Here, in no particular order is a list of things I don’t like;
Having my sleep disturbed
Going to gigs that are so big you can’t actually see the band’s faces
Blokes walking around with their tops off (regardless of their physical state)
So, it will come as little surprise that the arrival of ‘festival season’ fills me with little more than a certain snide ambivalence. It may come as a surprise to those who know me (although not to those who know me well) that I have actually NEVER been to a music festival. If at some point I lied to you and pretended that I had as a younger man, all I can do is apologise and explain that I probably just didn’t have the energy at the time to explain to you why I think the idea of a music festival is less attractive than the idea of a Tizer colonic and, rather than seem like an enormous square, it was probably easier to just nod along with whatever crap you were drivelling about Nirvana at Reading or Radiohead at Glastonbury with an insincere ‘Oh, I missed them that year, don’t know what happened…’ implying that I was both there and having a wilder time than you. I wasn’t and I wasn’t.
I use this blog as catharsis for my burgeoning grumpiness, I write this so that I don’t have to be a total cunt in conversation. I like and respect the vast majority of people I converse with (converse is different to meet, by the way. The vast majority of people that I meet are dunderheaded meatbots) and have the social capabilities to know not to just let my odious distaste for things they like or say bubble over. You can like a person without liking their views. But whenever anybody wants to talk to me about music festivals, I just want to change the damn subject. I find it hard to not want to slap their most fervent advocates.
I should start with a caveat – I do annually attend the Truck Festival here in Oxfordshire which is, technically, a music festival BUT to me it feels more like the world’s best village fete – it’s a short drive from my house and a short trot from the car park to the field, it’s very small, full of people I know, rather than just strangers, and I don’t have to stay there any longer than I want to. I might add that as much as I rather adore Truck, I spend any unattended minutes wanting to strangle drunk teenagers and ridiculous hipsters for the crime of, well, having fun. The twats. I’ve never done more than one day of Truck, I pick my day carefully. Also, I love the thought behind Truck, I love the anti-corporate stance, I love the community aspect, I love the organisers, but mostly I love my ability to leave when I feel like doing so. I want to exempt them from the following rant but I know I’ll probably be unsuccessful in doing so entirely convincingly.
So, I fucking hate festivals.
Here’s how I see it…
There was one great music festival. Once. Just the one. The big one. Woodstock. Which is not to say there were not music festivals before it, but it seems like that was The One. It was a legitimate ‘happening’, Michael Wadleigh’s seminal film documents a truly unique experience – the summer of love, the post-war babies grown up into the modern world’s first free-thinking, liberated, culturally progressive generation and, in America, all the lines seemed to converge on this one dairy farm in New York state. Expecting it to be a relatively small 3 days of music and ‘peace’, the businessmen behind it (oh yes) realised that the volume of people descending upon the site meant that they had better take down the fences and abandon any hope of ticketing. And a happening it was, the greatest bands of a generation all on one bill, endless drugs, booze and shagging but not in the nihilistic way all of those things have subsequently become. It was joyous, beautiful, naive, innocent, unexpected, spontaneous and entirely unique. It strikes me that every festival since has been about trying to recapture that spirit and failing miserably.
Oh, let me add one more thing to my list of dislikes. This is perhaps my biggest dislike in the world.. it’s T-shirts which are designed to look like they’ve come from a fictional ‘cool’ place. You see them in places like Top Man and Sainsburys and they’re worn by provincial idiots. Some examples: ‘CRAZY TONY’S SURF SHACK, VENICE BEACH 1972’ ‘BIG BEACH ROCK FESTIVAL 1973 (no bands listed, no actual location listed) ‘OLD DUKE’S BBQ GRILL N BAR, MISSISSIPPI’, you can add these to any legion of made up universities, sports teams and events that get cynically designed, manufactured in sweat shops and flood the British high streets every summer. It’s this bizarre modern affectation that we want to be seen to be the kind of people to have done something unique, whilst resolutely avoiding ever actually being a part of anything even remotely unique. I think in a lot of dull people’s heads, the partaking of a music festival equates doing something counterculture and wild. Being a part of something real. And it’s exactly the idea of being stuck in a field in the middle of nowhere with a town-sized crowd of these people which makes me despise the very notion of such things.
I look at the TV coverage of these events and it looks like every Kasabian-loving office worker from middle England has bought an ounce of weed and a comedy hat and converged upon a heavily fenced and policed field with every clueless teenager and in-denial-almost-pensioner in the country to take part in their annual group delusion that they are in some way interesting people having a unique experience.
And that’s just Glastonbury. The good festival. In other parts of the country, the truly lowest of the low think they are part of some cultural zeitgesit by showing up to advertising swamped sporting grounds to see the Stereophonics and Kaiser Chiefs trudge through their back catalogues with perfunctory bonhomie, earning their audience’s average yearly salary for a tightly scheduled 72 minutes of dross hackery.
Let me try to define the festival experience, as I see it… You drive a long way to sit in traffic to get onto the site. once there, you trek a few miles to set your tent up which might, or might not get robbed. And by robbed I, of course, mean not just the contents – the tent itself. You get drunk and lose your friends. You have several stages to choose from. The one which has the bands you really want to see is at the end of a very very big field which is very very full of horrible people. The smaller stages have bands you’d quite like to see, but they’re all scheduled against each other and hours are spent hiking between them – these hikes leaving you open to, dependent on the weather, sun burn, exposure or trench foot. There is some kind of cabaret field where pretentious show-offs will show-off pretentiously. There is also some kind of ‘healing field’ where everyone in the country who most deserve an insouciant slap gather to convince themselves and some accounts clerks from Northampton that there is some kind of ‘oneness’ between them and the earth. The irony that escapes them being that this will only happen when they finally shut up and die. Within hours, the portaloos are overflowing with the collective poo born of every mediocre idiot’s service station Burger King Whoppers from the journey down. You spend three days exposed to the elements, drugged up dullards, pretentious fatheads and catching only the most uninteresting bands who you will never hear of again, you eat curry from buckets which gives you the shits, you lose your tent, you get sleep deprivation, robbed, make best friends with someone you will never see again (and thank god because he is every bit the feckless wanker that you are) and finally spend five minutes trying to work out the upside of the experience and create a way of telling everyone back home what happened that makes it sound good.
My friend Rich seems to go to Glastonbury every year. When I see him on the day he returns, he has the look of a man who has been drugged, slapped, dipped in shit and presented to Coldplay, then tied to a pole and left to either bake in extreme sunshine or marinade in the feces, menstrual blood and urinated value cider of a small country for three arduous days.
All that said, I fully appreciate the televising of such events. So, to all those of you at Worthy Farm this weekend, I raise a glass of reasonably priced beverage of my choice from my nice cold fridge and wish you well as I watch BBC 3’s excellent HD, multi-camera coverage of the bands I want to see, when I want to see them (thank you, iplayer) with occasional luxurious toilet breaks and the promise of a great night’s sleep. Oh, and I live in the countryside anyway so I’m perfectly at one with nature but also blissfully at one with clean clothes, showers, decent food, shelter and a complete absence of half-naked sweaty buffoons on E trying to give me a cuddle.