A great pile of people

'You get your fair share of weirdos at any festival; they're the ones still dancing when the music has stopped. But this one was getting paid to be here'

The star of this year' s Reading Festival was a little blond fellow in a tangerine suit who bawled obscenities, chewed on a harmonica and attempted high-kicking Elvis jumps, often all at the same time. You get your fair share of weirdos at any festival; they' re the ones still dancing when the music has stopped. But this one was getting paid to be here. The 24-year-old American folk-rocker Beck is something like a white Prince - small, perfectly formed, impossibly prolific and dazzlingly gifted. He was introduced to the afternoon crowd as an artist who never fails to be original and challenging, which is a bit like describing the Grand Canyon as really big.

He's known in this country mainly for "Loser", last year's maddeningly catchy hit which laid nonsensical lyrics over an unforgettable twanging guitar loop and shuffling beatbox rhythms. But Beck isn't interested in duplication. In fact, he did everything in his power to sabotage the crowd's karaoke version of "Loser", turning its refrain of "I'm a loser, baby/ So why don't you kill me?" into "Dur-dur-de-dur-dur", which made about as much sense as the rest of the song. In Beck's hands, the rules - like sticking to the right lyrics, arrangements and even instruments - become deliciously fluid. Beck himself looked surprised when a burst of sampled mooing erupted. "Uh...'Bovine Blues' ", he offered. Give this man a technical hiccup and he'll give it a title.

Many of the songs are unprintable (though if you own the album, you won' t be surprised that track 3, side 1 was a funky opener). All of them are unpredictable, like the closing one, which had Beck strapping on a keyboard and picking out a cheesy Rockford Files-type tune, ending under an avalanche of feedback. Then he told us that we had been "a great pile of people". And him? The very worst you can say is that the Elvis jumps could use some work.

Smashing Pumpkins headlined the first day, disposing of their best-known songs within the first 15 minutes. That left room for an entire set of virgin material from their forthcoming double album. Our joy was unbridled. Singer Billy Corgan had "I Love My Mom" felt-tipped on his guitar, but don't expect a collaboration with the St Winifred's School Choir just yet - the new songs are as tough as your grandmother's feet, and about as exciting.

The Pumpkins were upstaged by Hole's appearance earlier that evening, which climaxed with Courtney Love shoving amps and monitors into the pit. The drum-kit wasn't such a pushover. It did what no man, woman or journalist has yet attempted: it fought back. As Love flailed beneath a blaze of snares and high-hats, you found yourself cheering the rhythm section for the first time.

Her petulance couldn't overshadow two moments which brought tears to her eyes and ours: a bruised-purple "Doll Parts" and a skeletal reading of Nirvana's "Pennyroyal Tea", scratched out on two crackling electric guitars. As it accompanied a Reading dusk for the second time (the similarly tragic Manic Street Preachers tore through it here last year), you prayed that Love would confound expectations by surviving, and making more albums as shattering as Live Through This, and intimidating all but the bravest drum-kits.

Saturday delivered nothing like the same excitement. The blistering Little Axe needed the claustrophobia of a club setting to dazzle. Tricky needed to put his mind on his work. And Shed Seven just needed shooting.

It was left to Bjork to give us a reason for living. She bounced about like a kangaroo, shriek-singing in non sequiturs: everything that your average two-year-old spends her life doing. Her capacity for reinvention has a childish logic, too. Like Beck, she burrowed through her back catalogue like a child in her mother's wardrobe, becoming something that was at once gaudy and preposterous and magical.

So the disco throb of "Big Time Sensuality" was put in a hot wash and came out tiny and distant. That felt wrong, while "Venus as a Boy", reduced to just Bjork and a trilling harpsichord, achieved a incandescence that erased the original from memory. Nothing could have topped the batty cabaret finale of "It's Oh So Quiet" except ear-splitting fireworks carving patterns in the night sky. Which was just what we got, funnily enough. By the end of it, everyone was dancing, despite the fact that the music had stopped.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury


Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas


Arts and Entertainment


Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7


Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary


Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions