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Reading Festival: The Power Of Hetfield And The Endless Crisp Debate

Tuesday, 01 September 2015 Written by Alec Chillingworth

Photo: Reading Main Stage by Jen O'Neill/Reading Festival

Rain pours. The old man snores. But he's woken by the clanging death knell of the summer festival season: Reading and Leeds. In the deepest, darkest recesses of the M4 corridor, hardened veterans roll in the mud, newbies anxiously sip from paper goblets of overpriced beer and swarms of gurning GCSE graduates fancy themselves as the successors to Johnny Knoxville and his roving band of Jackass clowns. Let's have you, Reading.

Friday


“Make some noise for Zeus!” Mariachi El Bronx's Matt Caughtran salutes the Greek god of the sky, revelling in a rare bout of sunshine before crooning yet another Mariachi-style number. The suits are sharp. The music is jollier than a cat in a room full of mice. It's unashamedly cheesy but the incessant, undeniable catchiness of Revolution Girls gets hungover punters dancing. Even the most jaded cynics admit defeat and tap their feet.

The Main Stage merriment continues with Neck Deep. Despite having endured the most difficult week of their career, the Welsh pop-punkers defiantly trample over Reading with chutzpah, gusto and all sorts of high octane abstract nouns. It's not the most original formula, but cuts from recent chart botherer 'Life's Not Out To Get You' slice into the ears and refuse to go away. Circle pits erupt, audience members with questionably dyed hair scream and Neck Deep prove that, despite the odds, they are still on course to follow in their heroes' footsteps in years to come.

“God damn,” whispers one poor soul, uttering his last words before being crushed into dust by the barbaric duo, God Damn. Unhinged and heinously heavy, the two-piece make a tremendous racket, one that even the Dillinger Escape Plan would listen to and quiver. Like Black Sabbath piggybacking on The Jesus Lizard or Nirvana belly-bouncing Electric Wizard, God Damn rumble our ribcages and make us regret eating before we entered the Lock Up Stage.

Indie rock is often on the receiving end of abuse. This is because much of it is inane, vapid drivel trying and desperately failing to ape the Libertines. But the BBC Introducing Stage parries that blow with Peace's surprise set. Perfect Skin is a luscious, shining example of how to do this shit correctly and, preluding Bloodshake, mainman Harry Koisser unleashes a guitar solo savage enough to shred the knackers off a grizzly bear. It's a little raw but, given the coma-inducing state it’s in right now, indie rock needs that.

Bohemian Rhapsody emerges from the Main Stage's speakers. It's note-perfect. It's Panic! At The Disco. Brendon Urie hits every nuance and, alongside his bandmates, nails those four-part harmonies. Not many bands have the stones to cover Queen and fewer have the talent, but Panic! defy expectation and serve up the first true singalong of the weekend. Saying that, the chants to I Write Sins Not Tragedies are equally momentous.

Carrying that theme on, we go to the Lock Up Stage and shout our lungs to pieces for the Menzingers. As soon as I Don't Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore kicks things off, the chorus is bellowed back at the band. Half an hour of punk rock perfection is delivered. No frills. No bullshit. Just a bunch of blokes playing obnoxiously happy music.

The antithesis: Bastille. This is insipid radio fodder at its worst, performed by a band having less fun than someone watching beige paint dry in a geography teacher's house. Video screens flash while frontman Dan Smith ferociously bashes a rogue drum. It’s not Slipknot. His enthusiasm is courageous but, coupled with the banal performance behind him, is a bit like dressing a digestive biscuit in fishnets.

The Lock Up Stage then takes a right roasting from two hardcore heavyweights. Modern Life Is War unleash a spasmodic, unhinged volley of fury while the Bronx shed their mariachi outfits and decided to say “motherfucker” an awful lot. That's just fine with us.

We walk past a stall with a massive 'Vegetarian & Vegan' sign above it. A curious bystander asks: “So this stall...this is all meat free, right?” Leaving him in the dark – who knows if he'll ever discover the truth? – we sprint to the NME/BBC Radio 1 Stage and catch the end of Run The Jewels. The hip hop duo mercilessly attack their microphones. Killer Mike's dance moves are, er, killer, while El-P stalks the stage, spitting perfectly enunciated bars of bile. 'Run The Jewels 2' saw the pair head into much darker territory but, as a live proposition, they're life-affirmingly positive. Bring on a tour.

Limp Bizkit follow. They're brilliant when they play, but they spend a good third of the set dicking about with cover songs and pointless, wanky interludes. We want to hear Nookie. We want Pollution. Counterfeit. Hell, even Eat You Alive would be better than that overdone Rage Against The Machine cover. Fred Durst commands a tent full of sweaty jumping beans and Wes Borland looks positively terrifying in white facepaint and public masturbator trench coat. No, he's not got trousers on underneath. Limp Bizkit are the ultimate party band. Someone just needs to tell them.


Photo: Babymetal by Sidney Bernstein/Reading Festival

Saturday


Little sleep has been enjoyed. Some drunkards argued through the night, clocking up five hours in a titanic war of words: “What's better? Pom Bears or Space Raiders?” They could have just accepted that Space Raiders are, in fact, the superior snack, but it wasn't to be.

