The music festival season is nearly upon us and with about five cajillion festivals to choose from, you’d have to be handcuffed to a rusty radiator, screaming for help in a sociopath’s spare bedroom all summer not to accidentally come across one at some point. And as with the human population, they’re multiplying wildly every year, which is obviously good news for the music industry at a time when record sales have slumped and pirating is apparently slashing the profit margins of record companies and distributors.
But when record industry bosses are also pouring their money into sure-fire acts and rock band reunions no one really asked for, are music festivals failing alternative, new music and pandering to sponsors and the mainstream to boost revenue?“
Of course!” I hear you scream, “Everything’s about profiteering you naïve, idealistic hippy! Grab a McDonald’s and chill the fuck out!” It’s true, that in an increasingly commercialised society, nearly everything is sponsored by something. The recent high-profile rebranding of St James’ Park to the Sports Direct Arena was just one example of our burgeoning reliance on corporate funding to keep our most prized institutions from boarding up and moving out.
Unfortunately, music is one of the biggest businesses around, so with so many festivals needing to be paid for and so many companies clambering to have their names adorned in menacingly sized letters across the front of the stage as if it were a Stalinist parade, it’s becoming increasingly farcical being a band or fan trying to fly the flag of the anti-establishment when you’ve just shilled out over a hundred quid to the likes of Pepsi, Nike, Kellogg’s Bran Flakes or Adolf Hitler, all whilst wearing your genuine brand Ray-Bans and Shockwaves hair gel without even sniffing a hint of the irony.
I’m a bit finickity when it comes to music so tend to watch one band I like at one venue for one night and then go home to bed with a cup of cocoa and go to work the next morning. Because I’m Rock and Roll ,ya see? I’ve sauntered around and played at a few smaller festivals and loved exploring the different stages finding new bands to listen to and watching the strangely uninhibited (and probably stoned) festival veterans dancing like they’re slowly melting in the sun or got tangled in an invisible cobweb.
Music festivals were borne of a time of sexual and social revolution. The black community was protesting against staunch inequality, there was war in Vietnam and nobody in the west could trust their corrupted government as far as they could throw their oversized backsides. Music festivals were a ramshackle affair thrown together by genuine music fans and attended by people who probably spent more time protesting and taking acid then they did washing. Everyone had a cause and everyone believed in some kind of movement.
It would be hard today to imagine the famous moment when Jimi Hendrix was on his knees, summoning up the flames engulfing his Stratocaster, all under the shadow of a ginormous Carling logo. No matter how much we feel we are unaffected by the omnipresence of advertising, such an iconic image would be forever immortalised in photographs and grainy film, etched into our memories with that tacky logo peeking out from the corner of our subconscious. Our perception of the moon landings would be drastically altered and robbed of poignancy had Neil Armstrong sunk a flag into the moon’s crust with the words “I’m lovin’ it” cheerfully and diagonally emblazoned across it.
But times change and the ideals of ‘sticking it to the man’ have become the somewhat passé ritual of crusty hippies in an age where most of us feel there isn’t really anything worth protesting about anymore and anything that is worth protesting about can’t be changed by sitting in a field singing songs and smoking pot. I think the reason so many smaller festivals are cropping up in remote little corners of the English countryside is because people are demanding the real festival experience again. The larger mainstream festivals have in recent years been hijacked by gaudy logos and gimmicky promotional tents and giveaways. They’ve become a parody of what people believe a festival should be; a shiny prefabrication courtesy of the people who usually supply your home broadband and phone contracts.
In a way, maybe we are choosing to protest quietly in our own modern way, gradually shunning the overpriced monster festivals packed with thousands of hipsters in flowery wellies and choosing instead to spend a relaxed afternoon in a Wiltshire field listening to musicians appreciative of the limelight and supping on a half-decent pint.
So enjoy your local festivals, wherever you choose to go. Unless of course you are chained to a rusty radiator in a sociopath’s spare room; in which case, try and get to a phone, festivals are the least of your problems!