The A To Z Of Festivals
I found myself on a train the other week reading Time Out. Once past the bit where people send in things they’ve overheard around town (you know, the one thing that used to be worth reading in there that’s not as good as it used to be and is definitely now full of made up stuff), I found myself – before I even knew it – reading a guide to summer festivals. The next weekend, papers were full of the stuff. And, to use the kind of terminology colour piece writers were quoting for, say, the Diana funeral, “still they come”. From the NME to Vice, from the Sunday Times Style to the Daily Telegraph’s Living section, freelance journalists are all over offering their perfect guides on how to do this, how to do that, how to have the perfect festival, great festival memories, festival festival festival bloody festival. There they are, in Metal Hammer. Oh, look, more in Mixmag. What’s more, they’re not there just for the start of the festival season, oh, no. Just like festivals themselves, they’re proliferating, breeding, spreading, like some unwanted pests, or some kind of fungal infection. Late summer festival guides, dance ones, the end of the season ones…
Now, you could devour them all, actually believe the style tips being proffered, that kind of thing. Or you could just read through this guide to the festival guides, an A to Z so you can spot the festival feature cliches as well as avoiding ploughing though a wealth of them…
Clothes, especially wacky stuff people wear to festivals. Includes a look at Bestival fancy dress: ooh, aren’t we bonkers? Also slightly sniffy mentions of Angel Wings, stag parties, co-ordinated T-shirts and the likes at V Festival. Can appear at three times during the festival season: first as a preview (“what we’ll be wearing at festivals this year”, usually penned by that one out of Groove Armada’s missus – she’s a fashion editor and her fella runs Lovebox, perfect credentials!); then as a photo-story over the weekend (“what we wore at “Glasto” [cf]), with a final “did we really wear that?” feature in September (and, by the way, the answer is usually “no”).
The one that tells you that if Glasto’s too big and V and Reading are too corporate, then how about looking at one of these? Includes lots of rural ones and interviews with organisers that start off saying things like: “We loved going to festivals but felt that we had to go back to the original spirit of festival-going” as if they’re some kind of custodians of all things festival-based. Will also include the quote “it started off as something for our friends and family and it grew from there.” Infused with a slightly patronising tone, as if to say “we’re much better than you.” Initially appeared in The Guardian, then The Independent, now spreading to The Times. Expect to see the Telegraph talking about boutique festivals sometime in 2018.
“Ooh, look, camping and festivals aren’t as scummy and dirty as you thought they were! Here’s our essential guide to camping and glamping.” Anything that mentions the word glamping must be avoided at all costs. Always an undercurrent of “we wouldn’t do that ourselves”, generally written by hacks giving it the “don’t you know who I am?” routine on the phone desperately trying to blag one of the items they say they wouldn’t stay in…
Or how ecstasy changed the face of festivals. Or how the dance tent is where the true communal spirit of the festival ideal comes out. Or how dancing in a field is truly liberating. By law, this feature must mention Tribal Gathering, the Criminal Justice Bill, Castlemorton and will include comments from one of The Chemical Brothers and somebody who’s done a two hour guest stint at Glastonbury…
“Everything you need to take with you so your festival goes off without a hitch.” Lots of product placement, with individual pictures and a sentence underneath. Generally written by journalists keen to get each of the items on the list for free so they can take it to a festival while they’re filing copies for their respective newspapers.
“Look! There’s Daisy Lowe! And Kate Moss! Uh-oh, what’s Liam Gallagher going to do next?” Famous people! They go to festivals just like us! (Except they rarely leave the VIP area, or the Soho House-sponsored enclave, but you know, it’s all part of the pretence…) Here’s a picture of them having a right laugh. Tabloid coverage of how to do a festival like a celeb will, of course, make tacit drug references that the kids will get, but there’s a nudge nudge wink wink about it. Unless you collapse and require medical assistance, when you can disapprovingly tut and make a moral judgement. If, of course, you’re referring to V Festival, replace Lowe, Allen, Delevigne and co with Olly Murs and some dollies from TOWIE.
