“If anyone seeing this – or reading it – hates it: suck your mother,” Slowthai goads from the Main Stage on Saturday night at Reading Festival 2021. “I’ve never been one for the rules.” Tonight’s incendiary show is epitomised when he tells the sprawling audience of seething teens seeking a sense of rebellion: “If you’ve got a drink, if you’ve got a bump – do that shit.” This rites-of-passage festival is all about adolescents testing the boundaries, and the man born Tyron Frampton is here to provide an essential public service.
The set opens with the pulsing ‘Enemy’, the song itself preceded by an audio clip of The 1975’s Matty Healy, at the 2020 NME Awards, reeling from Slowthai’s ejection from the event after a fracas with an audience member: “Everyone, send your thoughts to Slowthai. Fuck knows where he is, but God bless the boy”. And then Slowthai graces the stage, looking his punkest in a torn white shirt, to follow that venomous track with the pounding ‘CANCELLED’, which he introduces with another taunt: “Reading, how you gonna cancel meee?”
It’s a standout tune from his second album, last year’s ‘TYRON’, on which he sifted through the very public deterioration of his image due to the aforementioned scrap (said audience member had taken umbrage with Slowthai’s randy banter with host Katherine Ryan, who later clarified on Twitter that she hadn’t found the exchange sexist or uncomfortable). That record, divided between contrite ballads and noxious punk ragers, showcased the two sides of the Northampton rapper’s outsized persona, but tonight he’s very much in the latter mode.
Slowthai begins the performance against a backdrop that depicts an idyllic landscape and a beautiful white mansion on a hill. As he whips the audience up into an increasingly explosive frenzy, the house catches fire, flames and smoke swirling around the timber. “In life people are gonna try and cancel you,” he spits at the crowd. “People are gonna try and rub you out and tell you what you can and can’t do. What do we tell them?” The reply is unanimous – “FUCK YOU!” – coupled with thousands of raised middle fingers.
He leads an outrageous chant that would reduce Twitter to a sobbing puddle (clue: it starts with the jibe “Your hair’s like shit…” and descends rapidly from there), plays an insalubrious new track named ‘Gynecologist’ and then, just when the audience thinks they know Slowthai, concludes with the soppy, fragile ‘Feel Away’, before taking a conciliatory bow. If you felt it was an anticlimax, you also sense he couldn’t care less.
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