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August 11,2020

by Stephanie Soh

The year with no festivals

I was 16 years old when I went to my first music festival – and I knew it was something special.

It wasn’t the heavy corporate sponsorship, the overpriced burgers or the one brand of bad beer that did it. Although, as a teen simply grateful to be able to get on it, I can’t say those things bothered me much.  

What got me was – well, the part where I was able to get on it. But also the sense of freedom that came with getting on it alongside tens of thousands of others in a time and a place that felt removed from the everyday.  

To quote the intro to a Primal Scream classic, that weekend spent drinking watery lager and jumping up and down in a field in Essex made me feel free! Free to do what I wanted to do! And to get loaded! 

After this followed more end-of-exams blowouts, camping weekenders that were as figuratively messy as they were literally, foreign festivals that came with the comforts of hotel beds and continental weather, and city-wide ones that flooded neighbourhoods with performances and parties.  

As I finished studying, started working and my stack of commitments accumulated in tandem with the years, the divide between ‘real life’ and ‘festival life’ grew bigger. 

Single day festivals offered a bit of respite – a few hours in a park, where you could get something out of your system before catching the tube home. But the festivals that spanned several days were more potent, allowing the pursuit of pleasure to become something of a daily ritual. 

Although the reality of financing modern-day festivals meant it was almost impossible to avoid the overt commercialism of VIP areas or stages named after cars, it was possible to feel like you had cast off at least some of the chains of the daily grind. 

Sometimes, when walking from one stage to the next with a balmy summer’s night in full swing and my friends by my side, I’d allow myself a moment of wild, laughable fantasy and think ‘this is my life now’. 

And then before I knew it, I’d be back home, setting my alarm for work, fixating on the exact hours and minutes shy of eight hours sleep I was going to get, and the proportionate unpleasant effect this would have on the following day.

Of course, this year, with the pandemic, there are no festivals. Or at least, not the kind we are used to. The impact of coronavirus has been stark – festivals around the world are set to lose almost US$17bn, according to music data start-up Viberate.

The pressure valve has been closed; festivals, as we know them, aren’t a way we can let off steam. What effect might this have on us? 

‘Interrupting the daily routine, [festivals] temporarily loosen and rearrange the social fabric,’ says historian Christian Roy in the preface to Traditional Festivals: A Multicultural Encyclopaedia. ‘The better to reaffirm its underlying pattern of beliefs and assumptions, hopes and fears, founding myths and redemptive visions.’ 

Although Roy is referring to traditional religious or cultural festivals here, contemporary arts festivals can also work to uphold the social order by giving people a break from it – whether it’s through the release of hedonism, performance or the removal of social barriers. 

In fact, the ancient Egyptians – who believed that rituals were crucial to maintaining the natural order of things, such as the rising and setting of the sun – thought that festivals did the very important job of keeping the universe from descending into chaos. 

And for anyone who might be marginalised in society, or who feels part of a particular subculture, festivals can be an opportunity for identity affirmation. ‘In congregating for the duration of a music festival they gain a voice, and validation of their identities that may be withheld by mainstream society,’ writes Dr Chris Stone in his paper The British Pop Music Festival Phenomenon. 

Whatever their reason, people are so keen to come together that illegal raves have sprung up across the country, from Manchester to Leeds to London, with the police appearing to be playing a difficult game of whack-a-mole in their attempts to stomp them out. These raves are happening despite the very real risk of attendees catching and passing on Covid-19 – the isolating lockdown and social distancing measures brought in to protect people from the virus have almost certainly played a part in fuelling the apparent boom in prohibited parties. 

Meanwhile, those who want to stay on the right side of the law and, importantly, safety are calling on technology and ingenuity to keep festivals alive in the chaos year of 2020. Online efforts such as Tomorrowland’s Around the World and Edinburgh Fringe’s online festival are streaming performances to viewers in their own homes; a select number of small-scale socially distanced festivals have cropped up, such as Gisburne Park Pop-Up in Lancashire and Sound City in Liverpool; and the lovingly-named 2,500-capacity Virgin Money Unity Arena, which separates concert-goers with designated viewing platforms, is currently putting on shows in Gosforth Park, Newcastle.

Unfortunately, these legal festival quick fixes won’t be as effective at making you forget about your day job as running riot in a wood to techno over a few days, like you could have done in the Beforetimes. But if they do anything to stop the universe from going the way the ancient Egyptians feared, we'll have to settle for them.

