Photos by Dan Smyth
When I was at school our rite of passage was being able to drink a crate of French stubbies called ESP, smoke an eighth of marijuana resin "that had been smuggled in the petrol tanks of Hells Angels" and listen to a Nicky Blackmarket tape pack or dad's Pink Floyd vinyl. Nowadays weed has been replaced with MDMA and even though I still see the odd rave poster on the side of the road for Nicky Blackmarket, it's Modestep and SBTRKT that soundtracks the spaced out haze of the teenagers at Reading Festival. I'm not complaining, I'm not shocked, I'm not appalled, that is after all what Reading Festival is about, it's a coming of age experience and one that I think all GCSE students should make once they have completed those dreaded, yet generally useless exams. I just wish they'd be a bit more mindful of us older folks and more importantly, themselves.
During one of the heavy downpours on Saturday night we witnessed a gangly kid who could have been no more than fifteen running like a headless chicken in front of us, his arms waving around like he was on fire and his shoeless feet scrambling for grip on the slippery waterlogged soil underneath, eventually his legs gave way forcing him into an exceptionally uncomfortable version of the splits and finally with his arms preoccupied, flailing in the air still, he face planted into the mud at our feet. Pulling himself up with a fear in his sunken eyes like he had seen the devil himself he begged us to help him and point him in the direction of the nearest exit. Before we could get any words out he was off hydroplaning again towards the direction of our outstretched arms. As amusing as this anecdote may be, I really hope that kid was ok, likewise the young girl I saw outside the NME tent on Sunday who was dazed, lost, crying and asking where Orange Campsite was, like it should have been somewhere round there or at least the last time she remembered having control of her brain was back at camp a few hours earlier.
There are two things you can be sure of at Reading, the drug fuelled enthusiastic youths barging their way to the front of the crowd without so much as an "excuse me" will invariably end up scrambling their way back out after two songs in a teary eyed, sweaty mess and second, no, that wasn't cider.
I could carry on and tell more tales of adolescent overindulgence but this is meant to be a festival and one that for the 405 team had more highs than all the kids put together, from some incredible mid afternoon performances and alternative headliners to a woman throwing a swan from a bridge, but more on that later. First up here are the teams top picks from the weekend including Justice, Metronomy, At The Drive-In and many more.
Kris De Souza - News Editor's top picks
The intimate surroundings of the Festival Republic Stage played perfect home to Veronica Falls who's indie pop flow filled the small tent perfectly. Their self titled debut album was one of the musical highlights in 2011 and one that sounds so much better live, the band are incredibly tight and songs like 'Beachy Head' and 'Come On Over' feel more textured and if possible, sound even better.
Undoubtedly one of the best sets of this years festival came from The Hives, playing the NME/Radio 1 stage at 3:30 in the afternoon you would have been forgiven for thinking this was a headline set such was the number of people crammed into the massive big top. The Hives are of course seasoned pro's when it comes to entertaining large crowds and the Swedish quintet did not disappoint. Playing a greatest hit set including 'Tick Tick Boom', 'Main Offender' and 'Hate to Say I Told You So' they turned the tent into one massive sing along and despite having only recently released an album they resisted ramming it down fans throats, only playing a couple of newbies. A truly triumphant festival set.
If there was one band who could have taken a leaf from The Hives it would be the Maccabees don't get me wrong this was a great set, right up until the end. Orlando and co chose not to follow suit and play what the crowd wanted to hear instead choosing to play two relatively new, subdued songs. Both 'Feel to Follow' and 'Grew Up At Midnight' sending the crowd away desperately wanting more, if I had a pound for every person I heard say "Where was Latchmere?" or "Lego?" I would have been able to keep myself in £8 beefburgers all weekend. I guess the question is what should we expect from a headliner at a festival like Reading? Should you play for the masses or just your fans? Who knows what the right answer is, but in this instance it didn't work for us.
I think the sign of a good show from The Cribs has to be when Ryan Jarman has to be physically removed from the stage by his twin brother Gary at the end. As ever with Wakefield's finest, the show is raw and energetic, one highlight being Ryan's cord not being long enough for him to get to the crowd, leaving him in the limbo of the photographers pit. Another band with a recent album out the set list was spread evenly across all five albums. Classic anthems like 'Hey Scenesters', 'Mens Needs' and the mass sing along 'Be Safe' brought the crowd in closer while the Marr influenced 'We Share the Same Skies' and 'City of Bugs' were just as well received. The latter forming a finale typical of the Jarman brothers, eeking out the final note Ryan, Gary and Ross trashed the stage and hurled instruments into the audience.
