“All I remember is the shit” – NME writers remember their first Reading & Leeds experiences

Reading & Leeds is... this weekend, OMG! So here are some NME writers remembering the first time they ever trod on those festivals' hallowed turf, to help you avoid making the same mistakes we did

2000

“WE TRIED TO WASH WITH VODKA. IT SMELLED BAD.”

By Charlotte Gunn

Reading 2000

‘Twas the millennium. The GCSE results were in and we set off from school with our backpacks on ready to have the most debauched weekend of our lives.

Back then, at Reading Festival, you could camp without a wristband so a few straggler mates came along for the tent-based bants alone.

The lineup was everything 16-year-old me wanted. Beck! Rage Against The Machine! Elliot Smith! Eminem! Foo Fighters! Gomez! (lol)

Beck’s Midnite Vultures-era set was a highlight. Mr Hansen finished it off by wrapping the stage up in crime-scene tape, with a sense of abandon that made me question his CSI credentials. I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen, because it was.

My friend Sarah lost her shoe in the pit at Alien Ant Farm but the kindly moshers halted the body slamming to help her look for it.

Eminem told us Aaliyah had died. We had a one minute silence. I’m not sure I knew who Aaliyah was at the time. These days, I would have Googled it but instead we all looked sombre and told people back at the tents: “did you hear about Aaliyah?”

We had a lack of water and an abundance of vodka. We tried to wash with it. We brushed our teeth with it. It smelled bad. My friend Caroline spilled a bottle of poppers in her eye. We all thought she’d gone blind for a bit. My friend Martin fell in a river full of piss.

I spent a lot of it being jealous I was there with my then-boyfriend and couldn’t partake in trips to “make friends” aka snog boys with all my single compadres. Though, we did look cute in our matching black Rage hoodies, shouting “TIMMMMYYYYYY” and “BOLLOCKS” with the best of them.

And then there was Daphne and Celeste: the piss-soaked set of legend. Who knew, people would be talking about it for years to come.

The memories are certainly hazy. I want to say that it was the best weekend of my life but I have a feeling I spent a lot of it experiencing what I now know to be ‘FOMO’ and being concerned that having a very serious boyfriend at 16 was very much not The One. Still, you live and learn. Sort of.

2005

“ON THE FINAL NIGHT THERE WERE FULL-SCALE RIOTS WITH FIRES AND POLICE VANS AND EVERYTHING”
By Andrew Trendell

What a time to be alive.

My mates and I were indie kids in Converse, blazers covered in badges, and those weird floppy canvas belts, and this was going to be our summer. Our awkward Inbetweeners Carling-fuelled summer. We bought tickets via telephone (!) the moment they went on sale, and were among the few year 10s at our school to make the great adventure to Yorrrrrrkshire.

We bought early access tickets so we could set up camp on Wednesday, for some reason. Maybe that was a 17-year-old’s idea of fun. Three of us crammed into a two-man tent loaded with crisps, warm Carling and some ill-fitting novelty items we’d bought from the Oxfam tent. We spotted Youtube chav sensation Devvo camping nearby, but were more obsessed with the Andrew WK lookalike who’d lose his shit whenever we played ‘Party Hard’. The weather was perfect. The air was thick with sweat, fire and vomit. 

The first band I saw were Art Brut on the NME stage, which is the most 2005 thing ever. I had energy back then. Maybe it was the piss-weak Carling, but aside from that my memories are few and far between. I remember my emo mates made me watch toss like Funeral For A Friend and All American Rejects. I remember that Editors, Do Me Bad Things and The Longcut were all terribly exciting. I remember that Arctic Monkeys were just starting to blow up, so we had to stand on some bins to get a glimpse into the Carling tent. I remember we had much more luck running to the front for the then unknown We Are Scientists, who played a blinder. 

What else? LCD Soundsystem into The Futureheads into Bloc Party remains the most brutal gig experience of my life so far. No one in the NME tent was left standing, but it was worth it because Bloc Party were going to be our generation’s Smiths and ‘Silent Alarm’ was our generation’s album. Somewhere else, Josh Homme made the solo to ‘No One Knows’ last like 20 minutes, which was sick. The Killers weren’t very good but we were smashed enough to see it through. There were conversations about how long Pete Doherty would live for. Biffy were weird. Kings Of Leon were weird. Johnny Borrell was a bellend. And festival-goers still communicated entirely in Alan Partridge quotes. 

