Three hours of driving. A confused hour waiting for a boat to take us ten minutes down the river. Then another hour queuing so we can be tagged and allowed entrance if we are lucky enough to escape random bag searches. Countless time spent dragging heavy bags around in search of a square foot of space to make a home, ducking the cynical gaze of burly security guards. Sleeping in mud, breathing in the stench of human waste. The only thing missing is an orange boiler suit…

I'm grateful, therefore, when I escape the stampede to finally gain access to the arena on Friday lunch time and get what I came for - music! Anti Flag begin as I want the festival to go on with them asking us to make a fist and give a big 'fuck you' to the establishment which seems somewhat ironic in hindsight. With their brand of US political punk they provide a relentless half hour of crowd participation and propaganda directed at the likes of Bush's 'bullshit war'. Despite the fact that their words and warnings embody the festival spirit ('if someone falls down pick them up') it seems a little lost amongst the masses clapping along in unison.

Pic - Guy Eppel

Afterward I wander across to the half full Festival Republic tent to experience Jubilee, a band consisting of some of LA's finest rock exiles. It's difficult to know whether the expectant crowd are here on the strength of who the band are or who they were associated with (NIN/Queens of the Stone Age). Either way when they eventually start they do not sound how I expect - big, bombastic guitars with thunderous choruses - and even after the sound issues are resolved it feels like there is nothing there. Throughout the set the band, through either arrogance or intimidation, say little and what they do say is too quiet to be heard. Jubilee distinctly sound like a band that knows what they are doing but have no idea where they are heading or even if they want to be here. When I arrived in the tent there had been some atmosphere but that is soon lost, along with much of the audience.

The sense of excitement and anticipation is not lost though when I return to the tent later to check out one of the most exciting prospects in new rock music - Fighting With Wire. A simple 'hello' from lead singer Cahir is greeted by a cacophony of noise which is then returned in spades by a band with more energy than most of the others at this year's festival put together. It is the first proper 'mosh pit' of the weekend and FWW didn't have to do anything to whip up this frenzy other than do what they do, which is provide good honest rock n roll. The three boys from Derry are polite and gracious and also inject humour into the proceedings; even crowd surfers and security guards are bonding and having fun with one another. This is fresh, powerful and exciting and I'm surrounded by faces beaming with the same smile as I have.

Next it's time to head over to the NME tent to see if there is any hope in their Indie poster boys. The tent is heaving by the time I arrive to watch MGMT and I spend most of the set trying to get within visible range. Although no songs specifically stay with me, MGMT aren't the wishy washy electro nonsense that I would expect and a chilled out prog rock atmosphere draws in the evening nicely. I am then quickly bundled forward as Vampire Weekend take to the stage. Their style of melodic 21st century Beach Boys' esque pop has the entire crowd bouncing and singing but I can't help thinking whether this is harmless fun or a waste of time. If summery songs of love unite then is it as positive, as equally valid as a band with something to say which is more direct?

I have no time to think about this before the issue is forced directly on me by the emergence of Rage Against The Machine, possibly the most anticipated band this weekend. We are made to wait but it is worth it and this certainly is a band that unites through music and through message. Arriving in Gauntanamo bay style prison suits and masks the band blast straight into Bombtrack and the crowd are bouncing. For half an hour they rock the whole of Reading with their direct brand of political rap rock and Bush and Blair baiting (always guaranteed to get a cheer) before the set becomes slightly more subdued with some lesser known tracks. If they did at any point lose the crowd then Wake Up does just what the song title suggests before the encore of Killing in the Name has the entire crowd screaming in unison - 'fuck you I won't do what you tell me'. This seems such an appropriate line to leave us all with as the masses are herded out of the arena like cattle and then crushed for twenty minutes as we are confined with nowhere to go for seemingly no obvious reason.

Pic - Guy Eppel

Saturday starts quietly with a visit to the BBC Introducing Stage to catch Kid iD whose blend of Latin folk rhythms have the tent fuller than I have seen at any point over the weekend. They provide the perfect summer beats to get us all dancing in the sun and they don't really need to throw sweets into the audience to make friends as their brief set has already created somewhat of a party. Much of the rest of the day is spent queuing to overcome my fears and finally shake hands with the Manics. In the three hour build up I still manage to see from a distance the much overhyped Ting Tings, the indescribable Seasick Steve and the non-descript Foals. Thankfully meeting MSP is more exciting than the wait and it's pleasing to see that they are all as amiable as I had hoped.