The Cribs set things up nicely for a band who broke up just as the Jarman clang were forming. At The Drive-In were at their peak when they took an "indefinite hiatus" but the American band announced their reunion and subsequent tour earlier this year, an announcement that sent the 405 team a little bit crazy. The band's performance at Reading was good, Cedric was his trademark enigmatic self, drinking tea on stage and gesticulating like someone just plugged him into a electrical power socket and the rest of the band played the greatest hits set masterfully, you wouldn't think they ever went away but there was something missing. Omar, who used to be just as bat shit crazy as Cedric on stage, was just going through the motions, looking disinterested and as if someone had put his feet in concrete blocks then dumped him up there, it was a cold and functional performance that just didn't quite live up to the hype. Cedric's on stage banter was just as off, referencing Dr Who and cracking the age old "if this is a reading festival, where are the books?" joke it was awkward to watch at times but if you closed your eyes during 'One Armed Scissor' or 'Arcarsenal' and allowed your imagination to embrace your inner teen you could not help but stomp your foot and yell along.
Tom Walters – Assistant News Editor's top picks
Torn between seeing Justice and Foo Fighters on the Sunday night, I opted for Justice because a) Justice have always been on my must-see list, b) I just had to see this light show they produce that everyone raves about. Overall? Definitely the right choice. This was as sweaty and, well, as naked as it gets at a festival, really. We turned up about 15 minutes into the set, and bodies were already flying in every direction and barely any shirts remained on the bodies they had come with.
Initially in my head I was thinking they'd be a great act to dance to, but instead – and quite typical of the crowd this weekend really – it turned out to be a show to literally throw yourself around and mosh to. Being as drunk as I was, it was quite easy and pretty fun to get involved with, but I can't even begin to imagine what Justice themselves must've been thinking. They dealt with it well though, breaking down 'D.A.N.C.E.' and slicing parts of it in to the set gradually as it progressed. The crowd reaction to singles such as 'Civilization' and 'We Are Your Friends' was as wild as you can imagine, and I came away from the carnage feeling utterly broken and bruised and still do at the time of writing this. Justice confirmed themselves as the greatest live act in dance music this weekend, and yes, the light show was of monumental proportions too.
As our very own Kris De Souza tweeted during the weekend, "the kids love SBTRKT, init?." It's easy to see why though: Sampha joined SBTRKT on stage, which really set the show apart from the usual DJing performances. A SBTRKT set-up is more complex than you might think, involving a whole array of synths, drum machines and other percussion and contraptions that make up all the bleeps and bloops that everyone was there to hear. They opened slowly with the self-titled album's opener 'Heatwave' before bursting into life with jams such as 'Hold On' and my personal favourite 'Pharaohs'. Samples were used to fill in for the missing vocalists, but the set really shone were Sampha provided vocals for his tracks – the man is one hell of a singer. To be moving as much as he was on stage and still be able to perform that well vocally was a highlight of the festival for sure, and equally exciting to watch.
Where do you start with a two-piece on the main stage of one of the biggest festivals in the country? The idea of Blood Red Shoes partaking in such a performance is quite a confusing one, as fans to this date are used to them tackling venues of half the size and bringing said venues down with them. But oh boy, did they deliver. Steve Ansell and Laura-Mary Carter looked like complete naturals up there, delivering a half-hour set full of hits from the debut ('I Wish I Was Someone Better', 'Say Something, Say Anything') as well as the more energetic cuts from their latest record In Time To Voices. Tracks like 'Cold' and 'In Time To Voices' went down particularly well with the crowd – who, by the way, didn't exactly look like your average Blood Red Shoes fan – initiating pits and frantic dancing alike. But the real highlight came right at the end, as the band erupted into In Time To Voices highlight 'Je Me Perds' – a strange track to close with considering it's only a minute-and-a-half long, but the crowd reacted ferociously and it was a fitting punk rock ending.
I first saw Pulled Apart By Horses in a tiny little venue in Portsmouth called the Cellars back in 2009, and I don't think the walls of that place have ever been the same since. They've then proceeded to rip through all of the stages at Reading & Leeds – leapfrogging the Lock Up Stage mind you – and ended up this year opening the main stage on Sunday morning. What was great to see is how refined their live show has become – frontman Tom Hudson giving it his all vocally; guitarist James Brown now effortlessly climbing huge speaker arrays as if they were a tree; drummer Lee Vincent gleaming as the crowd erupts into a PABH-favourite 'conga pit' and bassist Rob Lee completely in the zone with his playing. It never gets old hearing 'I Punched A Lion In The Throat' live and, if the pit had anything to say about it, the crowd agreed. If you haven't seen these guys live yet, you need to get your priorities straight.
