Thursday, July 13, 2017

Why festivals suck

Image result for phones at concerts

As you all will have noticed over the last few weeks, summer is now well and truly upon us.
With spring and summer, a number of things return to the daily routine. It’s already light outside when you get up, it’s still light when you get back from work, temperatures rise, clothes are being exchanged for lighter versions, ice cream trucks emerge from hibernation and outside drinking becomes part of life again. 

Football seasons end, trophies are lifted and people plan their summer holidays.

For over a decade, from 1995 to 2006, I spent my entire holiday budget, and most of my allocated days off, on one thing: music festivals. Every year, from January on, me and my friends would spend long hours planning our summer getaways. Now mind you, back then, the internet was not as ubiquitous a presence in life as it is now. Things like Google and Wikipedia did not exist in the mid nineties, and even later on many festivals still did most of their advertising through magazines and other printed media, rather than websites.
We would carefully pick the festivals to go to in the summer (though, inevitably, we would always end up on more or less the same ones every year) and be giddy with anticipation from March onwards. Line up changes would be carefully scrutinized and instantly communicated when noticed (it was a badge of honor if you were first to break the news that Slayer would be playing at Dynamo Open Air), festival gear would be accumulated, transport would be booked, often for your entire group of friends, and then the countdown began.
50 Days to Dynamo Open Air! Just one month to go! Guys.. this time next week we’ll be at the festival raising a cold beer! 

Image result for beer at wacken

In short, I spent pretty much my entire twenties booking, planning and going to festivals. While my friends who weren’t into music all that much spent their summers on Spanish Costas and Greek isles, we spent our time on muddy graslands in Germany and Belgium, listening to songs about war and death. It was one of the best periods of my life, and I remember it with great fondness.
I can’t really point out why I stopped doing it exactly. It was a combination of me moving to Ireland, finding other interests and the idea that I maybe wanted to do something else with my free time. Whatever the reason, my festival-going career ended and I decided to pursue other goals.

Because I had so many friends who were still going to festivals, I was kept up to date with what happened to a certain degree, but after staving off the initial empty feelings when I knew they were at a major festival while I was reading the paper in a Dublin pub, the idea slowly disappeared from my mind. What I did notice though, after a few years in Ireland, is that more and more people started to drop out. Some of them gave up altogether, like me, and most others seriously cut back on their summer schedule. This was for a number of reasons- children, mortgages, serious jobs with little or no time for frivolities, etc. etc. but one reason that I heard from most of them was clear: It wasn’t as much fun as it used to be. I wrote this off against progressing age, the absence of friends that always used to be there and the urge to see other things than mud and the same bands for the 25th time, but there was always a feeling that there was something larger at stake here.

 The first time I realised that all was not well in festival land, was when I saw this video:

Honey!! Where's my shotgun?

What the fuck was happening there?

This is not what you would call ‘festival ready’. In fact, as a veteran of the scene, I would put clothing like this at the very bottom of the advice list. Shocked by this revelation, I set out to investigate and, as it turned out, the festival scene has been infected by people who have no business in attending festivals. They don’t give a shit about the music, they have no respect for the generally accepted rules of engagement on festivals, and the only reason they want to be there is because their colleagues or neighbours are there so that they can say that ‘they’ve been there’ too.
This increased attention from people who don’t care about festivals or the music has lead to the deterioration of the atmosphere of old and I have found why that is.
Basically, there are 3 main things that are wrong with festivals these days, and I will explain them to you right here.

0. The entry price.

Ha! Fooled you! The ever increasing entry prices are not a reason for the downward slide of festivals. They’re a consequence of the fact that we are now into a second generation of people who think that paying for music is the most ridiculous thing ever. 25 years ago, performing artists made a large chunk of their money from selling records. With the advent of the internet, this line of income went out the window. Apart from the real superstars, no musician makes any significant money from the actual music itself. The only way to make money as a musician these days is by selling merchandise and playing live shows. This in itself leads to a clogging up of concert venues further and further ahead, as tour bookers are trying to tie down venues as early as possible to ensure a continued string of concerts and income. So the next time you complain about the high prices of concert tickets, consider buying an actual record instead of streaming or downloading it. You only have yourself to blame, and the widespread use of the internet, which brings me, conveniently, to the first real reason that festivals suck these days.

