LIVE: Reading Festival 2023 – Friday

By Katherine Allvey

Is Reading still a rock festival? The last half decade has seen a slow descent into pop acts. The teeth bared by previous headliners have definitely been blunted and worn down. However, while Reading’s no longer snarling in your face, there are more than enough vicious acts lurking among the sequin-clad starlets to give you that vital adrenaline burst.

Words: Kate Allvey. Images: Abbi Draper-Scott

Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls

Tesco pilgrimages had long been completed by Friday morning. Those of us over twenty three, all wearing ‘FTHC’ t-shirts, emerge from the Taproom bar, ready to open ourselves to the conscious positivity of our favourite ‘skinny half-arsed English country singer’s two thousand, seven hundred and ninety eighth show. Over a decade of Reading appearances has led to his presence as a welcome fixture on the main stage. However, his skill at turning the mundane into the glorious is still present in each strum of his guitar. With only half an hour to fill, Turner focuses on his new material at the expense of his anthems, but the solo jigs still bubble to the surface when an intro resonated with the memory of your personal struggle. This set proves that Turner’s fire still rages as ever, and with so many kids in the crowd his fanbase is sure to grow in the years to come.

You Me At Six

The sun beats down mercilessly, a rare moment during the weekend, but You Me At Six are so immersive that it became night during each song. In the breaks, you realise that it was still light, like the instant of confusion when you step out of a cinema. Their brand of catch and release, with claustrophobic buildups that throw open the windows to crowd-pleasing huge choruses, is just right for this moment. A man in a bright paisley shirt gives a chef’s kiss to his friends as ‘No Future? Yeah Right’ rings out, and he’s absolutely right to. As the eight-bit squealing fuzz of the intro leads into buttery soft vocals and stretching yoga bass, you ignore how much like Red Hot Chill Peppers they sound and bask in their beats. Vocalist Josh Franceschi’s vocal roll on the word ‘broke’ is stunning. Their lovely key changes bring home the glory on the bridge before we ‘go absolutely feral’ for‘Beautiful Way’.

Magnolia Park

As the day fades and Wet Leg’s grunge indie opulence gives way to Pinkshift’s Rage Against The Machine exorcism on the Main Stage, over on the Festival Republic stage, Magnolia Park herald the start of a punk rock evening. The Florida punks’ crowd is much smaller than the masses who lounge by the main stage but infinitely more dedicated. By the time Magnolia Park drop ‘Breathing’, the size of the crowd doesn’t matter any more: the band are a fire hydrant, blasting roots refreshment over us all. They take technical difficulties in their stride (“It’s a punk show, shit is supposed to go wrong anyway,” laughs singer Joshua Roberts) before bursting into ‘Liar’, the spiritual child of the Offspring’s nineties snark. Magnolia Park’s cover of ‘Sugar We’re Goin Down’ launches into easy, relaxed, knee-bending karaoke. Their version feels more like a fly on the wall documentary than the original Fall Out Boy romcom. Magnolia Park are consummate professionals, snapping in and out of performance, their taut pop-punk energy filling us all with neon, lilac joy.

Knocked Loose

Sadly, their predecessors had summoned the rain, which had threatened all day. Hot pants are concealed beneath North Face jackets as Knocked Loose are unleashed on the stage. Never has a band been more aptly named; the fillings in our teeth and our expectations of rock at Reading are shaken and jostled. You’re either in or out of their set. Their status as the heaviest thing on the bill is either the vitamin you’ve been craving, or you’re looking on in bemusement and wandering over to the dance tent. An elderly couple sit amused on the floor, eating noodles, throughout their set. The tectonic bass and drums that sound like horsemen of the apocalypse whip the tiny but dedicated pit into a frenzy under acid yellow light. Knocked Loose are definitely a musical palate cleanser, but in the style of taking a spoonful of wasabi and thinking it’s guacamole instead of a mint sorbet.


