celebrations (or commiserations, depending on how you did) meet total freedom for a hedonistic weekend of beer, bangers and coming-of-age. For the bands, it means just as much as they get to prove themselves on the biggest of stages, before the most honest of audiences.
- READ MORE: Reading & Leeds boss Melvin Benn: “Next year we’ll have two main stages and six headliners”
At one point in their history if the crowd didn’t like you, they’d throw bottles and the occasional wheelchair (just ask poor old Daphne & Celeste). Now they’ll just go watch something else or head back to camp for another drink. Yet it’s the wild west of music festivals and there’s everything to play for.
The 2020 event, which was set to feature performances from Liam Gallagher, Stormzy, Rage Against The Machine, IDLES, Sam Fender and Rex Orange County, has of course been cancelled thanks to Covid-19, but the BBC are pulling out all the stops to ensure there’s still a bit of Reading & Leeds magic this weekend. Trawling through the archives, they’re making over 50 sets available to watch on a dedicated iPlayer channel with select sets available on demand.
Here are 10 essential sets you need to revisit.
Billie Eilish, Main Stage, 2019
When Billie was first announced for R&L 2019, she was set to play an early evening slot in the bbc Radio 1 tent. However, propelled by the success of her game changing debut album ‘When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go’, the organisers were moved to give her a set on the Main Stage. Pulling one of the biggest ever crowds R&L has ever seen and delivering a performance that showed exactly why she’d taken over the world, it was a real ‘I Was There When…’ moment.
Why it sums up Reading and Leeds: It’s one of the most exciting new artists around staking their claim for a future headline spot, which is pure R&L magic.
The 1975, Main Stage, 2019
From the moment The 1975 walked offstage after closing the Radio 1 tent at Reading 2016, it felt inevitable that next time they played, they’d be proper headliners. 2019 saw them fulfil that childhood dream by topping the bill and cementing their status as total legends. From the wild opener of industrial punk ‘People’ (a track that had been out for just over 24 hours) through the Nine Inch Nails-inspired stage design to a career-spanning setlist that had soundtracked the past five years for fans, it was never anything but madcap brilliance.
Why it sums up Reading and Leeds: From going to the festival as kids to headlining the whole thing: it’s an event that inspires
Queens Of The Stone Age, Main Stage, 2014
While fellow co-headliners Paramore won over the heart of Reading after battling through technical issues (that performance of ;The Only Exception’ will be talked about for decades to come) Queens of The Stone Age came onstage as underdogs. People were unsure how brooding new album ‘Like Clockwork…’ would work on the Main Stage ,but from the moment the band kicked into their career-spanning 16-song set with a laser-soaked one-two of classic tracks ‘You Think I Ain’t Worth A Dollar, But I Feel Like A Millionaire’ and ‘No One Knows’, all doubts were cast aside.
Performances of ‘My God Is The Sun’, ‘Smooth Sailing’ and ‘The Vampyre of Time and Money’ changed refined the new record and the closing ‘A Song For The Dead’ has been the only time a drum solo has been acceptable.
Why it sums up Reading and Leeds: Every year the line-up is announced and people claim one of the headliners aren’t big enough to warrant that position. QOTSA’s set was a prime example of those trolls being proved wrong.
Dua Lipa, Main Stage, 2018
Reading & Leeds have been a lot of things. Across their history, they’ve championed jazz, rock and indie. For a brief spell in the ’00s, they even had an unofficial ‘heavy Sunday’, but the festival had always been wary of pure pop music. Sure, the likes of Charli XCX, Halsey and Sigrid had played the previous year, but not on the Main sStage, and not without an alternative take on the genre.
Dua Lipa was a bold step forward for the festival as she brought her radio-friendly dance-pop anthems to a Main Stage that had just seen Sum 41, Skindred and Trash Boat tear through sets of guitar-heavy anthems. The opening ‘Blow your Mind (Mwah)’ saw Lipa start as she meant to go on, fearlessly dominating the Main Stage, winning over new fans and proving that capital-P Pop wasn’t just tolerated at R&L, but celebrated.
Why it sums up Reading and Leeds: Turns out that whatever the genre, R&L loves a banger.
Radiohead, Main Stage, 2009
A rare festival outing from Radiohead saw the band at their unpredictable best. They opened with ‘Creep’, so the people waiting for that song could go elsewhere, but anyone who wandered off missed out on the band performing the closest to a Greatest Hits set we’re ever likely to see.
