Whether you or not you found yourself soothing your weekend sunburn or nursing a never-ending hangover, no one was ready to see the 36th annual Reading Festival come to a close. Luckily, New Young Pony Club and Jamie T sated fans with their own kind of pop, respectively. But the heat of the moment belonged to Watford hardcore act, Gallows. The rebellious fivesome tore apart the Radio 1 Lockup Stage Sunday night (Aug. 26) with their anthemic, snarling punk sound. Veteran rockers Nine Inch Nails and current punk mainstays Against Me! brought the noise as well. Check it out.
New Young Pony Club: Everything about New Young Pony Club screams FUN! From the massive pre-gig water fight (with huge kudos to the little kid in green who popped that security guard right in the face) to the vast numbers of girls in party dresses, and dolled-up nu-rave kids jiggling around and waving glowsticks, NYPC was bloody brilliant on Reading’s final afternoon.
Singer Tahita Bulmer strutted on stage in an oversized white tee, looking the spit of a “Typical Girls”-era Ari Up, and promptly whipping the crowd into new levels of frenzy by suggestively pointing out that festivals are, “places where you can meet the man or woman of your dreams — so take hold of the person next to you and give them a squeeze.” The band then launched into a sparkly, bass-heavy set that invoked memories of a time when pop wasn’t a dirty word, when chart hits could be cool, sexy, silly and credible.
Standouts included a synth-driven “Hiding on the Stairs” and, of course, a euphoric reading of “Ice Cream” that sent the assembled throng into paroxysms of delight. Despite the fact that NYPC often get lazily tagged as nu-rave (which seems to be purely guilt by association — having supported The Klaxons on their last tour) it was easy to see here that they are, in fact, unashamedly a pop band, and for this crowd, all the better for it. A triumph.
Jamie T: At Jamie T, I didn’t expect an older, more male crowd to gather ’round. That very English look of sunburnt shoulders, pasty beer-bellies and ratty straw hats was much in abundance, but from the huge cheers that went up when a scrawny looking Jamie T ambled onstage, it was clear that these were hardcore fans and not just curious bystanders. The band was an odd looking bunch too. Despite the months of touring under their belts, they still had an air of a disorganised mob, hastily assembled with the sole purpose of adding flesh to the songs dreamed up in Jamie’s bedroom all those months ago. This was all the more understandable, perhaps, when you remember that this is exactly what they are.
It’s a bit of a mish-mash musically, too. A rockabilly, Libertines-y, Smiths-like, white boy hip-hop shtick that captivated the audience, but never completely came together. But this is probably missing the point. For the majority of the people here, this show was all about Jamie. His songs seemed to have made their way in to the lives of a great many people, in the way that Billy Bragg’s did a generation ago or Johnny Cash’s managed the generation before that. In this context the occasional jarring brought about by the need to have five very different sounding musicians employed at one time seems neither here nor there.
Opening with perhaps his best song “Brand New Bass Guitar,” with Jamie strumming furiously on a battered acoustic, the place just erupted. The crowd sung along to every word, and this is particularly impressive when you consider the sheer volume of prose that Jamie rattled through in each verse. Even feistier was the reaction to a fiery “If You’ve Got the Money,” which damn near blew the roof off. Despite the flaws, this was still a sky-scraping performance, made possible by Jamie T’s undoubted talent and, at times, the sheer will of a crowd of wide-eyed, sun-kissed believers.
Gallows: The term homecoming gig is bandied about enough to render it almost meaningless these days, but for Gallows, their Reading performance was emphatically that. “We’ve been away for two months now, showing the fucking Americans how it should be done,” singer Frank Carter told the Reading audience. “But no one over there knows how to make a proper cup of tea, so we had to come home.”
From other, lesser, bands this sort of talk might seem like idle arrogance, an empty boast born out of a burgeoning belief in their own hype, for England just hasn’t produced bands like this in decades. Watford, the band’s shithole of a hometown, certainly never did. But Gallows quite simply know it to be the truth. This is proper, stripped down hardcore of a kind that, until now, “the fucking Americans” had been trouncing us at for years.
Watford is just down the road from Reading and Gallows brought their families with them. They crowded the wings and gazed out from the back of the stage; Frank’s Mum was also brought out and introduced to the crowd. Thankfully, this familial atmosphere did nothing to temper the ferocity of the band’s performance, or to curb Frank’s prodigious swearing.
A cover of Black Flag’s seminal “Nervous Breakdown” provoked near chaos. A circle-pit formed and hundreds of sweaty kids hurtle round and round, blithely ignoring Carter’s advice to, “Look after each other. If anyone falls down, pick them up… and then tell them they ain’t running fast enough.” A brave soul clambered up an enormous tent pole. Everyone else just lost themselves in the exhilarating noise produced by the fastest, loudest punk rock band that Reading has seen in years.
Nine Inch Nails: Trent Reznor seems a little happier these days; like he’s lost a few demons along the road. He seems more comfortable in his own skin and judging by Sunday’s performance, his music seemed to have moved on somewhat too.
Abandoning the angsty thrash of Downward Spiral-era NIN, there was a new slinkiness, even a (whisper it) funkiness about them at the moment. I overheard one fan describe it as “dark sex music.” Fair enough. They even managed to make a cover of Joy Division’s “Dead Souls” sound (a bit) cheerful.
This was all relative of course. Nine Inch Nails still provided enough gothic shock-and-awe to satisfy most, and Reznor has by no means turned into Prince, but there were hints of a new sensibility here, inspired by the band’s embrace of technology and dance music culture. At times they even sounded like (drum’n’bass headfuck king) Squarepusher playing the Depeche Mode songbook. This, as it transpired, was no bad thing.
Against Me!: Against Me! drew a crowd of tall guys with impressive mohicans, kids in black Converse and cargo shorts, and older ‘proper’ punks with paunches and Cockney accents. Churning out tunes from their latest effort New Wave, the band’s barnstorming set at The Lock Up stage Sunday evening revealed a sound that recalls earthier, worthier bands like The Replacements and The Clash. There was a rootsier, looser edge to the band’s anthemic bashers as well, and the audience lapped it up tenfold. Vocalist guitarist Tom Gabel, guitarist James Bowman, and bassist Andrew Seward each added punch and power to the band’s canon of disaffection, and the crowd joined in wholesale, shaking the tent to its very foundations. “Unprotected Sex With Multiple Partners” saw its refrain of, “On the Inside” taken up by the entire audience and shouted out into the Reading night sky. Certainly a solid cap to a exhaustingly exciting night out.