Inauspiciously befitting the guttural bursts of Mallory Knox that ring far out into regal Berkshire, Saturday’s sky turns an appositely apocalyptic shade for day two of the 2013 Reading Festival. A little later on meanwhile, and back with the Main Stage, we’ve an inaugural foray into the expletive-laden lair of EarlWolf – the seemingly slapdash amalgamating of Tyler, the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt’s respective lyrical talents. Following on from A$AP Rocky, who (at least superficially) appeared to thrive under the cover of the NME/BBC Radio 1 Stage tarpaulin the previous evening, the Odd Future duo find themselves exposed to the elements and consequently struggle. They struggle to fill this vast expanse in spite of their expendably sludgy bass; struggle with early afternoon apathy; and effectively struggle to complement one another in any regard whatsoever. The conditions may be a far cry from those of their native California, and the live experience is certainly significantly dislocated from the typically hysterical, sweat-sodden underground hovels they and their clan have become accustomed to since first coming to prominence approximately two years ago. Their penchant for punk-rock tropes has afforded them a fair amount of crossover appeal, and most probably got them today’s gig, throughout which they embrace every circle pit that swirls out of control and celebrate the ceremonious hurling of £4.50 pints. But as was with Rocky before them, the knockout blow is dealt by their overarching incompatibility with an audience of this sort. “Fuck a pregnant bitch, and tell my friends I had a threesome” Tyler snarls during Tron Cat, before reverting to type and frequently inquiring as to just how “nasty” his audience are. The answer? Not so much, his appeal: “If you nasty, make some noise” falling on ears both deafened by his distasteful tongue and essentially disinterested.
Sweatshirt, meanwhile, seems dangerously out of his depth when flanked by founts of such utter disgust. “If yo nasty, go shit on yo’self” the Wolf Gang’s in-house henchman, or as Tyler puts it “fat security guard”, Jasper Dolphin yodels at one point, Earl discernibly holding back a frown. Though it’s he who so unassumingly steals what little show there is, his indolent delivery on Molasses a standout. The track could do with RZA’s involvement, and not that of an incessantly impish ‘Creator of negligible merit, his flaccid limbs flopping gangly about the stage, though the irony of the collective’s youngest member also being among its most mature – musically and, mercifully, personally – is lost on nobody, such is the explicit puerility of his counterparts. They revel in the left/ right rivalry, seeing which side can succumb most heedlessly to their limitless stupidity, as expletives fly. “I’ll fuck the freckles off yo face, bitch” barks Tyler, evidently relishing his impersonation of the prominent Wu Tang main man, but no matter how impressive the precocious Earl may be, their overly long forty-five bear all the hallmarks of an Odd Future performance and the ADHD proclivities thereof. Tyler makes Billie-Joe Armstrong out to have the attentive patience of a father who’s long since lost count of his offspring, and he is the catalyst that makes the whole thing grow increasingly unwatchable: the epitome of the child star afforded far too much time, money, smoke and all other manner of overdue indulgence, he pales in infantile significance when set against his contemporary. Earl, by contrast and to paraphrase Sam Is Dead, is evidently doin’ fuckin’ shit as he leaps behind the decks during said number, indeed seemingly doing more than soi-disant DJ Diplo the previous evening in the process. And in many respects, as was with Frank Ocean some while ago, he’s already apparently all too talented for this gratuitously potty-mouthed troop. “Give it up for black people!” Tyler then spits, the voice of this most literal hype man like a latrine brimming with gravel and though it’s he who the whole phenomenon was first built about, he’s looking increasingly impotent as time wears on. If his presence is, as he loosely purports it to be, for the cross-promotional purpose of furthering the progress of Earl Sweatshirt in the wake of his newly released début studio album Doris, then it’s about his most noble act yet committed. Though irrespective of the stereotypical truancy of the rest of the ensemble (only two further members of Odd Future tagged along for the ride this time), they too may be coming to terms with the fact that an elite appears to be forming; a clique to which two belong, the coattails of whom seem to be wearing thin.
