Reading & Leeds 2021: The Kerrang! Review

The best of this weekend's rock action from Reading & Leeds – featuring Biffy Clyro, Neck Deep, Loathe, You Me At Six, Waterparks and more…

Reading & Leeds 2021: The Kerrang! Review
Mark Sutherland / Nick Ruskell
Header photo:
Sarah Louise Bennett

In the end, as with Bloodstock and Download Pilot, in some ways it didn't matter who ended up playing Reading & Leeds 2021 – that it happened at all was the important bit.

But when you add staggering performances from Biffy Clyro, Bob Vylan, Neck Deep and Boston Manor, as well as secret sets from You Me At Six, Don Broco and Frank Carter – all desperate to get back onto a stage and feel alive again, with the volume turned back up – it became an enormous celebration, and a reminder of all those things you can only get from live music.

Highlights from the weekend were plentiful. Here, we present the best bits of Reading 2021…

Don Broco, Lock Up Stage

Reading's rock weekend kicks off with a secret set from Don Broco. Naturally, the Lock Up tent is virtually impenetrable a full quarter of an hour before Bedford's finest hit the stage. When Rob Damiani finally does arrive – with the world's biggest grin and the hairdo you get when you take a picture of 1981 Sylvester Stallone to the barber – it's absolute pandemonium. Receiving their live debuts, Manchester Super Reds No.1 Fan and Gumshield are absolutely nuclear, while the heaviness of Action and Stay Ignorant are a bounce fest. As they finish with a rousing Everybody, it's far too short a time to spend in their company, but all the more potent for its brevity. (NR)

Photo: James Bridle

Nova Twins, Lock Up Stage

It’s been a long 18 months without live music for most people, but Nova Twins are not about to ease themselves in gently as they make their Reading debut. Instead, their set crackles with pent-up energy, ramping up punk-rap songs such as Vortex and Taxi until they’re so in-your-face you could wear them as a nose ring. In an ideal world, this glorious racket would be on the main stage, but even tucked away in the tent Nova Twins are still thrilling enough to start a riot of their own. (MS)

YONAKA, Lock Up Stage

Halfway through YONAKA's set, Theresa Jarvis decides to make some adjustments to the band’s makeshift backdrop, daubing it with the words “Is this what you came for?” The answer to that rather depends. If you were expecting the polished indie-rock of their first album, maybe not. But if you seek angry electronica-tinged protest songs beamed in by shouty androids from the future, you’ve come to the right place. Not everything about this shift convinces, but when Seize The Power and Call Me A Saint shake the tent to its guy ropes, YONAKA's actions still speak louder than any spray-painted slogans. (MS)

Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, Lock Up Stage

Before he's even got to the end of My Town, Frank Carter is standing atop the audience looking as if he's about to explode and really enjoy himself doing it. Looking like the world's hardest Bullseye contestant with his shaved head and moustache, truly, there is nobody on earth who has as good a time turning anger into power as the Watford Wolf. Today, the energy is the same as the very first Rattlesnakes show – a necessary, cathartic day out for a beast that's been locked up for far too long, but one that's also joyous, communal, and takes a flamethrower to the frustrations and bitterness of the past 18 months. Cassyette joins him for Off With His Head, and Go Get A Tattoo is bolstered by the spiky-headed Lynks, before they deliver the final blow with a boisterous cover of Motörhead's Ace Of Spades. Normally, Frank is like a lightning strike. Today, compressed into only his second gig in over a year, he's a busy day on a nuclear test site. And it's exactly what you need. (NR)

Photo: James Bridle

Boston Manor, Lock Up Stage

“We’ve only got 22 minutes,” hollers Boston Manor frontman Henry Cox. “Let’s make the fucking most of it, shall we?” True to his word, the band bristle with intensity throughout a short-but-spiky set that doesn’t waste a single second of their truncated stage time. So there are no gimmicks, no frills, and precious little between-song chat; just brilliantly bruised anthems such as England’s Dreaming and a final, triumphant Halo. “Sorry we had to rush,” says Henry as he departs, but the world should always make time for songs as hard-hitting as these. (MS)

You Me At Six, Main Stage West

Abbie McCarthy introduces You Me At Six as the band that’s “here to save the day”. And certainly, one of the UK’s biggest modern rock bands popping up at lunchtime on less than two days’ notice is one of the most pleasant surprises of this ever-fluctuating bill. They’re not mucking about either, with Josh Franceschi promising “a celebration of life… and bucket hats” and declaring: “There is no better place in the world to return to the stage than Reading fucking Festival!” And when YMAS rip through the likes of Bite My Tongue, Reckless and a joyous Underdog, it’s also a highly desirable location for the crowd to be moshing their way back to normality. “We’ll be back in Reading in two years… Headlining the motherfucking place,” grins Josh and, on this blistering form, anything feels possible. (MS)

