Having already had two previous Readings under my belt in ’12 and ’13, with standout headliners including The Cure, Eminem and Foo Fighters I thought my days at Richfield Avenue were over and other festivals beckoned. But a last minute ticket going spare allowed me one last chance, one last Reading.
Arriving at the site, the familiar smells greet you, whiffs of dubious fast food, beer and above all the stench of the cesspits that pass for toilets. A sea of cheap supermarket tents and the occasional gazebo sheltering under it the ‘lads’, can in hand, chests and tents alike ritually painted with expletives and phallic pictograms. Countless crimes against fashion being committed by the populace, guys wearing twisted bandanas like they’re the next 2Pac and bucket hats like they’re the next Reni. One must remember Reading is strictly a strictly school age festival and you struggle to find anybody over nineteen. Such naïveté among the crowd comes with some problems, moshing to house music, the pseudo-hooliganistic chanting that never ends and the ardent need to be filmed for the split-second in between shots of the act. There’s something rather sad in the need for people to be constantly raised above the heads of the crowd to be judged by the god Television.
Of course, these teenagers treat Reading as some sort of giant underage house party, a chance to be away from their parents and I don’t blame them, that’s why the Festival regularly sells out. But enough about the crowd let’s focus on the music. The Arena itself is well-appointed with stages for most musical tastes; there’s the Alternative stage, for those people who for some reason come to a music festival to watch comedy; the Radio 1 Extra stage, for the hardcore grime and hip hop fans; the Festival Republic stage, for that band you like but no one else has heard of; the Lock Up/Pit, for hardcore, metalcore, post-hardcore, etc. fans. Then there’s the Dance stage and the NME and Main Stage, the latter two being the most popular and variable in terms of acts.
It seems that the hardcore, emo, etc. fans won this year with a large chunk of the line up on the Main Stage devoted to that genre, with Papa Roach, You Me At Six, A Day to Remember and Enter Shikari, maybe because they’re cheap. Whereas last year it was the Dance fans which had the best deal with Skrillex, Chase and Status, Major Lazer, Knife Party and Sub Focus. There were many mediocre acts this year that did not deserve their promotions to a higher place on the bill (I’m looking at you Imagine Dragons and Jake Bugg). With questionable bookings such as Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, one wished Festival Republic had spent a little more to book more deserving hip hop acts such as A$AP Rocky or Outkast. The only other notable US rappers at the festival where Schoolboy Q, who constantly had to remind himself whether there were “any REAL Schoolboy Q fans in the house?”, but nevertheless performed an exhilarating set, and Danny Brown and Joey Bada$$ who both could have done with a promotion from the graveyard slot at the Radio 1 Extra Stage. Grime fans had to be satisfied with the indomitable Giggs (with a guest appearance from Skepta) but unfortunately Tempa T was a no-show. The dance acts did not disappoint however, with standout house DJs Duke Dumont and Breach with popular Dubstep and Drum ‘n’ Bass acts Pendulum, Nero and Sigma.
One of my favourite Indie bands, Vampire Weekend played an excellent, if subdued set with all their favourites covered. Foster the People was more of a disappointment, being one of those bands that are still riding on the hype of their first album and not providing consistently good material in the way the aforementioned Vampire Weekend have done. Regular headliners Arctic Monkeys were full of their usual indie rock swagger, with Alex Turner completing his metamorphosis from energetic, long-haired teenage rocker to cigarette smoking, ultra-cool, coiffured frontman. Such a change in direction necessitated their older material to be played to a minimum with songs from their most recent album, AM, dominating. However the band, as always, had the balance just right, despite the forlorn chants for “Mardy Bum”, which thankfully went unheard.
Joint headliners Paramore and Queens of the Stone Age both left the crowd wanting more. Personally, I would have had enjoyed just QOTSA, who like the Arctic Monkeys have been consistent in producing good material as their recent album Like Clockwork goes to show. But admittedly it was necessary for Paramore to be there to satisfy the large and lucrative contingent of sixteen and seventeen year old girls at the festival. When the power unexpectedly went out half way through their performance (for which hilariously it took the band a couple of minutes to realise) even a non-fan like me found it hard not to be uplifted by an impromptu acoustic rendition of “The Only Exception”.
However the standout performance of the weekend was Disclosure headlining the NME stage, having to arrive three acts beforehand to secure a place at the very front was worth it. The agony from listening to the simply terrible Kooks far outweighed having to stand in a packed crowd for six hours. The 1975 however, were surprisingly good live but I still won’t bother to buy their overproduced, teenage-fan-pandering album. It was a hard choice between Disclosure and Blink-182, but in the end the Lawrence brothers’ mix of pop-influenced house and bass won out. Settle was one of those albums where there were no duds or filler and all the hits were covered in the set, including the collaborations “Running” (with Jessie Ware) and “Help Me Lose My Mind” (with London Grammar). Disclosure weren’t there to promote their image but to play their music, which they did perfectly. They certainly lived up to the use of the word ‘Live’ for their set (as opposed to a less satisfying ‘DJ Set’ for a dance act) with a seamless performance of drums both of the real and machine variety, keyboard and even a bass guitar in homage to the greats of 70s Disco. In truth, Disclosure was not only my favourite act of this Reading but all three, making the large amount of money from my ticket wasted on mostly mediocre acts almost excusable.