Reading 2011: The best and worst
YKTS spent last Saturday at Reading festival. Here are the best and worst moments from the day…we start with the best
5. The Atmosphere
Something strange happens at festivals, especially those lasting a weekend. The normal rules of social interaction get bent as a bubble forms around the venue for the duration: the field, music, drugs and the drink all insulate you from the stresses of everyday life. Thankfully, unlike the average Saturday night in a city centre (more on that later), this heady mix is not used to drown sorrows but to heighten the sense of euphoria and celebration. Following the recent riots throughout the UK, the festival was a good reminder that large crowds do not, by default, become mobs intent on violence and destruction.
4. The People
Given the last point, it should hardly come as a surprise to hear that I witnessed some rather unusual sights. A few entertaining instances deserve a special mention. During my time inside the NME tent, fighting the crowds to see Bombay Bicycle Club, many comments were passed by people expressing both respect and surprise at my seemingly unusual desire to get to the front: ‘true LAD’ and ‘you’re in a wheelchair? RESPECT’ being especially common. Most memorable however was the comment of one man I temporarily encountered as we were thrown one way, then the other. Wide eyed and a little under the influence he found the time to ask ‘are you in a chair!? Massive props, I’ve never had the balls to take my precious picnic chair into the middle of a moshpit and actually sit down. Score!’ He seemed so happy and cheered by this, I didn’t have the heart to inform him of the slight oversight made.
As the night wore on and the Strokes finished their set things became even more surreal. Wandering the barren arena looking for drink and the after party, we saw two men stumbling back to back in a single jumper, doing their best Stuck On You impression in an effort to keep warm. Unfortunately, it was not a great success as both ended up in the mud; but it was still far more entertaining than the film. This was soon dwarfed by the antics of two other drunken festival goers, a man and a woman, pretending to be Superman and Lois Lane. A group nearby then asked if they had met at the festival, to which the girl replied they had. Unfortunately for her, they continued by asking if they planned to sleep together, at which point the man stripped off completely – morning glory in full bloom – shouting ‘are we then? Are we?’ Unsurprisingly, she ran off horrified. Not to be deterred, Superman sat back down in his (real) picnic chair, still stark naked and confidently proclaimed ‘she’ll come back…they always do’.
Only at Reading.
3. Bombay Bicycle Club
I used to mock those annoying so called indie-kids when they said ‘i’ve been with [insert obscure band name] since the start, it’s amazing to see how far they’ve come’, yet worryingly I found myself thinking exactly the same as Bombay took to the stage. Tellingly, I did so from the dreaded disabled viewing platform (see worst list) since the tent was simply too rammed to capacity for me to stay at the front. It appeared that in between Everything Everything and the final song by the horrific Glassjaw, the entire festival had come to see them perform. Indeed, Glassjaw’s set was repeatedly drowned out by chants of ‘Bombay, Bombay’. Eventually, the crowd got their wish and sang along with a tenacity and jubilance that appeared to even take the band by surprise. It was refreshing to see people finally waking up to the potential I’ve been banging on about for the past 5 years.
The band’s third album, A Different Kind of Fix, came out last Friday. You can read the YKTS review by clicking here in the next couple of days.
2. The Strokes
Three bands were at the forefront of the early 2000′s garage rock revival: The Strokes, The Libertines and The White Stripes. Of these, only the New York five-piece remain. I am unashamedly of this generation, however I detest the mediocrity its success produced – yes I’m pointing my (middle) finger at you Tom Clarke and Liam Fray. I do also appreciate that Room on Fire and First Impressions of Earth showed little evolutionary merit or variation; something, for all its faults, Angles did attempt to rectify. But here’s the thing, the band kick started and defined over a decade of rock with Is This It?, the album that got me into rock and roll. Sure, there were, are and will be better bands, but I was 11 when they broke in 2001 and they’ve been splitting/making a new album for the past 5 years. Saturday gave me a chance to live what I missed – 5 double Bacardi’s and one Someday riff later, I was 18 again.
