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Wednesday 23 August 2006

V Festival 2006 - a quid too far? [Lurks]

I'm a regular music festival goer. You either get festivals, or you don't really. The fact is they're a couple of days of rough living 48-hour party with music as the main focus. Yet within that limit there's a heck of a lot of room for each festival to carve out it's niche. In the last few years, the British music festival phenomena has become bigger than anyone would imagine given the typically unpredictable weather. V Festival is one of the newer festivals and was basically conceived as a commercial branding excersize in order to market to youth culture.
That's not necessarily bad. After all, if the music line up is good and it's often brilliant at V Festival, then you know what you're getting. This year I went with none of my regular festival going vets and instead a bunch of festival virgins. By and large they seemed to enjoy themselves although, predictably enough, the ladies were pretty non-plussed about the whole portaloo experience. Let's face it, if you had to use one just to take a leak then you'd be not too pleased either.
About the festival: It was basically alright. The lineup wasn't as good as previous years. Tickets were basically available up until the last minute which meant I got shafted on some tickets I bought for a friend of a friend, assuming they'd be in hot demand. In the end I got half face value. I thought the festival would be somehow less popular but in fact it was bigger than ever, it was just the result of putting tickets on sale late. At any rate, we had crap weather, we had good weather, we had crap bands, we had good bands. It was your pretty much par for the course festival experience and I think we all enjoyed ourselves.
I wouldn't say it at the time to the new folks though, but I think this V Fest was just a stretch too far on the commercialisation. It's always been a festival on my 'guest list' so's to speak, I go when the line up is good or to fill a gap. No Glasto this year swung it. However after this performance, I'm going to have to strike it off. It's just too big, too commercialised, too damn expensive and for all of that it's lacking that festival atmosphere which draws me to festivals in the first place.
It's amazing to read on efestivals about how many people in general are moaning about V. Much of it seems to be people complaining about stuff you'd find at any festival. Conversely though, there were a lot of things that were wrong. It never occured to the organisers to actually guide people to what they need to do when they arrive such as approaching unmarked desks to obtain wrist bands and neither did many of the event staff have much of a clue either. The thing most people, rightly, complained about was the absurd £10 lanyards required just to know who was playing when. That was firmly into taking-the-piss territory given that you've paid £120 to show up and you'll be paying outrageous prices all weekend for food and drink. It's not so much that the crowd can't afford it, it's just a blatant rip-off and I think as the BBC article shows, there's a bit of a backlash now.
A low point for me, though, was the security staff arbitrarily deciding on the second day that you couldn't bring fold up chairs referred to in Aussie slang as chair millionaires into the festival. Now bare in mind I've been coming to festivals for years using these things, they're a festival vet's best kept secret. We could take them in earlier in the day and the day before, they just decided at some point you couldn't. Which was stupid because folks were selling them inside the festival. When you've been walking/dancing for a day already and the ground is pure mud and there's nowhere to sit, believe me you want one of these chairs. In the end I managed to sneak them in, barely, but only because I went in early on Sunday. The fact they think it's alright to do this sort of thing means I'll simply take my festival custom elsewhere next time.
Also much was made of the huge amounts of straw that had been obtained for the inevitable mud given the weather reports. In the end they didn't use any of it and the steep slopes to camp sites became six inches deep in fast flowing mud. I'm baffled why.
Radiohead was clearly the act of the weekend for us although a personal festival highlight would have to be Hayseed Dixie who performed their bluegrass covers of metal songs with a gusto that makes their albums sound second class by comparison. Not a lot of amazing music and acts there really and even the appearance of my favorite artist, Imogen Heap, was hampered by a short set with cataclysmically inept sound (levels, feedback etc)and some twat stood up the back with an airhorn who was not, by all accounts, afraid to use it.
So, in the end I kept on a brave face for the festival new folks in the hopes I can entice them back to a real one at some point in the future. Broadly speaking though, I could sum up this year's V Festival as being a soul-less over commercialised, expensive, inconvienient jobsworth of a festival. My idea of a good festival is one with less general drunken loutishness, more weird stuff, lots more weird stuff, plenty of hippy types/vegetarians/spiritual claptrap, a choice of alcohol that I can choose to purchase rather than fecking Carling or Strongbow and above all else, one that keeps the action going past midnight so you can party into the night. V Festival was none of those things and I feel sorry that anyone would think that it is remotely indicative of the average British festival.
I still had a good time, in parts, and had a laugh with my mates. It's just there's better places to do it where the organisers are at least doing their bit for ensuring you have a good time rather than going to extrodinary lengths to fleece you for cash. In retrospect I cannot believe that I was ever slightly annoyed with Michael Eavis' lefty tendancies because if this is the alternative, sign me up to the communist party baby.
Of course not everyone thinks the same. On the coach back I had a conversation with some people about how I'll now be doing smaller festivals instead and mentioned my next one, Bestival, as an example. They weren't fussed because there wasn't some big music line up. Some people go for the music. Myself, sufficiently tanked up and grinning with my pals, will enjoy the music and atmosphere whatever it is. I know that's not a view shared by the folks that came for the first time either since our own [EED]Slim said to me "I've I'm going to leave the island I want to see big bands that I can't see at home." And fair enough. I've been able to go to big band gigs whenever I want, so I guess it's a supply and demand issue.
The bottom line is I like the huge crowd headlining gigs of the current uber band like the next man, but most of the time at a festival you're trying to find somewhere comfortable to be, something nice to watch, something good to eat and get slowly ever more drunk with your friends. That's the sort of thing which is, to my mind, infintely better at smaller festivals (with the exception of Glasto of course) than it is stuff like V Festival. V-Fest basically isn't a festival at all, it's just a big gig with camping.
Next year we'll have a car and we'll be driving and I intend to hit some of the smaller fringe festivals and maybe discover some more which will be put on my permanent list along with Bestival and Glastonbury. Maybe next year we can think about hitting one overseas ones like Roskilde in Norway or that big Spanish one. There's enough of these things around now that you really don't have to put up with second best. And so I shan't :-)