1. The internet and mobile phones.
Perhaps the main attraction of festivals in the mid nineties was the fact that you effectively disappeared from the face of the earth for 4 days. You and your friends would gather on Thursday morning at a local train or bus station, go to the festival and would not be heard of again until mid afternoon on Monday. This was great. For 4 days, the only thing that mattered was the festival and having as much fun as possible. There was no interference from outside news, no politics, no football scores, nothing. For the entire weekend, all that mattered was the festival, the bands and the party. What happened on the outside was irrelevant. Early on, mobile phones weren’t even a thing. Nobody had them, simple as that. Even when I did get my first mobile phone in 1997, I never brought it to a festival. What was the use? Mind you, mobile phones back then didn’t have internet access, games, or apps with public transport info or pizza delivery services. The only thing you could do with them was call people (remember that, calling people on your phone?) and send text messages, so there was no use in bringing a mobile phone. Anyone that mattered was at the festival, and the only thing that could happen was that you could lose your phone.
It was bliss. For 4 days, we were in our own world that consisted of live music, beer and partying. The outside world didn’t matter. Those who were at the festival forgot about the rest of the world, and those who weren’t had no idea what was going on inside. If you weren’t at the festival, you weren’t in on it.

I had a ritual that I always followed upon returning from a festival. Unable to cope with the real world just yet, I would get home, get a huge Chinese take away and spend the rest of the day listening to music, watching cartoons and working my way through an endless pile of plastic containers full of noodles, grilled pork and chicken satay. The day after, I would slowly start resuming contact with the outside world.

How different things are these days. From the second people leave for a festival, you are treated to a neverending stream of photos, videos and updates from the festival ground. Every single band is streamed live right into your living room, and everybody is connected to the outside world at any given time. It sucks. The whole idea of being away from the world is gone. While people are at the festival, watching bands, they constantly get live updates on their phones about what is happening outside the festival, who has been elected or deposed and what the winning lottery numbers are. This takes all the fun out of the whole idea of going to a festival.
Apart from ruining the experience of being entirely closed off from the rest of the world, the advent of mobile internet has another unwanted effect:

2. The crowd has changed.

Back in the days, when I told colleagues or other people who weren’t into music that I was going to a big festival, they would always stare at me with a weary look in their eyes. Their questions would always give me the idea that they had a picture of a festival being a strange cult-like gathering, where people would perform dark rituals and run around half naked, dazed off their head on drugs. While this wasn’t entirely wrong, it was nowhere near accurate either, but the point was that the ‘regular’ people (for want of a better word) had the idea that us festival goers were all weirdos who had sold their soul to Satan and spent their free time jumping around in the mud, which suited us fine. These people wouldn’t dare go near a festival in their lives and they preferred to remain in the safe confines of their own back yard, with all conveniences at hand. The arrival of mobile internet has changed this. As soon as the regular people saw footage of festivals coming at them, first on message boards and then on Facebook and other social media, they started to take note. Yes, we were still a bunch of degenerate weirdos who drank more before lunch than they did in a year, but somehow this looked like... fun. After some hesitant initial enquiries about how dangerous it was, and how the sanitary conveniences were arranged, a shift started to become apparent in the attitude towards festivals. This was noticeable as early as the turn of the millennium. One of the most clear cut changes in crowd happened right before my eyes at the Lowlands festival in Holland. The first couple of years I went there, everybody hung out with everybody. Technoheads drank with skaters, punks smoked joints with dreadlocked hippies and metalheads had a beer with anyone who was interested. It was one great happy family. On the last 2 occasions I went there, the change was shocking. Musical subcultures clustered together in their own segregated corners of the camp sites, and if you were crazy enough to play punk in a techno zone, you were in for a reminder of where you were.
And this was even before the regular people started moving in. With no interest in any of the bands that were playing, these people cornered off large swats of camp site, where they would play regular chart music, observed rather christian bed times and would tell you that ‘some people enjoy their sleep’ if you happened to make noise after midnight. One night, at around midnight, me and a friend were walking across a camping field, singing songs and laughing, and someone shouted from a large family sized tent that we should shut up as it was late.
It was then that I knew the festival was lost. 

Why these people don’t go to a regular camp site, far away from noisy drunks like me and my friends, I never understood, but the urge to be able to say at the watercooler at work that they ‘were there’ must go some way to explaining it.
This situation has not improved over the years. As I said, I haven’t been following this as actively as I used to, but I regularly see photos on social media, posted by festival veterans who are disgusted by the behaviour of people who don’t appreciate the festival atmosphere and therefore try to turn it into an extended version of their local football club’s annual summer barbecue.
That is not how it works. Festivals are different. 