Running on zero rest and hobbling into the arena, a dose of Babymetal sets us right. Is it metal? Is it shit? Is it genius? The musical backdrop is essentially death metal, so to see such a huge throng of bemused punters dancing along is baffling. The three girls execute dance moves, deliver cutesy speeches and sing in the most annoying, yet strangely adorable, manner on the planet. 

We bump into punk rockers Radkey. They're in the queue for chips with their Dad. Maybe that's the secret to their songwriting. Something in the chips. Or maybe they're just better songwriters than us. 

“Stop, you're gonna make me cry. I am a girl, you know.” Marmozets vocalist Becca Macintyre is taken aback by the loveliness of the Main Stage crowd. Her brother, Josh, smashes the piss out of his drums and the infectious choruses of Born Young And Free and Move, Shake, Hide threaten to send all in attendance to some sort of clinic.

The NME/BBC Radio 1 Stage sees Slaves' primitive, stripped-down punk bludgeon an early afternoon audience. It's not anything new and it's not going to redefine the genre, but it's a good laugh, even with the cringeworthy stage banter taken into consideration.

We've not brought enough money for hallucinogens, so stay away from the Dance Tent, instead opting to watch Alexisonfire on the Main Stage. The reunited Canadians don't hang about, tearing through 45 minutes or so of immaculate post-hardcore. Why are they back together? Will they record again? We're not sure, but just seeing them on stage makes us feel all tingly. Bassist Chris Steele dribbles and stares down the cameraman with those creepy Stephen Merchant eyes, Dallas Green's vocals are on stupendous form and screamer George Pettit awkwardly rips his t-shirt, like a shit superhero or an actor in a low-budget deodorant advert.

Our favourite chip-eating punks Radkey play to a criminally tiny crowd on the Festival Republic Stage, with songs from their debut album 'Dark Black Makeup' showcasing the band's diversity. Glore has Dee shred like he's in Iron Maiden while Evil Doer gets the sparse devotees bellowing along like they're at a Foo Fighters gig. Isaiah's crowd-surfing through closer Romance Dawn is brilliant and he stays once the show's finished, chatting to fans and looking genuinely enthused to meet them.

The same cannot be said for Royal Blood. The glum bastards. Having already robbed everyone else's crowds, you'd have thought they'd look a bit happier. Nah. Faces like slapped arses and the stage presence of used chewing gum make for an uninspiring set. The gravitas of tunes like Ten Tonne Skeleton is lost in such an expanse and, having only an album and bit’s worth of music to their name, they find themselves dawdling, jamming and generally being a bit boring in between songs. They're far from terrible, but Royal Blood are not the future of rock music. Royal Blood are Queens Of The Stone Age and Kyuss for people who haven't heard Queens Of The Stone Age and Kyuss.

Both Royal Blood and Radkey toke heavily from Queens Of The Stone Age's sonic bong, and the BBC Introducing Stage finds Demob Happy doing the same. But, much like Radkey, they sex it up a bit. Rancid, loose slabs of bluesy rock 'n' roll sound as if they were conceived in a garage owned by Satan. Their debut LP, 'Dream Soda', is unleashed next month, and from today's outing, it's set to be a fucking snorter.

We undertake a trek to The Pit to see Gojira. They're not on. The stage is running behind. Atreyu are on, but we crave progressive death metal. Solace is found in overpriced pastries. Metallica are headlining tonight, but the endless sea of bodies before Bring Me The Horizon is like something from a Lord Of The Rings battle sequence. Oli Sykes leads the charge and flings expletives around at random, bellowing over an irritating, deafeningly loud backing track during Happy Song, which also rears its unwelcome head on Throne and Drown.

This band underwent a significant change with 2013's 'Sempiternal' and most tracks here are lifted from that release, ensuring the audience's tummies are paunchy with arena anthems. Keyboardist Jordan Fish adds a completely new dimension to this band and the production is similar to what was exhibited at Wembley Arena. This feels like a band staking their claim for something bigger.

Even the metalcore rager Chelsea Smile is altered, its verses delivered in a 'Sempiternal' shout rather than the savage, guttural belches of yore. The show has been meticulously tailored to suit bigger audiences and, despite the initial backing track hiccup, does exactly what Bring Me The Horizon want it to. This band will headline next time round. That's it. End of debate.

Sprinting back to The Pit, we catch Gojira's last song. It's Vacuity. Bassist Jean-Michel Labadie is crowdsurfing. This is ultimate heaviness. The heaviest matter in the universe. Nothing like this has ever touched Reading before. Jaws are scraped from the floor. Brains are shaken back into place.

And now Metallica. The biggest thrash band in the world has nothing to prove, yet their appearance still feels like one of those 'I was there' moments. They're not as tight, nor as aggressive, as they used to be, which makes rare cuts like King Nothing and Turn The Page even better. Metallica do hard rock just as well as, if not better, than the blistering thrash of Battery and Master Of Puppets. The set lulls slightly in the midsection, though, and we don't need two Kirk Hammett guitar solos and a Rob Trujillo bass solo. Lars Ulrich drum solo, anybody?

