In 2005, I saw steel hoardings ripped from security towers and locked together to form a cage. Emo-looking teens, tanked up on multipack lager and energy drinks, were hurled in by blood-thirsty hoards and demanded to brawl.
In 2006, I saw a giant tunnel made out of arched bodies, hundreds of pairs of teenagers forming a series of arcs so long that you could not see the end of the passage from the start. A small group of persuasive ringleaders at the tunnel’s entrance encouraged nearby alpha-males to make a dash through the arches. What they didn’t realise, is that at the end of the tunnel the final arch would fly open and they would run straight down an impossibly steep slope into a sewage and piss filled stream below. I watched this for hours, more entertaining than live music could ever be.
In 2010, on Sunday night, gas canisters exploded around me and tents were set ablaze, fire trucks and security struggled to keep up with scenes that made Lord Of The Flies read like an episode of the Tweenies. Among the destruction, around 30 lads marched through the campsite carrying a large German flag baring the words “Mein Camp”.
And within seconds of arriving on to the Reading site in 2013, I am reminded immediately that this festival is head-buttingly, pill-shelvingly, chlamydia-transmittingly real. It’s been quipped many times before that Reading serves mainly as an afterparty for 16-year-olds that have just collected their GCSE results, but less is made of the reality that creates: a lawless playground where all you can see is excess, steel-proof livers, pheromones, first-times, tits, beer and an enthusiasm for music unmatched by any other crowd in Europe. “We’ve played bigger festivals this year,” Jack from Foals tells me after their Main Stage show. “But this was one that we cared about. The fact that we used to come here, that the crowd are so wild, it means everything." Or as A$AP Rocky put it during his performance, "Shit, I wasn't expecting you to be this wild. Ok, next song I wanna see some titties."
Reading line-ups have in the past, catered for the music you discover from borrowed CDs, Limewire downloads and cool older brothers. There's plenty of that this year too. The first thing I hear on Friday is System Of A Down playing "Aerials", a song of majesty and mirth that I’ve not listened to for the best part of the decade.
But this year the festival also had a bit of an update, coming to the realisation that most people under the age of 20 could no longer give a Miley's arse about new indie bands and old rock dinosaurs. Better late than never I suppose. So a few Tuborgs in, I'm able to see Major Lazer, rather then Placebo.
As I've mentioned before, I’m pretty sure Major Lazer have won all of live music ever. Their set is so relentlessly rammed full of batty riding, thigh squatting, shirt throwing moments that it already feels like we’re at Carnival. At one point the whole crowd had to get low, and while I was squatting on the ground a girl climbed on to my shoulders. As everyone jumped back up I was now giving a piggy back to a child. She used my arm to launch herself across the crowd where she flew for about five rows before landing on a sea of topless lads. You don’t get that at Latitude.
Also this happened:
Afterwards the A$AP lads put in a solid performance, Rocky looking pumped to be playing to a crowd of self-defining bad bitches. But it was Skrillex that ruptured the topsoil of the Reading arena to reveal the landfill and sewage treatment plant underneath. Playing in a purpose-built army tank, he played – mostly terrible, entirely indistinguishable – brostep to a response that Reading normally reserves for the opening bars of Foo Fighter’s “All My Life” or someone injuring themselves quite badly. For two solid hours the crowd moved like high-tide, spewing out teenagers like flotsam. At the same time Green Day, who are all now in their mid-70s, were playing their way through Dookie. Literally who gives a fuck about that.
I tried to do some voxpops to gauge Skrillex reaction but everyone I ended up speaking to looked like this:
Which started to freak me out.
The funniest thing to happen on Friday though, was the booking of Fuck Buttons in the Silent Disco. People who had come up in Skrillex were searching for some sing-a-long indie disco hits, a bit of “Boys And Girls”, perhaps a little “Mr. Brightside”. Instead they found Fuck Buttons playing tunes that, even by Fuck Buttons own standards, were full of bizarre freak-out space drones that existed almost entirely in free time. The crowd started booing, jeering “play a chorus”, and a back-up DJ was getting ready side of stage. Fuck Buttons didn’t give a shit. They carried on playing noise for hours, seemingly taking their calls for some rhythm as bait to get more and more ambient.
At this point I fucked off back to the guest area where the friends of famous people and music industry dads hung out till 2am. The Guest Area is pretty notorious at Reading because basically all the music industry is there but none of them really want to be so they just get in fights and do drugs. It’s sort of like the grown-up version of the campsite, but instead of cage fights it's traded barbs about how badly your Q4 priority signing performed.
Saturday was a great day for music but a shit day for weather. Standing on a landfill in an orbital town becomes immediately depressing when skies are grey, but at least Earlwolf were there to cheer us up. Although the new tunes are fucking great, the highlight of the show was the pair of them staring at the crowd, pointing out funny shit they saw.
Tyler: “Hey that guy is dressed as Pickachu. He’s naaaasty.”
Earl: “My favourite pokemon is fucking Charmander, nigga.”
Tyler was also in the crowd for DOOM later on, taking photos on his iPhone from the security pit. There were only about 100 people for the set, bizarrely booked on the comedy stage, but they were all hardcore heads so I guess that’s ok.
Chance The Rapper put in better numbers for an energetic, and at times topless, set which was pretty much peerless except for a) him doing a word-for-word cover of "All Falls Down" – like babes, we know people compare you to Kanye but don’t get so gassed about it that you start to rinse his verses – and b) the 1xtra stage graphics which included some blurry high-rises going past and a montage of famous non-white people, including Nelson Mandela, the Dali Lama and Ghandi. I get this is Reading’s first year with an “urban” stage, but some degree of subtlty would have been nice.
I saw Foals too at some point. They played the mainstage for the first time and it was really great. Spanish Sahara still makes me feel like in a moody mid-season episode of Skins, about to run through the streets of Bristol and stop inches away from the edge of the cliff.
And so to Eminem, whose set can be summarized in this for and against list.
+ He played all the old hits
- He played all the new hits
+ He brought out fucking Dido to sing Stan. Dido. Fucking Dido.
- He didn’t bring out D12 for Purple Hills
+ He performed live into his microphone
- But it was turned down pretty quiet and he pretty much always rapped along to a track of him rapping.
+ Standing in a field when you’re really drunk and listening to Eminem play for an hour and a half can basically only result in a warm and pleasant experience, even if the performance itself is a little lackluster.
Sunday was actually the best day, probably because I left at half seven, saw barely any music and got to interview Pete Wentz. I did get to see the most Jewish backstage area of all time when the Haim sisters hung out with Alex Clare and felt genuine pangs of nervousness as Angel Haze came to hang out right outside Azealia’s dressing room, moments before Azealia was due to arrive. I had to leave before shit went down but I imagine punches were thrown.
Here's a picture of Angel Haze, Haim and AlunaGeorge being buddies:
This was a fairly tame Reading by all accounts, I was way too scared and lazy to venture on to the actual campsite so whatever this year's version of emo cagefights were (and I'm praying for trap kids thumbwars) I missed it. As I ran back to my mate's hotel room each night, I wondered how many years I have left in me before Reading becomes more pain than pleasure. If there is a fateful year in which I stay at home and watch Great British Bake Off on the August Bank Holiday it won't be because I'm over Reading though, it'll be because Reading's over me. She is the young, ever-pert bit on the side who eats up men and then stops taking their calls and I am the haggard old adulterer getting closer and closer to death.
HAPPY TUESDAY EVERYONE.