The gently flimsy, if ephemerally fun pop whimsies of Anglo-Italian synthpop four-piece M A U S I then generate a mild flexing of those knobblier knees in attendance, Daisy Finetto’s constant reassurances of we speaking her body language debilitating a few and rendering them weak. It’s not entirely true, and there are questions as to our general compatibility, with Sol a pretty thinly veiled tribute to Jean Jacques Smoothie’s 2 People though it’s sensual enough for a belatedly sunnier afternoon. Thus if M A U S I prove tame as murine vermin, then Jagwar Ma are all too wild to really get stuck into just gone five and it’s therefore hard not to feel thankful for the arrival of emerging Chicagoan, Chance The Rapper. Having released his Acid Rap mixtape to unprecedentedly widespread critical acclaim last spring, today marks his début showing outside of his native Illinois, and the intimacy intrinsic to the BBC Radio 1Xtra Stage elucidates a pretty enlightening shift in the rap demographic. Maybe it mainly appeals to the younger generations of the white middle classes after all? They are of course those most likely to be able to fork out approaching three figures for a Kanye West ticket, and it goes without saying that attending any which festival prompts a hefty outlay. But as New Slaves marches into earshot over the imposing PA, those packed in appear to know its every lyric. And for an artist that to this day remains an underground luminary and thereby a relative unknown, as is Chance, an exceptional number have evidently burrowed deeper beneath the mainstream rap scene in search of a more innovatory flow. Chancelor Bennett brings just that, even though his recalcitrant hype man – a reversion to default hip hop MO – believes this to be the capital. “London, you can do better than that” he sneers, before spinning Good Ass Intro.
Bennett has an MJ swagger to him, his Camden-friendly paisley trilby offset by caramel moves and a croon to melt Jackson’s Madame Tussauds waxwork. Maybe most applicable to his singularity is his palpable lack of aggro in a genre increasingly dictated by puerile overreaction, for which see EarlWolf a little earlier on in the afternoon. For Acid Rap is, irrespective of the illicit substance abuse implicit in its title, largely redolent of Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor, Bennett’s delivery nice and concise, with his musical accompaniment resourceful and unafraid to pool inspiration from many a disparate source. The result is an inventive, if never quite innovatory listen and live, Chancelor’s vocal delivery is all the more versatile still. An impressively rapturous Everybody’s Something smoothly exhibits this, while a cover of ‘homeboy’ West’s All Falls Down – a kind of a cover within a cover if you will, the song originally featuring Syleena Johnson paying homage to Lauryn Hill’s Mystery of Iniquity – sees things come full circle in a sense. And although Bennett is still very much a raw prospect, with a little more chiselling he may yet touch the same skies Kanye now clasps tight, though his best chance is as a crooner.
Quite ludicrously however, he clashes with one of the game’s elder statesmen in DOOM, who may, or more likely may not have made his hulking frame unmistakable. Doing nothing to allay the disappointment, and a continuation on a theme of anything but great British guitar bands smashed across the weekend are Splashh though stonking as Daniel Dumile and stentorian as a room filled with grizzled roadies are Matt Caughthran and his subversive Los Angelino rabble-rousers, The Bronx. They’re old enough to know better than to pump out such glorious abrasion, and they’re all the better for abidingly ignoring that fact. Emerging to mariachi strains, thus eliciting recollections of their tangential Mariachi El Bronx dabblings, any fears of them having dumbed down their trademark thirst for breakneck punk-rock are swiftly dispelled with The Unholy Hand the ungodly sound of the The Underworld Camden and The Troubadour, West Hollywood brutally headfucked into one another at the bottom of a gritty barrel of resolute brilliance. White Cancer meanwhile, Caughthran hocking up lyrics of “Baby’s got cancer, looking for the answer”, proves infectious as never, “40 minutes of pleasure, and a lifetime of pain” giving rise to this self-righteous “highlight reel.” Shitty Future is most certainly still one as the brutish, counterintuitively titled Californians seem to have remained a force to be reckoned with.
As are Foals who, still relatively fresh from headlining Festival Republic’s Latitude, flex their huge, if in many respects premature muscular pull. For a band newly promoted to the uppermost echelons of British festival bills, they’re on almost inexplicably early and as such, the sense of spectacle inevitable diminishes. Gone are the radiant lasers to have punctured the bluish skies above Suffolk just last month, though unchanged is the giddy brilliance of My Number and the urbane smoulder of Late Night – a song that sounds a little like a lost NIN number circa The Fragile for a short while this afternoon. They’ve played everywhere and done just about everything thus far this summer, and it now shows, though I last saw them in this very field now six years ago when they packed what was then the Carling stage like the garage fridge of a bloke eagerly gearing up for summer in March. It’s since been rebranded as the Festival Republic Stage of course, although unchanged in size, it doubtless could no longer bear the weight of these burly savages. It’s still a little odd to see a band to have so evidently thrived on intimacy – venues in which guitarist Jimmy Smith would gash heads open with his hypnotically swizzled headstock – play such enormous spaces, as they lack that intense ferocity of yore. It’s one that’s retained, if a little diluted, when guarded by the dark of night, and Spanish Sahara really loses its plush warmth today once left out in the open. It loses the allure of those now-fundamental lasers that reach out toward the horizon, and the necessary attention is, if expected, found equivalently wanting.
