The 1975 at Reading: a politically-charged and empowering triumph for Britain’s biggest band

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Matty Healy's prophecy comes true in a zeitgeist-seizing moment

August, 2016; The 1975 are headlining Reading Festival. Well, in a way. They’re topping the bill at the BBC Radio 1 stage, about six months after the release of their cataclysmic second album, ‘I Like It When You Sleep…’  – the one that opened them beyond a cult following and to the masses. From the stage frontman Matty Healy announces that next time they’re back, “we’re gonna fucking headline Reading, I fucking promise you.” We trusted what he said then – it was a declaration of intent, none of this wishy-washy “we’d love to be asked” bollocks.

If you ever doubted them, or were sceptical before last night’s headline set at Reading Festival, well, we feel for you. This headline set was one for the believers and the converts. The kids with boxes on their arms. The open-minded and diverse. The young and alive. 

Throughout the day, you got a little taster of what they looked like. Sporting bleached hair and luminous 1975 merch – featuring the slogan “Wake Up!” the opening line to new song ‘People‘ – this was clearly their crowd. All other festivals have the whiff of a challenge to them, but there’s no-one in this field that isn’t already familiar or, more likely, completely enamoured with them. “I’ve never felt more affiliated with an audience in my life,” Healy tells the crowd mid-set.

The crowd are already on their side, but a sense of duty presented itself. Not just to the fans, but to themselves, too. This was the most important show they’ll ever play, and a fulfilling of the prophecy just about every band in Britain sets themselves – to headline Reading and Leeds. Only the special manage to do it these days. “I’m bricking it,” he says. “Welcome to the biggest moment of all our lives.”

So, how does one start that? By playing a brand new song that’s been out for only 24 hours, obviously. A maniacal laughter from Matty kicks off ‘People’ as blinding yellow lights accompany the punk-rock slapper. It’s an almighty start and kick up the arse for a species hurtling towards crisis.

For a show that’s been on the road for nearly a year – with the same dazzling visuals and Insta-ready staging – there’s a hint of chaos in the air. ‘Give Yourself A Try’ is fuelled by tension and when the song finishes, Matty leaps around on stage with relief and joy, despite it being the tour’s standard opener. For the treadmill-featuring ‘Sincerity Is Scary’, he looks like one of the crowd with his oversized schoolbag and rabbit hat. On ‘Love Me’ guitarist Adam Hann channels John Squire with noodly-guitar work and a paint-splattered guitar. It’s silly stuff.

The set’s middle-section is where it gets serious. Before the unifying ‘Loving Someone’, Matty tells the crowd that the band’s platform is larger than ever, and he’ll never stop using it.

“I’m problematic, guys,” Healy tells the crowd. “I sometimes get myself in trouble for being a bit too impulsive or humanly flawed, and I will take those criticisms all day. Because I believe that… I mean look at the size of this fucking stage. If you’re literally on this stage and you do nothing more than indulge in yourself, you’re not doing anything for anybody. So we have to stand for things, and sometimes that does put us in opposition of things.

I kissed a boy in Dubai the other week. The gig was amazing, and everyone that was there was in support of it, because what happened was there was a genuine intimate human moment between two people that was consensual, and to be genuinely honest, it was quite a beautiful moment. When you see that, as a human, that is your natural inclination, to be like ‘aww, that’s nice’, but sometimes, governments and that, to simplify it, are dickheads. So they get involved with all those kind of things when they should just leave you and your lovely genitals to just do with what you want at home.”

“I really liked that boy and I’m pretty sure he liked that kiss, so it’s not me that needs to change, it’s the world that needs to change, so fuck off.”

Introducing ‘Loving Someone’ in front of a rainbow flag glow from the screens, he concludes: “This song is about getting together, because if we don’t get together, even politically, we’re gonna die in a fire, so let’s just do it, alright? I know that you agree with me.”

We do. A run of first album songs, including ‘The City’, ‘Robbers’ and ‘fallingforyou’, please both the casual and diehard, but it’s a reworking of an old song that will prove most memorable. For upcoming new album ‘Notes On A Conditional Form’, the lyrics to ‘The 1975’ have been altered by teenage-firebrand and climate change activist, Greta Thunberg. “If you look through history, all the big changes in society have been started by people at the grassroots level—people like you and me,” the 16-year-old says as the studio version blasts out to the crowd. And it is the people in this crowd that have a chance to make a difference and to try right the wrongs of previous’ generations. During that moment, it feels more like a political rally than a headline gig. 

After a message so intense, it feels daft to jump around to pop songs – but we do so anyway, because it’s a laugh and it’s The 1975. ‘Chocolate’ and ‘Sex’ from their debut album come good on the mainstage ambition those songs harboured back in 2013, and for ‘The Sound’, they reclaim negative reviews (“unconvincing emo lyrics”) for the accompanying visuals and make for a vibrant set closer.

Where they go from here is anyone’s guess. ‘A Brief Enquiry Into Online Relationships’ didn’t just cement them as one of the most popular and critically acclaimed bands of their generation, but simply one of the best. There were no promises like there were in 2016 for what comes next, but after a glorious headline show like last night, they don’t owe us a single thing.