In 2019, Reading Festival is going through the most visible of reinventions. After years as the holy grail top table for fledgling rock giants, rap is finally taking its place at the altar.
Want proof? Look at Saturday night, which saw Post Malone taking top billing only 12 months after a mid-afternoon main stage slot at the same festival. It’s quite the statement of intent. His storming set came on the same day that Slowthai stunned, and only 24 hours after Dave’s triumphant headline set on the Radio 1 stage proved that he could easily top the entire festival next year.
And on the final day of Reading 2019, it’s Machine Gun Kelly‘s turn to prove that he’s the next challenger in line to Reading’s throne.
It begins from the moment that the rapper, real name Colson Baker, enters to ‘Sex Drive’ – the spoken word track that welcomes the crowd to Hotel Diablo. For the uninitiated, it’s the fictional, darkened and sexualised world that formed the core of Kelly’s latest album. Think of it as a brash, dirtier ‘Astroworld‘ and you’ll get somewhere to understanding what he’s going for.
As for Baker himself, he’s keen on mining the theme for all it’s worth. We’re barely two minutes in when he grabs a golden snake mic-stand that wouldn’t look out of place in Aladdin’s Cave of Wonders and begins licking it.
Unexpected, perhaps, but it’s the kind of no-fucks-given attitude that you’d expect from a man who picked a fight with Eminem.
Ironically, on ‘El Diablo’ his delivery seems like he’s emulating his ultimate rival – although he’s even more of a showman. Making his way into the crowd at one point, Kelly picks up an inflatable joint and takes a huge huff. It’s a sign that Kelly knows exactly when to not take himself so seriously and simply relish his biggest UK show to date.
At other moments, he’s hellbent on proving himself as so much more than a rapper too. A late section sees him getting behind the drums to perform Motley Crue’s ‘Shout At The Devil’ – having previously portrayed Tommy Lee in much-maligned Crue biopic The Dirt.
And perhaps herein lies Kelly’s greatest asset – he’s able to blend genres in a sincere way that comes across as being so much more than a flagrant attempt to prove himself as a jack of all trades.
Late on, there’s also a chance to address the heaving tent once more to introduce Yungblud – with the pair collaborating for the second time of the day.
“I love you British fucks so much I made one of them my best friend,” he jokes as the Doncaster newcomer strides on-stage.
By Sunday’s showing, he’ll have a much bigger audience of British fucks soon.