Photo: Linda Borscika

Bob Vylan, The Pit Stage

God help us if the tabloids ever get wind of Bob Vylan. Even in this short set, frontman Bobby Vylan finds time to wish death upon the Queen, rail against the Metropolitan Police (“The only good pig is a dead pig!”), give Brexit a well-overdue kicking and invite the crowd to, erm, piss on the Union Jack. But there’s also some top lolz amidst the deadly serious polemic, because Bob Vylan, essentially, rap righteous anarcho-punk lyrics all over chunky classic rock riffs, topped off by the most high-energy frontman since Andrew W.K. (Bobby is even dressed in all-white today). At last, a band that parties hard and rages even harder. Just don’t tell the papers… (MS)

Loathe, The Pit Stage

Apparently, this is the first time avant-metal overlords Loathe have ever played a non-metal festival. They picked a funny time to branch out: there are probably more Love Island wannabes getting lairy in the queue for the on-site Nando’s than there are metalheads getting aggro in the pit when the Merseysiders make their pulverising debut. Several people even flee the tent, bucket hats clutched over their ears. But, slowly, the tide turns. Ironically, though, it’s the power ballads that ultimately hit harder than the ear-bleeding fast ones. They might not be soundtracking reality TV break-ups any time soon, but Loathe Island is still worth a visit. (MS)

Holding Absence, The Pit Stage

'I’m alive!' The first words of Holding Absence’s opening anthem, Celebration Song, hit different after a year-and-a-half focused on actual survival. Many bands this weekend are simply high on the thrill of playing live again, but Holding Absence are also here for those who aren’t quite ready to forget the turmoil of the last 18 months. They might look like they’ve popped in to play Reading straight from the office, but songs such as Gravity and Afterlife strain every sinew and pull at every heartstring on their route to emotional nirvana. Holding Absence are not just alive, but kicking hard. (MS)

Waterparks, The Pit

Coming on after a pre-show set of pumped-up pop-punk classics might be daunting for some acts. But Awsten Knight doesn’t lack for confidence – Waterparks’ latest album was called Greatest Hits, after all – and he sets about keeping the party going, determined to add some of his own songs to the DJ’s canon. Waterparks certainly have songs to make a splash – the snarky fizz of You’d Be Paranoid Too (If Everyone Was Out To Get You) and I Miss Having Sex But At Least I Don’t Wanna Die Anymore for starters – and a delirious fanbase. But they still need more depth if they’re definitely going to graduate to the first disc of any future Teenage Dirtbags compilation. (MS)

Neck Deep, Main Stage West

The presence of huge inflatable letters N and D might suggest to some that a surprise Napalm Death appearance is on its way. But just to make sure there’s no misunderstanding, the words “Hello Reading, we are Neck Deep” also appear on the big screen. Almost a decade into their career, ND have no real need to remind people who they are, but it’s little touches like that that help make their show accessible to all and consequently elevate them above the pop-punk pack. And which other band would tell fans they don’t have to mosh if they don’t want to? Thankfully the fans do want to, and December and In Bloom stomp away any sign of the third-day blues. (MS)

Photo: Sarah Getson

Biffy Clyro, Main Stage West

Reading first rocked 50 years ago (although its origins go back even further), but at times this year the genre has felt almost peripheral, as the festival moves on – as festivals that last for five decades must do – to new sounds and thrills. But not tonight. Biffy Clyro stand loud and proud on the Main Stage, after dark in front of a massive crowd and armed with an even bigger sound. They’ve brought along a spectacular light show, but really this is Biffy unadorned, notwithstanding Simon Neil’s decision to play the world’s greatest festival while wearing your Nan’s curtains. Thankfully, they’re soon jettisoned in favour of his naked torso, and the set also triumphs based on the bare essentials: guitar, bass, drums, vocals, passion, tunes. So Mountains and Many Of Horror provide the big emotional moments, Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies and Cop Syrup hammer down hard as hard as anything from the last 50 festivals and Simon is visibly moved. “Savour this moment, because we don’t know what’s around the corner,” he warns before a final, supremely poignant Machines ('I’ve forgotten how good it could be to feel alive') and everyone here will surely treasure it forever. Reading still rocks and nobody does it better than Biffy Clyro. (MS)

Photo: Emily Marcovecchio

Now read these

The best of Kerrang! delivered straight to your inbox three times a week. What are you waiting for?