And so unsurprisingly perhaps, a reversion to Antidotes with a fizzing Red Socks Pugie provides a prerequisite tonic to all that impassivity, as not only is it better known, but it sounds big enough to lay the rest of the festival to waste. In 2007, it threatened to take the roof clean off the tent; in 2013, it’s now impactive enough to reduce The Oracle to rubble. They’ve since had the wireless installed, and it’s just as well given Yannis Philippakis’ feral propensity for cheek-to-cheek interaction as he spends as much time buzzing about the photo pit as he does striking considered poses from his position stage-centre. It’s from here he declares: “We waited a long time to play this stage. We’re from down the road, so it means a lot. We wanna see you go fucking apeshit.” And now that they’ve Inhaler in their armoury, we duly do: its punk-funk stylisation à la Rage Against The Machine surely abets in their quest, but it’s polyrhythmic bruiser Two Steps Twice that gets this, “the best crowd in the world”, really worked up. And working magic on any which stage they’re granted access to, Foals appear to be galloping toward a headline date here sooner, rather than later.
In rabid anticipation of tonight’s headliner, however, is plenty of opportune M&M’s advertising. Nonetheless now approaching seven, and seemingly this year’s witching hour after which the festival in its outright entirety goes totally doolally, slipping nipples licked by unprompted strangers and more salacious stuff besides that I’d prefer went unpublished. Another occurrence best forgotten posthaste is Chase & Status’ unthinkably oversubscribed performance on the slaughterhouse the Main Stage momentarily becomes: the sound of a spasm echoing endlessly about a Slough underpass, I’d previously deemed them the preserve of V Festival, given their Prodigy-aping rape-y paeans to grossly hopeless nights out in suburban Britain. Contrasting, if no more capable of vindicating their heavyweight billing, Tame Impala’s fluffy brand of faux-psych still seems the stuff of charlatans who, by their own admission, revel in ‘a combination of nice sugary pop crossed with really fucked-up, explosive, cosmic music. It’s like Britney Spears singing with The Flaming Lips.’ It’s an awry comparison, though whatever that might sound like, it likely wouldn’t prompt quite as many indwelling regrets over not having elected Tim Burgess as this. Elephant stomps unapologetically all over festival stalwarts Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Spread Your Love, and while the schizoid Kraut of Be Above It stands out a gauzy skyscraper, that’s not exactly saying an awful lot.
Few relocate to the BBC Introducing Stage, where the ludicrously derivative Childhood live up to their name with a nigh on insufferably ingenuous brand of scuzzy indie, though with the remainder of the day preluding his arrival, Saturday had indeed felt that little bit empty without a certain Marshall Mathers, who duly announces his return with the weekend’s boldest statement of intent this side of Dookie in its entirety. Eminem materialises however many highly fashionable minutes late, backed by a full live band, and bursts into newbie Survival. It’s far from his best, but he couldn’t feasibly have begun under more audacious circumstances. The burden of scrutiny, however, appears to weigh heavy: did he really rap, mimic just that, or mime altogether? The tests continue to prove inconclusive, with Festival Republic head honcho Melvin Benn subsequently rubbishing claims of there having been chicanery afoot, but as a litmus test as to his live credentials, it’s more a lukewarm alkaline blue than a blistering acidic red anyway.
It’s all fairly basic, and indubitably Mathers looks it. In fact, he looks in no way dissimilar to the innumerable underage ‘rude boys’ that maraud their way throughout the weekend as though their three-quarter lengths were filled with either pebbles or excremental pieces. As is so often the case with megabuck headliners, the urge to see – or perhaps rather be able to say you’ve seen – proves overpowering for many, judging by the steady stream of people leaving even by 3 a.m. some three songs in. They’re imaginably headed in the general direction of alt-J, and while Mathers takes it upon himself to inject many far from witty remarks into proceedings, as far as any comedic element goes, it’s almost impossible to tell who the joke is being played upon. The lyrical political skirmishes active within White America dampen all forms of humour, although as others have taken up the baton and voiced their discontent with the American governmental system, their elegiac prose has left Eminem’s elementary rhymes behind. “I never would’ve dreamed in a million years I’d see, so many motherfuckin’ people who feel like me/ Who share the same views and the same exact beliefs, it’s like a fuckin’ army marchin’ in back of me” he decrees (or pantomimes, either way) aimlessly, before professing sensations of satisfaction at getting “in trouble with the government”. Though what ultimately becomes apparent is that Mathers is no longer in any way capable of riling the powers that be, purely because, oh, “let me be me, so let me see” he no longer has any cultural relevance whatsoever nor radical wisdom to impart. Once unnecessarily, if exhilaratingly aggressive, he now seems tired; his rhymes more than often contrived.