Set wise, the songs played off the new album, such as Machu Picchu, slotted in well – adding variation to what was a storming set. Vocally, Julian more than surpassed my hopes and expectations; although strangely his voice doesn’t sound as sharp on the highlights as it did live. Good thing he couldn’t hear my additional backing support.
At the hieght of Britpop, Jarvis Cocker and co. unfairly suffered from the mainstream consensus that ‘behind Blur and Oasis there’s Pulp’. Saturday proved that ‘after Blur and Oasis there rose Pulp’. The stage presence Jarvis posessed proved unrivalled, he openly interacted with the audience, showcasing his trademark wit and bounding about the stage with infectious energy. I had been worried that, at 48, he would no longer be able to put on a show. Thankfully, I was proved wrong - the charisma, the vocals were outstanding. The band also understood their position, with Jarvis asking both ‘who remembers the first time?’ and ‘who was alive the first time?’; it was evident that as much as this re-union has provided nostalgic adulation, the band have utilised it as a statement of worth.
The set list covered a vast array of the band’s catalogue, the highlight for me being This Is Hardcore, which was utterly spectacular live (as was Jarvis gyrating on speakers). Understandably, Common People got the loudest reception but it was the show as a whole which topped the bill. As Common People came to a climactic end, I got a little carried away and shouted ‘I LOVE YOU JARVIS’; as amusing to my friends as it was bemusing to those on the viewing platform (again, see worst list). I hold no shame however, I never thought I’d have the chance.
It will be interesting to see who will headline next year, now that many of the indie stalwarts have enjoyed their second coming. As great as it has been to see Blur, The Libertines, The Strokes and Pulp return in recent years, I hope that a new band can make the step up. Otherwise, god forbid, we might find My Chemical Romance headlining…oh wait.
Now for the worst…
5. The mud
Yes, I know it’s obvious but it still deserves mentioning; especially when you’re in a wheelchair. One of my helpers from University came back from Germany to help – he arrived excited and left tired with his hands blistered. My enthusiasm to reach the Bollocks to Poverty afterparty, situated at the other end of the festival, led to an understandably menacing glare. We did reach a nearer tent, only to be told it didn’t have access. This led to an acceptance that at 2am, unable to move and meet my other friends, it might be a good idea to head home. Mind you, I still haven’t given up for next year.
4. Set clashes
I understand that due to the vast number of acts performing at festival like Reading, some must overlap. However, when separate stages use headline acts to compete with each other, it really annoys me. Crystal Castles headlined the NME stage only 15 minutes before Pulp began in the main arena. Although I’ve seen them numerous times, some of my friends had not and they are brilliant live (read my review from October here). Surely it would make sense, as at other European festivals, to ensure headline acts do not clash?
3. Lack of transport
The last train back to Clapham Junction arrived a mere half an hour after the Strokes finished their set. Given the mud and the amount of people it was simply impossible for us to get out in time. We had been prepared for this and agreed prior to arrival that we would enjoy ourselves at the afterparty, banish tiredness with alcohol and then return on the first train home. Unfortunately, as mentioned above, the various tent parties did not offer wheelchair access. Concequently, we were left stranded in a bitterly cold Reading town-centre till 6:30 in the morning…Los Angeles it ain’t.
2. The disabled viewing platfrom
I completely understand that some disabilities, unfortunately, prevent people from being able to enjoy crowd situations. In such cases, the platform holds great value since it offers a great view and excellent sound quality.
However, I do not need the platform for any medical reason. Rather, it theoretically allows me to see better, since unless you are near the front, sitting is a major disadvantage. When I first went to Reading in 2007, I did so with my father; who unsurprisingly was not keen on facing the crowds and pushing through the mud. This meant I spent much of my time on the platform and despite its best intentions, our relationship was doomed from the start: the platform is raised and set back to an extent that distances the individual from the crowd and atmosphere. Even worse, the atmosphere on the platform itself wouldn’t be out of place in a Little Britain sketch – my Dad even fell asleep during pre Sex On Fire Kings of Leon!
