Reading is a strange festival. It’s devoid of any of the pseudo-spirituality and countercultural reverence of Glastonbury; though it doesn’t chase commerciality or chart trends as rabidly as V.
It doesn’t occupy a happy middle-ground between the two though. Inbetween the not so diverse gamut of acts that take to the main stage the video screens adorning the side of the stage feature adverts for Clearasil and videogames which are juxtaposed with far less frequent ‘save the world’ charity appeals; the campsites are less spacious and are concentrated in a camping area apart from the ‘Arena’ where pretty much everything happens, unlike Glastonbury which has camping areas all over the place, some a stone’s throw away from stages, others in peaceful idylls overlooking the site; there is much less to do that isn’t related to music or some kind of profit, once the Arena is closed that’s it; and shops are far more liberally dotted around the place. The whole site has the feel of something done with a profit margin in mind, including its location.
Reading literally takes place in Reading; it’s not just a convenient place marker for the festival’s marketability and identifiability. At one entrance is a busy highstreet and at another is an industrial estate which leads to a Tescos supermarket which at least, if nothing else, provides the humourous, if slightly surreal image of bedraggled, muddy and checked shirted festival goers going about the isles of Tescos buying alcohol and baked beans alongside bored housewives. I’m overdoing the Glastonbury comparisons, but it’s a fair way away from being bordered by Stonehenge and picturesque Somerset villages. It’s hard to get the feeling of escaping from civilisation and being apart from the world for the weekend when you’re down the road from a Waitrose, you even begin to feel a bit stupid sleeping in a tent.
Even when taken on its own terms Reading has problems. The festival is flooded with teenagers who’ve just finished their GCSEs. It’s a special age to be: you’re 16, you’re done with education forever (or at least you think) and the world is at your feet. Unfortunately, it’s an awful age to be for everyone else around you as, more than likely, you’re going to be acting like a complete jackass when you’re away from home for the first time and surrounded by alcohol. Cue excessive moshing to ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING (Little Boots, LITTLE BOOTS!), excitable crowd crushes that may as well have been moshing, and a vaguely apocalyptic final night involving fires, knocking over telegraph poles and exploding gas canisters which provided a romantic pall of smoke over the festival site.
From now on I shall refer to this influential demographic as ‘chindes’, a portmanteau of chav and indie.
Apart from all that, it was quite a good weekend. Radiohead were superior and showed pretty much everyone how to put on a headlining set at a festival, by mixing old material – they opened with Creep! – with new – Twisted Words sounds much better live – and by not being too self-indulgent they delivered a set that might have just piqued Blur at Glastonbury and just about made the concentration camp-esque conditions at the front worthile. After the Kings of Leon bawwed over an imagined hostility to them, and The Arctic Monkeys simmered with a middling and intentionally low-key setlist it was clear the weekend belonged to Radiohead.
There were other highlights over the weekend. Little Boots drew a large crowd (of adolescent boys and chindies, no less) and performed a well received set that belied the rather lukewarm critical and commercial reception she’s received this year. The Horrors followed closely behind, bravely favouring their new, superior and unexpectedly Shoegaze material over their older, adolescent garage rock material which I imagine most of the crowd had come out to see. It was wonderful to witness a tent full of chindes still sweaty from moshing moronically to ‘New in Town’ somewhat hypnotised by the sprawling, eight-minute krautrock of ‘Sea within a Sea’.
The Sunday ‘Indie’ line-up of Vampire Weekend, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Bloc Party was an enjoyable and surprisingly chilled evening. Most of the chindies seemed to be elsewhere for the Vampire and YYY sets, though some crept back in to dance around to the banging beats of ‘Mercury’ (Mer-Mer-Mercuuurry).
Other notable mentions go out to Patrick Wolf, who provided a wonderfully camp performance in the NME tent on Saturday which somehow managed to squeeze a costume change into its 45 minute run-time; Them Crooked Vultures, who might not have an album that reflects their considerable talents on their hands, but did provide an more than adequate soundtrack to mosh to for perhaps the first time of the weekend, and provided me with the pleasure of seeing John Paul Jones in the flesh. Vampire Weekend provided some much needed sunshine to an overcast Sunday evening when I was getting more than a little fed up. The new material sounds great, too, probably one of the few occurrences of the weekend when the crowd didn’t let out a disgruntled sigh when presented with a band plugging their new album, as happened for the Arctic Monkeys the night before. Contra is sounding sweet. I can’t remember any of the songs, but I enjoyed them all, a lot.
Despite all my criticisms, I had a good time. I don’t imagine Reading will change anytime soon; its commercial viability rests too much on corning that post-GCSE market I imagine, its line-up and general ethos mirrors this. I think it’s more a case of it being me not them. At the venerable age of 19 I just feel too old for a lot of the shit that Reading threw at me. Without that Sunday line-up or more specifically, Radiohead it would have been considerably worse. Glastonbury and maybe a niche, medium-sized festival with crèche facilities next year methinks.