For now. 

frankie-cordoba-VHNeqBMhj44-unsplash

August 11,2020

by Stephanie Soh

The year with no festivals

I was 16 years old when I went to my first music festival – and I knew it was something special.

It wasn’t the heavy corporate sponsorship, the overpriced burgers or the one brand of bad beer that did it. Although, as a teen simply grateful to be able to get on it, I can’t say those things bothered me much.  

What got me was – well, the part where I was able to get on it. But also the sense of freedom that came with getting on it alongside tens of thousands of others in a time and a place that felt removed from the everyday.  

To quote the intro to a Primal Scream classic, that weekend spent drinking watery lager and jumping up and down in a field in Essex made me feel free! Free to do what I wanted to do! And to get loaded! 

After this followed more end-of-exams blowouts, camping weekenders that were as figuratively messy as they were literally, foreign festivals that came with the comforts of hotel beds and continental weather, and city-wide ones that flooded neighbourhoods with performances and parties.  

As I finished studying, started working and my stack of commitments accumulated in tandem with the years, the divide between ‘real life’ and ‘festival life’ grew bigger. 

Single day festivals offered a bit of respite – a few hours in a park, where you could get something out of your system before catching the tube home. But the festivals that spanned several days were more potent, allowing the pursuit of pleasure to become something of a daily ritual. 

Although the reality of financing modern-day festivals meant it was almost impossible to avoid the overt commercialism of VIP areas or stages named after cars, it was possible to feel like you had cast off at least some of the chains of the daily grind. 

Sometimes, when walking from one stage to the next with a balmy summer’s night in full swing and my friends by my side, I’d allow myself a moment of wild, laughable fantasy and think ‘this is my life now’. 

And then before I knew it, I’d be back home, setting my alarm for work, fixating on the exact hours and minutes shy of eight hours sleep I was going to get, and the proportionate unpleasant effect this would have on the following day.

Of course, this year, with the pandemic, there are no festivals. Or at least, not the kind we are used to. The impact of coronavirus has been stark – festivals around the world are set to lose almost US$17bn, according to music data start-up Viberate.

The pressure valve has been closed; festivals, as we know them, aren’t a way we can let off steam. What effect might this have on us? 

‘Interrupting the daily routine, [festivals] temporarily loosen and rearrange the social fabric,’ says historian Christian Roy in the preface to Traditional Festivals: A Multicultural Encyclopaedia. ‘The better to reaffirm its underlying pattern of beliefs and assumptions, hopes and fears, founding myths and redemptive visions.’ 

Although Roy is referring to traditional religious or cultural festivals here, contemporary arts festivals can also work to uphold the social order by giving people a break from it – whether it’s through the release of hedonism, performance or the removal of social barriers. 

In fact, the ancient Egyptians – who believed that rituals were crucial to maintaining the natural order of things, such as the rising and setting of the sun – thought that festivals did the very important job of keeping the universe from descending into chaos. 

And for anyone who might be marginalised in society, or who feels part of a particular subculture, festivals can be an opportunity for identity affirmation. ‘In congregating for the duration of a music festival they gain a voice, and validation of their identities that may be withheld by mainstream society,’ writes Dr Chris Stone in his paper The British Pop Music Festival Phenomenon. 

Whatever their reason, people are so keen to come together that illegal raves have sprung up across the country, from Manchester to Leeds to London, with the police appearing to be playing a difficult game of whack-a-mole in their attempts to stomp them out. These raves are happening despite the very real risk of attendees catching and passing on Covid-19 – the isolating lockdown and social distancing measures brought in to protect people from the virus have almost certainly played a part in fuelling the apparent boom in prohibited parties. 

Meanwhile, those who want to stay on the right side of the law and, importantly, safety are calling on technology and ingenuity to keep festivals alive in the chaos year of 2020. Online efforts such as Tomorrowland’s Around the World and Edinburgh Fringe’s online festival are streaming performances to viewers in their own homes; a select number of small-scale socially distanced festivals have cropped up, such as Gisburne Park Pop-Up in Lancashire and Sound City in Liverpool; and the lovingly-named 2,500-capacity Virgin Money Unity Arena, which separates concert-goers with designated viewing platforms, is currently putting on shows in Gosforth Park, Newcastle.

Unfortunately, these legal festival quick fixes won’t be as effective at making you forget about your day job as running riot in a wood to techno over a few days, like you could have done in the Beforetimes. But if they do anything to stop the universe from going the way the ancient Egyptians feared, we'll have to settle for them.

For now. 

frankie-cordoba-VHNeqBMhj44-unsplash