21st Century Appearances: 2011 Main Stage Co-Headliner, 2002 Main Stage Headliner, 2001 Main Stage
The Defining Reading Moment: Being moved from the NME Stage to the Main Stage because of crowd demand and a legitimate safety threat (not even the Arctic Monkeys in 2005 managed that).
Few bands capture the Reading ethos better than The Strokes. As a festival Reading lacks the glitz of V, the over the top mythos of Glastonbury, the scale of T In The Park, the darkness of Download and the cleanliness of Isle Of Wight. When you think of Reading you think of a mix of conflicting adjectives: dirty, trendy, rock’n’roll, rowdy, overcrowded, overhyped, fashionable, exhilarating, and understated. The Strokes were, and still are all, of these things. They perfectly capture that balance between big name historic importance and gritty who gives a shit rock’n’roll.
They’re kind of stuck in the middle, in a kind of fashionable but not overtly popular middle ground, perpetually cool but not universally loved. They headline festivals, but they don’t put on a show; they treat the Reading main stage as if it were an supporting slot at the HMV Forum. They kick out the jams, the mumble, they confused, and (9 times out of 10) they end up blind drunk.
Put it this way, the first time I saw the Strokes, Julian hopped on stage, mumbled “hey were The Strokes” and then proceeded to fall on his head. He was completely off his face and finished the set upside down in the crowd singing “New York City Cops”. Is anything more Reading than that?
Back in 2001, The Strokes were the hottest property in the world, they were kicking up a huge storm in the media, and fans were excited as all hell. Now don’t take this the wrong way, but unless you were any indie fan in the year 2000, you can never understand just how desperately Reading and, more importantly, we needed The Strokes. Sure it was great listening to Grandaddy, but we were living in age where Travis and Stereophonics headlined Reading, where Gay Dad were on the front cover of NME.
So desperately were we for something (ANYTHING!) to cling onto, that people went insane for The Strokes. So craven was the demand that The Strokes had to be moved from the NME Stage to the Main Stage in case there was stampede or a tragic crush. By 2002 the hype had deflated, no The Strokes hadn’t put a foot wrong commercially, Julian had literally hurt his foot, and had to perform The Strokes big set sitting down and shrugging. It was amazing, it was total anti-climax, but that’s what The Strokes were all about. And you know what, they sat down, delivered their songs perfectly, and the crowd did the rest.
By 2011 the band had been in the wilderness, it had been nine years since The Strokes last played the Festival that was absolutely made for them, and this time, they smashed it out of the park. In front of a seething crowd, they blew through the hits in typically stoic fashion with the crowd bellowing back each riff and hook. Being The Strokes and being Reading something had to go wrong, and it did, The Strokes ran into the curfew, but far from derailing the set, The Strokes were forced to fire out all their big hits as the crowd chanted “We Want More”, creating one final great Reading moment. David Hayter