  1. I was one of those virgins at the Virgin festival, and I had an absolute blast. Things weren't perfect, but I'd done a lot of reading up and pretty much knew what to expect, so I was pretty surprised at the volume of bleating about V after the event.
    Some of those bleats are justified, and many come down to a simple lack of communication, or bad communication from the organisers. This was fucked from the start, a nice two page guide that was supposed to be included with your tickets wasn't sent. You could get it from the website, but nobody does, none of my party did except me. This solved a lot of the complaints about 'where the fuck do I go?', so I didn't suffer there. This also contained misinformation though, most crucially it said "don't bring cash, there's machines on site". I sensibly ignored that and brought a huge stash, but thousands didn't, and spent much of their expensive weekend queuing for one of the two machines available to service tens of thousands of punters. Fucked. My mates ended up bying some unwanted merchendise and getting stung 10% commission on cashback, ouch.
    The other major bleat was the carparks. It's clear the organisers are trying to discourage you from using your car as much as possible. The parking is a long way away, and it's expensive. I didn't use em, so I can't comment, but the whole thing sounds fucked up if it takes you six hours to get out of a field. But then it doesn't take a genius to work out that if you want to get away cleanly you must leave either very early or very late no?
    Then folks bleat about the cost. Now this really wasn't an issue for me, I got a full english plus coffee for a fiver from the voodoo breakfast place. This cost me a tenner in machester airport on the way back. I think you just had to know where to look and avoid the rip off vans, bosh. The booze was £3 a pint, not bad at all considering where we were?
    Other bleats were simply people being stupid. I saw folks queue for hours to use bogs, waiting for a door to open and go in, when there were shitloads of empty bogs ready. Use your fucking eyes people! I also saw blokes queueing for a piss when there were lots of urinals, daft. Of course, this could have been eased by having a couple of marshalls on bog duty, but they all seemed busy lazing around the entrances..
    There was no excuse for the programme really, that info should have been up on signage making the programme purchase optional.
    My complaints are more shit you'll find at any festival, and are mostly down to the twats that go rather than the organisers. If you go to a festival, why would you:
    1. Shit on the walls of a portaloo. Why whould you do this? What's in it for you?2. Piss in a cup and throw it over people. Wheres the entertainment there? Why aren't the people stood next to these cunts twatting them?3. Portaloos work by having chemicals dissolve your shit and your toilet paper. Wet wipes do not dissolve. Dont use em in portaloos, you create a shit mountain!4. Setting your tent on fire at the end. The 8 quid tesco tent seemed a big victim of this, if you dont want it just leave the fucker, dont be a cunt and burn it eh?
    I'm not a festival pro, but I recon if you come prepared you'll enjoy yourself a lot more. Dont buy the booze in the arena, just fill a water bottle with vodka, bosh, cheap pissed up weekend. Don't be upset if you get wet/muddy, thats what happens, just prepare for it with the right gear. Check the place out, find the cheap food stalls, ask folks about the band lineup rather than buy a programme, read the guide before you go.