And that takes me to point 3 of my rant:

3. The new crowd expect comfort.

When you’re at a festival, different rules apply. You leave the conveniences of home behind to be part of a special occasion. You accept that you will be eating luke warm hamburgers or fallafel for the duration, and don’t have your own kitchen or the chef of your local pub to feed you. Instead of having a nice pint on your comfy seat in your regular pub, you sit on the grass drinking mediocre lager from a plastic cup. And yes, you’ll have to take a shit on a mobile toilet that has been used by 500 other people before you since the start of the day. That’s all part of the experience. When you get home, you will appreciate the comforts of home all the more and you’ll be a better person for it.
But no, this does not sit well with the 21st century crowd. They are too good for this.
Look, I’m all for choice. I love it that I can choose from 15 different types of hummus at my local supermarket, in 3 different degrees of fattyness. I love that my local beerstore has 300 different types of beer for me to choose from, and ads new brands almost on a daily basis. And I love that the pub at work has 12 different hamburgers that I can choose from for lunch. On a festival, however, this isn’t necessarily and advantage. Festival bars work under high pressure and deal with enormous crowds, often concentrated at certain times (the time frame between the end of one band and the start of another). Having 25 different beers on tap would make it nearly impossible to deal with the crowds, nevermind the pricing system. The same thing goes for food. If your customers can choose between a hamburger, a cheeseburger and a hotdog, you can serve one every 15 seconds. If every customer gets to order a custom-made snack, and decide on whether they want pickles, tomato or mayonaise on their burger, this will take far too long and the queue will soon rise to dangerous length. Live with a relatively limited choice for a few days, it won’t kill you.

The same thing applies for other comforts you are used to at home. Showers are a daily part of most people’s routine and I’m glad that they are. I wouldn’t want to sit next to people who haven’t showered in 4 days
in the office, but on a festival this doesn’t matter. You’re either walking around in a neverending mudslide or in a midsummer dustfest. Your hair is going to be sticky, your clothes caked with dirt and your boots will need 2 days of solid cleaning when you get home. Taking a shower is a waste of both your time and your money. Rinse your face and brush your teeth in the morning and you’ll be fine. You can also do without extensive make up supplies, hairdryers or curlers and razors.

Image result for beauty case
NOT Necessary.

Sleeping at festivals is best done in cheap tents. The best model is the so called igloo tent. These things are lightweight, can be bought for about 40 bucks and, best of all, are so easy to assemble that you’ll have your fortress of drunkitude standing within 10 minutes, even if you have consumed a dozen beers before you commence the assembly process (I know this from years of experience)
Tents add to the atmosphere of being out and about together and feeling part of the community. Should you go to bed early and not pass out immediately, you will hear the rest of the festival partying on, just inches from your head, which is an excellent incentive to get up out of your sleeping bag and back into the party. Alternatively, you can do as a friend of mine did at Wacken Open Air, some time in the early years of the century, and set up shop at the 24/7 bar tent. We arrived at the festival, he went for one quick beer and then spent the next 4 days there, in an area that we had sort of adopted as our group’s central meeting point. He would occasionally fall asleep under a picknick table for an hour or so and then stir back into life for the next round of partying.

But again, this is not to the liking of the current crop. Apart from ‘Quiet Zones’ where you can camp in the knowledge that it will be quiet after, say, midnight, they have come up with annoying things like phone charging zones, lockers for your valuables, and, I am loath to use this word, something called Glamping. Glamping is tied first for most annoying new word for this decade, together with the Dutch term VrijMiBo. This ugly abbreviation for the words Vrijdag (Friday), Middag (Afternoon) and Borrel (Drinks) is used mainly by middle aged women who don’t get out much and consider it to be a wild night when they have had 3 small glasses of white wine. People who use this word should be avoided at all costs.
Glamping is pretty close though. A lazy contraction of glamour and camping, it is a typical sign of the state of festivals these days. Rather than roughing it for a couple of days like you’re supposed to, the new breed of festival wannabees has demanded (and gotten) pre-erected deluxe tents with electricity, mirrors, fridges and other conveniences that go entirely against the spirit of festivals. Other festivals offer campers or even bungalows with all the trimmings that you can think of. It is ridiculous.
As I indicated at the start of the story, this makes me sad. The spirit of festivals has been erroding for a long time now, and nearly all the things that made festivals such a unique thing, a mountain of happy memories to be cherished for life, have now gone by the wayside. 
I miss going to festivals, but I know I made the right decision when I decided to call it a day and hang up my tent.

Having said all this.. I will be attending a festival once again this weekend. It is different from the ones I used to go to, as this festival takes place at an open air club on the Adriatic coast. There will be no rain or mud, no half cooked hamburgers and, most significantly, no heavy metal. This festival is about funk and soul music and will be more dancing than headbanging, more surfing than crowd surfing and more cold craft beer than luke warm lager.
The reason I’m going there is that I was invited by my good friends at the Galway Bay Brewery to tag along. They are one of the beer suppliers at the festival and I am ofcourse more than happy to keep an eye on proceedings.

Oh yeah, I will be staying in a hotel apartment. Bite me. 

No comments:

Post a Comment