This writer is old enough to remember Glastonbury before it became (shudders) “Glasto”. It’s a name that gives every impression of having been made up by Emily Eavis, like the kid at school who makes up their own nickname rather than having one bestowed on them properly by other kids. I’m embarrassed to even say it out loud, let alone writing it hundreds of times throughout a feature. Glastonbury features are a whole law unto themselves. I remember Glastonbury when it was a shit hippy festival, then it got kind of taken over as a CND thing. No-one tales about how special it was then, just about how muddy it was. And then, some time in the early 1990s, NME decided it was called Glasto and it had some kind of magical powers and history dating back years. Much like the accusations thrown at Chelsea supporters, Glastonbury has nowhere near as much history as you think, yet everyone bangs on about it as if it’s worthy of some 1,000 page Julian Cope tome on its mystic importance. Any Glasto feature will talk about campfires, Joe and John (cf), trannies, the magic you find out on the outskirts of the festival and a thousand writers, some who’ve only been once or twice, talking with huge authority about what “Glasto means” and the “true spirit of Glasto” and, you know, really understanding it the way they, and not you, only can…
A feature on the history of festivals will include the following words: Stonehenge, paganism and Wicker Man shit (“us Brits invented the festival”), the first Glastonbury (with obligatory Bowie reference), Hendrix at the Isle Of Wight, Woodstock, the Stones at Hyde Park, “1989 summer of love orbital raves”, Michael Eavis, Emily Eavis and at least one comment from Vince Power.
“How to have your own festival at home, indoors, while watching it all on BBC2/Sky Arts etc.” In which a journalist gives you tips on how to stay at home and watch telly. May include the old line about moving your telly to one end of the garden, drinking warm beer and getting a Scouser round to rob you house.
Joe and John
That feature in which everyone tries to align themselves closely to the spirit of both Joe Strummer and John Peel. The pair always seemed to be late to the festival party; as a Peel listener in the late 70s and 1980s, I can’t seem to remember the latter talking at length about the festival circuit, while Strummer was never into it during his Clash days. But their conversion to the cause in the 1990s and subsequent untimely tragic deaths means that they’re seen as figureheads for the cause, especially Glastonbury. So with fields and stages and all sorts named after them, sees everyone trying to show how matey they were with them in print and on the telly. Features about Peel and Strummer and their festival worlds will include comments from Emily Eavis, Jo Whiley and Billy Bragg.
Oh, the festival guides to drugs. What fun we’ll have. perhaps the only thing duller than people talking endlessly about what drugs they’re on (“Where you from, how many you done?” was the early call to arms of the acid house) is journalists writing endlessly about drugs. Ooh, look, let’s talk about holding hands and hugging in a field on mind-bending love drugs! Let’s mention ketamine and call them horse tranquillisers (“I”m not taking a drug that’s used by vets!”). Let’s talk about hippies and LSD. Everyone and skunk. Will include a story from a comedian who went to Glastonbury and did some drugs and spoke to hippies and other strangers at 7am an realised that you can have so-so or even bad experiences on drugs, as if they’ve discovered one of the great mysteries of life.
I could bang on about the whys and wherefores of having laughing gas as your drug of choice (remember, every generation has its own drug, and this one’s is nitrous oxide, have a think about how history will judge you, you divs), or about the pointlessness of sitting outside parliament protesting (compare, if you will, the little Westminster demo with the Freedom To Party affairs of the early 1990s), but there’s no need.
Festivals are, after all, about the music, aren’t they? Guides to bands playing at festivals and what they’re going to play; bands talking about their favourite festivals and an outline through classic performances throughout the years… Yawn…
It’s easy to feel sorry for bands who are on, say, their second or third albums at festivals. Not for them, the main stage and a run through of their greatest hits. Nor for them too, featuring in the wealth of features telling you about new bands to look out for. Rules of festival music features say you have to mention one band playing the main stage (reminding us how you’ve always been into such-and-such, you realise they’re mainstream now, but want to see how they “cope” with playing the main stage and you’re looking forward to see a sea of hands in the air from the side of the stage) and then go on to tell us who you’re really looking forward to seeing one afternoon in a tent way off the beaten track. In the end, you’ll be in the VIP area ligging away rather than actually being there, but that’s not the point…
“Fed up with over-commercialisation of Glasto (which, conversely, has nothing to do with our newspaper’s own sponsorship, live-blogging of the event, reviews, pictures and features)? Here’s a list of other festivals you can go to…” It then proceeds to tell you about all the same places it did last year when it ran the same feature. Can often be linked to the boutique festival. Will also mention that it doesn’t rain as much in Spain as it does in the UK (unless it’s mainly on the plain, of course). And how many more times do you need telling that Croatia is the new whatever it’s supposed to be?
Also known as faecal features. Sadly missing from the scores of festival features is one that offers advice on how to avoid pooing for 72 hours. Instead, the regular feature for the scatalogically obsessed tends to revolve around lurid anecdotal tales in which people talk about how they dropped some valuable item in a cesspit or trough and their shit-encrusted attempts to retrieve it. Bolder types, with less shame, may recount stories of how they soiied themselves due to some hilarious mishap. These could come from two potential sources: eye-witness submissions in which ordinary members of the public see no problem in sharing and journalists themselves. And never, ever, underestimate all the sorry and sordid secrets a hack is prepared to reveal to get something published (“I SHIT MYSELF!! FOR 20p A WORD! OK I’LL DO IT FOR 15p!”)
