Reading Festival 1992 produced some fantastic live music and perfectly captured the contrasting trends of 90’s Grunge (with bands such as Nirvana and L7) and Alternative Rock (The Charlatans and Suede). This playlist features songs that were played live by some of the most memorable acts of the decade. Despite being plagued by bad weather, which closed the Session Tent on Sunday after it started collapse, Reading ‘92 was made memorable for its great music, atmosphere and spontaneous onstage performances, one of which lead to a security guard having 16 stitches after being hit with half of a bass guitar that had been smashed during Manic Street Preachers’ infamous set. In 1992, there were only 3 venues at the festival (Main Stage, Session Tent and Comedy Tent), a pint of beer cost you £2 and advance tickets set you back only £40.
Come As You Are - Nirvana
Nirvana were the main act at Reading 1992, performing a renowned show, opening with Kurt Cobain dressed in a hospital gown, being pushed on in a wheelchair and performing a passionate performance of Breed. This unexpected stunt was an ironic, but acidic, response to the rumours being spread by journalists that he was in hospital because he overdosed and had been arrested. In fact his wife had just given birth to their daughter, Frances Bean Cobain.The performance made them the name that they are and, some critics argue, it is this performance that made Cobain ‘the voice of the 90s.’ Come As You Are is one of their slower, more familiar songs on their Nevermind album, that thrilled the 50,000 strong crowd.
Everlong - Foo Fighters
After Cobain’s unexpected death in 1994 and the band’s brief four years of fame, the remaining members went on to pursue different musical career paths. Bassist Krist Novoselic formed two bands (Sweet 75 and Eyes Adrift) releasing one album with each. Dave Grohl (drummer) went on to form the well-known band Foo Fighters with which he has gone on to win many awards. Everlong (released in 1997) still remains a popular song today, as Grohl switched from the role of drummer to lead singer. His stage presence has been recognised widely in a number of performances - most memorably, his iconic performance in Gothenburg, Sweden, where he broke his leg in a stage dive, went to hospital for a brief period to get it put into cast, and then continued to perform the show.
Lithium - Nirvana
This was one of Nirvana’s best received songs at their Reading 1992 performance and a personal favourite of mine. Cobain’s soft riff at the start of the song contrasts with their recognised heavy/grunge sound that he digresses into as the song develops. The song evokes sympathy for Cobain as he creates a strong sense of self-loathing - emphasised by his short memorable phrases including, ‘I’m so ugly’ and ‘I’m so lonely.’ He plays on this theme of self-expression mainly in the band’s In Utero album, with songs released such as I Hate Myself And Want To Die (cheery I know!). However, Cobain enjoyed performing immensely and was devoted to music, and encouraged his audience to be lively participants, as he asked them before his performance of Lithium, "Hey everybody, why so glum?".
1979 - The Smashing Pumpkins
The Smashing Pumpkins were one of the many bands that signified the transition from 90’s Grunge to Alternative Rock. The song tells of frontman Billy Corgan’s progression into adolescence. The heavy, gothic guitar contrasts with the dystopian, psychedelic atmosphere, creating a similar sound to that of The Stone Roses, who formed five years previously. Although 1979 was not performed at Reading (it was released in 1995), I think it is their best song and deserved a place on the playlist.
A Design For Life - Manic Street Preachers
Colloquially known as ‘The Manics’, this Alternative Rock band created a well-known record, which peaked by reaching Number 2 in the UK Single’s Chart in 1996. The title was inspired by Joy Division’s record An Ideal For Living and displays themes of class conflict and the working class identity. This song actually gave the Manics ‘a reason to exist as a band’ after their guitarist, Richey Edwards, mysteriously disappeared without trace in 1995. Vocalist James Dean Bradfield described how the band came to a standstill after Edwards’ disappearance until Nick Wire (bass) sent him the lyrics to this song, which he wrote the tune to in 10 minutes. Although not performed at Reading, this is one of the band’s best-known singles.
Today - The Smashing Pumpkins
The Smashing Pumpkins released their hit in 1993, shortly after their performance at Reading, on their album Siamese Dream. Today was immediately well received, despite its slightly depressing lyrics, as lead Bill Corgan tells of his struggle with suicidal thoughts. The dark lyrics display the Grunge aspect of the band, but as the song is highlighted with distorted guitar, it showed the band to be a revolutionary mix of Grunge and Alternative Rock. The song’s presence in pop culture is notable for recently featuring (as an acoustic cover) in the R.J. Cutler’s new film ‘If I Stay’.
One To Another - The Charlatans
The Charlatan’s anamorphic sound presented in their song One To Another provides a strong link to influences such as The Cure and Radiohead and bands formed later such as Oasis and Peace. This is my favourite song by The Charlatans. The chaotic sound-loops, covered with strong guitar, make the song catchy and melodious. The band are still performing, most recently at Latitude 2015 and this song has found a revival in popularity from its recent use as the theme tune to E4’s hit series My Mad Fat Diary.
Beautiful Ones - Suede
Suede were not as well known when they performed at Reading, but shortly after they were named as ‘the best new band in Britain’. Their later release of Beautiful Ones in 1994 led them to make a name for themselves and are still releasing music; their most recent production was their album Bloodsports in 2013. Suede wanted to be defined as the image of Alternative Rock and are often referred comparatively with The Smiths (who were regarded as the ‘most important alternative rock band of the 1980s’). So much so that former drummer of The Smiths, Mike Joyce, turned down the role of drums in Suede as he felt the bands were too similar.
The Size Of A Cow - The Wonder Stuff
The Wonder Stuff returned to Reading stage after performing there in 1989. The band went on to win a Brit award and top the UK Single’s Chart for two weeks consecutively. Their most famous hit Size Of A Cow was released a year prior to their second Reading performance, and, though not performed at the Festival, is still considered one of their best songs.
Motorcycle Emptiness - Manic Street Preachers
This was one of the biggest hits at Reading 1992 and is a classic of the Alternative Rock genre. The song is one of my favourites with powerful lyrics and an upbeat rhythm accompanied by a strong base that keeps the foundation of the song as Rock. Manics’ politically focused song created a sense of passive rebellion among fans against the government emphasised by their audacious lyrics such as: ‘Your joys are counterfeit, this happiness corrupt political s**t.’ In the music video of the song, filmed in Tokyo, the car they are driving is actually being towed, as the only band member with a licence was Richey Edwards and he was not allowed to drive by the authorities.
Reading Festival 1992 produced some incredible music, and greatly influenced the music spectrum. The range of performances captures the movement from Grunge to Alternative Rock throughout the 1990s. As bands have developed, most have continued their sound and are still creating unique and powerful songs. With this playlist, I have tried to explore the variety of music that was performed, and the impact the performances made on the music world.
Original Image by Isla Penman