2018 was arguably a make or break year for Reading Festival, with drastic changes to the musical aesthetic dividing the opinions of critics and fans. The notably heavy emphasis on American rap and English grime made a few people turn up their noses, as they were understandably surprised to see rock fall from the prevalence it has had in the past.
The unpredictable nature of this years line up made it one of the most exciting in a while, with new Rockstars like Travis Scott proving their worth on the historical MainStage. However, with this new divisive look came a few downfalls. Playboi Carti, Famous Dex and Ski Mask The Slump God all pulled out (some more sneakily than others) and for fans of these artists, who are all fairly similar in genre, this could have ruined their weekend; not to mention the torrential rain that summoned on the British soils over the weekend too. Artists from this trap genre are probably unaware of the rich history Reading has, and its stature in the UK festival circuit.
After two days of lulling around our campsite, keeping ourselves occupied by tying people to their camping chairs, the music finally started for us on the Friday afternoon. Kicking it off were Fekky and Suspect, two very promising talents in the grime sphere. As brilliant as they both were, especially Suspect, it was the American talent that owned Friday. As the rain started to fall, we all crammed ourselves into the 1 Extra tent to see one of the most hyped teen rappers in the world - Sheck Wes. At the age of 19, the Harlem MC has been tearing his way through the music industry, with some of the most composed rappers at his mercy. He is now signed to Kanye West’s ‘G.O.O.D’ Music’ label and his set was one of the most energetic of the weekend, rocking a durag and playing banger after banger. Next was Travis Scott, who brought over his critically acclaimed live show to England for the first time in a while. Opening with STARGAZING, and thumping through an immersive mix of old and new tunes, the Houston artist beat the British weather and drew one of the largest crowds of the weekend. His highlights are on BBC IPlayer; I would thoroughly recommend you watch all of it.
After an exhaustingly exciting first day, we had an inkling that Saturday would probably be even better. This quickly became apparent to us when Brockhampton ran onstage to a screeching crowd, who were anticipating their first ever UK festival performance. This set definitely made my top three, I was taken by surprise because of the intensity they channelled into their performance, even though I had seen them in London just nights before. They charged through tracks like GOLD and SWEET, provoking the crowd to open up moshes and surf on inflatables. It was a wild set and snapped us into life for the rest of the day.
Pharell’s N.E.R.D then graced the Mainstage, with a guest appearance from Brockhampton, and they proved they still have the energy to move a crowd after all of these years. The jazz and rock fusion of instrumentation was almost hypnotising, the dancers really added to the performance too and I was happy to see them play ‘Rockstar’; my favourite track of theirs.
TQD brought the best of bassline to the Dance Tent, which was well received and definitely a highlight for me. They can be riotous if they want and they certainly were at Reading, it was a treat to see the trio spin some tunes before we legged it to $uicideBoy$, and eventually Kendrick. Lamar’s ‘DAMN’ tour has been shutting down cities all around the world for a couple of years now, and this was definitely the most breathtaking set of the festival. I didn’t really know what to expect, but the visuals, storyline and live percussion all worked so succinctly and made the performance such a spectacle. His outfit was hard too, sporting a pair of tiger TNs and a full orange dickies workwear piece.
I woke up to pouring rain on Sunday and wondered how I would survive with just a thin K-Way jacket. I’d noticed a few people walking around in what appeared to look like a full waterproof come Breaking Bad meth cooking suit, and we went out to try and find some ourselves.
This was the best £10 I’ve spent at a festival and it helped me enjoy playful punk outfit Shame on the MainStage, as well as the likes of Krept and Konan and J Hus, who had to deal with several technical difficulties in his set. I missed Lil Pump, but after the racist remarks and sexist statements he was conjuring up, I was more than happy to reserve my energy for Scarlxrd, who absolutely stormed through his performance. For half an hour I felt like I was part of a cult and I loved it, his DJ flew into the mosh pits as the Wolverhampton artist climbed the railings and screamed into the mic. I then dashed over to the Radio 1 tent to see Slaves, who delivered the rawest, aggressive and powerful set of the weekend. Every time I see them it’s a new experience. They brought a lad dressed as a Mantaray on stage for their single ‘Feed The Mantaray’, as well as a host of fans for one of their latest tunes ‘Cut and Run’, they even did their famous cover of Shutdown, which was amazing of course.
Rounding the weekend off for us was AJ Tracey, who we have all been meaning to see for a while. He seemed very confident, composed and capable of headlining the 1Extra tent, and entertained a huge crowd for such a small stage. His set proved grime is still the most cherished underground genre of the 21st century and felt like a career highlight for the North London rapper.
It will be interesting to see where Reading goes from here, the balance of genres and variation in talent seemed near on perfect this year, especially for their target audience (rare teenagers looking for an unbelievable motive to celebrate their exam results). You can expect an equally braggadocios line up next year, so keep your eyes peeled in the coming months.