Festival Republic boss Melvin Benn has spoken to NME about the success of Reading & Leeds 2023 – as well as teasing the line-up and site changes for next year’s edition of the event.
This year’s twin-site festival saw massive headline performances from Foals, Sam Fender, The 1975, The Killers, Imagine Dragons and Billie Eilish, alongside sets from the likes of Sleep Token, Steve Lacy, Central Cee, Wet Leg and many more. Check out all the action as it happened in the NME liveblog.
Speaking to NME backstage on the closing day at Reading, R&L boss Benn said: “I’m very pleased with how it’s gone this weekend. We’re sat here talking while Rina [Sawayama] is on the main stage. That has been one of the notable things about this weekend – how well a lot of the female acts have gone down and become a core of the festival.
Asked about the overall mood at Reading & Leeds 2023, Benn replied: “We’ve got a quite broad spectrum of a line-up that hasn’t been dominated by any particular music theme or genre, and that’s been a real strength – especially for the women on the bill and in the audience. There’s been a coming together in that sense. It felt really palpable.
“I was at the Boygenius show in Gunnersbury Park and that felt like a moment. This Reading & Leeds weekend felt like it’s been part of that too.”
We sat down with Benn to talk over the acts that had their own moment at R&L 23, rising acts who could headline in future, who he may have booked for next year, Lewis Capaldi pulling out, and if Rage Against The Machine may ever return.
NME: Hello Melvin. There’s been a good vibe out there, especially due to R&L’s #LookOutForEachOther campaign.
Benn: “Lots of people have talked about life post-COVID, and I’m no psychologist but Reading & Leeds have always had that opportunity of coming together. The value of that sense of community is immeasurable. If people have it, then they’ll feel less lonely. The more you look after people, the better you feel about yourself.
“We’ve worked really hard on that messaging of looking out for each other. The audience have really adopted it, and we’ve had great feedback. That really bodes well for the future.”
We spoke to Foals recently about their ascent through the line-up. Are there any acts lower down this year’s bill who you can see headlining in future?
“Yes, there are. I actually chatted to Foals about this weekend. We chatted about the NME article, and it’s great to see their appreciation of it in that sense. My view of it is that they’re a great band, they’re one of my favourite bands, and it would have all happened regardless in that sense. Their view is that the festival has helped them, so we have a mutual respect in that sense.
“There are always acts who will come through, and there are at least two or three – one of which isn’t playing this weekend, a UK-based act – that I still believe will absolutely come through. We’ve always got our eye on that.”
There has been talk of how Central Cee’s massive crowd looked like that of a future headliner…
“The trajectory of Central Cee is just incredible. He played Wireless Festival last year and it was an explosion in that sense with a really big crowd compared to what he’d been having. He’s really worked it since then. He’s getting breakthroughs in the US and working with some really important artists, and it just feels like he’s got a great future. I’m not going to say he’s going to be a future headliner because I don’t want to give anyone that burden. I felt like it was a burden I’d given to Foals. They came through with it, but I don’t want to do that again.”
Sadly Lewis Capaldi had to pull out this year, being replaced by The 1975. What can you tell us about that process?
“With Lewis having to cancel, it was a difficult time but it was the right decision. I saw him play at Dundee at the Big Weekend and I saw him at Glastonbury. Both shows were tough for him, so I certainly wasn’t surprised. We had a bit more time than we did when Rage Against The Machine pulled out last year. The 1975 took the decision to be proactive and ask us, which was great. They did that really because of their love of Lewis. It felt great that they were doing it. The management and the band are close to us, and it was a genuine offer because it felt like the right thing to do.
“They wanted to make it definitively different to what they did last year too so based it around their first album, which made it all the more interesting for us as well.”
Is there an open offer for Lewis to return to headline in future?
“I think there will always be an open offer, but at the same time the only thing that needs to be thought about is Lewis’ health. We certainly wouldn’t be having a discussion prior to Lewis’ health being right.”
Do you think Rage Against The Machine could return after they cancelled last year?
“It’s not an agenda item at the moment, let’s put it that way. Rage are a US-based act and would very rarely do one-off shows, so it would need to fit in to a lot more scheduling.”
How is the line-up for next year looking? Have you booked any headliners?
“We have one of the headliners confirmed, and have had them confirmed for a little while actually. They’ve headlined in the past so we know their strength with it and we’re pleased with that. There are some changes that I’m looking to make – probably some slight stage changes. We don’t stand still at Reading & Leeds and like to reflect what’s going on, so there will be a couple of changes. There are always changes in the artists, but there will be to the stages as well.”
Would that be changes to the format of having two main stages?
“It’s a mix of all sorts of things, really. I’m not quite ready to announce it yet, but I’m really very excited about it.”
Beyond Reading & Leeds, you put on so many other festivals and events. What was your highlight of the summer?
“My highlight of the year was actually Boygenius at Gunnersbury Park. It was an incredibly special show, and there was something about it. There was something about it for the 25,000 people that there were, for the band themselves and for the line-up that supported them. Almost all of my staff are also saying it was their show of the year. It was pretty awesome.”
And you’ll be putting on more huge one-off shows in London next year?
“Yes, we have Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park then we have three days for individual gigs in Finsbury Park already booked. We’ll be back in Crystal Palace Park too, and conversations around what’s happening in Gunnersbury Park next year are phenomenal.
“Live music feels like it’s in a really good place. Stadium and arena shows are just going from strength to strength. Economically the world is in a tough place, but people are finding time for live music.
“The amount of stadium shows this year has been unbelievable. I can’t remember a year ever as strong. Reading sold out, Leeds nearly sold out, Latitude sold out, Wireless sold out, the Finsbury Park, Gunnersbury Park and Crystal Palace shows sold out – it’s been one hell of a year.”
How is the line-up looking for Latitude 2024?
“Sunday night is confirmed, Friday night looks like it will be confirmed this week, we’re still chatting about a lot of great ideas for Saturday.
How often are the online rumours for headliners true?
“It is extraordinary where people get their information from. Some of the rumours are pretty decent, but not always.”
What if I were a betting man, and were to put to you names such as Yungblud, Paramore, Dua Lipa, Drake and Queens Of The Stone Age as next year’s R&L headliners?
“You’ve lost a lot of money.”
Check back at NME here for the latest news, reviews, interviews, photos and more from Reading & Leeds 2023.