Pressing Shuffle: The ever-eclectic Reading and Leeds 2016

Pressing Shuffle: The ever-eclectic Reading and Leeds 2016

By Rob Barbour

Aug 17, 2016 12:08

For as long as I can remember, the Reading (and, since 1999, Leeds) Festival has been a staple in the calendar of any self-respecting rock music fan. While the Reading festival as we know it today was originally held in 1971, its roots date back to the National Jazz Festivals of the 1960s - making it the oldest popular music festival still running. Glastonbury may have the scale and the mystique and Download may have the cachet of being the spiritual successor of the Monsters of Rock festival, but Reading truly is the daddy of them all.

Its traditional time slot over the August Bank Holiday weekend means that for many of us, Reading and Leeds serve as something of a bittersweet experience – while its placement two months after Download and Glastonbury mean it almost always manages to avoid transforming in the kind of quagmire which so often ruins those two events, it also means it acts as a bookend to the Summer. But what a way to see the season out.

Because where Download and Glastonbury have carved incredibly successful niches for themselves in, respectively, metal and indie/world music, Reading and Leeds have managed to bridge those two cultures – often by having a noticeable and deliberate genre-skew to each of their days. As many of you will already know, Sunday at Reading was always seen as the ‘alternative’ day, so it’s apt that his year sees the festival closed by Biffy Clyro and Fall Out Boy – from ‘our’ world, two of the biggest crossover acts of the last ten years.

That said, a cursory glance at the 2016 lineup poster tells the story of a festival seeking to respond to the genre-bending tastes of the Spotify generation, curating its lineup the way its demographic listen to music: by pressing ‘shuffle’. And so it is that the 2016 festival is probably the only festival in the UK where punters find themselves faced with a choice between the crushing metal core of Asking Alexandria, and the bass-heavy trap-pop of Skrillex and Diplo’s Jack Ü project.

As well as being the first year of Reading’s twin festival in Leeds, 1999 was also my first Reading festival. While I was busy catching a main stage set from a fresh-faced Lit, and cramming into a tent to see Fountains of Wayne (who I maintain should have been ten times bigger than they ever were), I was missing a mid-afternoon set in a tiny tent from future headliners, Muse, as well as the obscure student indie band opening the second stage: Coldplay. It was a different world. One where Buckcherry and Orgy warranted Main Stage slots; where Catatonia sat directly below legit superstars Blur on the ‘indie’ day; and where any band in Steve Lamacq’s record collection automatically warranted a prominent set on the Radio 1 stage.

Like any festival, though, Reading has its ‘house bands’ – acts who guarantee a hit-laden headline set and will likely be invited back time and time again until they put down their guitars for good. The Sunday headliner in that year was Red Hot Chilli Peppers, who once again find themselves at the top of the poster in 2016 (albeit on the Saturday this time – yet another indicator of the festival’s ‘shuffle all’ policy).

Of course, those of us of a more alternative bent are rarely as interested in the main stage acts as we are in the smaller stages – particularly The Pit (previously known as The Lockup and even, back in the 90s, a downscaled-version of the Vans Warped Tour). This tent has always been a reliable outpost of punk, ska, hardcore and everything in-between. And this year, The Pit is delivering the goods like an over-enthusiastic Amazon courier. As well as big-hitters like Thrice, Mastodon, Dillinger Escape Plan and Good Charlotte, the tiny tent will host intimate, catch-them-while-you-still-can sets by future superstars Milk Teeth, Creeper and Modern Baseball.

Which leads me onto another observation about the way Reading & Leeds appear to be pitching themselves as we move further into the twenty-first century: as a champion of future talent. While the BBC Introducing stage has been a feature of the festival for several years now – the huge crowds often gathered around the tiny mini-tent neatly illustrating the bookers’ keen eye for emerging talent – this year sees the addition of the Jägerhouse: keeping the party going into the night with live and DJ sets from acts as varied as Brighton punks Gnarwolves, Lower Than Atlantis, Oxford indie label Alcopop! Records and the ever-reliable Shikari Sound System.

Our personal tips for 2016 are British bands Black Foxxes, Muncie Girls, and newcomers Big Spring – whose blend of Thrice’s organic riffage with a distinctly prog sensibility might just take them to the heights their previous bands, Empress AD and Exit Ten, deserved but never achieved. On the international front, veterans Thrice and Coheed & Cambria may not be particularly left-field choices but based on recent form, and with both bands reinvigorated by arguable career-best records, you’re guaranteed two of the best live sets you’ll see this year.

Large enough to pull in some of the biggest bands in the world, but compact enough that it’s rarely a struggle to track down your friends after you split up because half of you want to rave and half of you want to start a circle pit; varied enough that both of those eventualities are possible, along with many more: as far as the end credits on the Summer break go, Reading and Leeds takes some beating. See you in The Pit. Or The Festival Republic Stage. Or the Radio 1 Stage…

Reading and Leeds Festival runs from the 26th to the 28th August 2016. Reading is completely sold out but you can still get your hands on Leeds tickets.

Reading and Leeds