The uncharacteristically bright weather at Richfield Avenue fails to breathe life into a festival that is as inconsistent as it is unsure of its own direction.
22 – 24 August
“You’re a fucking great crowd, Reading,” Alex Turner slurs, reciprocating the appreciation of the crowd amassed in front of the main stage. Arctic Monkeys’ Saturday headlining set is a moment of real but ultimately standalone clarity. They are a band whose renaissance is spurred by their commercially palatable and hugely listenable AM and at Reading, they perform to their ideal demographic of teenage revelers, many of whom will be kindling their first experiences with live alternative music. Moments of such cohesion and timeliness are, however, in disappointingly short supply over the course of the weekend.
On Friday, the likes of Temples and Palma Violets once again draw fans ready to be enthralled by guitar music and experience the “RIP Rock Music” hyperbole fade to a distant whisper amidst the frenetic intensity of ‘Best of Friends’ rousing chorus. Worryingly amiss, however, is the inventiveness and fresh originality that drove independent rock music’s resurgence in the early 2000’s, leading one to question even the vague possibility of a band such as, say, Peace one day headlining the stage they occupy on Saturday afternoon. On the main stage heavy rock veterans Queens of the Stone Age are elevated to co-headline status, and although they may not draw the same footfall as Artcic Monkeys or Blink-182 during the following nights, they in fact deliver by far the most impressive headlining set of the weekend. Performing cuts from their superb Songs For The Deaf, Queens of the Stone Age circa. 2002 sounds as fresh in a field in 2014 as it did over a decade ago.
Reading’s superficial diversity, which sees Duke Dumont and Gorgon City able to attract massive numbers into tents, before passing the baton to nuanced alternative bands such as The Horrors, is unfortunately as much the weekend’s undoing as it is its making. As dance music looks set to be elevated to ever greater heights in Reading’s previously uncharted territory, it’s hard not to feel that Blink-182 and Papa Roach’s nostalgia-driven Sunday main stage slots are merely jarring hangovers from an era that the festival soon needs to shed in order to retain an engaging and relevant theme. As Jungle’s sounds falls flat in the NME Tent and Flume brings an energized end to proceedings in the dance tent my main impression is of disappointment at not having apparently participated in a festival per se but more a hastily compiled range of artists for exhibition to an audience not wholly understood.
Reading, in small doses, manages to supply the thrills that its high face value and repute demands, and whilst the diversity of the acts on display is to be lauded, it should never be a substitution for the big-name acts that a big-name brand such as Reading demands, nor for what was missing from The Kooks’ bland advert fodder in the NME tent, actual substance.