Six years on from the subject of Strictly’s last Classic Readings feature, the nineties had seen the music scene move from grunge into Britpop courtesy of bands such as Blur, Oasis, Pulp, Suede and Supergrass. In 1998 Britpop was starting to decline with Travis, Radiohead and Coldplay leading a post-Britpop surge while post-grunge bands Foo Fighters, Creed and Nickelback were also beginning to take up the mantel. Alternative rock was also on the wane, epitomised by Lollapalooza’s failure to find appropriate headliners, sending that festival into an unplanned hiatus. Hip hop was continuing to spawn sub genres such as new jack swing and hip hop soul, with the continuing growth of drum and bass and breakbeat permeating into Reading’s 1998 line up.
Plant & Page: Not Bad, But Not Zeppelin.
In 1998, Reading Festival reflected the transitional phase that the rock and pop scene was undergoing. Friday’s line up was a mix of rock genres, punk and Britpop. The Main Stage played host to alt rock band Deftones’ first Reading appearance, followed by Britpop’s Mansun who had been the subject of much hype and label bidding war two years previously. Sub-headliners Ash, who were enjoying mainstream success with the release of albums “1977” and “Live At The Wireless” in the previous two years, were on their second Reading Festival appearance, with Led Zeppelin rockers Jimmy Page and Robert Plant headlining following their world tour. Page and Plant’s performance drew divided opinion, with many calling it legendary and some labelling it “noodling shite”.
The Melody Maker Stage saw Super Furry Animals go head to head with Page and Plant (Mogwai sub-headlined), with most of the days’ acts on that stage being largely indie rock or Britpop, such as Kenickie, Arab Strap, Grandaddy and the Delgaldos. Indie rock newcomers, Gomez, headlined the Dr Martens Stage, while the Carlsberg Export Stage played host to a largely punk and ska line up including headliners Bad Religion, and sub-headliners The Specials, with Prodigy-esque rock/drum & bass outfit Pitchshifter livening up the crowd in their mid-afternoon slot.
Saturday was altogether different with the Main Stage mixing it up with hip hop, hardcore electronica, Britpop, post-grunge and post-punk. The Beastie Boys, who headlined the Main Stage, were in the middle of their “Hello Nasty Tour” and had 5 multi-platinum albums behind them including their latest, “Hello Nasty” which had hit the top album spot around the world. Their sub-headliners were The Prodigy, and it was this pairing that saw a classic Reading moment unfold. The festival has had its fair share of dramatic moments and band spats, and the Prodigy’s MC, Maxim, had obviously decided that this year was to be no exception. The Beastie Boys had made a low key request, by way of a voicemail, asking The Prodigy not to include “Smack My Bitch Up” in their set list. The track had been the subject of much controversy including some stating that it was misogynistic, leading to widespread TV and radio banning. In the middle of The Prodigy’s set, MC Maxim attempted to stir things up by revealing, to a slightly bemused audience, that the Beasties had left him the phone message, He then stated “The way things stand, I do what the fuck I want” before defiantly leading the band into the track. Referring to the track and the band’s ultimate decision to play it anyway, the Beasties’ Ad Rock later stated in a more levelled fashion, “From where I’m from, it isn’t cool”. The incident has been reported and replayed ever since as an “incident”.
Prior to the “incident” of Saturday night the Main Stage also played host to Britpoppers Supergrass, who were making their first Reading appearance following chart success with their first two albums, “I Should Coco” and “In It For The Money”. The Foo Fighters had also made their much anticipated second Reading appearance, whilst Echo and the Bunnymen appeared on the back of their comeback album after reforming in the previous year.
The mixed bag didn’t stop at the Main Stage – all of the other stages featured an eclectic collection of artists on Saturday. The Melody Maker Stage contrasted indie headliners Travis with electronica sub-headliners Bentley Rhythm Ace (who made two appearances over the weekend, the second being a headliner spot on the Carlsberg Stage on Sunday). The rest of the day was a mix of rock and indie with bands such as Warm Jets and Unbelieveable Truth making appearances. Headlining the Dr. Martens Stage were acid house/blues outfit, Alabama 3, with Toploader (who were rather late onto the Britpop scene) appearing further down the bill. The Carlsberg Export Stage included drum & bass legend Roni Size Reprazent as headliner, ably supported by Freestylers who were riding high with their breakbeat hit, “Ruffneck”.
But it was Sunday at Reading that offered THE classic moment of that year’s festival. After Main Stage performances by bands such as the Divine Comedy, Shed Seven and The Bluetones, sub-headliners New Order, who had reconvened in 1998 following a 5 year lull, took to the stage. They had been booked to play at Warwickshire’s Phoenix Festival but due to poor ticket sales that festival had been cancelled with some of the acts, including New Order, transferred over to Reading’s line up. The crowd was eagerly anticipating their return and the band didn’t disappoint, playing a selection of tracks from both New Order and (as they were previously known before tortured lead singer Ian Curtis passed away) Joy Division. Then, somewhere towards the end of their set, a huge box was wheeled onto the stage and out popped Keith Allen, and with lead singer Bernie Sumner jogging on the spot, and Allen dancing about like a shorter version of Bez from the Happy Mondays, they played “World In Motion”, the track that the band had put together for England’s 1990 World Cup bid. The crowd’s chants of “ENG-ER-LAND” could be heard all the way to Reading town centre – it really was a moment that made the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. How headliners, Garbage, managed to follow that performance is a mystery. The band was currently mid-tour, promoting their second album, Version 2.0, with a string of successful tracks including “Stupid Girl” and “Only Happy When It Rains” behind them.
Elsewhere, the Melody Maker Stage saw performances from rock outfits Soul Coughing and Royal Trux, pop/ska’s Smash Mouth and post-Britpop’s Idlewild before electronic rock sub-headliners Ultrasound and experimental rock’s headliner Spiritualised went head to head with New Order and Garbage. The Dr. Martens Stage was headlined by hard rockers Fu Manchu at the top of a diverse line up made up of punk, ska, electronica, hard rock and indie. It was only the Carlsberg Export Stage that seemed to retain some continuity, with various electronica acts including Les Rhythmes Digitales (aka Jacques Lu Cont), Cut La Roc, Monkey Mafia (aka John Carter) and headliner Bentley Rhythm Ace (making their second appearance of the festival).
And the final ingredient that made this a Classic Reading? It didn’t rain.Nikki Hoath