Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Reading Festival 2013

Reading Festival 2013 Top 10
Here I give a flavour of ten of the most memorable acts over the 3 days of music I experienced in the south east of England. The outstanding feature of this festival, apart from the enthusiasm of the predominantly young crowd, is the sheer breadth of the music. The Radio 1 Dance Stage was a welcome addition, but the most indie line up was on the small Festival Republic Stage. The event was exceptionally well organised and egalitarian, with none of the divisiveness of VIP admission or heavy handed security of certain US festivals. Reading is the oldest festival still running, and the sense of history is palpable.

1) Haim 9/10
The atmosphere on the front rail of Haim's set in the 20,000 strong crowd was electric. I was a little nervous about the balance problems in the first two songs, but the LA sisters overcame the technical problems to mesmerise us. The music is original and uplifting, but it's the energy of their delivery that made this the highlight of my Festival.

2) Ghostpoet 9/10
This 30 year old British singer and producer released his first album in 2011, but it wasn't until he brought out Some Say I So I Say Light in May that he came to my attention, and this was my first time I've seen him live. I bought a ticket for his next show in Manchester the day after I came back from Reading, as he creates a chilling, hypnotic and yet mellow atmosphere- utterly compelling.

3) Alt-J 9/10
Last time I saw Alt-J, at Manchester Academy 1, I was a little disappointed at their lack of energy on stage. Yet headlining the NME Radio 1 tent, the audience's enthusiasm made efforts at interaction unnecessary, and they put on a near faultless musical performance. The energy sagged during Buffalo, but the snow machine in the closing Taro (their finest song) made for a memorable close.

4) The 1975 9/10
Any doubts that this group from Macclesfield, Cheshire, had finally made it in the UK were dispelled by the size of the crowd in the inadequately sized Festival Republic Stage on Saturday. They'll surely be following Alt-J to the Radio 1 NME stage next year. Such a following is all the more amazing considering that their début album isn't out until next week.  What stood out for me in this performance as their lyricism, alongside rock energy.

5) Nine Inch Nails 8/10
I've waited to see NIN live for several years, and they didn't disappoint for mind blowing impact. Having seen Trent Reznor's How to Destroy Angels in April, I wasn't surprised to be dazzled by an outstanding lighting rig (although here without his side project's innovative use of video). Yet, the main stage of Reading (which I'd avoided the rest of the weekend) wasn't the ideal setting for music which requires total concentration. The crowd around seemed to be waiting for Biffy Clyro and didn't seem open to the challenges of this industrial music. I envy those who experienced his intimate show in London's Scala earlier this week, or at The Troubadour in LA on 3rd September, without distracting chatter. Trent Reznor channelled his anger at the festival's organisers (who denied him the headlining slot) into the performance, which was uninterrupted by any comment from Reznor. Judging by comments on Twitter, this was not NIN's happiest hour, or quite the live experience of this band I'd dreamed of.

6) Half Moon Run 8/10
This Montreal four piece were my surprise of the festival. The music is often sparse, with folk and electronica influences, and beautiful harmonies. Americana was notably lacking on the line-up, an influence this group blends with an Alt-J like intricacy. Their recently released album Dark Eyes is highly recommended.

7) Savages 8/10
This all female London post punk band almost rivalled NIN in the intensity of their performance. I find their music too brutal to enjoy often at home, but seen live their are utterly absorbing and made a wonderful contrast with Lucy Rose's delicate sounds preceding them. They similarly impressed at Coachella this year.

8)  In The Valley Below 8/10
This is the third time I've seen this LA duo (with 2 backing musicians) recently and by far their most assured set. They've gained not only in confidence, but in the breadth of their music, which has started to explore more dreamy elements to go alongside their dark broodiness.

9) Catfish & The Bottlemen 7/10
This Welsh indie rock band show the value of the BBC Introducing Stage at Reading which exists to showcase unsigned acts. It's cleverly positioned on the walk between the two main stages to promote discovery. I was impressed with Amber and Men Can't Fly, but Catfish and the Bottlemen are most likely to break through in the next few months. The Guardian has an excellent recent article.

10) Kodaline 7/10
The Irish quartet show the benefits of the festival stage: the sense of euphoria early on the first day was almost overwhelming. I find their music in isolation too saccharine and eager to please, but for a little over half an hour on 23rd August it was

Other Notable Acts (in chronological order)

Deap Vally 7/10
Not the most subtle band, but that's missing the point, as they're so energetic live.

Ms Mr 7.5/10
The New York electro pop duo were charismatic and upbeat, unperturbed by the mediocre reviews from their major label début Secondhand Rapture.

Mo 7.5/10
Copenhagen's Karen Marie Orsted has been hailed as the new Grimes. She lacks the eclectic musical imagination of the Canadian, but it's well worth watching out for her album

The Strypes 7/10
This Irish garage band aren't really to my taste, but are on the verge of a breakthrough and were energetic and animated.

Surfer Blood 7.5/10
The Florida rockers managed to inspire a mid sized crowd on a small stage; their recent album Pythons has impressed.

To Kill A King 7.5/10
It's not always easy opening a stage, but the folk influenced London band were energetic and charming, inspiring the crowd (many of whom had just got up) to party.

Post War Years 7/10
I enjoyed this British electronic act more live than on their recent album Galapogos, but it wasn't the most memorable set of my Festival.

Big Black Delta 7/10
This synth rock from Mellowdrone singer Jonathan Bates was perfectly suited to the new Dance Stage with its powerful bass.

Foals 8/10
Foals' complex, cerebral music was amongst the most intelligent indie guitar rock at the festival, although I wish it had been on a more intimate stage.

Lucy Rose 8/10
Lucy Rose's understatement made her an understandably less popular choice than Jake Bugg, but I always love her subtle charm and jazz influences.

Villagers 8/10
The experienced Irish band had an early spot on the 2nd stage, and after the disappointment of Wavves made a strong impression.

Aluna George 6/10
I had high hopes for this set, but found the music empty and vacuous; not to my taste despite its critical acclaim in the BBC Sound of 2013 poll.

Tribes 7.5/10
I enjoyed Tribes' rock more live than on record, thanks to the enthusiasm of the crowd.

City & Colour 7/10
Dallas Green is an assured performer, but this set never shook off blandness, and failed to really engage the crowd.

Spector 5/10
Frederick Macpherson had the indignity of dodging liquid missiles being thrown on stage; whilst this was a harsh behavour, I found his act incredibly contrived.

The Festival
Arrival from the car park is by boat provided by the organisers...

The NME Radio 1 Tent

Food vendors

Heading towards the main stage for NIN

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