  2. Actually there was a nice iniative at V Fest which I haven't seen before, basically they'd take used tents and donate them to charity. Clearly those do have a use someplace as temporary accomodation. It wasn't clear to me if you had to pick up your tent and give it to someone or if they'd just comb the fields, since they have to anyway, after the event and pick up all the used tents.
    Since I do this thing a bit, I've got a proper tent that cost proper money so it has to be packed up and hauled back. It's a bit of a bastard when it's wet and dirty since it doesn't really fit in the bag in this condition and has to be whipped out at home to clean up/dry off before next use but I can't really see me wanting to use one of those cheap ass tents really.
    Heh, we got their quite early on Friday. Went and found a completely empty field on the high ground (what's up with these tools that park their tent on the downslope from a dirt road... must like sleeping in mud I guess) and pitched up there without another tent for 20m plus. Course came back late that night and the entire field was rammed and some bast pitched their tent hard up against our door! Basts!


  3. Interesting blog!

    I love music.. love going to gigs.. but I've never been to a festival

    Truth is, whenever I really sit down and think about whether I'd want to go or not, I always wimp out and decide that I really wouldn't like it much

    My biggest problem with going to 'normal' gigs are that unless you're a tall type, you spend half your time catching fleeting glimpses of the stage, stareing at someones back.. or standing so far back that you may as well be watching it on a TV.

    I can't help but feel that if I went to a festival, this would be the case only much much worse..

    So, if the actual 'gig' experiance isn't the selling point.. then it's got to be the camping and getting sloshed with your mates part?

    Now that sounds great to me.. but why not just go camping somewhere a bit nicer and take a cd player and some decent drink? More importantly.. somewhere where there aren't 10,000 arseholes surrounding you?

    So basicaly.. Love the concept of going to a festival.. but the reality just doesn't seem to be that appealing..

    I'm currently being pushed to go to Creamfields this bankholiday, and.. while I'm not totaly against the idea.. I can't help but feel that the only real way that I'd deal with it would be to go with a slight chemical imbalance and just stay awake for the entire event! Automaticaly taking care of the camping, arseholes and food/drink problem in one go!

  4. Well, no, it doesn't always have to be staring at someone's back. On the second day we basically spent most of it camped out on a hill rise a good couple of hundred metres back from the stage. Strategically positioned right in the middle of the food (which happened to be about best on site), booze tents and the loos/wall. It was superb, we had a commanding view of the stage, could hear it fine. So you don't need to shove in to be in the crowd up front unless that's your scene.
    Actually, my enjoyment of festivals is really directly preportional to the amount of action I get which includes finding a nice spot and getting some good dance action as well. There's actually quite a lot to do at your average festival, even the shopping aint too bad. I think the problem with having arseholes etc is basically preportional to the size of the festival and the atmosphere. Glasto is really the only one that manages to be huge and dodges the arsehole factor, I'm not entirely sure how.
    And, you know, I didn't have a spot of bother all weekend. No fights, no major complaints. I did meet a bunch of interesting things and perved on a seriously monumental amount of totty in miniskirts and wellies. That might be a little lacking on your own camping trip :-)

  5. I found the opposite, that there was so many bands on, and so much space that it was really easy to see. Even the headliners, we got pretty close up without really having to muscle in at all and had a great view. It's not like a regular concert where everyones cramming to see the same guy.
    As to the commercialism shit, I really didn't have an issue with it. Yep, you could only buy Carling beer, Virgin cola, Breezers alchopops or Strongbow cider and that was a shame. Other than that the commercialism didn't really get in the way at all. The expensive programmes helped me meet a buch of people who came and asked me what was on next cos I had one around me neck.
    As for atmosphere, I dont really get that one. I was relaxing in a Teepee with me buds nibbling wedges, drinking pimms and chatting to some strangers about bands, that was pretty atmospheric for me. It didn't have mashed people everywhere hugging random strangers, but you can keep that to be honest.
    Would I go back? Depends utterly on the lineup, that's why I was there. We're looking at T-in the park or oxygene next year as alternatives but we'll wait and see who they book.
    Oh, and radiohead fucking ruled.