As the night begins to draw in I manage to catch a few songs from Bloc Party on the main stage. Although I am a recent convert, my distance from proceedings and the poor sound quality make it very hard to feel involved and I soon move on to Alkaline Trio where, alas, it is the same story. When I finally settle at the NME tent for the evening to bed in for the Manics I am treated to a time warp back to eighties hair rock as Bullet For My Valentine take to the stage. Although it has most of the crowd banging their heads with pleasure I'm left uncertain whether to laugh or cry. Thankfully that is all quickly forgotten as MSP roar onto the stage with Faster. A brief trip into the past to revisit Of Walking Abortion and perform Nirvana's Pennyroyal Tea for the first time since Reading 1994 is a pleasant surprise in between the usual greatest hits. However, whilst the band now sound full and accomplished live, thanks to the addition of a keyboard player and very Richey-esque rhythm guitarist, and their last album was somewhat of a return to form, you can't help but feel when you watch them now that that does not make up for everything else that has been stripped away - rants from the Wire, giant screens full of images and words that burn into your mind, a general sense of overwhelming emotion. That said it is unlikely that any other band will grab you in the way that they do in the six minutes of magnificence that is Motorcycle Emptiness or the anthemic Design For Life that has every single person chanting in the tent.

Pic - Pepperming Nightmare

It's Sunday and the bureaucratic bullshit and festival conditions are starting to take their toll as I amble over to the Festival Republic tent again but thankfully it proves to be my lucky stage this weekend. Johnny Foreigner are one the most exciting bands I've heard in years and I can't help but smile when their live performance lives up to their recently released debut album. Their infectious three minute pop songs about parties and youth, over layered with a multitude of sonic sensations, have people of all ages and sizes bopping around manically. Their initial appearance of arrogance thankfully turns out to be nervousness and perfect humility as they receive every cheer and every word sang back to them with genuine surprise and gratefulness.

I manage to catch a few minutes of The Music before I head over to the main stage for Feeder, who have been rescheduled due to Slipknot's untimely withdrawal. Feeder have been close to me ever since Swim and I have always defended them against those who claim Grant Nicholas' sentiments may be anything other than genuine yet, whilst I still believe they manage to release great heart wrenching anthems, I am left feeling a little empty after their performance. Maybe it is because I can remember back to their intimate early days and I'm less than impressed to see Grant's self-embellishment of his own rock god status on stage. Still they manage to please the crowd with chart hits Buck Rogers and Just a Day, even if their cover of Nirvana's Breed to close with is devoid of its original passion and power.

Pic - Guy Eppel

I am uncertain about what to expect from Tenacious D but their comedic rock n roll stage show spectacle provides some pleasant respite and a great amount of humour before the monolithic onslaught of Metallica which follows. Crashing open with For Whom The Bell Tolls they barrage us with eight minute metal monster riffs which, after the first half an hour, start to become a little tedious as they plunder old album fillers. As they reach their climax Nothing Else Matters proves that there is a gentle underbelly to be exposed even if it is only a brief moment of exposure before the classic hits One and Enter Sandman draw their set to a close. I escape before they encore with songs best suited for their hardcore following and am left to escape with my thoughts on a long journey home.

Reading 2008 has been confusing. Whilst I have found a few rays of hope in an increasingly average and congested music scene in the forms of new bands such as Johnny Foreigner and Fighting With Wire and enjoyed the political incitation of Rage Against The Machine and Anti Flag, I was also left to lament the passing of better days from much loved bands and to wonder what the point of a festival like this really is. Having experienced the multi cultural free spirit and good nature of Womad, which used to share the same site, I fear Reading is nothing more than a glorified Club 18-30 weekend that happens to have some big named bands on its books. I'm not sure that the majority of those who arrive through the gates and put up with the ever increasing bureaucratical bullshit and inflating costs really understand the concept of a festival or even care further than the next beer or then again maybe it is just me that doesn't understand that the world is different and the idea of a festival of unity, spirit, passion, power and ideas may be something of the past.

Glitter Bitch

Pic - Guy Eppel