After a lot of doubt surrounding whether or not this show would actually go ahead, I'm incredibly glad it did. Passion Pit shone brightly on Friday afternoon, gathering a pretty sizeable crowd and playing some of the most tightly performed synth pop I think I've ever seen. It's a shame more people won't see Michael Angelakos live this year, because he's a treat to watch on stage. Energetic, youthful, and downright fun, their set shimmered and sparkled under the lights in time to their delightfully irresistible choruses. 'Sleepyhead' and 'Little Secrets' were highlights from the debut, as were Gossamer singles 'Take a Walk' and 'I'll Be Alright'. If his future crowds ignite as much as the crowd at Reading did this year, it'll certainly be hard for Angelakos to resist rescheduling those cancelled shows ASAP.
Tim Boddy – Photo Editor's top picks
Falmouth's finest Tall Ships, alighted the tinder-dry musical blogroll in 2010 with a double-whammy of devastating and majestic EPs - enough for them to warrant a place on our Ones to Watch list the following year. The trio spent much of 2011 touring and album recording, but are now thankfully back with their debut album, Everything Touching, just around the corner - which will be out on BSM.
Headlining the BBC Introducing Stage as a precursor to a tour for the release - and a decent turn-out greets the math-rock-esque chaps. The noise is big, dirty and loud, and played with an earnest, vivacious energy with the set littered with sing-a-long, lung-collapsing moments, creating quite the rapport with those in the vicinity. It's infectious to see a band overtly enjoying themselves on stage, vocalist Ric Phethean frequently sporting a wide shit-eating grin as he surveys the happy scene in front of them. 'Vessels' of course kills it, TS doing that thing of stepping away from the mics acapella-style and allowing all to join in, and become one. It feels like a special experience - as surely in years to come they will have outgrown a stage of this intimacy and will find themselves bumped-up onto the bigger stages. Thanks for providing the most fun of all the weekend - The 405 has now forgiven you for stuffing us at the BSM-five-a-side tournament last month.
Prior to Tall Ships the last song-and-a-half of Ifan Dafydd is caught - and one of the tacks is indeed a song-and-a-half in the form of the Winehouse-splice of 'No Good'. It's a shame that poor time-keeping kept us from seeing the whole set, but this glimpse of the electronic-whizz excites all the same.
It's not often that Previews are referred to in the festival write-up, but let's give this a go for Metronomy and see if there's any correlation to what actually transpired, who headline the Dance Stage on Saturday.
There were promises of "making muddy, flying saucer-eyed people dance ebulliently for five years or so now". Looking around, there are a fair number of flying saucer-eyed people packed into the tent, and most are dancing in a rather ebullient fashion. They're not too muddy however - possessing more of a sweaty-sheen-chic than bits of earth. It's not quite as wild as the scene present after the end of Modestep outside the Dance Stage a few hours earlier, which was a packed post-apocalyptic scene of absolute carnage. Full of shell-shocked 17 year olds gasping for water wandering around in a serotonin-squeezed daze, clothes ripped, bomb-site floor debris, brains-fried, hedonistic heaven/hell. Lord of the Flies versus last days of Rome shit.
Anyway, back to Metronomy. Another promise was that it would "indubitably be a good-time libidinal party." And it pretty much is. Though, this being Reading a mosh-pit breaks-out a few songs in. Yes, a mosh-pit for METRONOMY. Joseph Mount and co are such a fun, slick entity live - laying electronic pop-nuggets effortlessly during the hour-long set. The latter end of The English Riviera gets a lot of love - from the endearing, funk-laden 'Corrine' to more bluesy melancholia of 'Loving Arm' and the kazoo-creshndo-frenzy of 'Some Written' that gets a whole new lease of life in the flesh. 'The Bay' gets a rapturous reception as 'The Look' wraps up the evening festivities with aplomb, such a stunning pop number.
The sun is surprisingly hot (hangover sensitivity not withstanding), so it seems like a smart move to catch Toy in the tent at Festival Republic. Toy have had a busy year thus far and garnered a lot of attention, despite having no full-length release to their name - just a couple of singles so far. Though one of the singles was the kosmische, driving beauty known as 'Motoring'. Quality > Quantity. And it's this track that opens the set from the London five-piece, putting the motorik into 'Motoring' with absorbing, moreish 4/4 Neu-repetitive rhythms. Neu That's What I Call Music!
Sound-wise it's all pretty spot-on - which is important to a band with the technical, yet psych nuances of Toy. Their other single to date 'Left Myself Behind' closes, and on the basis of this captivating half-an-hour the world should be getting very excited for their eponymous debut album, due out in early September.
In terms of a non-musical highlight, that award goes to the most nonchalant swan in the country, that we saw strutting languidly down the road when we went in to town on Saturday morning, holding up two lanes of traffic. A have-a-go-hero eventually snaps, gets out the car, marches to the bad-ass feathered beast and proceeds to grab it by the neck and perform a bear-hug on it. She marches back over the bridge cradling the swan, before hurling it off the bridge into the river below, turning around to the watching crowd and screaming "It's just a swan, I don't know what you're all so scared of…" The swan remained unharmed.