As one of the star events in the festival calendar, Reading festival receives a lot of media attention, usually for the mud (which this year was everywhere) or for the antics of the star performers—this year Guns n’ Roses, for a poor performance and colossally bad timekeeping. One aspect of the festival, however, sees no coverage. This is the fact that, for the last few years, the Sunday night’s music is followed by what can only be described as a full-scale riot.
I do not use the term lightly, so let me give you an idea of the carnage. The most noticeable thing is fire. It’s everywhere, and consumes almost everything. It’s no exaggeration to say that if you find somewhere to sleep that night, you’re incredibly lucky. Tents, chairs, bags of rubbish: whatever the mob can find, it will burn.
The venom directed towards security is quite staggering. Moving in groups for protection, the mostly Scottish security staff will be the targets of many types of projectiles, including glass bottles. Despite their best efforts to evict the troublemakers, they find themselves overwhelmed by swearwords and missiles. Last year the mob found its destination blocked by a huge group of riot police, such was their loss of control.
The fires give the campsite an orange glow, punctuated by plumes of smoke and the bright flashes of exploding aerosols. For the mainly middle-class population of the festival it must seem like armageddon.
So why does the friendly atmosphere of drinking and dancing degenerate into such chaos?
Part of the answer must lie in the social class of the festivalgoers. Having led sheltered, comfortable lives the opportunity to participate in something so dangerous, so exciting and so rebellious must be intoxicating. But this cannot be enough on its own.
If I could put forward a theory, I’d suggest that it must have something to do with the feeling that, after Sunday night, nothing will remain. When this oasis of beer and music feels like its going to finish it becomes very easy to be lulled into the mindset that none of the violence, none of the fire will have any meaningful impact. It’s akin to being at the end of the world.
What compounds this atmosphere…