In the last few years the festivals have taken a turn into increasingly commercial circles. Which is logical conisdering the saturated market, and the need to create profit to continue on in the future. But there was a time in which Reading Festival was a pilgrimage for those who wanted to escape the commercialism of reality and consume nothing but booze, drugs and the best alternative music the festival had to offer. From it’s roots as a jazz and blues festival, to the regrettable glam rock/power balled 80’s, through to the explosion of 1990’s alternative revolution. The 90’s music scene was typified in Britian by illegal raves, experimentation with music, and some painful clothing choices, and at the forefront for many in England was the Reading Festival. Nowadays the phrases “I like the song on that advert” or “I heard this track on Fifa” seem to have replaced the genuine love of music. No longer the primary dwelling spot for Jarvis Cockers ‘Mishapes, Mistake and Misfits’, but a place simply to consume. Whether or not this is a good thing holds very much in the eye of the individual, but we mustn’t forget the acts that still keep the alternative torch burning brightly for the current generation to see. This is the top 10 acts who reminded Reading Festival 2012 just what Reading Festival of old was like….
One of the smallest crowds of the weekend for a legend who’s played the festival in various forms since first appearing in 1992 with The Screaming Trees. Once a member of a misfit grunge ensemble, now a classier acts specializing in dirty rock n roll with hints of whiskey born blues. Their crowd conisisted of a few fans, a few more curious on-lookers and some obnoxious neon-clad teen Two Door Cinema Club fans. Two of those three groups left happy, with many people new to the band mesmerised by the power of Lanegan’s gravelly vocal style. It wasn’t a big hit at the festival, but it was a little hint of a class and artistry, as well as a check in on an ever aging legend who hasn’t failed to check in with us every few years.
Falko’s previous band ‘Mclusky’ once played Reading and Leeds just under The Black Keys on the Carling Stage (now Festival Republic). Since their split he’s honed in his skill set, and created an angrier, wittier, and noiser outfit from the ashes. And that’s what we were treated to this year. Pits begin to break out to ‘Robocop 4: Fuck Off Robocop’, Andrew “Falco” Falkous screams out an anthem against shallow artistry and commercialism in art. Snarling out “giant robots cannot distract them from their fate”. An irony of which the awaiting neon-clad Hadouken! fans clearly missed. As the last chords of Mclusky’s ‘Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues’ bellow out across the arena, one can’t help but feel grateful that there are bands like this who still have something to say, and have the talent and balls enough to say it.
First of all, ‘Folk-Step’ is not a thing. It never was, and I refused to acknowledge it in the future if it ever does somehow spawn into a thing. Just stop it at once. That said, Alt-J proved themselves to be this years underdog hit of the festival. Six months a go the band who anonymous to all but themselves, but are now on a fast track to becoming one of the best bands in the country. An impressive vocal range, and unique song arrangements endeared the band to the audience almost immediately. A clear Radiohead influence on the song structures is very apparent. The band have taken their folk style, and tampered with it to create something truly unique. Keeping the flame alive for originality, expect bigger and better things from Alt-J as time goes on, and as the creep up the lineup posters.
7. Less Than Jake/Me First And The Gimme Gimmes
Less Than Jake have played consistently for the last 10 years, with their first show on the mainstage in 2002. MFATGG have never played before, but the crowd lapped up every second of it. If you were fed up the extended solos, and exuberance of the 3 hour Foo Fighter spectacular, then the Lock-Up was the place to be. Punk rock, ska and show-tunes made the night the perfect alternative to big names acts on at the same time. Punk rock royalty as co-headliners. NoFX’s Fat Mike, along with Less Thank Jake and the brother of a Foo Fighter kept the crowds in the pit, dancing, and singing every word. For a little burst of Reading Festival circa the early 00’s this was perfection. And who doesn’t want to mosh to ‘Rocket Man’ anyway?
6. Crystal Castles
Crystal Castles have managed to squeeze themselves into a cosy niche. They’re punk without guitars, they’re dance without easy melodies, and they’re able to fit in at pretty much any festival across the UK. None more than Reading where they’ve now played for the past 6 years. Which might seem like overkill, but their booking is with good reason. This year they took their first airing out on the mainstage, and opinions seemed polarized. Some say it worked perfectly, and a dance based outdoor punk rock show, but for some the inability to provide the usual dazzling light show left a bad taste. Either way the band are unique, and getting stronger with every show and every album. There may not have been an outing for Robert Smith here, but the band still more than proved themselves as chameleonic in their style and delivery.