And despite the modesty portrayed on stage – he romps before slight cauldrons of fire, the flames from which only infrequently kick up enough to become visible, with any other visual elements only negligible at best – he plays into the big deal hip hop show far more than his previous in the dives of his native Detroit would have you believe: that addiction to track which has already stirred enough controversy to be called in for further questioning now; the fragmenting of the crowd into various sects, riled up by a presupposed idol in order that they might aim to outdo one another; the recurring referencing of “mu’fuckas in the buildin'” from his portly hype man Mr. Porter, of which we can only assume there to be very few. (The other expletive that is now pretty well synonymous with live hip hop is markedly absent, for reasons that really need no clarification.)
“And I am, whatever you say I am/ If I wasn’t, then why would I say I am?/ In the paper, the news everyday I am/ Radio won’t even play my jam” goes the lazy refrain from The Way I Am, Eminem’s words slouching idly over one another as they awkwardly overlap. Essentially, it’s a little difficult to discern who he is any more, and indeed what the heck this is. It lacks life, that much is clear, for this certainly doesn’t seem to be the real Slim Shady we all bought into so foolhardily during our teens. Though maybe that’s all that Slim has since become – a vapid caricature of a character in crisis; a figure belonging to, and with it bound to an era now only accessible via nostalgic excursion. He was the voice of many a kidulthood, though is that of not one adulthood.
Lighters, featuring a seemingly similarly existent vocal contribution courtesy of Bruno Mars, leaves an ineradicable burn on the brain with its gruesomely mawkish nonsenses, as we’re pushed: “If you ain’t got a lighter, put somethin’ up” in a turn of phrase that’s seemingly indicative of an artist papering over every crack at any possible opportunity. Moreover the incessant Dre referencing – once a presupposed hip hop pioneer, he’s now more concerned with the marketing strategies of headphone competitor Pioneer – again suggests his act’s gone that bit past it, as does a cover of the commensurately irrelevant B.o.B’s Aeroplanes. Though if both Bobby Ray Simmons, Jr. and Hayley Williams should be absent, then Dido is very much alive and alright as she takes to the stage for self-aggrandising suicide pact, Stan. It’s a collaboration that would’ve been easy enough to engineer – Reading’s less than an hour from north London, and it’s less than £20 down even on our increasingly exorbitant National Rail network – but the reaction which greets what was this morning a pipe dream, only to this evening become a blooming reality, is nowhere short of euphoric.
There’s a newly trippy feel to it, and it kickstarts a stronger remainder: Toy Soldiers, if a little outta toon, troops streets ahead of the majority, even if it still lags behind that “Jay-Z and Nas shit”, while although Love The Way You Lie feels superfluous without Rihanna and seems to adhere to every tedious R’n’B cliché imaginable, again beats the rife ennui of a dreary first half. It was then a show bereft of both rhythm and rhyme, and it now sparks tardily into life. His candid calls to “true hip hop fans” met with vociferous roars, he cites the likes of Chance The Rapper, Odd Future, etc. at least acknowledging the new breed, though it’s they, and not Dre he should these days be taking cues and cribbing notes from, although on GCSE results weekend, My Name Is proves worthy of an A* start through finish. It’s a result that’s something of an anomaly, and is later remarked and duly downgraded as it forms but a snippet of a medley during which he spunks his three arguably greatest hits in deflating fashion. In a quick fire ¡Uno! ¡Dos! ¡Tré! he’s rifled through My Name Is, The Real Slim Shady and Without Me, leaving us with little change. Like a set of roguish fingers pushing mischievously on your parents’ bedroom door, the mélange provides a riveting glimpse into his arch past and finally, there feels to be some fluency to this scattily compiled show.
But our perception of Mathers, as well as his of Eminem both as a recording artist and a live performer, is confounded by the fact that he deems Not Afraid to be a more worthy bow. The stench of blown fireworks greets its arrival, as inflated for the occasion, it sounds quite a lot like Umbrella. The integrity of the entire gig has of course already been called in for rigorous questioning, so what’s another footnote to the failed headline? Inevitably, in Lose Yourself he’s an encore more than capable of bringing the curtain down on The Eminem Show, although for a self-proclaimed “once-in-a-lifetime thing” the real damage has already been done. Are fleeting glimpses of a genius now perceived to be bygone really enough to reignite a musical career put on the back burner long ago? I struggle to see more than a few having felt that flash-in-the-pan teen angst reignited tonight, in truth.