Is Glastonbury choking Reading to death? Music tastes are diversifying – if your not convinced take a look at any of the big five festival line ups – and Reading’s unique selling point is becoming harder and harder to identify.
A decade ago Reading was edgier and tougher than a hippy dippy middle aged Glastonbury – we had The Strokes and System, indie and metal. Five years ago Reading was simply cooler – indie had taken hold but Reading always secured the best reformation bands, the one’s Glastonbury wouldn’t touch (RATM). Reading stayed consistently ahead of the curve taking risks on new bands in headline slots and changing the face of festival culture.
Those days appear to be long gone. Faced with an aging audience and an un-cool reputation Michael Eavis executed one of the most daring re-branding operations in music history. Jay-Z and Kings Of Leon kicked the door down in 2008. Glastonbury not only removed the laughable barriers blocking Hip Hop stars from headlining festivals, but also gave a pre-“Sex On Fire” Kings Of Leon a chance to headline a major festival a year after Reading made the mind-boggling decision to back Razorlight instead.
Glastonbury went further still in years to come – making Springstreen, Stevie Wonder and U2 festival headliners while securing the lucrative Blur reunion. The already high stakes had been upped as Glasto introduced a new era of super-headliners – the message rang out loud and clear, no band was too big to play a festival. Then, two years ago, Eavis removed the final barrier: by giving Beyonce the opportunity to bring her stunning pop showcase to Glastonbury, he allowed the Vs and Wirelesses of this world to drop rock all together and book the pop-stars they always desperately wanted to.
Annoyingly, the greedy Glastonbury didn’t stop its encroachment there. The festival has always been diverse, but in the past it tended to lack a hard edge. Sure it embraced ecstasy and the darker more innovative end of dance culture, but it stayed well clear of alternative rock – until now. 2011 saw the arrival Queens Of The Stone Age and that success has paved the way for former Reading headliners The Smashing Pumpkins, noise-rock icon Nick Cave (always a Glasto regular), The Horrors, and Portishead.
Reading used to categorically own that corner of the alternative market but Glastonbury is sliding into the festival’s old shoes. Worse still, the gap between Glastonbury, Reading and Download is narrowing. Glasto has hoovered up a lot of the cutting edge indie acts that Reading always used to secure (Tame Impala and Vampire Weekend are the most egregious offenders) and, odder still, Tyler, The Creator will celebrate the launch of his new LP away from Reading and Leeds.
Perhaps it’s churlish to complain about Glastonbury. The festival that sells out in an instance and commands three days of non-stop BBC coverage takes a chunk out of everyone’s business. The fact that the festival can have O2 Arena headliners like The Weeknd and Nas playing 3 and 6 stages down the line up, respectively, hardly matters – because, as every Glastonbury goer will tell you, it’s not about the bands, it’s about the vibe (well that and the mud).
All this goodwill and greatness might be infuriating, but we shouldn’t begrudge Glastonbury its riches, we should be asking what Reading and Leeds can do to get their edge back. How can the festival define itself between Glastonbury and Download without becoming just another generic, directionless festival? Sadly, there are no easy answers. David Hayter