On the final night there was a full-scale riot with fires and police vans and everything, and you felt you’d earned the right to go home. Your wristband was a badge of honour, and you’d wear it for years. There were no hangovers, only good times. I’ve been to every single Reading & Leeds since. The morning’s grow more difficult, but the good times roll on. 

What a time to be alive.

2007

“I GOT A BIT JEALOUS WHEN MY FIRST EVER GIRLFRIEND SWOONED OVER A HARROWINGLY BEAUTIFUL JOHNNY BORRELL”
By Jordan Bassett

Leeds Festival is not for lovers. And yet I went to my first ever one with my first ever girlfriend. What were we expecting? A punt along the primordial rivers of muds and ooze? A candle-lit horsemeat burger to the distant strains of Nine Inch Nails? A sight-seeing tour that featured an up-close view of a boy chundering into a metal bin emitting black flames and nitrous oxide? Well, the year was 2007 and, like most adolescent blunders, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

For the most part, it was. If you’re a person of a certain age who, at 17, didn’t know the lyrics to every song from the first We Are Scientists album, you weren’t doing it right. 2007 was a golden age for now-dubious indie: The Pigeon Detectives, Maxïmo Park and – yes – even The Twang featured at Leeds that year. It was the ideal first festival for those of us who wanted our lives to be like Skins, but knew deep down they were much more Inbetweeners.

Admittedly I got a bit jealous when my first ever girlfriend swooned over a topless and harrowingly beautiful Johnny Borrell during Razorlight’s headline set. We’re not together any more.

2009

“I FORGOT MONEY, AND CLOTHES, AND HOW TO NOT BECOME A SHELL OF A MAN”
By Will Richards

Reading 2009 was a significant moment in my life, as well as in that of the festival itself. Back in the days when it saw a Glastonbury-like ticket rush, I got one that involved me travelling to the site on a coach on the Wednesday, pitching my tent, then going home on Thursday to pick up my very average GCSE results, then returning to Reading that afternoon.

In the pre-festival excitement (listening to every band on the line-up, printing an itinerary that involved watching bands from midday to midnight every day), I somehow forgot the ‘important’ stuff (money, clothes, any kind of safeguarding against becoming a shell of a man).

But from the launch of QOTSA/Foos/Led Zep supergroup Them Crooked Vultures, to Arctic Monkeys launching their ‘Humbug’ era, to Kings of Leon putting in a distinctly stroppy headline set, to Radiohead playing a stunning greatest hits show to close things out, it felt like Reading & Leeds had been tailored purely for me, an indie kid. 

I feel very lucky to have been able to catch it before the festival morphed into the beast it is now. Sure, after repeatedly being too busy watching bands to eat proper food, I did end up collapsing out of exhaustion on the barrier half way through Radiohead, but I wouldn’t change it for anything.

2010

“WE CAREFULLY RATIONED ONE CRATE OF BEER BETWEEN US, AND WERE IN BED BY MIDNIGHT EVERY NIGHT”
By Hannah Mylrea

First time I went to Reading, getting tickets was a right old palaver. After eagerly tuning into Radio 1 to hear the line-up being announced live on air, me and my mates worked together to (shock horror) phone up and buy tickets. Eventually we all got our mitts on a weekend pass.

Once on site I was determined to have the best time ever. We set up in Orange (having been reliably informed by somebody’s older brother that this was where the party would be at), and began the debauchery. And by debauchery I mean carefully sharing and rationing one crate of beer between us, failing to get into a rammed silent disco for late night shenanigans, and most likely being in bed by midnight each evening. 

Rock ‘n’ roll.

 I made some mistakes that weekend. These include: watching Guns ‘N’ Roses on my own instead of LCD Soundsystem with all my friends, and forgetting to eat for several days and subsequently needing to sit down during Arcade Fire’s set while a pal force-fed me pizza.

 I did, though, have a lovely time watching Paramore, Kids in Glass Houses and Two Door Cinema Club, and feeling ever so grown up that I was at a music festival with all my mates. In hindsight I’m not sure I enjoyed the weekend as much as I desperately wanted to, but that didn’t stop me returning in 2011 for another, much better, weekend.

