Last week we asked our readers who the next new Reading and Leeds headline would be. We got a really passionate and diverse range of arguments and suggestions, and based on your feedback we’ve decided to look to the future and critically assess the next generation of headliners, because lets face it, the class of 2011 isn’t as obviously destined for superstardom as the class of 2005 (Killers, Kings Of Leon, Bloc Party, Razorlight, Kasabian).
So we’re going to break it down, separate out the chief contenders in a variety of categories, and create our own festival headlining depth chart.
Ready And Waiting: The Dead Certs
Kasabian haven’t returned to Reading and Leeds since they successfully headlined the NME stage opposite college rock legends The Pixies. Back in 2005, Kasabian really rose to the occasion, pulling a mammoth crowd and using their already sizable collection of sing along hits to satisfy a demanding fresh faced crowd.
Since then Kasabian have produced hit after hit, while they’re been savagely attacked by critics (especially in America), they have managed to earn some creative recognition from NME (go figure) and even the Mecury Prize Panel. They’re certainly not Arcade Fire, but they are the next best thing to Oasis, a brazen ballsy lad rock outfit with bellowing anthems and a legion of followers.
They’ve headlined V to mixed reviews, and they’ve successfully sub headlined both Glastonbury and Isle Of Wight in recent years. This weekend they headline the Isle Of Wight and I’ll be in attendance with my mental notepad at ready. They may not have fully established themselves as headliners, but they have established themselves as a great live act, a headline slot at Reading and Leeds seems natural (especially considering the limited options).
Kanye West/Daft Punk/Non-Rock Headliner
You can throw Pendulum into this category if you like, but speaking strictly about Kanye West, Daft Punk and Jay-Z, they are three artists fully capable of headlining with proven track records all across the world, with years of hits and unquestioned critical acclaim. All three have fabulous live reputations and I don’t think even the biggest cynic would question their ability to pull off the slot. Sadly, innovation and diversity (of headliner) has been scare at Reading and Leeds in recent years, but the heavy hitters of hip hop and dance are ready and waiting in the wings if FR ever decides to give them the call.
Not Far Short: Unproven but Capable
Biffy Clyro are the archetypal Reading band, they’re a little bit rock, a little bit indie, a little bit heavy, they’re mainstream but not too mainstream and they are hugely anthemic. They’ve also paid their dues. They’ve played Reading and Leeds relentlessly over the years winning many new fans along the way, commanding a series of high profile slots.
Despite being roundly endorsed as a live act Biffy’s biggest flaw lies in the live arena. Their sound is big enough, they just about have the tunes, but Simon Neal and co don’t have the presence of other bands. They are tailor made for sweaty academies, but do they have charisma and sheer force or depth of personality to play to the back rows of a 50,000 strong crowd?
We’ll find out at Sonisphere. It’s a tough ask as the band’s stage show has always been defiantly minimal. Sonisphere isn’t Reading and Leeds, it’s not Biffy’s turf, they belong there, but they aren’t the status quo. If they can win over that crowd and steal the show from other hopefuls Slipknot they may well be this generation’s new headliner.
While Slipknot will never be perfect fits for Reading and Leeds, their music is harder than many indie types will tolerate, their popularity is unquestionable. With each passing album their lead singles have become increasingly anthemic being laced with more and more “cross over appeal”; with “PsychoSocial” and “Dead Memories” achieved regular rotation on MTV2 and more tellingly NMETV.
Slipknot are also relatively proven, they’ve played Reading and Leeds before and apart from the odd animal carcass being hurled on stage they did fine. They also successfully headlined Download, but even their most staunch advocate would admit that Donnington is Slipknot’s home turf, the equivalent of playing Blackpool at home, no big deal. In the coming months they’ll be headlining Sonisphere alongside Biffy Clyro, and the forward thinking booking of Stuart Galbriath might provide the clearest insight yet into the future of R&L.
Slipknot ultimately feel like Sub-Headliners, their live show minus the home field advantage, lacks the scale, audacity or polish of a true headline set, and fair or unfair, the metal tag will always be held against them.