Given this experience, I was determined to avoid the platform at all costs. The best gigs of my life have involved me managing to avoid the clasp of some anally retentive health and safety figure, desperate to force me into a sterile cubicle at the back of the venue. This was not the case at the Birmingham 02 academy a few years back, where not only was I prohibited from joining the crowd, but forced behind a plastic screen! After I complained to the manager, she agreed for our drinks to be carried up – necessary since I had been banned from reaching bar level.
Fast forward to Reading 2011 and my mission to get to the front was going well, at least during the Pigeon Detectives; we were a reasonable distance from the moshpit but near enough to see the band perform up close…that was until a security guard spotted me and pointed us toward the disabled platform. Prepared, I stayed where I was, explained I was fine, could look after myself and not in a situation I was uncomfortable with. Regardless, he still demanded we move, despite my protestations over his hypocrisy at mumbling about health and safety when there would be people screaming for their mothers in a moshpit he would do nothing about. This remained a problem in the main arena all day, my mood not helped by two incredibly fat people seemingly abusing the platform when watching Madness perform. Initially, I thought they must have mobility issues, yet interestingly they managed to jig along to House of Fun just fine – enjoying some full fat curry and chips inbetween. By the time Pulp took to the stage, I had accepted that the mud and amount of people would force me to be separated from my group of friends, as only one person, the “designated personal assistant”, was officially allowed to join me. Although I got around this by handing the pass down to another friend below the platform who then posed as a carer, I obviously could not repeat this for everyone. Thus, despite my best efforts, I was once again stuck on the bloody platform. Difference was, this time was not going to let anyone around me fall asleep. My voice has yet to fully recover.
1. Reading town centre
As previously mentioned, we ended up stuck in Reading town centre for the night. Can’t be that bad I thought, until I realised it was the younger brother of Coventry, minus the escape routes to Leamington or Birmingham. Covered in mud, and with clubs and alcohol serving establishments closed, we eventually found warmth in a kebab shop; only for a food fight to kick off, and a lady to end up strewn on the floor, legs wide open with mayonnaise smeared all over her face, telling my slightly confused German friend to ‘do her hard’. By the time I’d explained what she meant, the walking disaster had staggered out, leaving my friend disappointed. 15 minutes later another man came in and tried to fight the owner, causing the shop to close early and leaving us stranded outside on a bench. From this vantage point we could enjoy the amusing antics of drunk people, but even this soon wore thin as one man urinated on our bench and numerous fights broke out. Desperate for warmth, we looked around the town for another fast food outlet, only to find leery men trying to proposition my (female) friend and asking me for a joint. Worringly, when I suggested the rock festival might be a better place to look, they appeared confused. In all probability, if I stayed all night in my local town centre of Kingston, I’d find much the same but it seemed especially bad now that I was sober and freezing cold.
When 6:30 eventually rolled around I was completely destroyed- unusual considering the amount of all-nighters I pulled at University. So, you can imagine the reaction when I was told Reading station had suffered a power cut and there was no wheelchair access to my platform. Thankfully, the staff kindly offered a replacement taxi for a normal ticket price. However, even then, there proved one last incident involving a very strange Russian man. It was my friend who initially warned me about the man staring at me intently from behind. I turned around to find him right in my face, swaying and smelling of garlic. Unable to escape, I found myself stuck in a bizarre conversation; when I asked him where he was travelling to at this time in the morning, he explained: ‘I here live but I like watch people at station…I talk friends all-night Russia’. Either he was related to Borat or needs to be arrested pretty quick – probably both. Indeed, it seems now I simply need be near a mode of transport to attract the nutters.