The big review: Reading Festival 2023

Don Broco, Sleep Token, Hot Milk and more fly the flag for rock at Reading & Leeds 2023.

The big review: Reading Festival 2023
Nick Ruskell, Mark Sutherland
Chloe Chaplin, Joe Guppy, Georgina Hurdsfield, Emily Marcovecchio, Tom Pullen, Isha Shah, Elise Venus, Adamross Williams

There are some that will tell you that Reading & Leeds has all but abandoned rock music. And while it's true that a top-line including Sam Fender, Imagine Dragons and a superb headlining turn from Billie Eilish, our bands weren't exactly top of the pops at this year's bank holiday weekend party, there were still plenty of them doing a magnificent job of upholding rock's good name. From Knocked Loose's ground-shaking fury, to Don Broco's main stage-stealing showmanship and Sleep Token continuing to rise, it may not have been as packed as some years, but the rock action flowed freely – and fun – all weekend…

You Me At SixMain Stage West

When it comes to playing Reading Festival, no-one understands the assignment quite like You Me At Six. Arriving on what Josh Franceschi notes is practically home turf, they waste no time in adding to their already-lengthy list of triumphant R&L sets. They look sharp – in matching black suits and white shirts – and sound sharper; new anthems such as Deep Cuts and No Future? Yeah Right (featuring a blistering cameo from Enter Shikari's Rou Reynolds) causing just as much mosh-pit mayhem as Bite My Tongue and Underdog. “We still have one job to do,” hollers Josh and, after Beautiful Way’s explosive finale, it’s clear their work here is done. (MS)

PinkshiftFestival Republic Stage

There’s probably a bigger crowd taking selfies with the giant advert for Olivia Rodrigo’s new album than there is in the tent when Pinkshift come on. Not that Ashrita Kumar and co. let that put them off producing a feral pop-punk racket to rival anything Ol-Rod can come up with. So Burn The Witch dowses the faithful in vitriol, Ashrita writhes and screams, the tent slowly starts to fill up and the curious few become the committed slightly-more. In the end, as Olivia might say, seeing them tonight was a great idea, right? (MS)

Magnolia ParkFestival Republic Stage

“This is a punk show – shit is supposed to go wrong,” sighs Magnolia Park frontman Joshua Roberts. And go wrong it does – it takes several songs and an angry audience chant of “Turn it up!” before the microphone problems are sorted out and everyone can really hear the Orlando punkers in all their glory. It’s worth the wait: a vitriolic Liar and a cover of Fall Out Boy’s Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down provide a reset and, by the end, Joshua is being mobbed by the crowd and shit is going very right indeed. (MS)

Knocked LooseFestival Republic Stage

Pity the poor souls sheltering from a shower as Knocked Loose come on. They flee as the first mosh-pit kicks in, pure terror in their eyes. You don’t get that with Mimi Webb. What you do get with KL, however, is pretty simple: uncompromising, fat-free hardcore, so ferocious even guitarist Isaac Hale’s dungarees – usually only sported by toddlers and CBeebies presenters – gain an air of unspeakable menace. True, Bryan Garris’ squeaky vocals make Billy No Mates sound oddly like Joe Pasquale instigating a brutal prison riot, and the sheer relentlessness of KL is clearly too much for some. But for everyone else? It’s a Knockout. (MS)

NormandieFestival Republic Stage

“You’re the best country in the world, don’t you know that?” asks Normandie singer Philip Strand as he looks to win over the crowd. Which doesn’t really explain why these Swedes named their band after a region of France rather than call themselves, say, ‘Berkshire’. But then there is a whiff of Camembert about Normandie’s high-octane, if slightly underwhelming arena-ready rock. Songs such as Holy Water and newie Blood In The Water press all the right buttons, and the announcement of the new album certainly gets the fanbase excited, but ultimately Normandie can’t quite stick the landing. (MS)

YONAKAFestival Republic Stage

Like a mercurial League One midfielder, you can never be sure which YONAKA is going to turn up at Reading. After ditching the slick indie-rock of their 2019 debut for 2021’s slightly unconvincing electronica phase, they’re now back to what they do best: anthemic guitar anthems both old (Rockstar) and new (I Want More), fronted by the indefatigable Theresa Jarvis. Seemingly wearing a couple of Pomeranians on her cuffs and swearing like Gordon Ramsey stepping on Lego, her star quality and box-to-box energy more than justifies YONAKA's place in the line-up for another year. (MS)

