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Glastonbury: A Fake Festival

Glastonbury: The Festival for People who Hate Music

(06 October 2007)

The key moment of Glastonbury 2007 was when Win Butler, lead singer of Arcade Fire, gazed out over the vast Glastonbury audience and picked out someone holding a flag advertising Heineken. Butler sarcastically asked if the person was on a good hourly rate. But did he have any right to show his contempt? There he was at a massively commercial festival awash with glitzy advertising and sponsored by huge capitalist corporations. Big deal if someone was holding a Heineken flag. The whole event was already irredeemably compromised, holed beneath the water line in its shameless promotion of any number of tacky capitalist enterprises with no connection with music.

This raises the question of whether such festivals can truly be called music festivals at all. Aren’t they just advertising extravaganzas and opportunities for TV companies to reach certain demographics? Music, it seems, is at the bottom of the priority list. It was all so different back in the day, of course. Glastonbury, in its earliest years, wasn’t televised, was associated with practically no advertising, no capitalist exploitation, and most people who went there were genuinely intent on enjoying the music and being with chilled out, alternative people.

But fast-forward to modern Glastonbury and it’s an atrocity exhibition of conspicuous consumption, product placement, extortionate prices, cramming in as many bums on seats (or patches of grass/mud) as possible. Many of the fans who arrive at Glastonbury are reputed to change out of suits and ties within a mile of the venue. Yeah, so radical, so alternative, these City workers with their huge annual bonuses. They’re exactly the types you want at a fake music festival, aren’t they? Apparently, even Glastonbury organiser Michael Eavis recognised that his audience was terribly nice, well educated and affluent this year. So where are all the working class kids – the only genuine music fans? No room for them at the Inn. They couldn’t afford a ticket or were unable to get access to the internet to buy the online tickets in the first place.

So, we’re left with sterile middle class types whose only real interest in Glastonbury is to be able to say that they were there, to tick it off their list of things to do before they’re thirty if they want to be considered hip, cool and trendy amongst their circle of friends. The ‘event’, the ‘spectacle’ is what attracts them, not the music. They feel they’re missing out if they’re not where the action is. It never occurs to them that the truly cool people create the action. If you have to go somewhere, you’re confessing you’re not where the action’s at. You’re a sheep, a follower, a face in the anonymous crowd, in need of others to provide the main news.

Imagine Glastonbury 2008 without TV coverage, corporate sponsorship, flashy advertising, and bands that aren’t part of a grotesque touring circus of big festival acts that appear at practically every festival in the country in quick succession, playing exactly the same sets. Imagine some fresh, eager young bands trying to break through. Imagine an audience in which no one is over twenty-five, all of whom are working class kids from inner cities who haven’t had to pay exorbitant prices for their tickets. Wouldn’t that be a real music festival, for real music fans? Well, keep imagining. It’s never going to happen.

Such an event has become an impossibility precisely because no one cares about the music. Money is the key motivation now. Promotional opportunities, advertising, branding, the ‘shifting of units’, the raising of a band’s profile – these are all paramount considerations nowadays. The leeches, the parasites, the snake charmers – the entire motley collection of charlatans and lickspittles – surround every event like circling vultures, waiting to peck at the audience, both those at the event and those watching at home, until all their valuables have been yielded up.

This is capitalism at its most insidious, ruthlessly exploiting the mugs who think of themselves as free, wild young spirits when in fact they’re just sausages squeezing through the capitalist grinding machine. These festival-goers have no importance beyond their capacity for consumption.

T In the Park, Isle of Wight, Guilfest, the V Festival, the Carling Weekend Leeds etc: aren’t they all exactly the same? No one cares about the music. No one’s listening except to the ding of cash registers and the swoosh of credit card readers. They ought to orchestrate these noises to give us the authentic sound of the modern music festival.

And how about the performers? Step forward festival favourite Lily Allen, replete with her expensive private education, faking it that’s she’s from the street and can talk on behalf of working class kids. Yeah, right, Lily. She’s not alone, of course. Loads of pop stars are posh, though they always keep quiet about it. They utterly lack the energy and authenticity of the street. Don’t enquire too deeply into how they got their big break in the music industry. It’s who you know rather than what you know, right guys? No change there – the usual middle class mantra. Keep out the oiks.

The fans seem to like all of the bands that appear at these festivals. What does that tell us? Well, either the bands are bland and therefore appeal to the middle-of-the-road masses, or the fans have no particular taste in music and like whatever’s put in front of them. In other words, they’re proving once again that they’re not real music fans at all. A true fan is obsessed with one or two bands and indifferent to the rest. Fanaticism is exclusive. Festival-goers, almost by definition, aren’t fans. That’s why they can happily watch band after band. They’re the middling middle classes blandly waving their hands in the air to greet yet another anodyne band with ripped-off tunes and nothing to say.

Glastonbury is just a temporary fake village holding a vast number of fake music fans listening to fake bands faking it as they play fake music in a huge arena designed for big business, advertising and TV. This is Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll twenty-first century style: phony and simulated from beginning to end. Welcome to Glastonbury, the non-music event of the year. Roll up all you people who hate real music – it will soon be time to buy your tickets for next year. Same bands, same audience, same advertisers, same sponsors, same TV presenters. The only thing lacking is genuine music, and real fans to enjoy it.