In previous years, Reading Festival’s reputation of being the pulse-point of live rock music was unprecedented, with such headliners as The Cure, Arctic Monkeys and Muse all gracing the main stage. However, this year the festival’s organiser took a bold move in attempting to mix-up the genres available to one of the world’s biggest festival audiences. Indications of broadening the music horizon were indicated in bands such as Chase and Status, EarlWolf, Skrillex, Disclosure, Sub-focus and Jagwar Ma all being extremely popular attractions for this year’s festival goers. For me this is possibly a step in the right direction; perhaps showing an effort to entice those younger groups away from their booze-filled campsites for a few hours to actually listen to some live music.
But for me, it was a full-on dose of some of the best rock, indie-rock, folk and punk Britain’s best festival had to offer. Across the entire weekend I experienced some of the best and worst performances of the festival, from the prestigious NME tent, to the lesser ventured Lock-up stage, all the way to the converted Main stage. From the get-go on Friday I witnessed one of the greatest acts of the weekend, Deap Valley; a female punk/rock duo heavily influenced by The White Stripes. As soon as they blasted out their seminal track ‘Baby I Call Hell’ dressed in laddered tights and bust-bursting blouses, they had me hooked. Upcoming indie-rock group Peace also proved to be a hit; with the tent full to the brim with eager fans all intoxicated by their heady riffs and stylish demeanour. Yet the NME tent became a stampede as soon as Frightened Rabbit had walked off the stage, with thousands of Bastille fans flooding into spaces that simply weren’t there, and unfortunately creating a bad name for a good band by spreading fear and chaos. Later that night Green Day finished off their UK tour in grandiose fashion, with crowd-roaring renditions of ‘Holiday’ and ‘Know Your Enemy’, as well a 20th anniversary celebratory play-through of Dookie, which perhaps extending too long for crowd patience. Yet Billie and the gang looked and sounded better than they had in years, and completed a diverse set with a ‘Jesus of Suburbia’ and ‘Brutal Love’ encore.
Saturday was another day for even more popular bands to play smaller tents, with a notably packed tent for indie group Swim Deep to dazzle the teenage female dominated crowd with their distinctly 90’s feel. The 1975’s arrival meant another bail-out for many, with thousands of people gathered to bask in their pop brilliance, and with me heading to see a main-stage set from Scottish rockers Twin Atlantic that was marred by a poor sound set-up. But the evening certainly made-up for any of the day’s previous disappointments, with the NME tent being treated to three excellent acts one after the next. Tame Impala were masterful with their use of psychedelic graphics to accompany their flowing, trippy hits ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ and ‘Elephant’, fully proving why they’re a must-see live band. Jake Bugg received a full tent of fans with consistently well-executed tracks like ‘Seen it All’ and a crowd-stirring finale of hit ‘Lightning Bolt’, showing everyone just how far the nineteen year old has come. Yet it was Mercury Prize winning Alt-J who really blew me away, with initial concerns surrounding how good their electronically based music would sound live being destroyed with seemingly perfect performances of hits such as ‘Tessellate’ and ‘Breezeblocks’. The crowd was enraptured by Joe Newman’s spotless vocals on ‘Buffalo’, and by the time final song ‘Taro’ was played, thousands of people showered with foam were all forming the Alt-J triangle in salute.
The final day at Reading was marred by rain-clouds and the prospect of the end being nigh, yet a ray of sunshine spread across the arena with a heart-wrenching set from folk band Villagers showcasing both their softer and more recent upbeat material with skill. Rock brothers The Family Rain also proved to be a burst of energy, with their fast-paced and intriguing performance enticing a small yet pumped crowd into the Festival Republic set. To end the festival I ventured deep into the main stage crowd just in time for Fall Out Boy’s fairly average set, which despite attracting a large crowd, seemed to leave many of their fans standing around looking rather awkward. Particularly with the inclusion of pointless guest Foxes irritating more than impressing most, it was only great hits such as ‘Sugar, We’re Going Down’ , ‘Dance, Dance’ and ‘The Phoenix’ that saved it from disaster. With a portion of the crowd now missing, Nine Inch Nails was a pleasant surprise, with legend Trent Reznor pulsing heavy synth and percussion through a loyal following of fans. The foggy stage and menacing tracks like ‘The Collector’ created an intense and hypnotic atmosphere for the older fans gathered to dance to. If anyone had doubts surrounding Biffy Clyro headlining, they were very much proven false by an incredible performance by one of Britain’s best bands. The Scottish trio showed their mastery of the festival, (having played it a total of eight times previously)with humorous banter, spectacular pyrotechnics and stage design, and of course amazing renditions of hits such as ‘The Captain’, ‘That Golden Rule’ and ‘Black Chandelier’. With a diverse set consisting of lesser known gems like ‘Glitter and Trauma’, fan favourites like ‘Living is a Problem Because Everything Dies’ and a traditional acoustic performance of ‘Machines’ by frontman Simon Neil, Biffy Clyro were nothing but jaw-dropping in their headline spot.
So with this year’s festival over, many are speculating as to what next year might bring. But if one thing is for certain, Reading Festival still remains Britain’s best annual festival and with a line-up like this year’s being promised in the future, it’s fast becoming the best festival in the world.