Reading Festival witnesses Metallica at about 90% of their capabilities. That's still better than anything else to grace the stage today. Bring Me The Horizon undoubtedly ascended to headline status, but, compared to Metallica, they look like tattooed rabbits in the headlights of James Hetfield's motorbike. No matter how much Ulrich looks like a baby with a man's face as he simplifies his fills or how grating Hetfield's conversation sometimes becomes, this band rocks and, well, we are not worthy.

Hetfield tosses a bunch of guitar plectrums into the crowd. One grazes the tips of the fingers and falls to the ground. Eyes lock with those of a man possessed, beard flecked with spittle and pupils pulsating with rage. We reach out, grabbing a handful of mud. The smoothness of the guitar pick is there, against unwashed, squalid flesh. The man attacks. We writhe in the mud. No! Finders keepers. Wriggle away. Sprint to camp. Stereoboard now possesses the power of James Hetfield.

Photo: Run The Jewels by Kennerdeigh Scott/Reading Festival

Sunday


 

We wake up screaming: “Yeah-eh! Metallicaaa! Famileeeeh! I feel you, Reading!” Still not James Hetfield. Oh well. Feed The Rhino are on. The Kent hardcore heroes play to a frustratingly thin Main Stage crowd – let's face it, everyone's still off their tits on horse tranquilliser – but they're giving it some welly nonetheless. Lee Tobin's all over the place and the abrasive, melodiously driving hooks suit the stage, but the immediate nature of usual Rhino shows is swallowed by the void.

It's unfortunate that Hawk Eyes suffer from a similar crowd deficiency in The Pit but, to be honest, everyone's emptying their bowels so they don't get caught short once Against Me! smash the Main Stage with the subtlety of Darth Vader playing hide-and-seek. Laura Jane Grace introduces the bounciest punk this side of Dropkick Murphys with choice lines like: “This is a love song. It's called FUCKMYLIFE666.” The occasion feels victorious. Black Me Out wraps everything up and Against Me! leave with new fans.

Queen Kwong's spacey alternative rock envelops The Pit but fails to snatch the attention of all in attendance. Vocalist Carré Callaway slums it with the crowd and breathes uncontrollably into the mic; Limp Bizkit's Borland takes up guitar in human attire, spending the closing throes of the final song disassembling the drumkit – while the drummer still plays, mind – like a serial killer dissecting a victim. It borders on performance art but, for a Reading Festival Sunday crowd, it's just a bit weird.

AWOLNATION take to the NME/BBC Radio 1 Stage but, well, everyone's just waiting for them to play Sail. Which is a shame, because the rest of the set's a hefty beast, the electronics swelling amid the crunch of guitars, becoming 10 times heavier live.

From here on in, it's a party in The Pit. A pit party, if you will. Turbowolf's retro rock 'n' roll is a refreshing take on yesterday's glories, with closer Let's Die inciting circular movement – it's a valiant attempt, but it's nothing on Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes.

The 21st century punk icon tears open every orifice and screams down it, his mood flipping erratically. One minute he's in the crowd, proclaiming “This is my fucking pit,” the next minute he's belting out an acoustic rendition of Loss or piggybacking his nine-month-old daughter around the stage. Today is also his wedding anniversary. It's strange to watch but it's compelling. That thing he does when he decides to miss out half the lyrics is still a bit irksome, but Carter's back doing what he loves and, while The Pit denies him the usual intimacy he creates with his gigs, it's a triumph.

Frnkiero andthe cellabration unleash post-hardcore love songs and Bury Tomorrow deliver their usual shtick, unifying thousands of fans to love one another, be mates and crowdsurf an awful lot. The usually unstoppable force that is Cancer Bats follows, but they all pale in comparison to a smelly, hairy behemoth from the north: While She Sleeps.

Sleeps have had a rickety old year or two, so to see them absolutely pack out The Pit is one of those 'Proud of ma boiz' moments. Their defiant, anthemic metalcore hasn't changed an awful lot over the course of a mini-album and two LPs, but the live performance has shifted dramatically. It's still a venomous affair but there's something grand about it. For every bit of close-quarters crowd-baiting Loz Taylor participates in there's a deafening singalong or moment of applause that completely exceeds anything this band were previously thought capable of.

Carter joins for the pissed off hymn Dead Behind The Eyes, Beartooth's Caleb Shomo has a pop at New World Torture and a young chap is plucked from the audience to play guitar on This Is The Six. There's something about this band tonight. It's tight. It's defiant. It's a lot better than the Libertines.

Finally, Refused destroy The Pit. It's not as full as for While She Sleeps, but those in the know receive an aural assault. There's little time for talk, with new tracks Elektra, Thought Is Blood and the abysmally-named Dawkins Christ leading the charge. Dennis Lyxzén's microphone doesn't work to begin with. He doesn't care. He screams into it until it does work.

It's less bells-and-whistles and more: 'This is Refused and this is how they do it.' Very few bands on this stage would exist without them and, when New Noise drops, every ounce of self-awareness evaporates. Limbs flail. Feet leave the ground. This is the perfect end to Reading Festival and a perfect reinstatement for Refused. This is freedom.



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