Last weekend, I decided to brave the muddy fields of Reading once more. Returning for the first time since the mandatory post-GCSE pilgrimage of 2010, I arrived – wary of tent-burning, £9 burritos and 16-year-olds on MDMA, but willing to fight to see the amazing line-up of bands that had been the deciding factor in persuading me to buy a ticket, some of which I’d been waiting years to catch live. This is what I found.
Arctic Monkeys â˜…â˜…â˜†â˜†â˜†
Does Alex Turner even care any more? Yes, he’s a massive fuck-off rock star and yes, he can pull the arrogance off through sheer talent, but now the Arctic Monkeys seem as though their heads are so far up their own arses they can’t see Sheffield any more. The delightfully wry boy who wrote Whatever People Say… was unrecognisable in the snake-hipped, slurring icon who took to the stage on Saturday. Sure, being full of yourself is part of rock’n’roll, but not when it detracts from the power of your set and ability to actually interest your fans. None of this was helped by the fact that the volume was far, far too low, leading the crowd to start chanting “Turn it up, turn it up”. A limp, cold performance.
The Hives â˜…â˜…â˜…â˜…â˜…
Perhaps Mr. Turner should learn something about swagger from The Hives’ now-veteran frontman, Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist – Pelle can pull it off with surprisingly camp garage-rock pizzazz. The beautiful thing about every Hives show is that it isn’t just Pelle who goes crazy. All five members are clearly heavily invested in their performance (special mentions to goggle-eyed lead guitarist Nicholaus Arson and drummer Chris Dangerous). Consistently named one of the best live bands around, it was plain to see why at Reading. Opening a set with a song whose lyrics consist of three words (“Come on, come on, come on, come on, everybody come on!”) is surely the sign of genius or insanity. I’d go with a bit of both. Randy Fitzsimmons will have been proud.
Enter Shikari â˜…â˜…â˜…â˜†â˜†
In recent years, Enter Shikari have become very fond of espousing the equivalent political views of someone in year 9. It would be nice if they would stop. Yes, we appreciate that ‘the slimy one percent’ owns 99% of the wealth, and yes, we love the NHS, but is it really the place of a post-hardcore band to tell us what to think about governmental cuts while we boil in the sun, crushed between thousands of sweaty bodies, waiting for them to play some actual music? Couple that with the over-crowded front of the main stage as hundreds of aggressive teen boys turn up for a fight (Enter Shikari’s reputation for creating havoc now precedes them) and this band was decidedly annoying. They didn’t even play Mothership. No space to dance, no space to mosh, hardly space to breathe. In their defence, the blame for that can’t be laid at the band’s door. Three stars.
Die Antwoord â˜…â˜…â˜…â˜…â˜†
Matching convict-orange hoodies. Ejaculating ghosts. The most glorious flattop to grace music since the early 90s. A duo that never misses a chance to mess with your head, Ninja and Yo-Landi’s combination of sinewy energy and bubblegum kink was a winning one once again. I Fink U Freeky and Enter the Ninja were particular highlights, if just to see a bunch of swaggering over-masculine teen boys (which seems to be recurring theme at Reading) reduced to singing “I am your butterfly/I need your protection/Be my samurai”. New single Pitbull Terrier would have been a welcome addition to the set list, but even without it, Die Antwoord kept the energy level at maximum for a blistering 40 minutes of zef madness.
Hudson Taylor â˜…â˜…â˜…â˜†â˜†
Probably the surprise package of the festival. Playing on a smaller stage early on the first day, the boys from Dublin could have been forgiven for surrendering to difficult circumstance. Instead they kicked things off with a rousing sing-along, oscillating between barn dance and lighter-in-the-air intimacy. Only Don Broco had more dedicated fans out of every band we saw this year.
As a band who can creep up behind you and lull you into a deep sleep, Warpaint’s gently hypnotic set was a joy to watch. Not bothering to waste time talking between songs, the band’s sonorous wail filled the NME tent and built up, song by song, until everyone under the canvas appeared to be in a trance, swaying and gyrating, dreaming. Warpaint are proof that a band doesn’t need mosh pits and crowd banter to be a success at Reading, just professionalism and a clear-cut belief in the effectiveness of their music.
Gerard Way â˜…â˜…â˜†â˜†â˜†
It feels almost cruel to criticise Gerard Way’s solo global debut, but the fact remains that without the rest of My Chemical Romance behind him, the man’s music is far too nice, and forgettable as a result. He doesn’t quite have the voice for anything gentler than the spitting, self-conscious pop punk that made his band the poster boys they are, and despite the legions of die-hard female fans who turned up and duly screamed every time he did, it was difficult not to keep wondering whether his set would have been more fun with a few guitar solos and lyrics about vampires and suicide.
Other highlights of the festival included Pusha T and, in fact, the general intimacy of the tiny Radio 1Extra tent, Gogol Bordello’s headline-rivalling gypsy punk party, which stole a significant proportion of blink-182’s crowd, and Royal Blood, who seem to be fast carving themselves a niche among the best blues rock duos of the last ten years alongside the likes of The White Stripes and The Black Keys. Jeremy McKinnon of A Day To Remember took to a zorb and used it like a giant hamster ball midway through their set for the single most surreal moment of the weekend.
Reading’s atmosphere in general was mixed. The vast majority of festival-goers are 16-18 years old, and as a result the crowds are lively and responsive to the acts, but the flip side of this is that the campsites can be the scene of a lot of posturing and peacocking. Many seem to think there is still something to “prove” about going to Reading, and sometimes it seems to get in the way of the fun and friendliness that might be found at other festivals. Nonetheless, with a brilliant line-up and notable lack of torrential rain until the Monday morning, Reading 2014 was one to remember.