A few years ago, Reading and Leeds were seen as the festivals for those who liked their rock music extremely loud and/or heavy. In 2001, yes, you had the likes of Travis as headliners and Fun Lovin Criminals playing second fiddle to Manic Street Preachers, but where else would you also find the likes of Papa Roach, Queens Of The Stone Age, Marilyn Manson, Green Day and Rancid?
Since those days, though, the likes of Download and Sonisphere have set up shop and have fast become landmark dates in the summer calendar, taking hordes of regular attendees with them. As such, the feel of the Bank Holiday weekend event has changed in recent years. Gone is its identity of hard rock prom, replaced by an altogether more anarchic end-of-school atmosphere with GCSE and A-level students being its main demographic. Not only that but the event has become a lot more indie in recent years, Radiohead‘s triumphant headlining performance in 2009 being an example of how far it’s come.
This year, it’s also had more problems to contend with than just perceptions, mainly the issue of tickets not selling out instantly. In fact, it took months for weekend tickets to fully disappear. On the face of it, 200 to go to a place that isnt anywhere near as big, wide-ranging or varied as its equally priced competitor, Glastonbury, does seem a bit much. On this basis, Reading and its northern sibling have, in 2011, a lot to prove.
My Chemical Romance will bring their over-the-top and ludicrous pop-punk to Friday night whilst Muse will at least deviate from the “play every single festival with the same old songs” formula and play Origin Of Symmetry in full, which promises to be a tantalising prospect for those who have been alienated by their gradual ascent to pomp-rock kings. The most intriguing headliners are The Strokes, who play their only English festival on the Saturday night. Theres a good chance they might well be upstaged by the band that precedes them, Pulp, who will headline Leeds instead of the New York quintet. In short, its a make-or-break moment.
Looking elsewhere, there are plenty of artists worth checking out, even if by now youll have seen them many times already these past few months Warpaint, Friendly Fires, Metronomy and so forth. If you dont like any of the leading acts on the main stage then there are a range of other noteworthy headliners across the smaller tents. Highlights should include The Horrors, 2manydjs and Janes Addiction.
And there are at least bands on the bill that hint toward past eras. Friday seems to be this years “Rock Day” with such rock goliaths as The Offspring and New Found Glory. Then theres Jared Letos 30 Seconds To Mars, which, depending on your perspective, could be the most euphoric or the most laughably deplorable hour of your weekend. In addition, where else are you likely to see Jimmy Eat World, The National and Madness share the same stage?
Amidst all the music there’s also an Alternative Tent full of comedy (Tim Minchin is one of the big draws) and late-night cinema for those that want to have their fix of film. Despite all the misgivings and slagging off that Reading and Leeds both get there is no doubting that there’s plenty of things to enjoy this year. It’s just a case of whether they can replicate the magic of the big festivals that have been and gone already this summer.