The boys from Stockholm compressed an entire festival’s strength into a micro space. before making the smallest tent in the arena huge with their deep underground celestial chords. Just when you appreciate the bass, your perception is sliced in half by the guitar. The empty backing vocals on the song ‘Jericho’ are accompanied by yellow balloons with smiley faces dropped on the audience. We bat them around playfully, like a cat with a toy mouse. Normandie announce that their upcoming album, ‘Dopamine’ will arrive in February, with a single released each month. “It feels like the future…” says vocalist Philip Strand with an easy grin before premiering new song ‘Blood In the Water’. It’s a moody whirlpool that emerged from a stony drop, sending ripples through the crowd, with its mixture of tissue-sensitive lyrics and gutsy bass, and a vocal rawness on the finish that betrays sincerity from the band. “Give me life, give me fire,” they sing, summarising exactly what Normandie served with the booming, vintage club tension of ‘Holy Water’. Yes, some may consider their sound formulaic, but Normandie’s equation is one that will solve any problems in your life. Especially if they’re caused by a lack of metal drops and atmospheric sampling.


Barely can we recover from Normandie’s set before Yonaka’s nu-wave punk speed energy slams into the night. Vocalist Teresa Jarvis is like Karen O’s bratty stepdaughter who rebelled by turning to metal and using her ethereal Kate Bush voice for evil instead of good. They’re a circus of genres, with thin guitar threads typing hip hop beats and thrashing chords. Two teens in football shirts skip merrily into the pit just before the start of standout song ‘Call Me A Saint’. The deep-water chords of the first few seconds crumble into iconoclastic rubble with the force of demented sampling and rage-spitting vocals. ‘I Want More’ is the soundtrack to a horror movie’s scene in a cannibal nightclub. However, it would also be the breakout single from that movie with its aggressive drumming and brain-cramping guitar. The crowd split into halves, ravenously calling ‘I want more’ like attack dogs. The Shakespeare’s Sister energy of ‘Ordinary’ lulls two girls to sleep in the dewy grass to the side of the stage. They dream briefly of intellectually and emotionally challenging rough punk rock.

Palaye Royale

Fifteen minutes before Palaye Royal appears, the huddle towards the front of the stage intensifies. Clouds of dust and dry ice float in the air, wafting burnt matches and anticipation smell. The Canadians are a solid choice to finish the day with. They look and act like the image you picture when you hear the phrase ‘rock star’. Remington Leith has the voice of Pete Wentz and Steven Tyler combined and the body of a Hot Topic mannequin. He climbs the lighting rig like a gremlin mid song to gaze down on us. They’re the nineties and the seventies at once, their grunge Hollywood energy tinged with metallic blood. ‘Black Sheep’ is elevated metal and gets Yonaka, who sneak into the crowd silently, moving their feet and grooving innocuously. Yes, the band think they’re playing a festival called ‘Readingandleeds’, which they call out repeatedly. However, when you’re a poster pullout from a vintage rock magazine made flesh you can be forgiven. Their cover of White Stripes’ ‘Seven Nation Army’ is pure filth with a guitar that sounds like murder and a deliciously dirty descent on the outro. A second cover, The Doors’ ‘People Are Strange’, is so self aware, a modern update on the sixties shaman image. There’s no stage chat, but there are some subtle clues as to their next plans in their set. Leith asks if anyone is from London, and their banner has the word ‘Wembley’ in blood red spray paint over their logo, so based on these stealthily hidden Easter eggs it’s reasonable to assume they will grace us with the capital with their presence in the near future. They finish relatively early, and leave us empty. Sure it must be 2am in the Viper Room, not pre-midnight in an ever-muddier field in the home counties?

The first day of Reading was a charcuterie board of tempting acts from across the alternative spectrum. With each brain cell lighting up with joy you also feel a sense of hope. While chirpy Sam Fender leads the crowds on the main stage, there’s so much to enjoy in the side tents. There’s also the promise of future tours and releases to sustain us. For now, freezing tents and late night chips await before the Reading mission continues.