It’s hard to pinpoint the most annoying part of Royal Blood singer Mike Kerr’s now-viral rant at the largely teenage audience who turned out to see his band at BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend on Monday. Is it the way he walks off stage with two fingers aloft, like he was Jim Morrison and had just been tear-gassed by police? His attempt to goad a camera operator into applauding his micro-waved bubble-grunge?
Actually, the truly toe-curling moment is at the start of the outburst, where he says, “We’re called Royal Blood…and this is rock music?”. He concludes his statement with the tiniest hint of uplift – as if asking a question rather than making a definitive pronouncement to the thousands who had come along to see Royal Blood squeezed between performances by Wet Leg, Lewis Capaldi and Niall Horan.
The manner in which he addresses the crowd makes it clear he considers them idiots for not being familiar with the Royal Blood songbook – a collection of meat and veg anthems nobody, not even Royal Blood fans, could name off the top of their head.
Far less surprising than the audience’s bewilderment is that entitled attitudes like Kerr’s still exist among rock bands. One of the few upsides of streaming, it has been agreed, is that it breaks down barriers between genres. Long gone are the days of musical tribes sulking in their silos: of punks who weren’t allowed to like pop or emo kids who loathe rap.
Or so we believed. There are in Kerr’s diatribe echoes of the backlash against Billie Eilish after she told a US chat show that she hadn’t heard of Van Halen. As if a modern teenager whose cultural touchstones are The Nightmare Before Christmas and Nine Inch Nails should be familiar with a 40-year-old hard rock band who were a cliche even in the early 1980s.
How sad and depressing to think that some in music still equate “rock” with authenticity. Or think volume equals legitimacy. Kerr didn’t look thrilled to be in Dundee, so they may not have arrived in time to watch Wet Leg, a duo whose blend of spiky humour and hummable melodies are lifetimes “edgier” than anything Royal Blood have done recently.
What’s especially hilarious about the episode is Kerr’s lack of awareness. He seems to believe Royal Blood sharing a weekend bill with The 1975 and Anne-Marie should be as shocking and uncompromising as Nirvana playing Reading in 1991. The truth is Royal Blood are watered-down rockers who sound like a facsimile of a band that might once have frightened your parents but with lots of hooks and melodies carefully stirred in so that they still get plenty of airplay and invitations to festivals.
This is how they played the Big Weekend in the first place. There is a reason, after all, that it’s Royal Blood rather than Porridge Radio or Fontaines DC who were picked to sing alongside Lewis Capaldi and Niall Horan under a Radio 1 banner. Which is: they make rock music for people who like catchy tunes but would rather not have their eardrums eviscerated.
This isn’t the last we have heard from Royal Blood: they are on before Arctic Monkeys at the Pyramid Stage on Friday night at Glastonbury. But it’s worth asking if they fully appreciate what they are in for when signing up for a festival. The best festival acts play to the entire crowd rather than to their fans. Ask any band about festivals, and they will tell you they are their own thing. You go on aware that not everyone will know all your songs, and that’s part of the fun. When you don’t follow those rules, you end up looking like Royal Blood: stroppy sulks who don’t understand that playing your heart out for a new audience is the essence of rock ‘n’ roll.