Tuesday, 22 August 2017

MY ODE TO READING FESTIVAL: OUR RELATIONSHIP


I have made a point of not working out exactly how many Reading Festivals I have been a part of because I’m sure the exact number will only serve to make me feel even more ancient than I already do. Let’s just say it’s around the 15 mark. On the whole these sorts of realisations fill me with a horrible sense of doom and despair. However in this case I can positively say that my rather depressing number of years on this planet has meant I’ve been able to be present at Reading during some unimaginably awesome line ups, some life-changing live performances, as well as life altering personal epiphanies and hilarious calamities.  



Many of my early Reading Festivals weren’t documented in visual form via photos or video, because in those days the extent of our media kit were temperamental disposable cameras, and a few panicked texts on our Nokia’s saying  ‘Where are you?”. The results of said disposable cameras were always disappointing.…and worthy of disposing of quite frankly. When we picked up the yellow kodak packet from the developers many would be charcoal grey sheets of rectangle shiny photo paper, if the entire film hadn’t been completely ruined by water/urine damage or something.

Anyway, in this post, despite what will be an array of AWFUL photography I aim to look back at my personal Reading history, picking out some memories I hold fondly…and not so fondly. On my channel I’ve done all the packing videos, I’ve done the Q and A’s, talked about festival hygiene and wellness, and they all still get viewed every year ahead of the August bank holiday, so I thought I'd so something different this time. Instead I’m bringing you this personal flashback of my most visited festival and hopefully induce some cringe and excitement for the impending weekend. 

In 2002 I made the decision to go to Reading with a group of boys, the majority of whom I didn’t know very well. It may seem an odd decision to camp with strangers of the opposite sex for one of your first full on festival experiences, so I’ll explain. At that time of my life I was a tom boy, and had always had a lot of male friends (I was the sole girl invited to boys night’s out), but I was venturing into a new phase of my life where not all boys saw me merely as ‘one of the lads’ and there was one boy out of this group that had made it known. Although nothing had been cemented romantically, the late night texting and regular msn conversations prior to this weekend had made it clear we were fond of each other, in a more than friends type of way. I was a very late bloomer in the romantic arena, one of the last of my group to have my first kiss (I actually feared it would never happen), so I was a bit worried about what sharing a tent would lead to. However I thought the fact that there would be other people in the tent would bring a bit of a sealing point in terms of how far things would go, which stopped my inexperienced self from panicking too much. 


 Why is everyone 50% more twatty at festivals? Important question

Look at everyone sitting so politely like it's school assembley watching Weezer. Loving River's long sleeve under tee combo. So of the time.

In those days I suffered from bad acne, and pretty soon into the festival I could see my skin sprouting new things I didn’t want my face to be a garden for. I remembering feeling increasingly self conscious because I didn’t want the boys seeing my stroke on my Rimmell concealer like war paint to try and hide it, as I felt like it was admitting to them that I wasn’t naturally attractive, and that I was weak and (girly) and cared too much about my appearance. I didn’t realise till this festival how quickly my hair would become diabolical if unwashed and unbrushed, and how overly fragrant my young body would become- it was a big reality check that this would not the ideal place to ignite a romantic fire. Despite my accidental dreads, my skin which was a weird raspberry ripple colour because my pale concealer no longer matched my slightly sunburnt skin, and my body which was less than it’s freshest self, some sexy activities did occur in that claustrophobic and damp tent. After that I have to say I soon realised things weren’t going to progress with us long-term, and intentionally separated myself from the boy for a large remainder of the weekend - choosing to hang out with his mates or even make friends with strangers in the crowd. I was in that post sexual encounter awkwardness phase that many of us went through in our teens - wondering what they thought of us, our body, our smells, our technique etc. During this time of separation from the group I decided to check out some of my current favourites like Weezer who were playing the main-stage. Some other bands from that years stellar line-up included Incubus, Slipknot and mammoth headliners in the form of Prodigy (who blew my tiny little mind), The Strokes and Foo Fighters.

As predicted our brief romantic tryst lead to a complete fizzling out of whatever had been forming, but we became good friends, and I can safely say this festival was the catalyst behind a different lust - a passion of alt/rock/metal music. Aside from stand alone concerts which I was attending regularly, the bulk of my ‘festival’ experiences had been the very PG Party in The Park (a yearly event from Capital FM featuring charts acts/legend/musical performances). Despite feeling. and looking rank, I loved the freeing feeling of getting a bit grimy in the fields, being forced to bump and grind against a sweaty/hairy back in the mosh pit, eating noodles riddlds with MSG, being the Soph that my parents didn’t know, and most importantly….discovering bands to obsess over. 



2004
was one of those year’s that has gone down in Reading history, alongside the year 2000 when cartoon humans Daphne and Celeste dared to grace the main stage, much to rock fans dismay - I remember recording The Big Breakfast so I could show my parents what had happened at the festival. This year it would be 50 Cent who would feel a wrath for bringing mainstream/ chart hip hop to the MainStage. It wasn’t long after he came on the stage, full of bravado, that he started performing a little further back, trying to avoid the bottles (and far worse) being pelted from the crowd in the direction of his being. But did he just take it? Course not. It wasn’t long before some of his entourage came out with a crate of water bottles to start a counter attack. If I can remember correctly the show came to a premature end. It was also this year that Rasmus suffered a similar fate, I remember seeing one missile catch the singer rather painfully directly in the face. I actually felt really bad for them, as I don’t think they had any idea of their polarising quality here in the UK, and the fact their single ‘In The Shadows’ had been so overplayed. They looked genuinely hurt.  


