DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece, counterarguing another article on why we also support the festival, of which you can read here.
Growing up, Reading and Leeds always felt like somewhat of a spiritual home for alternative. It wasn’t the bullet-belt-sporting, ale-drinking, macho bravado of Download or Sonisphere, but it was somewhere where you were able to let your freak flag proudly fly to the tune of the worlds best rock and metal bands. Yet, here we are in 2018. Reading and Leeds have just announced the lineup for their 29th instalment, including artists like Fall Out Boy, Post Malone and Skepta. However, there is one question that seems to be rife among the rock and metal community: Where the hell are all of the rock bands?
“It wasn’t the bullet-belt-sporting, ale-drinking, macho bravado of Download or Sonisphere…”
Reading and Leeds have always had a rich heritage of alternative music. Even as recently as 2015, the Saturday bill at Reading was very much the ‘rock day’, showcasing bands like a reunited Alexisonfire, Marmozets’ massive final shows of ‘The Weird and Wonderful’ album cycle and being topped off by possibly the biggest metal band to ever walk the Earth, Metallica. So where has that gone? Rock music is in the best place it has been for years, with new and exciting bands crying out for a festival like R&L to give them the support that they desperately need in order to progress and grow as artists. Yet this year’s instalment is full of pop, dance and hip-hop that simply doesn’t relate in the slightest to the guise of Reading that I grew up with.
One of the major problems with R&L over the last couple of years (with this years lineup being a particular culprit) is the fact that the lineups feel incredibly safe. Reading and Leeds have always had a knack of pissing people off. Be it the billing of My Chemical Romance above Slayer in 2006, or the controversial drafting-in of Bring Me the Horizon to replace Slipknot in 2008, R&L have never been afraid to take a chance on something fresh and exciting, even if it upsets existing festival punters. However, looking at this year, gone are the risks in favour of bland pop-rock, like Fall Out Boy and Waterparks.
Above: Reading and Leeds festival exactly 10 years ago.
It would be unfair to argue that rock is completely unrepresented. To see Creeper, Underøath and Beartooth flying the alternative flag is amazing, however, a festival with the heritage of Reading and Leeds should have more. It’s hard to see how a band like Creeper won’t stick out like a sore thumb being billed between Waterparks and whoever the fuck Kojo Funds is. This is the crux of the problem. Reading and Leeds feels like it’s having an identity crisis, booking a whole host of acts from across the board in a vain attempt to appeal to everyone and their nan. It could be argued that R&L are trying to pull a ‘Metallica X Glastonbury’ moment, however, the true rock bands representing the scene at Reading and Leeds this year simply do not have the crossover pulling power that Metallica had over Glastonbury. This ultimately could lead to more My Chem, 2006 moments and nobody wants that for a band as good as Creeper.
Above: Discovered interviewing Thrice, Leeds Festival circa 2015
As far as the rock community is concerned, we’ve lost Reading and Leeds. However, is this a bad thing? Obviously, it’s a massive loss, as some of the most iconic festival moments from the world of rock and metal have taken place within the confines of R&L. Be it, Nirvana’s blistering headliner in 1992 or the triumphant return of Rage Against the Machine in 2008, Reading and Leeds have hosted some of the biggest landmarks in rock history. However, with the loss of Reading and Leeds as a rock festival, it could be argued that it leaves room for other rock based festivals to grow and expand. This has already started to happen, with Download introducing the Avalanche stage to house alternative rock, hardcore and punk bands, it seems as though the once ‘Reading and Leeds bands’ may have found themselves a new home.
To say it’s a disappointment that Reading and Leeds are giving rock and metal the boot is an understatement. Gone are the days of drinking Carling in the sun, while watching a slew of incredible bands kick off on the main stage over August bank holiday weekend, in favour of dodging post-exam teens covered in glitter who are ‘beyond excited to watch Imagine Dragons’. Will there be a saving grace? Will the next announcement bring us peace? What does the future really hold for this festival in the alternative realm?
WORDS: CALLUM HURST