Reading 2012 received wildly positive reviews. From the bands and the atmosphere to the new look main stage and logo, Reading and Leeds festivals felt reinvigorated. A bounce back year was expected. 2011’s slow sales precipitated a media non-event. It was fun while it lasted, but last year’s festival was quickly forgotten, and 2012 needed only to avoid disaster to surpass it predecessor.
In truth Reading Festival went above and beyond, with free beer, free burgers, and a Green Day secret set providing the icing on the cake. However, for all 2012’s attributes, it failed to address one of the key concerns facing the festival: where does Reading go from here?
In the build up to this year’s event, the state of indie and rock was discussed at length. The shortlist of potential headliners, was frankly, a little too short, and far too underwhelming; old veterans relying more on tenure than momentum (Bloc Party, Queens Of The Stone Age) stood side by side with big but in truth unlikely outsides (Kanye, Jay-Z, Slipknot, Dance superstars). The rising indie crop had some potential (Mumford & Sons, Florence + The Machine), but no one who had the unmistakable momentum of The Killers, Arctic Monkeys or Kings Of Leon. In economic terms the demand was middling, and the supply was short.
Oddly, despite big performances from an old staple (Foo Fighters), a relatively unproven upstart (Kasabian), and a surprising selection (The Cure), 2012 wasn’t defined by its headliners. In fact, two of the three, failed to draw truly massive crowds (The Cure’s was perhaps the tiniest ever seen, certainly since The Pixies in 2004), and instead Reading triumphed on its overall strength and ambience.
It begs the questions, can Reading progress with one huge draw and a solid top to bottom line up? Is it time to accept that, for the time being at least, in the absence of white hot hype bands, a solid well balance line up designed to have a broad appeal could be the way forward?
Or is this simply wishful thinking? Without the Foo Fighters would Reading have even drawn a crowd? Will the repeat bookings and well-established midday line up fail to inspire if they are the sole reason to attend Reading? Can Reading give new headliners a chance, and rely on the Reading experience, or will 2013 see the return the usual suspects?
It’s next to impossible to tell. The surest bet is to play it safe, The Killers, Green Day and anybody else would probably do the job – but do we want Reading to be built on the same old headliners? 2012 is a tough Reading to categorise, but it might be the first festival in a long time to be remember not for its individual triumphs and failures, but for its sheer consistency.