The Cure are one of the most iconic and seminal artists that Britain has ever produced. For 40 years they’ve delivered the general public with a plethora of classic tracks, and have carved themselves into a national institution. What more really needs to be said, it was a long time coming after 33 years but finally one of the biggest names in alternative rock headlined the premier festival for alternative rock. They didn’t engage in witty banter with the crowd, they didn’t come out dressed like a topman mannequin, they just played classic songs with a passion and technical ability that is almost a myth in the modern music scene. Legends through and through, the band will forever be etched into the psyche of the British public. Their encore alone was enough to prove the genius of Robert Smith, and ‘Friday I’m In Love’ will go down as an iconic moment for the festival.
4. The Black Keys
It seems rare in the modern age in which bands can become superstars with relative hast (a la Arctic Monkeys, The Vaccines, Florence And The Machine etc) to find a band who have claw their way to the top with sheer talent and ability. Their lo-fi blues rock has been cleaned up in their recent releases, but their alt-rock sensibilities have remained the same. Nine long years a go they played 3rd down on the fourth stage, this year they’re subheadlining under the Foo Fighters. There was a true sense of accomplishment and celebration at during their set, which made for a really great atmosphere. The band rocked out with blues/classic rock influences, injecting life and passion into the sights of the crowd. Furthermore, one does get the sense that this band really would comfortably fit in during any era of the festival (from Jazz/Blues up to Alt/punk/Grunge), it just so happens that their time is now, and their time is only just starting.
1992 wasn’t only the years after punk broke, nor was it only the year that Nirvana delivered their legendary set. No, long before Jay-Z at Glastonbury, Reading Festival booked world dominating iconic hip-hop collective Public Enemy to headline the mainstage. Which was one of, if not the first, Rap group to headline a UK festival. 20 years later Odd Future bring 21st century rap to Reading. Taking over the stage en mass, antagonizing security, continual stage diving, obnoxious antics and a thrash punk punk joining in for shits and giggles gave the set an undeniably chaotic edge which had the crowd entertained for a good forty minutes or so. 20 years after the historic 1992 festival, Odd Future prove that Hip-Hop is and will always be an intergral part in the festivals past present and future. Even moreso, it took a group of fresh faced brazen kids to put on one of the most authentic punk rock shows the festival’s mainstage has seen in quite some time.
2. Foo Fighters
Ok, so one could easily argue that Foo Fighters are not (and never really have been) an ‘alternative’ act. 3 Hours of fireworks, extended solos, and sing-a-longs is not alternative rock. They’re a great band, with a mass crossover appeal and they drew one of the biggest crowds I’ve ever seen. This nomination is simply due to the history lesson included within the last 3 hours of festivities at this years festival. Like him or not it’s undeniable that during the 90’s Alt-Rock explosion Dave Grohl was one of the figureheads. He’s seen it all, and for a while Grohl informed the newer generation of fans (some who may be unaware of the significance of the events unfolding in front of them), tales of Mudhoney, of dreams of playing Reading Festival, of Nirvana, of headlining the NME stage in 1995 up against Bjork, of becoming a global megastar, of returning to a festival that he has called his home for 20 years. This band are not an alternative band, but they’re part of a dying breed of superstars who have direct connections to the iconic past, and it was just nice to share in his tales of times gone by.
1. At The Drive-In
With a festival that has an increasing number of shoulder dwelling, neon-clad, piss-throwing, post-exam teenagers, it can be quite hard to find a crowd with passion, love and dedication. Luckily At The Drive-In and their crowd oozed with pour. The atmosphere was alive and electric, and the crowd were united as one under a simple passion for music. The band have matured, and the fans have grown up, but the love was still there, stronger even. Cedric was a superb frontman, and their musicianship has improved tenfold. Why is this number one? Because it felt like a real moment. A relatively obscure post-hardcore band from the late 90’s are finally having their influence felt, and it was fantastic to see them play to such a passionate crowd. Arcarsenal and One Armed Scissor set the place alight, and it was clear that the moment was incredibly special for all those in attendance. The perfect band to inject the passion and respect back into a festival that seems to be losing its touch on such matters. Let’s hope they stick around for a bit longer. Adam Grylls