If you were to ask any twenty-something standing in the crowd at The 1975’s Reading headline slot to explain why the band’s eponymous debut still resonates in 2023, the response would likely be: “You just had to be there”. 10 years on from its release, the record remains emblematic of an era where a very specific subculture – largely defined by black and white imagery of Dr Martens, fishnets and alt-rock bands – allowed a new, terminally online audience to understand early expressions of their identity in the same way that previous generations may have turned to fanclubs or magazines.
An album defined by its giddy, very teenage feelings of discovery and fearlessness, ‘The 1975’ and its creators quickly became immortalised across Tumblr, and deeply formative for those who frequented the blogging site. For a number of other artists who play the Main Stage this afternoon (August 26), it’s clear this sentiment has endured; you can hear the same forlorn romanticism in Baby Queen’s caffeinated and wry pop or see it in Holly Humberstone’s goth-lite visual aesthetic. When The 1975 take to the stage a few hours later to play the record in full, plus a run of hits from their decade-long career, the mood has already been set: tonight, they know fans are here for a shot of nostalgia, and don’t mess with the formula.
The band re-engage with their history by allowing tracks to elongate into tender jams, from the twitchy groove of ‘She Way Out’ to the chugging pop hum of early favourite ‘Talk!’. ‘Menswear’, too, is still a brilliantly observed drama about discontentment. Frontman Matty Healy acknowledges how a portion of Reading’s predominantly young, GCSE-age attendees would have been toddlers in 2013, but a mix of Spotify, TikTok and older siblings seem to have taken these songs to a new wave of listeners. “Your excitement means this album still feels relevant,” he says, resting a bottle of red wine on his hip. “Thank you for indulging us in doing this.”
‘Chocolate’ and ‘Sex’ are both performed with a devotional zeal as Healy gives a particularly impassioned vocal on the latter, but elsewhere, he performs at a noticeably hesitant remove, keeping in-between song patter to a minimum. After Healy criticised the Malaysian government and its anti-LGBTQ+ laws onstage in July, the band are currently facing a looming lawsuit compensating the festival for its eventual cancellation; in February, his appearance on The Adam Friedland Show podcast saw him share controversial remarks with the hosts. Tonight, when he approaches ‘Girls’ – a song that has aged poorly due to its portrayal of imbalanced power dynamics – he attempts to defuse further controversy: “I wouldn’t write this song in 2023,” he says, before a gleaming guitar line kicks in.
The band continue to give the fans what they want, though groups of casual punters snake towards an exit when they lose interest at lesser-known album tracks. There is also the acknowledgement that, having topped the bill at Reading & Leeds three times in the past four years – and stepping in for Lewis Capaldi tonight, who dropped out due to health issues – The 1975 have, in a way, perhaps become safe, reliable headliners here in the way that Coldplay are to Glastonbury.
But for those who lived and breathed ‘The 1975’ at the time of its release, this clearly means everything, as evidenced by a genuinely moving ‘Robbers’. It would be easy to chalk this up as another cash grab in a time already overflowing with anniversary shows, but this set does, eventually, remind you what it means for such a characterful and often misunderstood debut album to still be so beloved.
The 1975 played:
‘She Way Out’
‘It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)’
‘I’m In Love With You’
‘If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)’
‘I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)’