Reading festival was, like for many people, the first festival I went to. Picking up GCSE results then heading across town to the site might not be the clearest memory now but the sense of escapism still lingers. The joy of friendship spent sat round the campsite lie against some regret at not seeing more bands. 15 years on, it’s still on the calendar and Limp Bizkit are playing again. As Fred Durst opened his set by saying ‘Lets party like its 1999-2000’. There might be a couple more stages and the main stage has ballooned in size but not a whole lot has changed about the festival. The setup is very utilitarian, a safe and secure environment to get 80,000 people a weekend of memories that’ll last a lifetime.
The range of catering on site seems fairly generic but after finding a decent store selling hot dogs and burgers with a pulled pork topping I stuck with it. Having a massive Tesco just a 10 minute walk away does make you less reliant on the in-festival shops. With soft drink priced at £2.50 and beer and cider at £4.90 it’s the highest priced festival I’ve been to – though the food was more reasonable. There seemed to be enough toilets around to avoid many queues but some bad planning made at least one block of urinals out of reach of all but the tallest men.
With an aim to see more newer bands than established acts the daytime lead me to stick mostly to the Festival Republic and the Lock-up/Pit stages over the weekend. Being so close to each other, a shuffle between them was all too easy. The Friday act I was most looking forward to was Bo Ningen. Having not seen them in a few years, seeing them on a decent sized stage was something I wanted to see. Their psychedelic noise rock might not have been the most suited to the punk stage. Spiralling melodies against shrieks of feedback and discordant licks might not be to everyone’s taste but is clearly inventive. The Bots, despite having some serious issues with the sound on stage pulled off a great but sadly short set, marred only by their visible disappointment at not being able to perform at their best. The real surprise for me were Skinny Lister. Having at first dismissed them, their enthusiasm on stage was captivating. The energy thrown into every song was unsurpassed the whole festival. The passing similarity to Mumford & Sons is fortunately, only passing. The Friday night was less inspiring. Knife Party had a great light show. Limp Bizkit were nostalgic. The only acts to feel striking were Run the Jewels, and A$AP Ferg.
Saturday was Metallica day. Walking round it was hard not to spot a tee-shirt with their name on every 30 seconds. That tee-honour was soon to be replaced by Babymetal though. Novelty or not, the Japanease Idol’s from the Sakura Gakuin academy put on an entertaining show. The well-produced music and precise dance routine aren’t too far in ethos from the consistency demanded from Metallica shows.
At the other end of the spectrum Ho99o9 put the chaos back into the festival. The hip-hop/punk fusion has taken the DIY attitude and challenged both. The worst kept secret of the festival, Foals, are a band so ready for big things it’s hard to avoid hearing about them. While the new songs lack some of the creativity behind the 2008 album Antidotes, they’ve clearly not lost any talent. As far as odd combinations go, following the bouncy pop of Charli XCX with the tech metal of Gojira has to be one of the more unusual combinations I’ve done.
The build-up for Metallica, was hyped as their biggest show ever. What came was pretty much that. Big screens, big tunes and big bass hits. The pummelling of Lars’ drumming with Robert Trujillo’s bass guitar is devastating up close. ‘King Nothing‘ into ‘Ride the Lightning’ and ‘One’ into ‘Master of Puppets’can’t really be beaten. With only one song written later than ’97 this really was a classics show. The only fault is the faultlessness – and a bit of a slow middle (I mean, who really likes The Memory Remains?).Not prepared to cut the set short, they over-ran by nearly 20 minutes and dropped the balls to Enter Sandman. A fitting end to any night.
Ghostpoet was the Sunday slow-burner start. His soulful almost spoken-word song style is captivatingly distinctive.Set against a mix of carefully arranged electronica and classic indie guitars, his storytelling envisions modern life in London. Animal bands took over the pit with Hawk Eyes, Moose Blood, and Turbowolf all rocking up. Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes (ex Gallows) debuted his new project. He might still be angry, but he’s adorably in love with his wife and new child who he brought out on stage to introduce.
Kendrick Lamar drew a massive crowd to the main stage. On the back of ‘To kill a butterfly’ his popularity has boomed, so much so he could have headlined the day. With very little theatrics he kept the show simply about the music. Jamie XX, and Deadmau5 both delivered precise sets on the NME stage. While not interacting with the audience they both managed to conjure up a timeless disembodied style to their music which contrasted with Kendrick Lamar’s very personal feel – despite being on a bigger stage.
Reading festival is a well-oiled music delivery festival. If you’re looking for an idyllic weekend of escapism, it’s not really going to set your dreams alight. If you want to see the biggest and best music in the world, you’re in the right place.
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