 I didn't queue but took a shot of them at the signing

The next year I want to talk about is 2005, because the line up was unbelievable and one that people today would still pay a lot of money to experience. The Pixies,The Killers, Queens of the Stone Age Foo Fighters Kings of Leon, Biffy Clyro,The All-American Rejects, Iron Maiden Marilyn Manson, Incubus, Iggy and The Stooges, NOFX, Funeral for a Friend, Alkaline Trio, My Chemical Romance, Bullet for My Valentine, and thats just to name a few. At that stage of my life I was also into bands that came under the indie bracket, the sort of acts that were being featured in magazines like Select and Melody Maker. On the NME stage we had The Cribs, Hot Hot Heat (how good was their song Bandages) The Subways, Babyshambles, Arcade Fire, Bloc Party, just to name a very few. On the Carling stage there The National, early stage Arctic Monkeys and the short lived but awesome Test Icicles. In short, 2005 was unreal, and perhaps my favourite line up to date. This was a year I was full of nativity and the zest of youth, and was completely committed to getting in the thick of things. As you can see from these horrendously bad photos I was deep in the mosh pit  for Marilyn Manson, Foo Fighters and Incubus, and didn’t care that it would mean smelling like a bin for the rest of the weekend. 
 
The Killers at their signing....look at those early noughties skate belts. 
 Examples of abysmal disposable imagery - Marilyn Manson -
 Kings of Leon - before the sexy plaid makeover when they were elf princes
 Queens of The Stoneage with no clear facial features.
This is Bloc Party, honestly

In 2012 I was well into a new phase of my festival-ing. I was no longer going as a regular punter and instead working at the festival in the guise of a journalist. This year I was at the Leeds site as I was working with Relentless at one of their official bloggers, interviewing artists performing on their late night dance stage. I was also working as an official on camera interviewer for the festival too - delivering all the interviews on the run up, and on the weekend of the festival for their YouTube channel. It was such a huge honour to get that job, but extremely daunting too. I knew I’d had to prepare myself not only for a huge workload, but also for the trolling that comes hand in hand with doing the main interviews for a festival. I don’t think people realise how much having ten interviews in a row can challenge you mentally, that’s a lot of names, dates, album names etc to remember. It was a steep learning curve for me having always written my own questions and edited all my interviews myself, to give control to someone else, and conduct interviews how they wanted so it was suitable for their audience. It would prepare me really well for future presenting work for other clients though, and an experience I would very much do again.

 It was really hard having wrapped up my day of interview after interview, and running from backstage to a different stage's backstage to meet the bands and film, to then head to the late night tent to do my interviews for Relentless. I remember one of the headlining DJ’s deciding he wanted to do his interview after his set instead of before, meaning I had to wait around to 3am to do it. I remember being so tired I felt teary.

I also remember hoping this work would be the turning point for me, but also feeling frustrated that it had come at a time when I was at my lowest ebb. As you can see from the pictures/videos my hair is shorter than I usually had it, and that is because I was suffering from extreme hair loss due to stress and had cut it short in an attempt to make it look its usual thick self. I had suffered a huge trauma which I hadn’t started to deal with it, so was dealing with depression and decline of my health in general. I tried to keep a brave face on it as I giggled with The Blackout, shared party tricks with Bastille, took in second hand smoke with Justice, and danced badly with Don Broco, but it really was struggle. I still feel sad that this opportunity didn’t come when I was a bit older and in a better place, I’m sure I could have smashed it at another time. Anyway lots of great memories and footage to look back on nonetheless. 

Dancing with Matt and Simon of Don Broco
Interviewing The Blackout in 2012 - miss those faces


 It might just be me but he looks a bit like that guy from 5SOS no?

There were a few years that I attended Reading my one of my oldest friends Laura (we’ve known each other since we were four). One year she joined me with my friends from art school (why is it always scary to mix different groups of friends) and another year she brought her housemate Liz. Every time we had an awesome weekend because we are huge people-watching fans, and Reading delivers an abundance of amusing and ridiculous sights courtesy of the mixture of fun loving people attending. There was the year we made friends with Mikey from Big Brother (of Grace and Mikey fame), the year we decided to take everyone up on those free hugs, and then year we decided that we’d never do it again. Laura has since worked as a high flyer at L’Oreal and Nails Inc, and now works as Personal Trainer, but when we were young she pursued a career in music via internships. Some of the acts she was working on were Natasha Bedingfield, as well as Mudrugada and a new band called Kasabian she wanted to show me at the festival. Who knew years later that I’d interview them and then a few years further they’d be headlining this legendary festival.

