There’s been much said about the musical evolution of Reading Festival - some of it looking at the event like it should live in some kind of cultural vacuum, refusing to acknowledge the ebb and flow of styles and genres. Reading is a rock festival, the mantra goes, like it’s a viable or relevant concern to keep catering exclusively to hairy men and people who willingly wear bucket hats.
Out in the real world, it’s not like that. Categories, cliques and musical subcultures are far from dead, but those that stay in their lane and refuse to cross the streams seem dated and stale. It’s no surprise that the biggest crowds of Reading 2018 seem to have been reserved for the acts that don’t fit the festival’s traditional template. None of them, though, can match the reaction to Brockhampton.
Be clear. This is a moment. A cultural shift in the attitude one of the most important events on the planet that will carry forwards. For a few years, now, there’s been a drive to diversify the acts playing the event beyond a token dance tent and the odd outlier in a Main Stage afternoon slot. More than most, the BBC Radio 1 tent has pushed in directions that better reflect the musical landscape, but the self-proclaimed “world’s greatest boyband” are far more than just a bit of fiddling around the edges. They’re the most exciting act of the weekend.
That’s not us slapping an unwanted tag on them - though we will if asked twice. It’s the reaction of the massed crowd that demands such billings. From the second they hit the stage, it's madness. Opener ‘1998 TRUMAN’ starts an avalanche that refuses to come down throughout the extended set - all for an act that are hardly regular daytime fodder for the kind of radio station from which the stage takes its name. What follows is the kind of set that stops passers-by in their tracks. Each and every song results in deafening sing-a-longs, chants and whoops. The whole centre of the cacophonous tent, from front to back, is heaving - jumping, waving arms, responding to every command. Bigger, more established acts have played the same stage this weekend and not come close to the reaction Brockhampton command - all their sales figures, bill topping slots and so-called-status counting for nothing in the face of good old-fashioned hysteria.
As older or more traditional acts play other stages, it feels like the energy a festival needs to thrive is focused directly on Brockhampton. Whether it’s them emitting it, their fans feeding it to them, or a mixture of the two - it’s honestly hard to tell, but it’s a wake-up call to a legion of tired traditionalists. The program has changed. Reading has evolved. Get with it, or die - it’s their choice.