From The Pogues, The Mission and The Wonder Stuff to Post Malone, The 1975, Dave and Billie Eilish: How the Reading & Leeds’ line up has evolved since 1989

From The Pogues, The Mission and The Wonder Stuff to Post Malone, The 1975, Dave and Billie Eilish: How the Reading & Leeds’ line up has evolved since 1989

As festival goers head for Reading & Leeds festival this weekend, a new interactive tool that analyses how UK festival line-up genres have evolved over time has shown how the Reading & Leeds line up has changed. Moving from rock heavy line ups in 1989 featuring the likes of The Pogues, The Wonder Stuff and The Mission right through towards more diverse artists like Post Malone, 1975, Billie Eilish and Dave in 2019. The research found that rock artists have almost halved since the 80s, ‘Dance’ acts have increased by 10%, Hip Hop, RnB, Grime and Reggae acts now account for one in 10 artists, of which there were none in the 80s.

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The research was inspired by the fact that Reading & Leeds ticket holders were tweeting “outrage” last year when Hip-Hop artists like Skepta and Kendrick Lamar were announced as headliners, and with the likes of Post Malone, AJ Tracey and Yungblud in this year’s line-up.

Of course tastes differ, music is subjective and some genres aren’t for everyone. Traditionally Reading and Leeds was a student festival, a party to celebrate the end of the summer, shifting from more indie/alternative line ups in its early years through to heavier bills in the early 00s, to the more eclectic line ups of today. Some may argue 1989 was a classic year (the first day in particular, New Order and the Sugarcubes count me in!!) as was 1992 (Nirvana, Public Enemy, Suede, Nick Cave et al).

1998 had a strong looking bill the Beastie Boys, The Prodigy and Garbage amongst many others.

The only year I attended in 2001, I enjoyed the music including the Manic Street Preachers and System of a Down particularly stood out for me, but disliked the aggressively macho atmosphere that included the toilets being blown up and horrendously a girl being raped. Maybe I was just unlucky others assure me Reading and Leeds can be a great experience.

This year’s line up is a very mixed bag aside from the aforementioned leaning heavily on the likes of Royal Blood and Foo Fighters more generic rock bands and lad bands like The Wombats and Blossoms to provide the riffs. Maybe there just aren’t as many big rock bands around who are capable of headlining festivals anymore? Maybe rock and alternative music isn’t inspiring new sub genres in the way it did?

But guitar music has seen a resurgence in the last few years so guitar music still has a place, Fontaines DC, The Orielles, The Beths and Desperate Journalist may have been better candidates.

But there is a sense that some rock fans who previously saw Reading and Leeds as a festival for mainly rock/alternative music are stuck in the mud with much of their criticism.

There’s also an element of unacceptable prejudice about it too. A snobbery that doesn’t accept or reflect the positive shifts toward more diverse line ups featuring more eclectic range of artists, of BAME backgrounds and genres. In 2015 in particular Reading and Leeds festival drew strong criticism for the lack of female artists on its bill.

As seen by this years line up despite positive changes with slots for the likes of Billie Eilish, Chvrches and Charli XCX, but Reading and Leeds still has a way to go in terms of improving its gender balance too, with many festivals now making impressive strides towards 50/50 male/female line ups.

Looking at trends in genre for Glastonbury they follow a similar pattern perhaps reflecting the overall shift away from rock music towards Pop, Hip-Hop, Grime and RnB in the charts and in streaming popularity.

Glastonbury started out with 58.15% of artists in the Rock category in the 70s, which has now dwindled to a mere 17.21%. Hip-Hop, RnB, Grime and Reggae now account for more than 10% of headline acts in the last decade at Glastonbury. Stormzy, Jay Z and Kanye attracting similar venom from sections of twitter when they were announced. Stormzy and Jay Z in particular emphatically proving their critics wrong with storming headline sets.

To calculate these results blu analysed 164 main and second stage line-ups from eight of the UK’s most popular festivals, dating back to their very first event.

In Reading and Leeds Festivals case maybe much of the criticism doesn’t just reflect the shift in genres of the acts picked to perform on the bill but in some ways the decline in quality of the festival overall too.

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