Unlike most of the festivals I've been to this Summer, Reading festival concentrates purely on one thing, music. This is why each and every year it manages to draw in some of the world's biggest artists, and this year was no exception. With Green Day, Eminem, and Biffy Clyro, and even an extraordinarily rare festival performance from Nine Inch Nails, this year, as always, Reading continued on with its age old tradition of good old fashioned live music.
Being set in the centre of Reading the festival site itself is more than easy to get to, and that's more than can be said for a lot of festivals. Straight from the start, even walking up to the site you soon get a sense of excitement as you see the side of the road adorned with stalls selling all the essentials, from an abundance of beer to a makeshift tattoo stall (although I'm not sure how clean that actually was), everything was clearly signposted and all the stewards and staff were more than helpful when it came to letting you know where to go.
Once inside the site it was nice to see you were very rarely any more than fifteen minutes from the main arena as well. Although if you were looking to travel from campsite to campsite you might well find yourself on a fair old trek! The campsite itself was a festive affair as it always is at Reading, with its usual array of fairground rides and smorgasbord of food stalls you're never left with a lack of things to keep yourself entertained with in the evening time. Of course you also have the infamous Silent Disco, and honestly, if you go there you'll start wishing every nightclub you went to was like this, so much fun! Give a couple of thousand people headphones, and two different channels of music to listen to, and you're almost guaranteed hilarity.
The site itself was more sparse than a lot I'd come across this summer but that's not necessarily a bad thing. You still have your wide variety of food covering almost all ends of the spectrum, and you still have your Oxfam shops selling cheap clothing to the unprepared, and more bars than you could shake your stick at, and one thing well worth mentioning, toilet queues were almost non existent, and they were actually cleaned regularly! (Its a miracle!) But where it comes across as sparse is in the lack of sideshows, you had the imaginary menagerie putting on a wide variety of theatrical pieces ranging from the hilarious to the just plain bizarre, and a couple of others as well, but nowhere near the variety I'd come across elsewhere. At first this struck me as a bit strange, until I realised Reading doesn't need the sideshows, the acts are just too good to miss!!
Being a bit of a rocker myself, Reading is the perfect festival for someone of my musical tastes, but that's not to say its doesn't suit everyone else as well. I personally found myself gravitating towards the Main Stage, NME/Radio 1 tent, and The Lock Up, but that's because they were the stages more dedicated to instrumental music rather than electronica. If you did fancy a bit of a rave though, or you're a hip hop aficionado you always had the Radio 1 Dance Stage, The Festival Republic Stage, or The Radio 1 Xtra Stage. Even if all of that doesn't take your fancy, just head to the Alternative Stage where you can spend all day laughing at top draw comedians until your sides ache. There is literally a wealth of entertainment to be enjoyed!
This is one thing I have to give massive credit to Reading Festival for, despite being one of the most renowned festivals in the country, there still seemed to be a distinct lack of commercialism. The one thing the festival concentrated on was the quality of the acts, and not the well known brands supporting them. Its a festival that's still vaguely reminiscent of festivals in the 70's, where bands still stage dived and dragged people up on stage and did ridiculous things all in the name of Rock N' Roll, and that's refreshing, to see that the spirit still lives on.
I'm pretty sure the majority of the crowd would agree with me on this as well, ranging from the first time festival goers to seasoned veterans, Reading or Leeds is the place to be if you want to see good music. All of the acts already being well established, or at least up and coming, the calibre of acts here is second to none. You really can't beat seeing Biffy Clyro run around on stage like manic fiends and lighting flares here there and everywhere, or Green Day pulling teenage members of the crowd onto stage, or Imagine Dragons simply tearing it up with a 4 person drum solo. I would love to write about every act I saw individually, but it would be futile, as the review for almost every band (except for the odd exception, but there's always exceptions) would simply be amazing.
The same can be said for the amount of detail put into the productions and sets as well. Every band you see the lightshow is full of lasers and other visual treats. Especially Biffy Clyro's set on the Sunday, a backdrop of sprawling trees set in the middle of two staircases, with flares being lit, and fireworks going off, and at one point even a mass of tissue paper being fired into the crowd, you're in for a show every act you watch. Its not like these visual spectacles are few and far between either, I lost count of the amount of occasions I witnessed hundreds of beach balls being launched into the air, etc. It's a great thing to see a full weekend of spectacles on that scale.
This is not only great to witness, but it only helps but bolster what is already an almost tangible atmosphere. Excitement is quite literally in the air when you look through the crowd as you see hundreds of banners and flags in the air proclaiming all manner of love for the bands the masses have come to see. I'll be honest though, and this is no fault of the festival at all, but there were several points during the weekend that the site resembled that of a war zone more than a music festival. Sure when it comes to mosh pits, they happen, but when they do happen they're good natured. The vibe seemed slightly more on edge here at Reading.
Being one of the few festivals in the country that allows 16 year olds in without supervision, especially around GCSE results time, you can expect some mayhem when thousands of these individuals are in a field together surrounded by live music. To their credit the security did a good job of handling this, at first what might have seemed heavy handed I eventually came to realise was necessary as the crowd were certainly a lot more bolshy than the majority of festivals I've been too. This became abundantly clear when a portion of the crowd collapsed during Chase & Status for simply being too rowdy. This carried on over to the campsite as well, where as the days went on it started to resemble the remnants of a tornado rather than a festival site. It also wasn't rare to hear to the odd bang, or to see the odd fireball from an LPG canister exploding on a fire launch into the night sky. Now don't get me wrong, I can handle my sleeping in a tent, I can handle my mosh pits, and I can handle a good old fashioned messy knees up, but seeing people not bothering to go much further than five feet away from their tent for a wee, is a slightly different situation to most festivals.
Back to the music though, that was amazing, and thats what's most important. With Frank Turner being introduced by his Mum and Dad on Friday, and Green Day ending the day in true punk style with a set showcasing their work all the way from their early albums to their last venture Uno Dos Tres, they soon had the crowd dancing the night away.
Saturday followed up with acts from artists such as the fantastic Imagine Dragons who blew me away with their album tracks adapted to incorporate massive tribalistic drum beats. The day ending with another rare performance from the infamous Eminem, who alongside playing a wealth of his most famous tracks spanning all albums, definitely gave one of the most enigmatic performances of the festival, showcasing his talent and showing why he's one of the most popular hip hop artists of all time. Then on the Sunday, starting my day with the pop punk talents of We Are The In Crowd, it was ended in spectacular fashion, first off with a rousing set from Nine Inch Nails who's prog rock performance made it soon apparent why they are solidified in music history (and to be honest seemed like a very hard act to follow), and was topped off by the always energetic and sometimes manic Biffy Clyro. I'll be honest with you I've always been a fan, but even I wasn't expecting a performance like this. Playing tracks from all their albums including tracks such as “Golden Rule”, each and every track was played with an energy and vigour very rarely seen nowadays, at one point even setting fire to the front of the stage! To bolster this they sounded amazing, each track sounding ten times bigger than on the albums with every resonating guitar note distorting to the Nth degree. This meant that every song carried the impact, power and poignancy they were originally written for, and this was most apparent when ending on the track mountains alongside a maelstrom of fireworks.
So to sum up, a genuinely well organised weekend of amazing music, which held true to Reading traditions and came together to be one hell of a music festival. Sure at times it got a bit rowdier than normal, and the campsites were like a war zone, but that's not the festival's fault, and lest we forget, we were all young once!
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