Apparently this year was 'the worst ever' line up for RandL, and the internet had a melt down when the headliners were announced months previously. Talk was that the main stage was too pop and that the organisers had moved away from the original counter culture ethos of the festival, launched in Reading in 1989, with Leeds added a decade later in 1999. Comparing line ups over the years with 2018's offering my original thoughts were that those complaining had a point; the bands have largely been replaced by pop.
Yes, we've seen dance acts like the Chemical Brothers and New Order, and rap acts like Cypress Hill, Beastie Boys and Public Enemy be awesome on the main stage down the years. But the vast majority of people will look back and talk about Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica, Blur, Oasis etc. The huge bands of the day playing career defining sets.
The backlash to the meltdown was basically 'move over Grandad, get with the times'. So, have things moved on with culture generally? Do the main stages down the years simply reflect the music culture of the time? This is a tricky one to sum up, because looking at all the old posters between 1989 and 2017 the main acts largely have one thing in common; rebelliousness. Despite hailing from different genres they all shared a similar rebellious nature. They may have enjoyed large chart success, but you can argue almost all of them were anti-authority and were challenging the system. Especially the likes of Rage Against the Machine and The Prodigy.
To see if those complaining have a point, let's look at the three 2018 headliners;
Kings of Leon. They're a decent band, but pretty main stream.
Fallout Boy. Again, they are main stream. Standard Amercian pop-punks who sound very similar to others in the genre.
Kendrick Lemar. He's an ok rapper who had some success recently.
Then the acts preceding them include Panic! at the Disco, Courteeners and Travis Scott. All straight up, main stream pop. Further down the main stage we see pop princess Dua Lipa, and three middle of the road bands The Kooks, The Wombats and The Vaccines. I have to say, none of them caused a riot. In fact I would argue that not a single act on the main stage over the three days offered any kind of political protest or statement whatsoever. How can you blow steam off after your exams by listening to Post Malone singing over his backing music?
The answer to that is simple; It is a big festival, and the counter culture has been moved to the tents; this is where the grime artists, the hardcore bands, the rock and the indie could be enjoyed.
Over the weekend Don Broco and Slaves tore up the huge Radio 1 stage with incredible sets. I saw La Dispute, Underoath, The Bronx, Stray From the Path, Beartooth, Hollywood Undead, Papa Roach, Metz, Shvpes and Milk Teeth play brilliantly heavy sets on the Pit and Lock Up stage. Spring King, Otherkin, Pretty Vicious, Death From Above, Hippo Campus, Touts, Sunflower Bean and Pale Waves played great sets on the Festival Republic stage. Then there is the next generation coming through on the BBC Introducing stage.
Underground music is extremely healthy today, and it is bubbling up nicely away from the glare of the mainstream. RandL may have foregone it on the main stage this year, perhaps because Glastonbury didn't happen and V Festival has disappeared altogether meaning the organisers wanted to attract their lucrative, younger crowd, but they definitely catered for the rebels and the outcasts too, and superbly.
The festival remains a reflection of today's culture, albeit a slightly distorted one to what we are used to. It will be interesting to see what happens next year and whether they will revert to a more raucus and rambunctious main stage. Personally, I hope so.
Published on 02 September 2018 by Paul M. Jones