Next weekend sees the return of one of the most popular and talked about UK festivals of the last 30 years…Reading and Leeds! When I was a teenager in the 00s it was a right of passage to go to Reading Festival the year that you finished your GCSEs or A Levels, and it really was THE festival to go to. I’ve been to Reading four times in total – 2008, 2009, 2016 and 2017 – and I loved it every time! Even though my interest has dwindled in recent years, I still consider it a big player in the UK festival scene.
Last week saw a bit of a blow for the festival when Rage Against The Machine pulled out of the headline slot following ‘medical guidance’, but the organisers recovered quickly – albeit with inevitable backlash – by announcing The 1975 as the replacement. The catalyst for writing this article though was the news this week that Jack Harlow and Maneskin have pulled out of this year’s Reading and Leeds to play the MTV VMAs. I was a bit shocked to be honest that two acts had decided to pull out when they really didn’t need to, and it made me think….has Reading and Leeds lost its credibility?
Over the last 10-15 years it’s become more apparent that Reading and Leeds strive for relevance more than anything else, which in fairness isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Reading and Leeds’ audience for as long as I can remember has been, and probably still is, teenagers. It was always a straight up rock and indie festival for the younger generation, and it was the best at it. They had the best lineup, they clearly appealed to their target audience, and everyone was happy.
If you look at recent lineups though, you’ll notice how the festival drifts further and further away from rock and indie. I don’t have an issue with that – it’s not what the kids are into, and that’s fine. What I do have an issue with though is that the festival is now not only trying to cater to their target audience, but they’re half-heartedly trying to please the older fans (like me!). If you take this year’s lineup for example, what I see is a completely random selection of artists that screams identity crisis. For fans like me, peppering the line up with some of the bands I do like isn’t enticing enough when there’s an abundance of bands I wouldn’t normally listen to. Even with two headliners a day it still just doesn’t interest me – more than anything, I’m not sure I’m a fan of the concept. Completely getting rid of the NME stage – the second biggest stage which had the best indie acts going – and the pit/lockup, and seeing the Dance stage just underneath the main stage, was saddening to see too.
As well as marginalising the older fans, Reading and Leeds’ ‘identity crisis’ is also diluting its uniqueness. By trying to please everyone, it no longer has focus and doesn’t seem to have as many of the ‘best’ artists. Looking at the 2022 lineup, it’s by no means bad and for the most part the headliners are fantastic – Arctic Monkeys, The 1975, Bring Me The Horizon, Dave, these are all huge names in the UK. If you look a bit further though, is Halsey really a headline-worthy act at one of the biggest UK festivals? And of the rock and indie bands that are still getting invites, are they really the most exciting rock and indie bands around? All Time Low, Enter Shikari, Bastille, Wallows…I’ll let you be the judge! I’m not here to have a go at individual artists though – it’s just that when you look at the festival as a whole, and you’re bringing in more American pop acts who may not have a connection with the festival, is it all that surprising when one of them pulls out to play an MTV awards show? That being said, I do take my hat off to Reading and Leeds for responding to previous criticism and making sure the lineup – including the headline acts – is more diverse.
So, has Reading and Leeds lost its credibility amongst the alumni who are now in their 30s and 40s? Most likely. Has Reading and Leeds lost its credibility with some of the biggest international acts in the industry? Yes. But most importantly, has it lost its credibility with teenagers, who after all are the festival’s target audience? To be honest, the answer is probably no! It’s not a good look when big names like Jack Harlow pull out of your festival, and I don’t know what the future looks like for the Reading and Leeds, but weekend tickets for this year have sold out and I’m sure everyone attending will still have one of the best experiences of their lives!