You’re never too old for Reading Festival
Too late to the party or just in time? Reading 2022 left me feeling more introspective than I could ever have imagined.
I am ever the optimist when it comes to aging. I turn 25 next month and I don’t fear it for a second. But much as I happily dismiss the qualms my fellow mid-20s friends make about how we don’t quite have the energy we might have had back at uni, one thing had been lingering as of late: I still hadn’t been to Reading Festival.
For those outside of the UK, Reading and Leeds Festival are a universal coming-of-age event for many of Britain’s teenagers. I was close to having mine some while back; my mates and I almost planned to go after we finished our GCSEs, but I wasn’t confident enough. Indeed, I wasn’t confident enough in anything to do with myself, but those days are long past me.
And yet, for as far as I have come since the murky times of being 16, a piece has remained missing. Reading has beckoned to me for too long now, and with a line-up as good as the one this year, I knew my time had finally come.
Would it all be too late for me however? Speaking of those GCSEs, barely my second set of the weekend saw PinkPantheress asking the crowd who had passed theirs last Thursday. That same Thursday, I had been working on email copy and taking in stats on Salesforce. It’s been a long time since I was in a school uniform.
But none of that mattered. Not even for a second. There I am finally getting to see one of my favourite artists in the world right now bang out the music that got her Sourhouse’s Debut of the Year 2021. The Radio 1 Dance Tent is absolutely packed, and I only manage to squeeze in near the end. I feel tears welling up in my eyes; Pink’s music, so effortlessly capturing the lust and directionlessness of being in your late teens, feels like it was born for this moment.
“…almost every set this weekend felt like it was monumental in its own way. Reading’s scale helps to guarantee that…”
Being an older listener of hers, I feel I’m somehow able to judge that this is a really significant set in her career. But on reflection, it’s more an impact of the context; almost every set this weekend felt like it was monumental in its own way. Reading’s scale helps to guarantee that, and at last, I’ve been able to experience the ten-thousand-person-crowd euphoria I’ve seen on so many TV broadcasts of its past.
It’s that weight of significance, however, that I’m finding myself come back to most of all. Perhaps it was the fact I saw so many artists this weekend that I’ve waited a long while to see – DMAs, Little Simz, Charli XCX, 100 Gecs, the Arctic-sodding-Monkeys and Fontaines D.C. to name a few – but I feel like I’m experiencing something deeper. Many of those artists have songs that inspire a sense of nostalgia. I have friends for whom our friendship has revolved around their music.
No doubt, thousands of festival goers go through this exact same thought process every year, all helped a little by the emotions of being constantly tipsy and overtired. For me, those past years of listening and sharing in the love for that music came into a reminiscent view. I was 21 at DMAs, 17 at Arctic Monkeys, 23 at Megan Thee Stallion.
In that sense, I felt a chance to connect with my past. It felt wary, however; I hate the idea of lusting too hard for years gone by. But, as the days crept towards weekend’s end, I saw a resolution emerge: a chance to establish how I wish to go forward.
“Amongst the bonkers few years we’ve had and where my cultural tastes have taken me, I saw a moment of clarity in returning to a style I’ve always, always loved.”
Naturally, in this late-stage capitalist hell hole we’re living through, that meant purchasing something. A t-shirt from the Dream But Do Not Sleep stand – they’re a unisex clothing brand dedicated to rave-inspired fashion who I’ve followed on Instagram for god knows how long, yet I’d never quite got round to purchasing something from them. Job done at long last; the embroidered navy blue piece I bought reminds me of my everlasting obsession with the aesthetic of Acid House and my immutable desire to wear Adidas whenever I’m on a night out.
Amongst the bonkers few years we’ve had and where my cultural tastes have taken me, I saw a moment of clarity in returning to a style I’ve always, always loved. There’s no name for it, it’s just the particular blend of music, fashion and font choices that I love. Yet, I saw it everywhere across the festival in the love of expressing yourself that only festivals truly bring. Sure, there were also acres of topless men, but even then, you could still see the joy on their faces.
At the end of the day, Reading still means spending the best part of a week with 100,000 teenagers, and it’s here that I must confess I didn’t camp. A good friend of ours (and a Reading veteran himself) let us stay at his house nearby, thus turning it into the closest thing to Coachella I will ever experience. The campsites, meanwhile, are a sight to behold. The media will always do all they can to overhype the fires and the litter and the mayhem, but the reality is that the chaos has a certain allure.
“…I hadn’t appreciated that half of the conversation about Reading is a vying for whose opinion matters the most – my mistake.”
Indeed, the media love to egg on any chance to have a moan about the festival. Much has and will continue to be said about all of the bigger acts this weekend, and I hadn’t appreciated that half of the conversation about Reading is a vying for whose opinion matters the most – my mistake. The endless takes about how ‘the campsites are a joke’ and that the music’s ‘not like it used to be’ and the whole thing is ‘losing touch’ with its rock roots wreaks of boredom and Twitter individuality compex. It started out as a jazz festival anyway you fucking morons.
The fact of the matter is this; Reading has always hosted some of the biggest acts in music, and it has always evolved. In the 60s and 70s, it reveled in Blues and Folk. In the 80s, it balanced Punk and New Wave with Heavy Metal. In the 90s and 2000s, it ran a non-stop buffet of Britpop, Indie and Pop Punk. And now, out of its somewhat turbulent transition in the 2010s, it’s become a frankly irresistible blend of Hip Hop, Pop and Alternative.
Curiously – and predictably, of course – the arrogance of those opinionheads was difficult to find amongst the ever-cheering crowds. Few stages weren’t packed wherever I found myself over the weekend. Few people weren’t having the absolute time of their lives. It’s okay to admit that, deep down, you want the same thing.
“There is something so deeply, intrinsically British about it, from the screams at the fairground rides to the tinnies-in-the-park vibe of the arena…”
What strikes me now as I sit in my hoodie on day 2 of no doubt quite a few more days of recovery is how prophetic the whole thing feels. I’ve lived much of life thinking that I would only get some truly world-changing mystic experience at a festival that dedicates itself to them – Glasto, Green Man and the like.
But Reading, as it turns out, has been my one. Sure, it’s not the kind of festival to have entrancing light shows and forest raves, but its simplicity and familiarity means the music does all the talking. There is something so deeply, intrinsically British about it, from the screams at the fairground rides to the tinnies-in-the-park vibe of the arena that leaves you feeling that you were a part of the year’s cultural zeitgeist. The sense too that the same thing is happening 200 miles north up in Leeds further adds to it.
Equally British have been the TikToks I’ve scrolled through on Monday of people napping on station platforms surrounded by camping equipment, or trying to find any way to sit comfortably on a coach as they headed home. On our drive back, we saw quite a few cars with boots stuffed with festival gear, each overtake passing off a thread of our shared experience.
What a brilliant idea it was to put this all up on August Bank Holiday too. A perfect way to cash in on the finality of summer’s end, a last-chance saloon for this year’s outdoor moshing availability. At the end of the day, the feeling that you have to experience this all at least once overpowers any concerns about age. I leave Reading 2022 with a renewed sense of self, of who I’ve been and who I want to be, and most of all, the music I want to listen to.
Reading Festival 2022, 26th-28th August 2022