When one thinks of ‘PlanetMosh’, Reading Festival is not always the pinnacle event that may spring to mind – but surprisingly, Reading and Leeds have diversified more and more into our alternative subculture, making the idea of spending August bank holiday weekend in a field surrounded by citizens of the popular culture so much more bearable. I spent most of my weekend during Reading Festival 2016 on the Pit/Lock-up Stage – the place to be for your rock and metal fill of the weekend – this was mostly because I only had photo pit passes to the smaller stages, regrettably missing bands such as Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes, Biffy Clyro, Skindred and Red Hot Chili Peppers – but discovering so many more bands over the weekend that I left the muddy site on the Sunday evening a changed woman.
Nothing More were a band I had never come across prior to them setting up for their set. I find that with bands I don’t know, I much prefer experiencing them first band based on their performance as opposed to their fan following, and sometimes even their back catalogue (which sometimes shoots me in the foot, because there are now so many bands I love seeing live but genuinely cannot stand on record), and Nothing More most certainly raised the bar, stealing the title of band of the day for me. They were a little slow to relax into their set, but by the end had the ever-growing crowd in the palms of their hands. These boys travelled from San Antonio, Texas to play the festival – and definitely had an interesting approach to playing. I really enjoyed how they challenged the boundaries of their instruments, at the end of the set, they had all mounted a rig they had assembled throughout the set, crashing and banging on this hybrid instrument they had constructed.
Hacktivist are becoming more and more well-known on the UK circuit, with their most popular song being a cover of Kanye and Jay-Z’s Ni**as in Paris, turning it into a Djenty masterpiece that had the crowd screaming on the first note. It’s always interesting to see two vocalists in a band – particularly when neither of them play instruments either, but with Hacktivist – it just works. Ben and Jermaine ebb and flow perfectly between them, one filling where the other leaves a gap – and it doesn’t feel disjointed or strange at all. It’s always great to see a band interact with the crowd directly, with both vocalists getting into the crowd to perform.
Crossfaith were a band on my bucket list. I’d never had the chance to see them before their festival appearance, and they absolutely blew me away. Not usually my thing with regards to the genre, but their explosive energy was a sight to behold as the sun started to set on the first day of the festival. Having been positioned on the Pit stage all day, I had seen the waves of people and the different vibes emanating from the crowd all day, and the Crossfaith fans were most definitely the rowdiest to fill the tent of the day. Circle pits, crowd surfers, and people needing to be lifted from the crowd in an effort to escape being crushed were all firsts of the day, and it felt like a breath of fresh air to the girl who is at thrash metal gigs 90% of the time.
As the tent emptied after Crossfaith, a few remained for Thrice. For a band who heavily influenced the likes of While She Sleeps and Asking Alexandria, I was heavily disappointed with the emptiness of the tent, most likely due to a horrific clash with Disclosure and Twenty-One Pilots – but this did not faze them, and frontman Dustin Kensrue poured his heart out into the most heartfelt performance I’d seen that day. The dwindling crowd did not matter to Thrice, because they still put together a groundbreaking performance anyway. It’s just a shame that there weren’t as many people in attendance to witness it.
Asking Alexandria made a dramatic return to the British festival scene this year, notably with guitarist Ben Bruce missing. (He was attending the birth of his first child, so I guess we should let him off). But, as they say, the show must go on, and With One Last Breath’s Sam Graves filled in from side stage, later joining the band onstage for the final three songs. This was the biggest crowd of the day, with fans spilling out the sides of the tent to get a glimpse of Danny Worsnop’s replacement Denis Stoff (who has now since left the band, with Danny being reinstated.) Asking Alexandria were, for lack of a better word; tight. They had perfected their stage show, and were good at it, knowing where to quieten for the fans to scream their words back at them, nailing their poses for the photographers, and putting together an all-round brilliant stage show.
As Saturday morning rolled around, a new onslaught of bands were to be watched. If the Friday was anything to go by, I was in for a busy day on the Saturday, filled with an eclectic mix of music spanning diverse sub-genres of rock and metal music.
Skindred were partway through their set when I arrived, and the Reading crowd were loving them. Like Parkway Drive, I was not able to photograph them, but they both put on amazing, amazing shows for a crowd who (I believe) had no idea what they were getting themselves into when they took their places in front of the main stage. Both bands are so unique in their own ways, that they were brilliant bookings, usefully diversifying the usual pop/indie bands that saturate the main stage. My plans with Welsh warriors Skindred were cut short as I made my way back to the Pit stage to catch my fill of rock bands.
Heck were the first band on my list and, like Nothing More on the Friday, I had no idea what to expect from them. The sheer force of energy that the band let out was a force to be reckoned with, with crowdsurfing guitarists (who somehow had their guitars returned to them in one piece), crying fans and the constant threat of hurting themselves with erratic jumps, leads being wrapped around themselves and (and how un-metal of me for saying this) untied shoelaces. Heck are chaos. Brilliant, but chaos. My job as a photographer was made so much more difficult as I had to watch out for low flying band members and leads whipping around my head, but somehow, despite the chaos – they were musically brilliant.
Giraffe Tongue Orchestra were without a doubt, my find of the weekend. All I heard of them beforehand were musings that Brent Hinds was a member, and that it was a supergroup formed by members of Alice in Chains, Dillinger Escape Plan and Mastodon. For a band who hadn’t performed as a one piece in the UK, with almost nobody knowing them, it seemed the floodgates opened and revellers came pouring in. Perhaps they had a good slot, maybe it was because of the turbulent weather – who knows? But they managed to grip the audience, who shouted for an encore by the end of their set. It’s hard to put their sound into words – heavy grunge is probably the best way I can describe it – there’s hints at each member’s main project weaving through their general sound, in a way that works. Yes, Reading Festival is a platform for otherwise unknown bands to be heard, but I for one would be really interested in going to one of GTO’s own shows, just to see what they’re capable of.
