August 11, 2011

Favourite Reading and Leeds festivals- Reading 1991

In its earlier years, Reading festival (now Reading and Leeds festival) was dominated by bands from the hippy scene, branding itself as a jazz, blues and rock festival and giving slots to bands such as The Rolling Stones in 1963 and Pink Floyd and The Who in 1969, once the festival had grown. Similar bands took the headline slots through the 70's but as the hippy scene made a natural progression into heavier rock, the festival followed suit, and by the late 70's and 80's, the festival's line-up became predominantly made up of heavy rock, punk and metal. Alternative music was barely represented at the festival apart from the occasional, smaller slots given to the likes of The Fall in 1987 and My Bloody Valentine and The Butthole Surfers in 1989. This was, however, the beginning of a gradual change towards alternative music for Reading festival. Pixies' important headline slot on the main stage in 1990 acted as a catalyst for this change and gave the festival confidence to book alternative acts and to put them in the headline slots. After this seminal moment, the festival enjoyed a glorious five-year spell of American grunge and alternative giants as well as emerging Britpop and shoegaze bands from closer to home dominating the line-up. this golden period allowed the festival to show a more eclectic mix of acts on more, specialist stages and even at a twin festival in Leeds. Embracing independent music has allowed the festival to become what it is today, Britain's leading alternative music festival.---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- When it comes to choosing my favourite year at Reading (and Leeds) festival, I immediately thought of said golden era, between 1990 and 1994, when alternative music thrived, not only at the festival, but on the whole. These five years produced five fantastic Reading festivals which featured several performances from the best of the new wave of American alternative bands, such as Pixies, Pavement, Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth as well as British bands such as Radiohead and Blur. Each individual festival was brilliant in its own way, whether it's the fantastic, grunge-heavy line-up on the Sunday in 1992 or the pair of brilliant, back-to-back performances from The Lemonheads and Dinosaur Jr. (I personally can't think of two bands who would complement each other more in a line-up) and Radiohead and Blur (although Radiohead later dropped out) in 1993. I personally, however, believe that the strongest line-up which offers the highest quality and variety of bands amongst this five-year spell and in the history of the festival, for that matter, is that of 1991.----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The line-up features a good mix of British and American bands who, between them, cover a wide range of genres although the running themes throughout seem to be loud guitars and enigmatic front-men. The first band that I would see on the Friday is Nirvana, a prime example of this. And whether you like them or not, their thrashed guitars and growled vocals infused with intelligent song writing and genuine pop hooks from the transitional period between 'Bleach' and 'Nevermind' would be impossible to ignore. In hindsight, seeing them in their natural and more comfortable environment of a smaller stage, earlier in the day would be an incredible experience not to be missed and a stark contrast to their huge headline slot a year later. The polarity of these two performances shows the band's phenomenal growth in one year. Following Nirvana are the brilliant and often overlooked shoegaze band Chapterhouse who find themselves trapped between loud, distortion-driven, American bands but who provide a breath of fresh air with their vibrant, up-beat, bass-driven, anthems. Next on are Dinosaur Jr. who, armed with noise from their first four albums, including the fantastic 'You're Living All Over Me' and 'Bug', as well as J Mascis' huge solos, would, no doubt, rip apart the main stage and get the crowd warmed up nicely for Sonic Youth later on that night. It's just a shame that hip-hop rejects Pop Will Eat Itself had to fall between the two. The night ends with Sonic Youth and the Iggy Pop, a true testimony to the progression of punk rock up to that point, with firstly a post-punk band (in its literally sense) at the forefront of rock experimentalism at that time and secondly the "proto-punk" who started it all twenty years prior.----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Although Saturday has a more British feel to it, overall, it does start with Mercury Rev. Their epic, classically-geared pop does, however, sit nicely on the line-up next to Britpop and shoegaze bands. The next band that i would see on the Saturday would be Teenage Fanclub who, after the Americans set the marker down the day before, show that we can do noise here in the UK too with their loud, brash brand of power-pop. After their masterpiece 'Bandwagonesque', released on the legendary Creation Records, they would be unmissable and unstoppable. The same applies for Blur who are next up on the main stage and playing off the back of their exceptional debut 'Leisure' which remains to this day one of the best albums from the Britpop movement. After these two fantastic pop band in their prime, we are presented with the odd, anti-pop combination of De La Soul followed by The Fall. Both are undoubtedly experimental, progressive and subsequently influential within their respective genres and both are challenging lyrically, yet completely different to one another. Although I'd watch both bands, I'd be more excited for The Fall to see Mark E. Smith spit his venomous poetry on top of a dizzying post-punk backing track. In terms of Saturday's headliner, I'd miss Britpoppers James to see ex Orange Juice front-man Edwyn Collins play his bluesy pop on the second stage.------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The Sunday offers disappointingly little except for shoegaze outsiders Kitchens of Distinction and Ned's Atomic Dustbin. The headliners, The Sisters of Mercy, are a hiccup from the darker days of the festival, in both meanings of the word. In spite of this weak day, I still would go to this Reading festival over any other to see the 90's music scene in bloom. But it is great to see on 2011's line-up, exactly twenty years after, that the spirit of 90's music lives on with a fantastic line-up featuring new bands such as Yuck, The Horrors, Grouplove, Tribes, Big Deal, to name a few, as well as resurrected Gods Pulp flying the 90's flag.

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