Early Festival Guide: Leeds and Reading 2020

The most famous music festival in the United Kingdom – and possibly the whole world – is the Glastonbury Festival. The annual spectacle in Somerset regularly attracts the biggest names in music, along with around two hundred thousand excited attendees, to a three-day summer event that makes headlines the world over every time it’s held. For fans of harder-edged rock music, though, it’s not the British festival they look forward to the most. That honor goes to the twinned festivals of Leeds and Reading. 

The two festivals run at the same time in different locations in England – one in the north and one in the south – and feature the same acts. A band or performer who’s played at Leeds on a Saturday night will turn up to play in Reading on Sunday, and a performer due to headline Leeds on Sunday night may have already headlined in Reading two nights earlier on Friday. In theory, everybody wins – music fans don’t have to travel too far to see the artists, and the artists get the benefit of playing to two huge crowds (and presumably double pay). 

In the 1990s and 2000s, Leeds and Reading attracted bands like Nirvana, Guns n Roses, the Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, Slipknot, and several more well-known hard-edged bands. In more recent years, it’s softened its approach a little, welcoming rap and hip hop performers and showcasing indie and pop-rock bands. This year the organizers appear to be trying to get the best of both worlds – British grime artist Stormzy is headlining Reading on Friday night, perennial Britpop indie star Liam Gallagher is on top of the bill on Saturday, and rock legends Rage Against The Machine get to close the festival on Sunday. 

The initial response to the lineup has been mixed. Many social media users have commented on the difference in sound between the headline artists, and also the confusing lineups on individual days. As an example, Rage Against The Machine will take the stage shortly after British grime artist Lady Leshurr. It’s hard to imagine them having too many fans in common. It’s almost as if the lineup were generated randomly, like the symbols on the reels of an online slots game. You could even argue that you’d have got better results from generating a lineup using an online slots website. Guns n’ Roses, KISS, and Alice Cooper all have their own online slots on website like Rose Slots, and they’re all on tour this year. It may have been possible to have them headline a night each – although we assume that it would also have been prohibitively expensive. 

The strange soundscape that the lineup will create isn’t the only thing that the festival has come in for early criticism about. As many people have noticed, the lineup is more than 75% male, with the overwhelming majority of solo performers being men and the majority of the bands containing no female members. The ratio for performers appearing on the main stage is even worse, with just three of the eighteen selected artists being female or containing females. There has been an outcry among the media and also among fellow performers, with the popular rock band the 1975 confirming that they’d rejected the chance to appear because of the gender imbalance, and wouldn’t be appearing for any festivals in the future that didn’t offer a 50/50 balance between male and female performers. 

Given the furor, it will be interesting to see how Stormzy will respond. Often seen as the figurehead for the grime scene in Britain and looked upon as a role model, he has been outspoken about political issues in the past and has generally adopted a left-wing stance. He was a noted supporter of socialist Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party at the last UK election, and would presumably prefer not to be attached to any event which is seen as regressive or sexist. While he isn’t expected to cancel his booking, it would be in keeping with Stormzy’s recent behavior if he had words to say on the night. 

Putting all of the politics and criticism to one side for the moment, though, the event still has the makings of a good festival. We never know how many more performances Rage Against the Machine will give in the future, and the chance to see them headline a major event like this isn’t to be missed – especially if you’re a UK-based music fan and haven’t had the chance to see the revolutionary band for many years. Indie fans should find plenty to enjoy about Two Door Cinema Club and Courteeners, and Liam Gallagher is bound to attract thousands of paying customers all on his own. He may not get along with his brother, but those in attendance can rest assured that they’ll still get to hear a good selection of his brother’s songs when Liam digs out a few old Oasis tracks. 

Those with more alternative tastes might prefer to spend the majority of their festival time at the event’s second stage, where they’ll be entertained by Sam Fender, Idles, Rex Orange County, Mahalia, and AJ Tracey. The further down the list of artists you go, the more surprises you’ll find – who would have thought that a band as popular as Gallows were a few years ago would be relegated to the fourth tier on the event’s poster?

Those who don’t mind the gender imbalance and just want to spend a full weekend listening to great music have the option of either event to go to. The festivals will run from August 28th to August 30th, making them the final major festival of the summer in the country. The Leeds event is held at Bramham Park, whereas the Reading event will happen at Richfield Avenue. A ticket for the whole weekend costs £258, although you could choose to attend just a single day if you’d prefer to do so. Friday and Saturday both cost £90.50 for entry, with Sunday coming in at £96. All tickets went on general sale on Thursday 12th February – so if you’re reading this and you’ve decided you’d like to be there when the party starts, you should probably act now!