‘Karma Police’, ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’ and ‘Just’ sat alongside the instant classics of the ‘In Rainbows’ era and the closing one-two ‘Paranoid Android’ and ‘Everything In Its Right Place’ was as powerful as it was beautiful. It might not be their most legendary performance but it’s one of their most important.
Why it sums up Reading and Leeds: Even the critically acclaimed Radiohead knew they needed to pull out all the stops to impress at R&L.
Twenty One Pilots, Main Stage, 2019
The last time the world’s Biggest Cult Band played Reading, they had their cut short due to safety concerns after frontman Tyler Joseph jumped out into the crowd. And so their return three years later was surrounded by the feeling that anything could happen. And it did.
From burning cars and backflips to a cover of Oasis‘ ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’, a crowdsurfing drummer and a burst of Eurotrance that saw security join the band onstage for a little dance, it was weird, wonderful and strangely emotional. With the same triumphant power as My Chemical Romance’s 2011 headline set, the duo opened up their world of emo-rock‘n’roll to the masses and made everyone feel welcome.
Why it sums up Reading and Leeds: Anything can happen at R&L – and it usually does.
Biffy Clyro, Main Stage, 2016
Their 10 appearance at Reading & Leeds saw Biffy Clyro headline the Main Stage for the second time, and this performance saw the boys out to prove that their celebratory 2013 stint at the top of the bill wasn’t a fluke. With the band at their bombastic best and performing in front of a stack of video screens that would make The 1975 blush, it was a masterclass in big rock gigs.
From the theatrical chaos of ‘Wolves of Winter’ and ‘Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies’ through to the weepy romance of ‘Machines’ and ‘Many Of Horror’ and the firework finale of ‘Stingin’ Belle’, it underlined Biffy’s status as national treasures.
Why it sums up Reading and Leeds: Biffy have played every stage on offer at R&L, so when people talk about Future Headliners, you better listen.
Wolf Alice, BBC Radio 1 Stage, 2018
After their secret set the year before that kickstarted their ‘Visions Of A Life’ album cycle, Wolf Alice returned to headline the Radio One Stage. Armed with nothing more than a giant disco ball and a back catalogue of brilliant indie anthems, they put on a chaotic knees-up for the modern scene.
A couple got engaged during ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’, people lost shoes in the mosh pit for ‘Giant Peach’ and the ‘Bros’ saw them armed with the firepower to one day close the Main Stage. For a lot of bands, closing the Radio One Stage feels like the peak of their career, but this performance was a promise that Wolf Alice still have plenty of bite.
Why it sums up Reading and Leeds: A proposal, boozy singalongs and plenty of mosh pits? It was heartfelt chaos from front to back – which should be R&L’s new tagline.
Foo Fighters, Main Stage, 2019
Dave Grohl loves Reading Festival. Really, properly loves it. When the band first played the event back in 1995, he was asked to close the Saturday night of the festival after Björk had played, but he wanted to do things the right way with his then-new band. Foos first headlined in 2002 and this, their 2019 appearance, was their fourth time at the top of the bill.
They might be pros, but it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen the Foos – it still feels magic. For this show the band dove into a 25 song set of all the tunes you’d ever want to hear Foo Fighters play, delivered with the excitement of a band doing it for the first time. If that wasn’t enough, they also brought out Rick Astley for a cover of ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ (it’s a card they’d already played at Club NME in east London a few days previously, but felt no less exciting).
Why it sums up Reading and Leeds: It’s the Foo Fighters. They practically are Reading Festival
Yungblud, Main Stage, 2019
Yungblud is a huge deal within the scene, but last summer he started breaking out and turning heads in a big way. Buoyed by the success of his Halsey collaboration ‘Eleven Minutes’ and the dedication of his diehard fanbase, the Black Hearts Club, he took to huge festival stages like it was his birthright.
Tumbling onto the Reading & Leeds Main Stage while most campers were still nursing their hangovers, his 45-minute set was the perfect introduction to his over-the-top world. Armed with cartoonish, bubblegum anthems of self empowerment and with more energy than the Duracell Bunny on speed, Yungblud quickly became Your New Favourite Act.
Why it sums up Reading and Leeds: Yungblud speak to the young, angry and those who want to be heard. In order words: the target audience of Reading & Leeds Festival.
– The BBC’s dedicated channel to Reading & Leeds Festival runs from today (August 28) to August 30