Reading & Leeds’s ongoing slip from credible alternative music event to post-GCSEs rite-of-passage knees-up means that this year two long-term veterans (at least) have eschewed the festival for the first time in ages. Spiky-headed music critic Simon Price is missing his first Reading Festival in 28 years whereas Drowned In Sound’s own Sean Adams’s increasing disillusion has become so severe that last year he only wrote about one single band (and that band was Paramore). This year he isn’t there at all.
Well I know something that Adams and Price don’t and that something comes in the form of a confession: Limp Bizkit are good. They are, though. Believe me. They’re a good band. Hear me out. I’m not kidding. Well, okay, maybe a qualifier is required. Limp Bizkit are a good festival band. They’re still massively popular long after the decline of the nu-metal boom, packing out the Radio 1 tent with kids and adults alike yelling Fred Durst’s pencil-case philosophies so loud they drown out the singer’s own amplified voice. “I know why you wanna hate me, ‘cause hate is all the world has even seen lately” ... “Ain't it a shame that you can’t say “Fuck” / Fuck’s just a word / And it’s all fucked up” ... “I did it all for the nookie / The nookie / So you can take that cookie / And stick it up your...” Come on, this is the August Bank Holiday. This is not a time for articulate, sesquipedalian rewritings of Coleridge’s ‘Kubla Khan’. This is the time for ‘Rollin’ and ‘Break Stuff’. We’re here for the chunky riffs, crisp beats, funk bass, scratchy turntable noises and raucous party atmosphere. Limp Bizkit provide them in detuned spades. Frontman Durst is an oaf of frankly magnificent proportions. He’s wearing a baseball cap (of course), a grey ‘Not Robert’ hoodie, to clear up recent confusion, baggy pants and a single black glove. And, despite his gloriously ham-tongued lyrics, Durst’s onstage persona is surprisingly charismatic. He has the bullish, defiant stare of a man who still has much to prove, yet when he chats to the crowd he seems genuinely touched that we’ve actually chosen to see his band over any other. Furthermore, the dynamic between Durst and his guitarist remains endlessly fascinating. As the performance-art branch of Bizkit, Wes Borland is dressed as the trouserless Hawaiian lovechild of Cesar Romero’s The Joker and the Guy Fawkes freedom fighter off of V For Vendetta. Ever nu-metal’s black sheep, does Borland even like the music he plays? Besides his flamboyant costumes, in what other ways is he subverting his group and its fans? L.B. even have the shameless audacity to play samples of hip-hop hits and Faith No More tracks in between their own numbers and perform a cover of Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Killing In The Name’, all things they and their rap-metal brethren were accused of appropriating and ruining. Well, like the man says, they don’t give a fuck, and that’s kinda admirable. Limp Bizkit’s career was partially derailed in the aftermath of Woodstock ’99 when the band were accused of single-handedly inspiring the knuckleheaded crowd violence that occurred, as if there weren’t a more complicated combination of multiple factors that led to that day’s disasters. Here, they’re a fun festival act who can’t be beat, their grey-bearded singer is almost cuddly and, if you ask me, it’s the Mumford fans who are the real bad ‘uns...
Innocently (st)rollin’ from Limp Bizkit’s tent towards Mumford & Sons on the main stage, a bunchaLADS rugby tackle me and pour a cup of freezing cold water over my head to leave me lying shaken on the ground. According to witnesses, they’d done the same thing to another hapless victim just moments before. A slightly traumatic act of mild assault is how I would also describe Mumford & Sons’ set. They alternate between the new 'rock' stuff and the folk style of yore, having not even burnt their banjos as promised. Winston 'fuck the banjo' Marshall has the maligned instrument in his hands, fingerpickin’ his way through the old material while grinning his beardy head off. Either he was joking about his banjo aversion or Marshall is the frustrated Wes Borland of the Mumford family and in the photoshoots for their next record he’ll be wearing silver Miley Cyrus boob-braces and knee-length boots. Gang of rugger bullies aside, there’s a jovial atmosphere among ticket-holders and bar staff alike who are all dancing around like toddlers after too much Ribena.
While The Libertines jangle away in the distance, those of us in The Pit tent are watching the enthralling punk-rock spectacle of Refused’s soundcheck. In the end, it lasts so long that Refused have to cut their set short, blaming an earlier band for overrunning. When singer Dennis 'man of the people' Lyxzén eventually emerges, he’s wearing a genteel suit, complete with fancy waistcoat and even, as revealed when he removes his swanky jacket, sleeve garters. He moves like Jagger (Mick) and Cocker (Jarvis), only faster, and sure likes to swing his microphone around by its lead, throw it in the air and then sometimes catch it. Maybe if this whole reformation thing doesn’t work out he can retrain as a ribbon gymnast. There’s a small, enthusiastic circle pit but the tent’s overall atmosphere is noticeably lacklustre with new numbers like ‘Dawkins Christ’ falling fairly flat. Such a man of the people is this man of the people that Lyxzén performs one song while literally standing on top of the people, held aloft like a tribal God, this apparent enemy of hierarchies. Still, Refused’s renditions of older songs are a reminder of how this group managed to just totally nail it on their third record, The Shape Of Punk To Come, even if they never had before and never will again. Naturally, the set ends with the peerless ‘New Noise’ and at least they didn’t have time to play ‘Françafrique’.
