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Reading Festival: Where Macklemore Clashes with The 1975

The festival is good—it just caters to a very different audience.
Ryan Bassil
London, GB

All photos by Mary Alice

Reading is the world’s longest running music festival. Kurt Cobain was wheeled out on stage here, bands like The Who, Black Sabbath, and The Police headlined, and everyone from the Jam to the Small Faces to Thin Lizzy have played. One time the Stone Roses performed and were so terrible the band decided to hang their career up for the next 17 years. Another time the lead singer of Panic! At the Disco got pelted in the face with a water bottle.

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The festival used to be fuelled by a passion—that anything mainstream was fucking “bollocks”, that Daphne and Celeste deserved to be showered in piss, and that all authoritative questioning would be answered with the unified response—“Fuck you! I won’t do what you tell me.” It wasn’t truly subversive, just snarly, and rebellious—kind of like a bratty teen who wouldn’t clean up its room.

But that’s in the past. In recent years it’s become infected by ennui, accused of booking the same bands that played years ago, avoiding risks and, increasingly, becoming a festival that those over 21 feel they simply cannot go to. But maybe that’s not a bad thing. The people that attend are mostly teenagers, looking for a haven in-between GCSE results and ice-breakers at a new Sixth Form college, not music savvy cynics. And it’s not like Reading is failing to adapt to changes in youth culture. Instead, it’s just youth culture that has lost interest in rebellion.

This can be seen mainly in this year’s line-up—featuring chart artists like Nero, Sinead Harnett, SecondCity, Gorgon City, and Sigma; people that, in previous years, would have been warded away with carrier bags filled with poop. But Reading’s main demographic are no longer grizzled rock fans. They wear headbands and Nike Roche Runs. Like dogs on heat they shark the crowd for members of the opposite sex, bottles of water, and people oscillating into other dimensions. The dance tent was the busiest place all weekend.

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The crowd attend to get a few Instagrams, a cover photo for Facebook, and a cheeky snog with a stranger when Disclosure drop “White Noise”.

The rest of the line-up is varied. Late 20-year-olds dressed in Animal that know an unhealthy amount of words to the Hives and Jimmy Eat World will enjoy the main-stage. Hip-hop fans are sorted with ScHoolboy Q, Vic Mensa, Pusha T, and Danny Brown. Everyone that reads Kerrang! can spend all day at The Lock Up Stage. You can still go and watch The Courteneers and the Kooks—if you really want.

A brief conversation with a guy in the NME tent implies that it's not just Reading, but the entire youth demographic that attends festivals which has changed:

“Are you going to see Macklemore later?” he said. “He clashes with the 1975 but it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. I went to V Festival last week and the line-up was incredible. Paolo Nutini came out, stoned and drunk, with lovebites all over him. What a lad! Ed Sheeran?! Out of this world. Lily Allen?! Out of this world. Nina Nesbit?! Out of this world”.

This doesn’t mean that Reading can’t pull out surprises, guests, and special bookings that cannot be found elsewhere. This year featured Die Antwoord playing their only UK festival date. Basement, one of Britain’s best post-hardcore bands, played a comeback show. Pusha T was an incredible booking. There are things on the line-up that music fans can enjoy—whether or not they’re a GCSE student looking to get pissed or one rare adult that has booked a day ticket in the hope of catching Vampire Weekend’s more downbeat stuff.

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But Reading Festival is at its best when you’re sixteen years old; arriving for the first time with nothing but a crate of Strongbow, a two-man tent shared between four people, and a handful of artists that you’ve never seen before.

We cling to Reading in the hope that, one day, it will change and be like the first time we visited. But it never will be and we need to get over it. This is a festival that, at least for the last decade, has been built for a youthful demographic. And why not. It’s not like they get much else built for them. Grown-ups get lottery funding and tax credits and a wage. Teenagers get to see Paramore and Jimmy Eat World once a year.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @RyanBassil

All Photos by Mary Alice — mary-alice.co.uk

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