Do grown-ups – or children for that matter – really need advice on how to queue up? Apparently so. Usually as part of those “top tips on how to survive a festival” features so beloved of the broadsheets…
The one where famous people and festival regulars (Billy Bragg and one of Orbital’s agents are on standby) talk about their Radiohead moment… You know, the one where they truly got the meaning of the festival, shared a common experience, saw God. Ordinary folk will share their fairly normal experiences (“Radiohead were amazing”), journalists will be either contrary or obscure, depending on what they think will make them look better and earn them more per word (“my greatest moment came when I saw something that none of the rest of you mere mortals saw”) while the acts themselves will talk about something they were involved with (“we didn’t know it would be a lasting memory, we knew we were at the height of our powers, but we didn’t know the profound effect it would have on people’s lives,” will run the typical modest statement). People on BBC programmes will tell you something about John Peel or Joe Strummer (cf). Pop stars will also talk about guest appearances (“we were amazed when Iggy walked on stage”) or something that happened in a far-flung place (“we played to 5 million people and then had some ace flake with hookers in Brazil” or “we had some weird girls following us in Japan”)…
The one popularised in the Guardian, people like Time Out may run it too, as will Mixmag. Will include such wacky and completely original caricatures of festival stereotypes such as “the indie kid” and “the bloke who takes pills and goes in the dance tent (His eyes are like saucers!)" “Come on, I’ve got a mate who’s really good at drawing, he can do some well funny pictures of the kind of idiots. It’d be well funny.” No he can’t. And no it’s not. (As someone well versed in the art of writing articles that are nowhere near as funny as their authors think they are, we can categorically state, these aren’t funny.)
White, straight Guardian-readers love nothing more than a bit of disco (“ooh, disco!”), fancy dress, the trannies and the gays, so heading down to, say, Downlow at Glastonbury, anywhere else Horsemeat are playing. And so Guardian readers have to endure scores of features in The Guide, where by some gay people talk about how to be fabulous when it’s muddy. While listening to disco! Truly bonkers.
“How to enjoy the festival experience, without ever having to leave London,” says a feature rounding up all the metropolitan day fests. That all advertise in the publication anyway. All you need to do is look at the line-ups, rather than see some intern waffling on for a thousand words, pinning their hopes on a couple of freemans to Field Day before they’re gazumped by senior editorial staff who hoover up al the list places. Condensed version of the feature runs thus: “On the plus side, no camping. On the downside, queuing to get into tents to see a couple of trannies on stage, wandering around trying to find the afters. Is this good enough? Can I have my £200 now please?”
Vice, of course, invented the festival. Or you’d think it had, the way it claims ownership of them. Remember that year Vice ran its own festival? Some early arrivers phoned up others on their way after working out that the entire alcohol serving system at the even was based around raffle tickets. “Buy a book of blue raffle takes on the way here,” they urged. “We’ll have free booze all weekend.” That’s not a feature, we know, but highlights that, contrary to its pages of festival based editorial telling you how to do festivals properly, it’s not entirely sure itself. Instead, remember that time they ran a Don’t about the woman rubbing herself with a pizza. They sure do and have been dining out on it for years.
Oh, fuck off telling me what wellies are cool and what ones aren’t. Or what ones are left over in a field. There is no such thing as a decent pair of wellies. Unless you’re under the age of 10.
“Ooh, I once had a bunk up in a tent. It was slightly awkward.” And other such hugely insightful not even titillating copping off at a festival tales. The Vice one will include a tale of someone shitting themselves while in flagrante, but thanks to drugs rather than alcohol, it becomes a badge of pride rather than some rugby-based bonkers incident.
I once went in a yurt at a posh wedding. It ended in someone getting naked and being flayed by some lads from Leeds. That was more exciting than most of the features you’ll read involving the word “yurt”. Real NME readers will tweet Telegraph and Independent features about yurts and the best way you can enjoy a festival without getting muddy or even temporarily leaving your life of luxury with sniffy comments about how it goes against the true spirit of festivals. Deep down, they’re wishing they were mates with one of Sadie Frost’s kids so they could stay in one.
Oh fuck off. I’m really tired, I’ve written thousands of words on this and I can’t be arsed to properly think of a Z. When I started this feature, I wrote Zappa as a potential Z entry. I have no idea why and it seems like an eternity ago. I can’t fucking remember. Just something about Zappa, OK?