Towards the end of three days in a field which had by now come to resemble a landfill site, one could perhaps be forgiven for throwing caution to the wind. Looking up at the towering right speaker bank of the Reading Festival’s main stage, I made a conscious decision to watch – and listen to – a band from Iowa not known for their gentility.
After all, at least I stood an outside chance of not being covered in cow intestines or whatever other offal Slipknot decided to throw at their audience, for it was indeed they who were due on stage. Camera at the ready, stage before me and baying audience behind, I awaited my fate.
A palpable rise in excitement levels pervaded the place. For the first time all weekend, a feeling of danger loomed – a feeling that is difficult to shake off when nine blokes in boiler suits and grotesque masks show up, strut around the stage, bash their heads against things (drums, each other) and generally abuse the audience by means of finger-waving and cursing.
The audience, crushed against the barriers behind me, obliged them with a pelting of fruit, bottles, bits of dubious-looking festival foodstuffs and anything else that came to hand. For their part, Slipknot nodded as if to suggest happiness that their children had done their homework before launching into a set of an ear-splittingly loud nature.
Huge, furious guitars vied with gargantuan drums and drum machines and a sub-human yowling from the bloke with the dreds standing a few feet in front of me. Photographers went wild, jostling each other aside in their efforts to get the perfect shot of first one, then another, then another of the band, all of whom were simultaneously doing things worthy of pictures.
Stage left, The Clown smashed his head against giant barrel-like drums and threw his arms about like a demented rag doll, and his mask all the while smiled. Then his entire drum kit – concealed drum machine and all – elevated off the stage, with what might well have been a guitarist hanging upside down from it by his legs.
Elsewhere, someone in a gummi mask vied for attentions with something wearing a Hannibal Lecter muzzle. The Clown waved from his lofty perch as he surveyed the circus act.
Behind us, audience members had somehow mustered a wheelie bin to act as a podium for moshing on – but as the set went on, it seemed fitting that they threw that over the barrier too.
We were given a piece from a film soundtrack – more huge guitars, more gargantuan drums, more yowling – before the somewhat jarring moment when It With The Dreds thanked the audience “from the bottom of my heart” and asked after us lot “in the cattle coral”. What a sweetie.
There were other bands on at Reading, many offering accomplished performances of rock music. Many of them “kept it real” in a way that Slipknot – every bit as choreographed as a boy band – probably don’t care to. But most of those bands wouldn’t have bothered to DJ in the guests’ tent. Nor would they have showed up for the thousands who wanted them to sign everything from t-shirts to themselves at the overwhelmed signing tent. But none of these bands came even close to the slickly executed mayhem that was Slipknot.