As usual, many of the festival’s best acts play to the smallest crowds (and vice versa). One of Britain’s most exciting young bands, Youth Man are totally unfazed by performing very early on to just a handful of punters. On guitar and vocals, Kaila Whyte is cooler than a Plutonian ice-storm, a total pro at stomping, leaping and whirlwinding around the stage while hacking at her guitar like her life depends on it. Their sound’s not quite as crisp as it can be, with some of the music’s subtleties lost in a METZ-like fog of screams and distortion. 'We’ve got t-shirts,' offers Whyte, 'if anyone wants to buy a t-shirt? They’re only a fiver and we’re starving.' Someone sign them to Sub Pop, immediately.
Rock’ n’ roll is meant to be dumb and often the dumber it is the better (and vice versa), especially in a festival scenario, as Limp Bizkit showed. Another proudly uncouth outfit are Californian garage punkers Fidlar. The singer’s t-shirt bears the Millennial ethic 'Wake up, Jerk off, Cry'. Out of his gravelly mouth spill lyrics about “cocaine and shitty pills”. He introduces one tune with the words “this song’s about drinking beer” (chorus: “I drink / Cheap beer / So what? / Fuck you”). However, a slightly tender and more intelligent side is exhibited on the slower ‘40oz. On Repeat’ which features the playful lyrics “I’ll just scream and shout / That I’ll never sell out / I’ll never sell out, man! / [pause] Wait... how much?”
Less rousing are Parquet Courts who, despite the aid of a bubble wand and a beach ball, fail to enliven the crowd as much as they hope. Their pleas for us to scream louder feel more like criticism than encouragement. If you’ve got such a slacker sound, you’ve got to expect a slacker audience, haven’t you? Ultimately, they’re better suited to headlining dingy clubs where they have more space to jam out their ragged shanties.
Too dumb even for me are Epitaph’s generic pop-punkers The Menzingers. “If everyone needs a crutch, then I need a wheelchair,” yelp the band’s two singers on their closing wannabe-anthem. It’s a metaphor, sure, but singing those words while pogoing up and down on your able-bodied legs at eye-level with the elevated disabled platform at the back of the tent feels pretty unsavoury.
Depending on which source you consult, the 'XCX' in Charli XCX’s name stands for either 'kiss Charli kiss' or 'x-rated cunt x-rated'. I think the ‘i’ in Charli might stand for 'irresponsible'. Despite penning the lyrics “I don’t wanna go to school”, Charli (23 years of age) seems to be under the impression that her music is for grown-ups. She is the festival’s bona fide pop star who the primary school kiddies have all come to see and she’s swearing her bloomin’ head off, dropping the f-bomb between every song and bigging up 'all the ladies... with the pussy power'. Nearby, a gang of 6-11 year olds are bopping around to the chart music, their eyes lighting up upon hearing the forbidden words and wondering if this is okay with their chaperoning parents. Still, Charli’s band sound pretty neat and she’s got enough bangerz in her repertoire for barely a low moment in the 45-minute high-energy set.
More genuinely antisocial are HO9909, a frantically aggressive trio who fuse horrorcore hip-hop with hardcore punk to devastating effect with nothing but a drummer, two vocalists and a battered old sampler. As if doing back-flips and leaping into the crowd wearing nothing but a finely chiselled torso and a pair of kickboxing shorts wasn’t enough, they’ve also got a bulky roadie in a boiler suit and balaclava wandering around the audience looking like the last person you’d want to meet in the forest at night. A thriller.
Still on their Damage Limitation Tour following the critical car crash/creative triumph that was 2011’s Lulu, Metallica are on the road with no new album to promote, reminding people that they wrote the riffs to ‘Enter Sandman’ and ‘Sad But True’, ignoring my pleas for ‘Brandenburg Gate’, ‘Iced Honey’ and ‘The View’ (popularly known as ‘I Am The Table’). They are accompanied onstage by a crowd of lucky competition winners who in Marianne Faithfull’s absence provide the “na-na-na”s for ‘The Memory Remains’. Lars looks a little tired but can still beat hard all right. Kirk and Robert both get to indulge their inner Nigel Tufnel with respective bass and guitar solo spots. Hetfield looks happiest when the group are pummelling their way through the epic eight minutes of 1986’s ‘Master of Puppets’ (and at his most existentially jaded, somewhat appropriately, when covering Bob Seger’s ‘Turn The Page’, a hymn to the outright shittiness of being “on the road again”). It’s largely accepted that Metallica have been in a state of confused and floundering flux since making their deal with the devil (or 'Bob Rock' as he then guised himself) back in 1990 but, as a younger generation of heavy rockers such as Mastodon, Red Fang and Baroness are proving, Metallica’s melodic post-Black Album hard-rock records have been just as influential and important as their supposedly superior early thrash material. Baroness play earlier on the bill, rocking a sweaty tent with their proficient marriage of catchy bellowing and proggy heaviness but, for now at least, Metallica’s throne remains unchallenged.
(They might, however, want to sleep with one eye open, with that eye pointing towards Japan. Firstly, there’s the Bo Ningen experiment, a four-headed prog-metal monster with yards of hair, a punishing, hyperactive sound and a frontman in a slim dress who pulls a variety of impressive gargoyle faces and whose wild movements put Refused’s hackneyed Jagger-ing to shame. Secondly, Japan provides a terrifyingly entertaining vision of the future in the form of Babymetal’s fusion of thrash riffs and intense J-pop choreography. Maybe it’s time Lars stepped out from behind that kit and dusted off his ballet plimsolls.)
Photograph of Metallica from Glastonbury 2014, by Gary Wolstenhome