2011

“WHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD WOULD I GET TO SEE PULP AND THE STROKES BACK TO BACK?”
By Nick Reilly

Ask most people about their first experience of Reading Festival, and they’ll likely tell you about the huge queues they endured to get tickets. Mine isn’t quite as exciting as that. Instead, it involved the small matter of striking a bargain with my dad. He bought the ticket, but I had to get the right A-Level results if I wanted to secure it.

Cut to August 2011 and a guaranteed university place meant I was finally off to Reading. This is supposed to be the part where I detail three days of drunken fun, but the real truth is that I practically remained sober all weekend. Unashamed muso that I was, and still remain, the whole experience felt like being a kid in a very muddy candy store. Where else in the world would you get to see Pulp and The Strokes back to back?

The main thing that stands out from that weekend is seeing The Vaccines on the Radio 1 stage, performing to the biggest crowd of the weekend. They felt like world-beaters on an unstoppable upwards trajectory, so it’s a crying shame they’ve never managed to make it to that festival’s top table.

Still, it’s a fantastic memory and one that stands out as being the final time that all my friends were truly together before uni sent us on our separate paths. It’s a weekend I’ll never forget.

“ALL I REMEMBER IS THE SHIT”
By Tom Smith

My first Reading was full of shit. Like genuinely dominated by fecal matter, and I’m still not over how scatty it turned out to be.

Firstly, a friend of a friend was clearly hesitant to use the long-drops in the campsite (fair enough), so brought a spare tent – one-man, but with standing space – and filled it up with sawdust. He then proceeded to shit in the tent, roughly once a day, and cover up his droppings like he was using a giant human litter tray. His tent was next to mine.

Then on the final night, as Muse played their cult – and best – album ‘Origin of Symmetry’ in full, another friend of a friend calmly announced that he’d shat himself, and then decided to stand and watch the rest of the the show, because, it can’t really get any worse. Where did my friend find these people?

Some moments at Reading 2011 that were not shit: Pulp and The Strokes juking it out with their Saturday night co-headline slots, in what may well have been the most manic four hours of my life. The Vaccines’ Friday afternoon set in the NME tent, when they had the world at their feet and at least 10,000 sweaty kids in the palm of their hands. And finally, when Odd Future’s manic appearance on Sunday afternoon pulled such a gigantic crowd we had to peer into the tent from the burger van queue. The success of this set no-doubt contributed towards the festival’s decision to embrace pop, hip-hop, dance and beyond over the next decade.

But when I think about my first Reading, all I remember is the shit. It’ll never leave me.

“I SPENT THE ENTIRE WEEKEND WATCHING THE STROKES AT HOME AND CRYING TO MY MUM”
By El Hunt

The year was 2011. After two years of blasting ‘Last Nite’ by The Strokes in a sixth form common room that flaunted every fire safety regulation going, our A-Levels were finally finished, school was officially out, and the only task that remained was filling our very last summer holiday. Basking in the elation of never having to set foot in a chemistry lab ever again, me and my mates saved up for the entire year, before excitedly scheduling in a ‘gals holiday’ to the heady euro-trash clubs of Malta. A smaller clutch of us – all Julian Casablancas devotees – also bought tickets for Reading 2011, where our favourite band were headlining the main stage. 

Trouble is, when you combine a gaggle of lightweights who are barely old enough to buy alcohol with Sak Noel’s euro-trash banger ‘Loca People’ and a bar full of flaming tequilas, things are bound to get out of control. At some point during an especially sordid booze cruise, me and another member of our ‘Reading crew’ had an explosive row which resembled the scrap in EastEnders where Pat Butcher calls Peggy Mitchell a cow. Relations were steely for the rest of the ill-fated holiday, and in an enraged huff I flogged my festival ticket on eBay as a protest once I got home. Unfortunately the only person this protest affected was me. And so I spent the entire Reading weekend watching The Strokes’ performance at home, and crying to my mum; a situation further worsened by the fact I was also grieving for my recently-deceased guinea pig. R.I.P Greg.

To this day, I can’t remember exactly what caused our blazing tiff. The stern words exchanged on MSN have long disappeared into an internet black hole, but I think it was probably something to do with a boy? I think once I came out a couple of months later,and declared I didn’t like boys anyway, we both realised that the whole furore was ironic and pointless, and put the whole saga behind us. The story has a happy ending, too – we’re still mates now, and I went to her engagement party the other day! Truly proof that friendship can survive anything – even missing out on The Strokes.