I will be honest and say that this is the first year in about five where the line up for Reading & Leeds hasn't had me scrambling for my debit card, but when Relentless Energy were kind enough to invite me to join them on Friday of the festival, I thought I'd give it a go, especially considering that I now live down the road and could be in bed by 11pm. Rock and indeed, roll. With a day of old indie favourites ahead, little did I know that I was about to witness one of the best rappers of our generation...
But first, The Skints (NME/ Radio 1). A support slot staple, we at SIS have seen them play many a time, but something about today's set was a whole lot more exciting. Well practiced from their years on the road, they were an excellent booking for this awkward hour of the day, where people want great music but are still a little too hungover for anything too challenging. with multi-instrumentalist Marcia holding down the melodies, frontperson duties were left to cheeky guitarist Joshua Waters Rudge, who's likeable chat beckoned in those loitering at the corners of the tent.
With the rain coming down we stuck around for Ghostpoet (NME/Radio 1), another festival staple. With a set that seemed to avoid most of the more famous cuts from mercury nominated breakout Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam, the tracks weren't necessarily familiar to all, but the performance was better for it - a much more streamlined affair that made it almost impossible to pigeonhole the singer into one genre. Four years in, he's playing like a mainstage artist, building momentum into the peak of 'Liiines'.
Cheesy chips and a drink in hand, we take a seat in the sunshine to watch The Gaslight Anthem (mainstage). We promptly learn why they are a band who have just announced a hiatus - their set is so paint-by-numbers and joyless that one suspects their members and entirely bored and exhausted of being a band. Hopefully after a short break they can retain their vigour - if the size of the crowd is anything to go by, their brand of Americana rock clearly draws a devoted audience.
Luckily our faith is restored almost instantly by The Cribs (mainstage), who prove themselves to be the band of the day 30 seconds into their set. In the face of an industry that forces artists to iron off their edges or risk fleeting success, you can't help but admire an outfit that are still going after all these years without compromising anything. They sound razor sharp, treating the audience to both the joyous ('Our Bovine Public', 'Mirror Kissers') and the introspective - 'Be Safe' sound bigger here on the mainstage than it ever has before. They also win the prize for best merchandise of the day - achingly cool 70s ringer tees that have us handing over £20 notes faster than Ryan Jarman can scale a speaker stack.
Having performed an exceptional and emotional headline set in the NME/ Radio 1 tent last time they were here, today's foray on the mainstage seems a little average from The Maccabees, forced to cram their spacious set into a tighter half hour. However, there is no denying that they revel in sunshine - 'Wall of Arms', 'Precious Time' and a rare outing of 'Latchmere' all feel right in the warm evening air, and a romantic slowed down intro to newbie 'Something Like Happiness' draws a speck of dust to the eye. That's right, dust - we're absolutely not crying.
Fairing better is Jamie T (mainstage), who dedicates 'Back In The Game' to his friends who have just played before him. He seems on good form - speaking little but smiling widely, ditching his guitar during '368' to engage full rap mode, winning over a few naysayers on the barrier who are clearly only here for one artist who's name begins with K and ends in rick. That said, it's the new material that goes down the best - while 'Sheila' and 'Sticks 'N' Stones' get a huge reception, it is 'Rabbit Hole' and 'Zombie' that tempt the flares out into the night sky.
After trying (and failing miserably) to squeeze back inside the NME tent, it becomes apparent that Years and Years are this years hottest ticket. It's easy to see why - lead singer Olly Alexander might not always be perfectly in tune, but his boundless energy is infectious and the songs are begging for a singalong - 'Desire' was probably audible from space.
Proof that a brave booking can pay you back in dividends, by the time we return to the mainstage that crowd has positively quadrupled in time for Kendrick Lamar. And rightfully so, his largely freestyled set and sincere words of thankyou are utterly infectious, howled back at him for the likes of 'Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe' and 'Fuckin Problem'. We're treated to some older jams too - 'Poetic Justice' draws a mass singalong as does 'Backseat Freestyle', a mission statement if we ever heard one.
However, before we declare equality rightfully achieved and pack off home, we notice a few upsetting details - a handful of gleeful youths sporting blackface bob around in the front row, native American headdresses littered amongst the crowd. Racism is alive and well in Leeds, but when he launches into 'Alright', we can at least take comfort from the moshpit that swells around us, black kids piggybacking white ones, white kids holding out hands to help black kids back up...we've got a long way to go, but we've come a long way also. Reading & Leeds may have been critiqued for it's lack of genre, gender and ethnic diversity, but the fact that hoards leave before anyone has even uttered 'The Libertines' speaks for itself. Walking evidence that taking a risk can work, one can hope that 2016's festival landscape may take a few more risks.