Laura was also present one of the early years. We used to camp near the stream so we could pee there in the night (where all the blokes did with their much handier urine transporters) rather than trek to the stinky toilets with our torches. This lead to numerous icky but ‘funny in hindsight’ moments. There was the time we trod in human poo, and found the owner of aforementioned excrement. The time I slipped when squatting for a pee and ended up essentially bathing in the pee stream. My leg  had been freshly shaven, so I inevitably had to brave an angry looking infected leg for the rest of the weekend…lovely. 

Reading 2010 was another year I went with a group of boys. I had a guest pass but was choosing to spend my time with my pal Grant and his mates on site instead. At this point I had started to get to know the Young Guns guys, but it was early days and way before Si and I got lusty. They were opening the mainstage and I remember telling my friends we had to catch them, even though they were hungover and wanting to fester in the tent for a bit longer. I know it's a bit cringe to admit, but I was genuinely a fan of their music. Thank goodness though, otherwise the last 5 years would have been pretty grim. 


I can’t remember which year this next memory was created, probably because my brain has tried to blank it out like it tends to do with some of the less favourable moments. I was with my friend Claire who was part of my festival team for many years (she sadly got stolen by an aussie bloke and lives on the other side of the world now). One year at the festival with her I discovered my then boyfriend had another girlfriend. He had invited her to the festival as his plus 1, not realising I would be there. Idiot. Did I go home? No. Did I drown my sorrows and do a simultaneous cry/vomit in a portaloo. Nope. After all what’s going to pick you up/allow you to wallow, better than singing your lungs out to a heartfelt song with thousands of people.
This was also the year I discovered Silent Disco’s and the fact they are the best thing to be invented…ever. Claire was also my 'Deftones' pal. I remember one year we travelled back to London from Reading (I think it was The Forum) to watch Deftones play, even though we would be seeing them play the festival the next day. Die hards for Deftones.

I've done a number of interviews with high profile acts over my years at Reading - , Twenty One Pilots, Fall out Boy, Imagine Dragons, All Time Low, Maccabees to name a few, but none made me more nervous than BabyMetal. I don't use notes for interviews, preferring to chat and see what flows, but for this I had to send over  questions over that I wanted to ask (within a range of acceptable themes) which would then get the go ahead and be sent over to prepare the band and their translator. I didn't realise on top of that, that a huge crowd of people would gather round to watch as I carried out this 'out of the oridinary' chat. They were delightful, polite and extremely sweet, but I couldn't hear a word because of the buzz and hubub their presence had caused. Definitely one of my more stressful memories.
Also the year my friends and I competed to wear the worst t-shirt they could find

If anyone’ still reading this after my poo stream admission, lets fast forward to this year. Having spent the last few years chatting away in the press tent for the majority of the weekend I am making changes this year. I want to enjoy the atmosphere that non guest/press enjoy, out in front of the stages, and outside of the confides of the ‘work’ arena. I will of course be utilising the luxury of the guest loo’s (regularly) and making using of the guest benches which are so vital to me these days when festivals are becoming increasingly difficult to get through, but I want to experience this incredible festival a bit more like I used to….minus the mosh pit activity of course (way too old for that). I know it makes you feel super cool to be side of stage (our inner ego loves it too) but the sound and  the view is genuinely the best in the field, so do enjoy being part of that community. Singing along with your friends, those you’ve gone with and those you’ve made over the weekend, delivers an unbeatable high and it’s one that shouldn’t be taken for granted. How lucky we are to experience bands that infiltrate our day to day life, in person, with all the beautiful imperfections that ring out during a live performance.

I know this piece has been littered with memories that some may view as negative, less than ideal….even gross, but I want to inform you that to me, this is a love letter of sorts to my beloved Reading Festival. Who said love was ever simple, seamless and unblemished. 

Making memories with The Superket Noel last year


My relationship with Reading has been longer than many marriages, about ten times as long as most celeb ones. We’ve been through some shit, literally, but we stick together through it all. We’ll have good years (line ups), we’ll have less good years . For better, for worse, in sickness and in health I’ll still be there. Till death us do part. You get the gist. I’m completely devoted to you, dearest Reading festival, because you’ve taught me so much…. about me, love, friendship and the unifying and healing power of music. Every year you bring colour and energy to my summer and manage to reignite love for bands I’ve been neglecting, and introduce me to new ones that will decorate my Autumn, and lift me during post festival-season blues. Reading, you’ve come a long way baby. You’re willing to try anything, you’re daring and happy to mix with those different to you, you're contemporary, you embrace the old and the new…and you make a lot better food these days. Here’s to many more happy years together.

Let me know in the comments if you're going to be there...
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1 comment

Corrie said...

Hi Sophie, just wanted to reach out and say thank you for inspiring me. I've been to Reading Festival over the last couple of years, my first was actually 2012, the year you were the official interviewer. From watching those videos i began to understand my dream job would be in the realm of music journalism. Now, five years later, I'm just back from Reading again, but this year I had a guest press pass with the opportunity to review the festival for my uni magazine. I did keep an eye out for you because I wanted to say thanks in person, but I guess here is a good place to start! I hope you had a lovely weekend and thank you so much for helping me begin my journey into the scary adult world of work xx

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