The Reading main stage in all its glory. Image: Grace Walsh.

A dummy’s guide to Reading Festival

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This summer Reading Festival boasts a stellar line up with headliners like Disclosure, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Fall Out Boy all taking to the main stage. In previous years it has been the likes of Eminem –  for one of his elusive UK performances – the Arctic Monkeys, and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, establishing itself as a world-class, yet diverse event. Still unsure whether it’s for you? I’ll be going through the delirious highs and unhygienic lows to help you make up your mind.

If its sugar-coated pop you’re wanting, you better start looking elsewhere. At its inception, the Reading line up was exclusively heavy rock and metal music. Although its rock credentials remain very much intact, it has now opened its doors to artists who would be classified as more alternative – such as the 1975 and Mumford and Sons, who both played last year.

“Although its rock credentials remain very much intact, it has now opened its doors to artists who would be classified as more alternative”

In 2014, I was one of the thousands who stood in awe of Hayley Williams and her guitarist, as they perched on the edge of the stage, singing Paramore’s acoustic version of their hit ‘The Only Exception’ after a technical failure. Rising to the challenge, the band must have given one of the most memorable performances I’ve ever seen. This spontaneity electrified the atmosphere in the crowd, and they even got a fan up on stage to sing with them at the end of their set, cementing it as one of my favourite festival moments. The same weekend, I found myself ensnared into a particularly aggressive mosh pit, as the lead singer of Darlia smashed his way across the stage with his guitar. No, that’s not a metaphor.

Unfortunately, along with the line up comes the far-from-spotless reputation- Reading is certainly not a festival for the faint hearted. At least two people have died from drug related causes at this festival in the last couple of years, and the drug culture is pretty much inescapable. Expect to encounter many ravers with hand-made cardboard signs slung around their necks proclaiming “Buying MDMA”, looking like they hadn’t slept for a solid 48 hours. Then there’s also the terrifying stories of people who decide to ingest bags of white powder that they have found on the floor, very rarely to good effect.

Ignorance is bliss: another victim of Reading. Image: Najots/ Flickr

‘Where is the security?’ you may ask, marginally shocked but perhaps not too surprised. Well, chances are – they’re nowhere in sight. Tending to hover around the entrances to the arena, checking no one smuggles in cheap vodka in a water bottle, it can feel like their priority is safe-guarding the profits of the arena bars. The volunteer stewards don’t provide much reassurance either, normally having volunteered for a free ticket and a good time – upon a closer inspection, you’ll probably recognise them as ‘Matt from school’.

“The volunteer stewards don’t provide much reassurance either – upon a closer inspection you’ll probably recognise them as ‘Matt from school’.”

Then, add to the mix hundreds of post-GCSE students on their first weekend away without their parents. Dressed up in their festi-finery: flower garlands and Hunter wellies galore, they boast several crates of cider that some older attendee probably bought after they persuaded him outside Tesco. Later, that same cider will see sunlight once more as they chuck it up on the cold walk back to the tents, or at the main stage, or in places you’d never imagine vomit could get to.

But for all it’s faults, Reading is undoubtedly one of the best festival experiences I’ve had. Unlike many other festivals, the stages are all maximum three minutes away from each other, making stage hopping between two simultaneous acts a very real possibility instead of just a waste of time. Its late-August calendar slot also means that if Britain has been miraculously blessed with sun that summer, you’ll likely be getting some as you stretch out on the grass by the tents. Financially too, the festival has many merits. To see three of the headliners this year individually, it would cost you in excess of £110, but for £213, you have almost 200 bands, only a short walk away from your tent.

“Its late- August calendar slot also means that if Britain has been miraculously blessed with sun that summer, you’ll likely be getting some.”

So, if you are prepared to never be able to drink Strongbow Dark Fruits again without traumatic flashbacks of festival toilets and three day shower-less days, want an amazing line up, and have a great group to go with, then ask yourself- “why not?”

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