Stormzy, like us, has had a lot to think about over the past 18 months. One of his last UK performances was Glastonbury 2019, a momentous triumph for the London rapper and the scene that’s historically been overlooked by festivals – his performance packed with statement songs and striking iconography. So how does he try and top that? Well, perhaps he doesn’t need to. There’s a different energy to tonight’s show at Reading Festival 2021 – this was his rockstar set: looser, faster and funner.
It’s why he opened with a stellar guitarist absolutely shredding. Sporting a Corteiz tee and grey tracksuit bottoms, the understated rap phenomenon bounded on stage backed by raging pyros and fireworks from the jump. The stage design, full of hype men, backup singers and fans accelerating the party atmosphere.
The early portion of the set dominated by his grime-entrenched tracks which have the bold tone that fans crave from him. Every track is a diss or gauntlet thrown to someone. Whilst performing ‘Return of the Rucksack’ from his debut album ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’, The Norbury lad looks intensely into the camera and raps “Broke n*ggas shouldn’t do diss tracks”, pointing at someone – but who?
Rockers like Stormzy move well in numbers, his contacts a who’s who of British heavyweights. First up is Edmonton king Tion Wayne, whose song ‘I Dunno’ offered a great demonstration of Stormzy’s versatility, switching from grime to drill before scene innovator Russ Millions joins for ‘Body’. It was an undeniably powerful moment for the genre; a scene once demonised for his vulgar language and imagery, now enthralling crowds who’ve never experienced the gruelling life of gang culture.
But the big guest was Dave. Sporting a simple blue Trapstar tracksuit, the two performed their ‘Clash’ collaboration off of the Streatham-born rapper’s latest album, ‘We’re All Alone In This Together’. You can sense their sickly-sweet friendly camaraderie — the two are truly brothers in the name of grime, rap, or whatever you want to label them as.
He remained keen to cede his place and give “God the glory” during ‘Blinded By Your Grace Pt. 1’; the heavenly choir that joined the 28-year-old invoked the Holy Spirit herself. Now iconic singles like ‘Know Me From’ and first Number One single ‘Vossi Bop’ did well, but it was ‘Shut Up’ that proved the night’s crowning glory, everyone (including mums, dads, and alcohol-sodden teens) rapping along to the classic grime beat.
He started like a rockstar so he’ll finish finish like one: a mind-melting guitar solo closes out Stormzy’s festival comeback. With an unparalleled “energy crew”, another spectacularly executed vision, he continues to reign in his imperial phase.
Check back at NME all weekend for more reviews, news, interviews, photos and more from Reading & Leeds 2021.