“Rock festivals have in common with religious faiths that they are organised dementias, collective determinations to ignore logic. The entire prospectus is a monstrous falsehood.”
The words of ex-music journalist Andrew Mueller, who saw his dreams turn to bitter dust in the ’90s. Backstage at Reading in 1996 he realised that festivals with Weezer and free beer just didn’t provide the kicks he had imagined, and concluded that they were rubbish.
As Mueller was typing out his bad-tempered and dated body punch to the ethos of festivals, I was preparing to play one almost every weekend for two months. From Glastonbury (pictured here, in good weather) to the End of The Road festival, here was I, a 39-year-old who should have been readying myself for gout, instead facing the demise of my toes from trench foot.
My experience of festivals seems very different to Mueller’s, but then, once I finished my set of shouting about Richard Littlejohn and the human genome, I wandered around the festivals rather than hiding with the hangers-on, powdered-up PR people and free booze.
“Beneath the stupid hats lurks less diversity of thought, culture and race than you’d find at a BNP picnic.”
Since 1996, ridiculous headgear has experienced a startling drop in sales. Glastonbury still has the occasional jester’s hat or Julian Cope beacon of felt, but more often than not it is being worn by Julian Cope.
As for cultural diversity, I have found myself in fields talking to two evolutionary biologists, a Burnley scaffolder, a 16-year-old girl and her grandmother who ran a seaside café and a soldier who had been serving in Afghanistan. There is some truth that it is not a totally culturally diverse, as you very rarely find music loathers at festivals – except, I imagine, at V Festival, where they specialise in booking loathsome bands, so that no one is left out.
It is true that I noticed more of a left-wing bent at these festivals than the average high street might hold, but why the hell not? As the mass media continues its lurch to the right in print and on screen, what’s wrong with an occasional weekend where you aren’t constantly waiting for someone to puncture the air with, “the country is full and it’s the nignogs that have brought over all these knives”
They are also joyous reminders that the teenagers of today are not all the celebrity obsessed, blind consumerists that television executives insist they are. At Reading it was suggested I might dumb down a bit, but I didn’t and found you can still do jokes involving 19th century literature, religious fundamentalism and Pythagoras and not have one bottle of urine thrown at you.
Even sun worship and muddy nudity has declined. The days when a woman would lie in a stone circle masturbating, and screaming if anyone tried to cover, her are gone. I think that was Glastonbury 1998.
There are still some annoying levels of new ageism dotted around the fields. Just because I like watching lo-fi alt country music in a field doesn’t mean that I also believe that water has a memory.
I am sure that you can seek out a festival full of ugly caterwauling, limited imagination and hemp clowns’ shoes, but this was not my experience. The one thing that might sum up the people who gathered at the multifarious festivals was their failure to neatly fit into the stereotypical image of the festival goer, apart from the man in the loin cloth who was screaming and caked in mud. For a moment, I thought Stephen Green had come to Glastonbury.