Over the weekend footage burst onto my facebook. Outrageous footage, if you believed the various scandalised comments. On shaky phone cam, someone had caught the moment a horde of party monsters kicked the fence down at the Finsbury Park held Wireless Festival, then steamed right on in.
As the DJ was dropping something that sounded like Ludacris’s Move Bitch – pretty perfect, as I’m sure you’ll agree – some good Samaritan on the inside had become a momentary servant of chaos by popping the last lock holding the fence together. A tide of laughing ravers roared in, fist pumping as they legged it into the crowd. A number of them happened to be black (as were a fair amount of the acts on stage). As this is the internet, the fact didn’t go un-noted – here are a few Facebook philosophers chucking their hat in:
“Typical them lot cause riots”
“Heh, And 9/10's of them are black.”
“This is why nothing can be held in the hood! people act like animals and spoil it for everyone else... Lack of education and common sense!”
“It optimises the culture that goes with that type of music”
“This event was hijacked by North London black gangs to cause mayhem. The teenage gang problem among the black community in North London is now. Gone beyond controllable “
All of these comments were clearly from racists and festival part-timers - -people who didn't understand they were actually privileged to be watching an ancient British tradition at work* - the art of bunking the fence. So when I watch both bits of footage, I feel something stir within me. Somewhere deep within my beleaguered soul a sensation twitches. An odd sensation. What’s the word for it? It’s been so long it takes me a while to identify it – ahhh yes. There it is. Hope. There’s hope for London yet.
I’ve been worrying about my city. I worry that we’re losing the careless magic that makes us great. Looked at pessimistically (and *spoiler* we’ll only do this for a bit, cos it’s not all bad), somewhere a night out has gone from a sparkling web of infinite possibilities to a series of consumable ‘experiences’ almost entirely centred on commerce.
Clubs are overpriced and stricken with licensing regulations so draconian that getting past security feels you’re trying to enter North America with 5 pounds of coke and a copy of Das Kapital stuffed up your arse. Illegal warehouse raves have been replaced with a shitty nostalgia industry where faux-secret warehouse parties exist to make you want to drink more Redbull. Secret Cinema, a night where you pay £80 to watch a film you’ve seen countless times before while some underpaid actor in a raggedy “costume” tries to sell you £10 candyfloss –is seen as so culturally relevant it’s been covered by every major media outlet. Under the mayoral terms of Ken Livingstone, for all his faults, Finsbury Park was used for countless free festivals catering to all aspects of city life. Now this vast public space gets an ugly fence stuck in the middle. Wristbands, queuing, artisan burgers that cost a score: welcome to London.
The city has been caught in a spasmodic fit of chomping through anything in our cultural memory that had colour and energy and anarchy and love, and recasting it as something shit. Plastic pirate radio and vintage village fetes, flaccid entertainments for the parasites that lurk in the luxury properties we have replaced homes and communities with. And, by and large, London has been cool with this. We queue and we hand over our cash and we bob our head and we pretend it’s all so crazy and we pretend we’re having fun.
Fuck that. Fun is unpredictable. Fun is clubs where the lights don’t work and the bouncers don’t give a toss. Fun isn't legal highs; it's illegal highs- we all know they're only legislated against because they're better than booze. Fun is kicking the fence over at a festival and charging in, high on the madness and not giving a shit.
I know that some (a lot!) of you will disagree with this. I know the arguments – who’s going to pay for the acts? What about trouble makers breaking in? Why should I pay for my ticket is other people aren’t going to? And, well some of those are sort of valid - but remember, a festival makes a hell of a lot more off its concession stalls than it does ticket sales – and if all the tickets have sold out, then people breaking in are only going to make them more money, not less. But don't take that from this article.
Take this; people have been breaking into festivals since festivals began. The gatecrashers at Wireless are part of a great tradition of our approach to festivities – true, wild festivities (and if a festivity isn’t wild it’s something else entirely), and a fine reminder that we’re not dead just yet.
We don’t have to be a society of mindless forelocking tugging, rule-abiding miseries. Dare I say it – it’s not the British Way. We’re a complex island, a mixture of deferment and revolution, of authoritarian ideals and dreams of liberty. If you remove the trouble makers, maniacs and chancers you’re left with a flat, colourless nothing – uniform and monotonous as the Canary Wharf sky. We should celebrate that our city has still got a lick of life in it, that people still care enough about a rave that they'll risk a kicking to hear a song. It's anti rolling over and accepting your lot. It's anti 'we're all in it together', it's anti boredom and predictability and tedium. Instead it's people having a crack at living life like the aristos in charge of the land: take what you want, ignore the rules and laugh while you do it. The only difference is that the jokers breaking into Wireless may actually get in trouble. And whilst sometimes being a maniac ends in tears, I'm sure someone said something once about preferring bangs to whimpers.
*incidentally, their bigot glasses must also have filtered out footage from the Rage Against the Machine Finsbury Park gig of a couple of years before - a gig that was actually free, so with presumably even less reason not to have a ticket. You’ll notice the crowd busting in here have a slightly different ethnic make up…