The Bridesmaids: The Brides?
A Weekend In The City pretty much assured that Bloc Party would be sub-headliners for the foreseeable future. It’s as if they stared down the Kasabian, Razorlight, Franz Ferdinand route to the top and chose to head off in the opposite direction. It’s not as though they shunned commercial hits, Bloc Party remain willfully mainstream, but by going into bleaker low key territory they set themselves on a different path.
The reason Bloc Party are this high despite their repeated performances and established sub-headliner status is simple; they’ve stayed away (at long last). If Bloc Party’s hiatus continues, and indie fails to produce new headliners, their stock will rise and a big comeback single along could secure them a headline position, and it’s this intangible comeback factor that gives Bloc Party the edge on their fellow bridesmaids.
Queens Of The Stone Age
It’s not going to happen. I’m going out on a limb. Josh Homme and co. have the tenure, and when on form, they certainly have the sound and enough credibility and recognizable hits, but they just aren’t that big. They are the perfect go to subs. They fit the role so perfectly and Reading and Leeds have turned to them so often in that role that it has become hard to see why they’d warrant or, more importantly, draw in a higher slot.
Obviously a new album with a series of hits as big as “Little Sister”, “No One Knows” and “Go With The Flow” could do it. Equally, a 10th anniversary celebration of Songs For The Deaf (the bands most commercially successful offering) might just tip the balance in their favour. But do we really want more meaningless nostalgia? I’m sure some would, but it’d be a rather pitifully way for Homme and company to make it to the top.
Of our three bridesmaids Paramore may be the prettiest. They remain ever popular, beloved by Kerrang, they continue to soundtrack major motion pictures and even as they change tone and directions (mildly) they have continued to supply infectious hooks and big hit singles. They’ve had cross over success too, they’ve sold out the O2 arena, Wembley Arena and they’ve dominated MTV2’s playlist in recent years.
Paramore’s cosy popularity is also their greatest weakness, they are a backlash band, detested by some, Paramore will always seem like a risk, in part due to their terrible live reputation, and there is a prevailing feeling that Sub-headline show in 2010 represented the peak of their Reading and Leeds potential.
Lying In Wait: Momentum and Its Maintenance
Mumford & Sons
It might seem crazy to have Mumford & Sons this high up our potential headliner depth chart but as a band they have an intangible X-factor. They’ve capture the zeitgeist of the new folk revival, transcending the bleak minimal folk of their peers, they launched a stadium sized assault on the charts with tracks like “The Cave”. It is this factor, and this factor alone, that makes them a viable candidate for an earlier than earned headline slot.
Mumford & Sons write headliner sized anthems, their tracks build (predictably) from low begins into soaring satisfying sing-along anthems in a way that recalls both Arcade Fire and Kings Of Leon, not stylistically, but in terms of affecting great swathes of humanity.
Mumford & Sons first album was terrible by most critical standards but it was ambitious and hugely accessible, casting its net wide. If Mumford & Sons are to headline, their approach cannot deviate to wildly, like Franz Ferdinand they will be expected to evolve, but not too far, if they want to grab this opportunity. They have to get over the hump, and sadly, they need success more than they need credibility, and when it comes to second albums, neither is guaranteed.
Florence + The Machine
Despite being ahead of M&S in pure timeline terms, Florence falls down the depth chart for two reasons:
1) Her sound has a novelty factor, not that it lacks credibility, but simply that her harp driven attack is they type of sound that represents a moment in time, something that flickers into the lime light and then falls from it. Whereas Mumford And Sons have a slight novelty (new folk revival) it is based around a conventional headliner sounds and song structures.
2) She’s had her moment. 2010 felt like Florence’s moment in the sun, you can feel her songs aging. Her smash hit cover “You’ve Got The Love” will date badly, it’s the type of track that becomes tiresome and overplayed, lacking the timeless heartfelt connection of “When You Were Young”, “Use Somebody” or “Time For Heroes”. The aforementioned tracks are all shamelessly populist but they have a timeless resonance that allows them to survive multiple airings. Florence’s sound is tied to a moment in time, and many of her hits, seem less major when divorced from those heady 2010 heights.
