Another festival season has come and gone, and I am not sure if it’s my age, or the fact that I am a lot more sober than I used to be, but there is suddenly a lot to question about the phenomenon of the music festival than there used to be. And not just the usual moans about the weather, everything being more commercial than it used to be, all modern music sounding the same, teenagers not pulling their trousers up properly, the drinks being too expensive, the fact that tents are horrible etc. etc. etc. although, to be fair, most of that is true, but that genuinely is just because I am getting old now.
I have recently come back from a double weekender of two very, very different festivals, both of which disturbed me in different ways. First off, I spent a slightly crazy day at Boomtown near Winchester. Truly a magnificent site/sight, take your pick on the spelling, both apply equally, the time and energy that has clearly been put in to making the stage sets was very well spent. There were mines, pirate ships, town squares and giant dancing robots (and a whole bunch of other cool stuff that we missed) all in what was essentially some fields with a wood in the middle. But the fantabulous surroundings were filled with groups of lads and lasses who would not look out of place strolling down the main streets of Magaluf. I’m all for inclusion and happy togetherness, so this is no tribalist attack on the humble chav, it just surprised me. I expect to see the airy-fairy-hippy-dippy-beardy-weirdy classic festival types and little else at these things, not the Inbetweeners. No offence meant to any inbetweeners out there you understand, particularly not those of you who packed out the little tent we played in at midnight, you beautiful onesie wearing freaks you.
The weekend afterwards, we were playing at Beautiful Days, nice and nearby in Devon. Also a lovely site, fairly decent music, might be reasonably priced, I don’t know, I refuse to pay more than twenty quid to go anywhere these days, so am no judge. However, this was a place dominated by yummy mummies and their solicitor husbands desperately trying to relive their youth, and dragging the kids along. Again, good for them, I suppose, but it seems a terrible idea to me. While the unexpected outfits of Boomtown were deck shoes, pedal pushers/clam diggers and superdry vests, at Beautiful Days the uniform of the weekend was definitely early 90s chic, as the 30/40 somethings tried to get back to those heady days of flowerpot hats and baggy checked shorts.
Now, at this point you are probably going to ask what my bloody problem is right? These and all other people are entitled to go about their business and have a lovely time without some beardy hippy twat sneering at them, especially when he slots quite nicely into the '30 something trying to relive their youth' demographic. Except that I don’t really, I haven’t really stopped dicking about playing in bands since I was twelve. My mid-life crisis is looming nicely, and it appears to be manifesting itself by me stopping all the rock and roll stuff, and staying in more, I might even buy a jumper and get a nice haircut. I think this may have been my last festival season, particularly when I have never really liked the camping bit much anyway.
What got me, is that I don’t remember the 'normal' people being there so much back in my youth. I may not have been paying attention to be honest, so they may have been there. But I remember the few festivals I made it to back then (not loads, they were too expensive then as well) mainly being filled with the young and the groovy, tye-dye and dreadlocks ahoy, certainly not the well-dressed about town types, and definitely not teachers, accountants and their kids. Although, as I said, I may just not have noticed, or been at the wrong places, that is entirely possible. There also didn’t used to be showers back then (or anything like as much hair product as was clearly in evidence this season) and if memory serves, the toilet facilities were planks over a pit, and a good sense of balance. It is also important to note that in 1991, my ticket for the Monsters of Rock festival cost me £25, this year, it was around that for the mandatory donation to an unnamed festival for the +1 tickets we got for the band. Inflation is a bitch, and even beer hasn’t gone up that much (A pint is approximately 3 times what it was in the early 90s, I estimate festival tickets have at least quadrupled, feel free to do your own maths). I put this down to it being more expensive to put stuff on now, due to the upside down nature of today’s music industry where the tours pay for the albums rather than vice versa.
I then thought harder, and went a little more tin foil hat over the whole thing than maybe I should. And apologies if the following sounds paranoid and crazy, but it is. What if those massive fences and watchtowers are not to keep the poor people who can’t afford tickets out, but to keep the freaks in? And what if all those lovely mind-altering substances that somehow can’t ever be kept out, are in fact being supplied to keep us all happy and docile? What if the entire festival scene has been designed by our Lizard overlords to keep anyone with an alternative viewpoint safely away from the rest of society when the weather is nice enough to maybe go and do some protesting? It’s a thought isn’t it? Particularly when the current drug of choice for the under-the-counter-culture is a horse tranquiliser sold by big pharmaceutical companies, so you are now very much helping ‘the man’ out.
If you thought you were somehow rebelling and sticking it to 'the man' by going to a large corporate event and spending a small fortune on camping gear, overpriced food and drink, wellington boots, even your ticket, and then taking a shed load of hallucinogenics until you can no longer think straight, then I am terribly sorry. Quite the opposite is true, you have been played, it has happened to every generation, and it will happen to you. The baby boomers were lured away from their Bob Dylan records and cries for freedom with cheap property and weak marijuana, some of them are still going to festivals, and singing along to Bob Dylan records while smoking cheap marijuana (you can’t find weak marijuana anymore apparently) but make no mistake, they are establishment now. The punks forgot the revolution part when the amphetamine took out their thoughts. The ravers got lost in Ecstasy and went off to buy shiny iThings from apple, and today’s ketamine kids are being played worse than anybody. Sorry to be the one to break it to you.
If you really want to stick it to the man, and be a part of the revolution, stay in your own head, do some thinking, write something revolutionary, start a group, start a club, start a movement, change the world. Don’t get sidetracked by the drugs and the fun, it is in your way. If you are just in it for the drugs and the fun, then excellent, enjoy and have a good time, all the time, but if you think by going to these things that you are part of the counter-culture and starting a revolution, then stop fooling yourself. These are concentration camps for the hippies, keeping us pacified and happy. Bread and circuses for the modern age, keep the long haired freaky people from this song away from society, and ensure they are too stoned to formulate any plans.
Apologies, I seem to have gone slightly off track, and may be angrier, and a great deal more tinfoil hatted than usual today. All of this is just conjecture, I don’t actually believe in the Lizard overlords, and I suspect the festival phenomenon is just the usual thing, corporations finding new and more inventive ways to make us part with our money, and ensuring it stays reassuringly expensive to put up some tents and listen to some music. I have nothing against you wanting to listen to music and stay in tents by the way, these are good things.
Choose a life, Choose a job, Choose a career, Choose a family, Choose a fucking big television (actually don’t, the TV is even more of the wonderful soma sent our way by those who would keep us down) or something. Choose what you like, but if you think you are making a difference and starting a revolution by dancing, make sure you’re not being sponsored by Richard Not-a-fucking-hippy-at-all Branson.
“If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution” – Emma Goldman