Efestivals sparked excitement, anxiety and confusion when they labeled Black Sabbath a strong rumour for Reading Festival 2013. Anyone who saw Black Sabbath’s mammoth riff riding set at Download 2012 should be licking their lips. Sabbath are great live, but they’re success is built on big, remorseless, churning riffs and Ozzy’s ability to keep a crowd engaged. They sound huge, but they rely on having everyone onside as they crush you with their sheer heaviness.
This begs an important question: can Black Sabbath get Reading Festival onside? In person they will succeed, there is no doubt, but will the giant crowd be there from the off? It’s hard to say. Even back in the 2005, when Reading was famed for balancing rock, metal and indie, Iron Maiden faced an intrigued but less than passionate crowd. In the ensuing years Reading has changed with the pop culture zeitgeist moving more towards the indie, dance and pop trends that exploded in the mid-2000s. Like it or not, it was the right decision to make, Reading has always moves with the times. Whether it was punk in the late 70s, alternative in 80s , grunge in early 90s, nu-metal & Brit pop in the late 90s, Strokes-style indie in the early 2000s, and post-hardcore + the revival craze in the late 2000s – Reading goes with the flow.
In 2012 Reading is once again getting heavier. Not with traditional metal but with big post-hardcore bands and dub inspired acts. Pop punk traditionally associated with Kerrang more so than NME litters the Main Stage, and Reading is moving to a new position of balance. As a result Reading is also at its least cohesive. Friday in 2012 was a hodge podge, fans came and went, you could watch social groups and fashion trends trading places as each band departed, with a select few acts (Crystal Castles) bringing all the festival’s extremes together. No one got huge crowds, The Cure’s audience was tiny, but Paramore’s wasn’t mammoth either.
In truth it was a pleasant place to be, everyone got along, there was no genre hatred, it worked, and yet no one succeeded. The tickets sold out that day, but you couldn’t honestly say why. So could Reading pull of a metal headliner? There’s no reason to think they couldn’t. But would it be a repeat of The Cure on Friday night? This is entirely possible. If Sabbath or any other heavy headliner play, it seems incredibly unlikely that they will have a truly fitting undercard. Simply put, there aren’t enough metal bands who can hold court on the Reading main stage, and as of yet, the new bred of pop-punk and post-hardcore stars haven’t produced a real headliner since My Chemical Romance (and I’m sure many of you would debate their headline calibre). Until they do, there will always be awkward contrasts.
Indie has one advantage, it has a clear set of headliners Arctic Monkeys, Arcade Fire, Kasabian, Kings Of Leon, The Killers, and The Strokes: a generation with momentum in waiting Mumford & Sons, Florence + The Machine, Bloc Party and The Vaccines, and a set of Legends in various states of repair: The Cure, Radiohead, The Smiths, Blur, Oasis and The Stone Roses.
If a metal band where to headline they’d likely be stuck with an awkward subheadliner: a Paramore or a 30 Seconds To Mars, or a traditional rock act like Queens Of The Stone Age, Jack White, or The Black Keys. Bullet might manage to step up, but they played last year!
There are certain in-between bands who could pull off an out of place headline slot: Biffy Clyro seem a natural fit if their new album is a success and bands like Rage, The Prodigy and Slipknot have clear cross over potential, but Sabbath? It wouldn’t fail, but it might result in another random Cure style clash.
There is a third option – bring the metal back. Sonisphere is on shaky footing, an avenue that was once closed to Reading may be open once again. If Reading are faced only with Download they could entice a lost generation of rock fans with a hard rock line up. Still, if I had a seat of power, I wouldn’t take that risk. I think there is more chance of alienation than acceptance by arbitrarily bringing in metal acts. A one off headliner, sure, cross over acts, definitely, but back in force? I don’t see it. Reading lives in the middle ground, and that’s where it will continue to have success.David Hayter