A second album can remedy this, but you fear, unlike Mumford & Sons, Florence has to prove her worth and really pull something out of the bag. Prove that she’s more than a temporal curiosity that her sound and her songwriting can endure. Many of her fans will be still be there second time around, but that distinct fervent energy that encompassed her first album won’t be, it only comes once a life time, if your lucky.
Dizzee like Florence is in a tough spot, he’s shown that he can endure trends, that he can live without underground and arty kudos, but he’s going to have a really tough time topping Tongue In Cheek. It was a commercial juggernaut, and like Florence, 2010 felt like his moment.
Unlike so many others Dizzee has shown a real dedication to his craft, whatever you think of his new records, he has constantly honed and adapted his live shows; reworking tracks, adding covers and adapting to his audience reactions to create an insanely satisfying act capable of electrifying fields of thousands or quaint little ballrooms.
Dizzee however has the hip-hop handicap, we just don’t know whether FR has any intention of allowing rappers to headline again. Equally, we don’t know what Dizzee will do next, he’s never had a problem writing hits, but he’s also happily jumped from the grimey macabre fringe (“Sirens”) to mainstream party smashers (“Flex”) in the space of two or three tracks let alone two albums, so who knows what path he’ll follow and whether he’ll maintain his success. Unless things change at FR, he seems to have found his level, that’s for sure.
On The Wane: Opportunity Missed
There was a time when Lostprophets seemed liked dead certainties. Building up slowly, releasing bigger hits and more accessible albums and occupying that niche between metal and indie that makes Festival Republic salivate. They seemingly had it all, they even headlined Download, and then they went away. The new materiel dried up while they enjoyed their personal lives, and when they returned their momentum had to, and new album, The Betrayed, did nothing to stop the rot. To make matters worse they turned in a pitiful performance on the main stage in 2010. A new album full of hits could salvage things, but you feel their time has passed, and popular culture has simply moved on to the next gleaming attraction.
Fall Out Boy
Similar to Lostprophets Fall Out Boy occupy that slightly harder than indie, but still liked by indie fans niche that once suggested that they could one day be headliners. They started out a Reading and Leeds by being beaten senseless by a barrage of bottles, however they never got quite the same treatment My Chemical Romance and Panic At The Disco. The boos and bottles receded without fail and Fall Out Boy got on with business and by to 2009 there were no bottles, just six circle pits and a huge crowd.
Similar to Lostprophets, Fall Out Boy have fallen away from the limelight in the last two years, getting involved in a series of smaller scale projects, and in the meantime it feels as though they lime light has deserted them. We cannot write them off yet however, they don’t have the tenure of Lostprophets but they haven’t got the stench of failure either. Pete Wentz and co could pen a new hit record and we genuinely don’t know how they’ll be received when they make their comeback.
Below the above choices lie the Vampire Weekends and White Lies of this world, bands with plenty of upside and potential who are simply too far removed from a headline spot to say anything more than; their next album needs to be bigger, more accessible and has to capture the public’s imagination. Both bands, particularly the more proven Vampire Weekend are capable but it’s so hard to speculate with any certainty, and they cannot sit higher on the depth chart.
The Final Word: The Next Big Thing
While the music industry continues to eat itself and revel in retromania and as the digital age simultaneously drowns and reinvigorates the music industry, it has become increasingly hard for traditional media to create new stars, especially in the areas of Rock and Metal (as they were already a niche within popular culture). It seems hard to imagine TV, Radio or even a fragmented internet creating a new Arctic Monkeys or Strokes out of thin air, but it is possible, and with none of the above options looking too rosy, the next big thing, or the next big sound, the one we don’t know yet, or are just familiarising ourselves with, could well be the most likely option.
If I’ve left anyone out, feel free to tell me, we’d love to keep our depth chart updated as the months and years roll on.