About This Festival
It’s impossible to talk about the Leeds Festival without also talking about the Reading Festival. These tag-team music events share nearly the same DNA, taking place on the same bank holiday weekend, featuring the same bands, and sporting the same lovably defiant streak. With a history of headliners like Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, or more recently Green Day, The Cure, Kasabian, and Foo Fighters, these twin events are considered among the world’s best rock concerts. Tickets are known sell out in a couple of hours.
Reading is the older of the two (the world’s oldest continuously running contemporary music event, in fact!) and had its start in 1961 as—of all things—a jazz festival. It’s winning melee of hardrock, punk, indie and metal bands (with some hip-hop, rap and RnB thrown in for good measure) had fans busting the seams at Little John’s Farm in central Reading. To accommodate this growth, Leeds Festival was spawned as a second branch in 1999. But is there enough interest to sustain two whole festivals with the very same line-ups and on very same weekend? Apparently so. These days, the events collectively boast about 180,000 attendees.
Into the Wild
Both festivals have wild reputations which they are only mildly apologetic for. A certain amount of tension is inevitable when you stake your identity in the alternative music world. These are fans that process angst with power chords, not kumbaya, and that’s all part of the fun. How wild can this party get? Let’s just say the organizers make a point of installing toilet blocks that are nonflammable, and stress that there are no diaper changing areas. In other words, leave the kids at home.
The Leeds Festival has contended with big crowd energy since rioting forced it out of its original location at Temple Newsam. It then blasted its way into the elegant Bramham Park with Metallica, The Black Keys, and Linkin Parkin 2003. This move represented a new start for the festival, although the riots and violence did not completely go away.
These days the festival tries to give the fans (and the bands) as long of a leash as possible while preventing chaos. By enlisting stepped-up security and good relations with surrounding communities, the festival is proving that every full-power party need not become a riot, or every antic a cause for injury. When the festival achieves this balance, it works like any good mosh pit, choreographing a fun sense of lawlessness while minimizing actual disruption.
Keeping the Contrarians Happy
The music line-up is often at the center of the clashes as the festival tries on slightly different identities from year to year. Sometimes the changes work, sometimes not. In the past, rather than casting votes, the crowds at Reading & Leeds cast bottles at any performance that didn’t suit them. Steel Pulse, Daphne & Celeste, Lethal Bizzle and 50 Cent are among the bottling victims.
These days it takes a pretty bad performance to provoke a bottling. That’s partly because the addition of several stages make it easier to please everyone. In fact, Leeds is becoming known for its distinctively diverse line-up. While metal, indie, rock, and alternative form the core of its main stage offerings, in 2013 things took a dance-y turn when the festival booked Disclosure and Skrillexon the NME/Radio 1 Stage. The festival has also taken on more elements of hip-hop and RnB with the dedicated 1Xtra Stage. The Lock Up Stage showcases underground punk acts like Alkaline Trio, and the BBC Introducing Stage makes room for unsigned acts with promise. So, if festivalgoers don’t like what they hear on one stage, they can simply go somewhere else. And if amid the crowds and intensity they lose their sense of humor, there are comedy acts in the alternative tent
As much as things change, the festival also sticks with what works: Green Day and Eminem have been return guests, and The Arctic Monkeys, Jake Bugg, 1975, Blink-182, The Courteeners, Of Mice & Men and Annie Mac have also appeared more than once.
Whatever the line-up, the repertoire at the Reading & Leeds Festivals has been thematically consistent through the years. The fans may gravitate toward different genres—punk, rap, or metal—but all believe in the power of good music and seem to share the same contempt for mainstream pop.