7 Moments That Defined Reading Festival 2021

7 Moments That Defined Reading Festival 2021

From indie pop brilliance to MC wizardry...

With anticipation levels building ahead of this year’s Reading Festival, it was always going to be an extraordinary experience.

Following a period of almost two years, where most people were unable to attend gigs and enjoy live music, the festival on Little John’s Farm on Richfield Avenue represented a blessing in disguise, as the gathering of passionate summer festival goers came together to celebrate.

Susan Hansen counts down seven moments that defined Reading Festival...

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7. beabadoobee

Dirty Hit signee Beatrice Kristi Laus – better known as beabadoobee – is here to deliver the honest and sincere performance of the weekend. With her warm, friendly and relatable demeanour, she offers a contemporary and relevant presentation of songs, and her fans are there to witness it all.

Opening with ‘Care’, followed by ‘Dye It Red and the quirky and charming ‘Coffee’, the serenity of her grunge-rock set is heart-warming and memorable. If there is an argument she would have made a stronger impression on one of the smaller stages, the counter argument for placing her where she is, she does show that it’s possible to rise to the occasion.

Closing with ‘Last Day On Earth’, ‘Worth It’ and ‘Cologne’, her eight-song set is over before you know it, but short and sweet is preferable to long and self-indulgent, and there’s no doubt that this performance falls into the first category.

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6. Wolf Alice

If anyone has the instinct and intelligence to express the complexity of grungy-pop and alt-rock sophistication it is North London’s Wolf Alice. The pink dress and combination of femininity and bel canto style of singing makes Ellie Rowsell capable of turning any rock ‘n’ roll stereotypes upside down, she is not hoarse, and she doesn’t see an ongoing need to implement screamy vocals.

The intricate complexity is further underlined with the combined Vox, Fender pedalboard a la ‘90s setup inspires the generation of distortion and riffs. Sunday’s delivery is no exception to that rule, there are spells of distortion, beautiful vocals, good intentions, and melodic wonder tracks such as ‘Beautifully Unconventional’, ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’ and ‘Don’t Delete the Kisses’ make this one destined to fester in the minds of thousands of festival attendees beyond this weekend.

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5. AJ Tracey

“Where is the mosh pit?.. Ever been to an AJ Tracey show, you’ll know that I love a mosh pit!.. Who’s the king of the mosh pit?”

The popular West London rapper and singer is not scared of injecting a raw vibe in the vein of electrifying rock ‘n’ roll into his performance, and the Reading crowd responds well to his versatile blending of styles. “Are you ready? We’re gonna keep it moving” he interjects with belief, it’s time for ‘Cheerleaders’, which leads on to 'Kukoč’, a song about the Croatian-American basketball player 'Toni Kukoč’. Building a call and response effect of sorts, he receives keen reactions from the crowd, as he makes the crowd shout out the lyrics, it is punchy and engaging.

Playing a mainstage slot higher up the bill this year, AJ Tracey is on a steep upward trajectory, not that there ever was doubt about the direction of travel for his music.

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4. Stormzy

For Stormzy to open his grime extravaganza with a blazing guitar solo by Rabea Massaad is most certainly not what one might expect, but that’s precisely what is great about it. Having already wowed his 2019 Glastonbury crowd, it takes a lot to make him feel timid these days, and the slickness of his performance seems destined - if not designed - to leave no doubt about the extent of his influence and ambition.

Being one of the UK greats, it is a raw and arresting performance that also features long-term collaborator Dave. In an inspirational set that stretches as far as 22 tracks from the 28-year-old’s career instants like ‘I Dunno’, ‘Take Me Back to London’, ‘Clash’, ‘Shut Up’ and ‘Vossi Bop’ make the crowd jump.

Marking the celebratory occasion with pyros and fireworks, the stage design offers en masse, multifaceted levels of action with backing singers and a vibe of a - choreographed - party. A memorable set by any standard, it is something this well-oiled machinery goes some way to cement.

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3. Blossoms

“How are we feeling Reading, are you feeling good?” asks frontman Tom Ogden as he addresses his late afternoon audience. Five is a magic number for the Stockport group, who are back playing their fifth set. If this year’s set is anything to go by, if their performance has anything to prove at all, it must be to show how far they have come.

Following a brief tease of ‘Blue Monday’ by New Order, they give an elaborate performance from start to end, offering way more than it says on the tin, and for all its glitz, glamour and rich production values, it is also worth noting that they sound better than before, delivering a rich sound that stays with you long after their set has come to an end, and the band’s jangly pop pearls have landed in well-paced succession.

With magic indie-pop moments like ‘There’s A Reason Why I Never Returned Your Call’, ‘If You Think This Is Real Life’ and ‘Charlemagne’ there is literally no chance of them going wrong.

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2. slowthai

“Reading, are you gonna cancel me?” asks Tyron Frampton before he proceeds with ‘CANCELLED’. Unfaced and uncompromising, the directness exercised here is highly telling of the charismatic rapper’s edgy character, who as expected, is all confrontational, all guns blazing, making the crowd acutely aware that he didn’t arrive at this summer festival to quietly rest on his laurels. Plus “I’ve got a belly over the pandemic” he goes on to share, with no shadow of embarrassment or self-consciousness.

It’s a compelling and electrifying delivery through and through, one that settles deep within the bones and stays there. The Northampton punk innovator is clearly willing to settle for nothing less than complete energy and immersion in the here and now. Pushing for pure mosh pit levels of force and physical energy, the rawness of his vocals is felt throughout the set, making this experience all the more all-consuming as a result.

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1. Liam Gallagher

“Words can’t express how good it is to see your beautiful faces, hear your lovely voices, and smell your lovely breath” says Liam Gallagher, as he compliments his crowd. “Delicious. Anyway, back to the tunes.”

Few artists possess a charisma that enables them to bring a crowd together like the former Oasis frontman is capable of, and this year’s Reading Festival represents no exception. In 2019 he played the main stage late afternoon, but this year he gets the big headline slot before closing the festival, and naturally he does that in regal rock ‘n’ roll extravaganza style.

Having given the regular touring setlist a good shake-up, he proceeds with a setlist that encapsulates classic Oasis tracks and his own songs. Alternating between the two, it’s a dynamic, well-composed system, which does more than satisfy the hungry festival crowd. The conclusive festival package consists of 15 songs and two encores, highlights are aplenty, and include ‘Morning Glory’, the John Lennon inspired ‘Why Me? Why Not.’, ‘Stand By Me’, ‘Greedy Soul’, and ‘Live Forever’, which he dedicates to Rolling Stones’ Charlie Watts, who sadly passed away.

An iconic performance, it’s about recording an iconic moment and is a straight entry to the music history books.

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Words: Susan Hansen
Photography: Ben McQuaide

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