Kvelertak were a combination of a reviewer’s dream and a photographer’s nightmare as they took to the stage. They opened their set in near-pitch black conditions, with light up face masks and gloves they looked absolutely incredible to the naked eye. But as soon as you tried to photograph them, they became a nightmare. Without going into the technicalities, the less light there is available for a camera to photograph – the harder it is, especially when the band members are thrashing about the stage at breakneck speeds. Thankfully, their lighting setup did improve drastically, and by the 4th song, I had deposited my camera backstage with security’s belongings and was getting heavily involved with the crowd. For those who don’t know Kvelertak, imagine a rock and roll band decided to quit and form a black metal band, but then decided that wasn’t for them either and went about doing their own thing. It’s the strangest combination, but it works.
The Dillinger Escape Plan had a very strange set – something I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed before. With frontman Greg Puciato sitting casually on a sofa, reading through a newspaper whilst screaming hardcore punk lyrics – it was the weirdest sight to behold. Greg was an oxymoron in himself, I was expecting him to be raging about the stage, jumping into the crowd and he just…wasn’t. Dillinger most probably had the biggest crowd of the day, and it came with no surprise. They were tight. Their act was perfected and it was simply art to spectate.
Mastodon. What a gig. Yes, I went to see Mastodon instead of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. (This was for a multitude of reasons, the biggest one being I did not have a photo pass for Main Stage), and yes, this was for me – the biggest clash of the festival. The crowd was nowhere near as big as they deserved, but the fans were loyal – seemingly with every other person wearing a Mastodon t-shirt. With Brent Hinds’ third set of the day, having guested with Eagles of Death Metal on the Main Stage earlier in the day, there were no signs of him tiring, as Mastodon delivered a flawless set to potentially the most dedicated crowd of the day.
By the Sunday morning, I had really wished I’d have camped at Reading Festival instead of undertaken the 40 minute drive each way to and from home. But that’s a drawback of attending a festival on your own when you’re working – if you don’t know anyone in attendance (all my friends are seasoned Bloodstock attendees), camping on your own in the rain is very daunting.
Overnight, The Pit stage miraculously transformed into the Lockup stage (for reasons I am still not aware of) and with it, a new barrage of bands for the day. My day started early with Fighting Caravans just after midday. Not my usual thing, being somewhat too tame for my tastes, this young Leeds group really piqued my interest as frontman Daniel Clark started schmoozing the crowd. Fighting Caravans really benefited from being inside a tent; halfway through their set the heavens opened and revellers were taking refuge from the rain – thus expanding the potential fanbase. Fighting Caravans were the perfect tender start to the final day of the festival.
Strange Bones were an unexpected highlight, and nothing like what I expected. The energy that this band possesses onstage is staggering, with frontman Bobby Bentham screaming in the faces of those that stood before him, before jumping into the supporting arms of the crowd. It was genuinely hard to tell if they were musically good or not – but who cares? They were fun, and certainly woke up an otherwise sleepy crowd.
Deaf Havana were next on my list, and after an excited press manager telling us we get to shoot 4 songs as opposed to the usual 3 because there was ‘something special’ to look out for – all the photographers were suddenly interested. Blasting through a blinding set, the big reveal was that Deaf Havana announced the name of their new album “All These Countless Nights” live onstage whilst they were playing – by means of a graffiti artist in the background. I really liked the way the band chose to go about this reveal – it seemed as though they really wanted to make the fans feel part of the process.
Next on my list was Machine Gun Kelly. Not strictly rock or metal (due to the Pit changing to the Lockup stage) – being a rap artist from Cleveland, Ohio. He weren’t strictly the most musically talented artist I’d seen that weekend, but the non-stop energy from the moment he took to the stage carried him through his performance – a good thing too as he appeared to be sporting a broken arm. The group orchestrated a brilliant cover of All The Small Things by Blink-182 – and had the rowdiest crowd I had ever seen.
The King Blues were a band that I had completely forgotten about for the past couple of years. Having been one of the first bands I ever saw live, they seemed to have stood the test of time and gotten better with age. Itch was always one of my favourite vocalists – and with good reason, too. Dressed in his little posh outfit with the most cockney accent, he was a beautiful oxymoron. He was spitting words with such emotion and feeling that he genuinely had tears streaming down his face at points, and the crowd absolutely loved it. They had many sound issues with amps cracking at deafening volumes, but this did not deter London’s rabblers – if anything it convinced them to go on, and they had the crowd’s support behind them, filling in the noise voids with united voices singing the words. Itch’s stage performance carried the band through their troubles, not once did he turn to the sound guy – he just carried on, at points through a silent microphone.
Good Charlotte were absolutely amazing. Tugging straight on the heartstrings of 16 year old me, it was great to see them back onstage again. However, due to the lighting conditions – they were an absolute nightmare to photograph, and I genuinely commend any photographer that got any decent shots of them. This was the only disappointing factor of the day – that I wasn’t able to shoot the last band of the weekend to the best of my ability – especially being one of my favourite bands when I was younger. But performance-wise, GC were absolutely breathtaking, pulling the biggest crowd on the stage over the whole weekend. As I emerged all sweaty from the photo pit, the crowd extended way past the limitations of the tent – to the point where those at the back couldn’t see them and heard the slightest echo of them over the noise of the arena and Main Stage.
All in all, Reading Festival was a brilliant weekend. A bit of a culture shock to a seasoned Bloodstock, Graspop and MetalDays attendee, but it was eye opening in so many ways. I discovered so many bands that I otherwise would have blindsided – Giraffe Tongue Orchestra being my discovery of the weekend.
See the full gallery below:
Words and images by Miley Stevens