Reading and Leeds 2015: The Big Review – Sunday

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And here we come to possibly the best act I saw this weekend, certainly one of the best: Jamie XX. All weekend, save for Feed The Rhino’s set earlier that day, I had been alone in a sea of people, most of whom knew at least one other person there with them. At Jamie XX, it felt like the boundaries between the people I was in the tent with were taken away, like we were in a communal space, all brought together by Jamie himself. In Colour, a record which I am absolutely in love with by the way, is a record that, for all its ‘communal music for the individual’ labels that you could throw at it, was meant to be played in an environment like this: here the rich sub-frequencies of numbers like ‘Gosh’ and ‘Sleep Sound’ could physically shake your body and the hidden intricacies in Jamie’s work could be revealed. Aside from having the best light show of the weekend, rivalling even Metallica for that title, Jamie looks absolutely at home on that stage. Free from the monochrome shackles of The xx, he gets the chance to fill the tent with a wave of technicolor and show people how a dance record is supposed to be done. He even decided to treat the crowd to an uptempo version of his party-banger ‘I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)’, to which everyone is singing along. In doing so, he affirms his place as the contemporary dance saviour, a man who truly knows how to euthanise the crunching, tinnitus-inducing tripe of his dance contemporaries. And he did it all with a couple of old records and a drum pad. Good times indeed.

Now, I want to try something: remember the riff to ‘Seven Nation Army’? Right, now sing ‘Oh Kendrick Lamar’ to that riff. See? It works, right? Such a genius discovery was also made by the humongous crowd who flocked to see the rap master that evening, and rightly so: Lamar’s performance (and indeed that of his backing band) was nothing short of immaculate. Hearing a record so conflicted and deep as To Pimp A Butterfly, you might expect Lamar to be humble, to be sincere, to be almost solemn. And though his visual show does a good job of hammering home those themes of deprivation, of hopelessness in the face of the institution, he himself is having no funereal vibes tonight, no sir. He’s self-assured and enjoys every second of his set, giving an enlivened performance of a number of hits, ‘i’ and ‘Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe’ included. And yet, just before Lamar hits us with ‘King Kunta’, given new life by the festival crowd, he asks us all to stop for a moment, and to think and consider where we are and to just feel the moment we are in. I would be as stunned as he was if I had seen the sea of lights that lit up before his eyes when he asked to see how many people were on that field watching him. In a set which showed him to be a tough, fun-loving, self-assured performer who had a whale of a time on that stage, and in which he performed songs from extremely powerful records, that moment of vulnerability was without a doubt the most powerful.

So here we are. The final curtain, the last call, the big push to the finish.

Having been distracted by some newfound friends before the start of the headline act, The Libertines of course, I found myself caught in an endearing love story of two people behind me who had met that night and, by the time The Libs began, had made out several times in front of us all. So with my newfound friends I enjoyed the last act of the weekend, and The Libs, aptly described by Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon as ‘one of the coolest bands on the planet’ were undoubtedly the best headline act of the weekend. However, for a band such as this, renowned for being controversial and outgoing, there was a surprisingly small amount said to the audience by way of playful banter; and yet, I get the feeling that The Libertines are one of just a small number of bands who don’t really need to. I looked up at them performing on the main stage and I saw four incredibly cool people, people who didn’t need to speak to us. Their following was so loyal and dedicated, and their story so inspiring (‘What Became of the Likely Lads’ might be one of the most inspirational song titles I’ve ever heard) that there was no need for audience gratification. There were flaws, as always: their set was too long, not helped by the fact that my back felt like someone had run a truck over it by the end of the set; at certain moments the band threatened to fall under the same ‘bunch of guys playing their instruments’ banner as Metallica. But ultimately they pulled it off; whether this means a new start or a proper ending is unclear at this time but they made a fan out of me that night.

When I look back on that weekend, I always feel surprised that I managed to see that many artists in such a small space of time, but more than that I miss the community. I miss the fact that if you fell in a moshpit, people would help you up. I miss the fact that you could treat going to see your favourite band as just another part of your day. I miss the fact that the pizza at the stalls was absolutely divine. I can live without the showers, for sure. I shudder even thinking about them but in the grand scheme of things, Reading, for a budding young journalist like me, was a good place to start. Perhaps the best thing was the fact that I still feel like there are places to go from here: all of my hopes and dreams for a festival weren’t fulfilled at Reading and that’s a good thing, or else how would I ever hope to escape comparison to it?

No, the best is yet to come, I’m sure. That doesn’t mean Reading was any less amazing.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, that is how you survive a festival on your own. I shan’t be doing it alone again.