Palaye RoyaleFestival Republic Stage

The backdrop reads 'Wembley', while they greet the crowd as “Reading and Leeds!” Geography’s not their strong suit, but Palaye Royale have other trump cards. Equal parts MCR, GN'R and ABBA, they’re a band – like Måneskin – where every member is convinced they’re the frontman, but singer Remington Leith’s speaker-scaling antics take the rock’n’roll biscuit. The big dumb fun ends with him crowdsurfing on a rubber dinghy, squirting a super-soaker, and the announcement of a 2024 Wembley Arena show (hence the backdrop). Palaye Royale might not know where they are, but at least they know where they’re going, and they’re getting there fast. (MS)

Graphic NatureFestival Republic Stage

Like Knocked Loose on Friday, Graphic Nature are a heavy surprise for a whole mess of people sheltering from the rain in the tent, suddenly confronted with one of the weekend's most uncompromisingly weighty bands. Deluge or not, though, Harvey Freeman and the Brit nu-metal sluggers have drawn in a sizeable crowd of their own, a good half of whom get busy in the pit from the very first bass drop. Harvey's call for men to be less afraid to talk about their mental health is welcome, as is Charlie Smith taking his bass into the middle of the circle-pit, not to mention the absolute pandemonium that greets aptly-titled closer Killing Floor. The most brutal fun you'll have at Reading all weekend. (NR)

High VisFestival Republic Stage

As close to ’90s indie as it's possible to get while still being a hardcore band, High Vis would have gone down a storm on Reading's main stage in 1995. They go down a storm this year as well, with 0151, Walking Wires and Fever Dream proving the perfect mix of woozy melody, chorus-pedal-washed guitars, gobby-but-melodic vocals and Northern grit. Though not as fist-first as what comes before and after them this afternoon, they're a vibrant, fun, hungry and likeable dose of quality punk good times. (NR)

ScowlFestival Republic Stage

Scowl singer Kat Moss is dressed like she’s playing a fairy in a particularly ethereal staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, yet sings/screams like the mainstream’s worst nightmare. She gives Kerrang! a lovely shoutout but, ultimately, it’s this juxtaposition that makes Scowl stand out from the hardcore pack. Song speeds may run the gamut of velocities all the way from ‘breakneck’ to er, ‘really breakneck’, but there are enough subtle touches in the likes of Bloodhound and Fuck Around, and enough charisma in Kat’s no-Pucks-given showmanship [Awful! – Shakespeare Ed], to ensure they’ll go far beyond the genre’s usual limitations. (MS)

ZANDFestival Republic Stage

“How many slags are in the audience?” asks ZAND, to big cheers. “And how many sluts?” They are not just here to help out the national census, though. The mission? Well, ripping through the fiercely individual likes of I Spit On Your Grave, DTF and Religion, it’s clear they are here to bring festival-goers a heady Nicki-Minaj-goes-nu-metal-style cocktail of rap, rock and unfiltered frankness, both when it comes to lyrics and onstage pronouncements (“Can you tell me if my tits fall out please?”). And Reading, equally frankly, loves everything ZAND has to offer. (MS)

Sleep TokenFestival Republic Stage

Given the amount of production employed by some bands on the main stages this year, it says much about Sleep Token and their creativity that they conjure up something just as impressive – and much more atmospheric – using little more than themselves and some cunning jiggery-pokery with light and darkness. And as their ritual unfolds, a tent in Berkshire becomes so much more, as the mysterious not-quite-metallers chalk up yet another win on their gigging scorecard. Vessel, as ever, says jack shit to the sizeable crowd who've turned out, but the lack of anything other than the music is all part of the fun. Wembley is going to be something very special indeed. (NR)

Hot MilkMain Stage West

Hot milk the drink may help old people go to sleep, but Hot Milk the band do the opposite: giving Reading’s hungover youth a much-needed Day Three energy boost. And, boy – even after a horrible false start when the PA fails – do these Milkmen (and woman) deliver. At the end, both Han Mee and Jim Shaw are flat out onstage, exhausted but, by then, Bloodstream and Teenage Runaways have shown us what it might be like if a punkier Billie Eilish fronted Bring Me The Horizon. Is that a recipe for potential international rock stardom? I should bleeding cocoa… (MS)

Don BrocoMain Stage West

On the way in, festival-goers are offered a free Don Broco ice cream, while many in the crowd are wearing promotional DB party hats. But the treats don’t end there. Rob Damiani – wearing a garish Rocky shirt, hair flowing like Kevin Keegan in his permed pomp – knows how to rouse a rabble and a dazzling, pyro-heavy production and beefed-up versions of Gumshield and Bruce Willis do the rest. As the crowd breaks out the, um, Bedford Helicopter for a final T-Shirt Song, it’s clear that Don Broco have brought the full Baskin-Robbins to Reading: 31 flavours of unstoppable rock fun. (MS)

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