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Festival Ghettos

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festival ghettos

By Howard Monk

I’m mindful of something Tanni Grey Thompson said on Newsnight a few weeks ago, in a discussion with Will Self, that athletes care little about the legacy of the games. It reminds me of a time when I became interested in the power of music (and the arts) to change lives, and to be able to see what it was I did as part of the wider arts community, rather than isolated little events for me and my peers.

Maybe this coincided with a realisation that the music I made, and the music I loved, was hardly going to be filling any great stadium or festival any time soon. (For proof my finger’s not ENTIRELY off the pulse see Bloc Party, The National, Animal Collective, more.) [You bastard! – Ed] Perhaps it’s just a survival instinct kicking in, or more likely, the beauty of seeing something in the round.

The idea of festival ghettoisation first hit me a couple of years back when I had been invited to an (excellent) festival in France with a somewhat protectionist programming policy. All acts had to be French. This was in fact the first year that they’d allowed singing in English. This is typically French and quite funny if it’s possible to turn a blind eye to the connotations of having a policy like that. I had enjoyed the festival very much. Watching Malicorne was a life highlight, plus Dominique A, countless others I forget their names. Phoenix were the headliners, and I saw Charlotte Gainsbourg too. I blogged about it here.

Leafing through a magazine in the hotel foyer I saw countless ads for festivals in the different parts of France, some in Germany. Pavement was the main US headliner that summer. They were everywhere. And then there were the usual suspects all over everywhere. You can kinda guess who I mean. It wasn’t very exciting.

Last summer I went to Reading (and Leeds) for the first time in maybe 10 years. Some folks were like “eeeewwww” and maintain that attitude. I thought it possible to see a bunch of bands I actually wouldn’t normally see, and maybe I didn’t like them all, but it was an excellent chance to see a bunch of stuff I knew by name but not in person. I remember seeing a gazillion people singing along to Pulp and thinking how this was a special and important event, especially for so many people who maybe go to one festival per year.

At one festival I worked at this summer, I got into a conversation with a couple of academics from a redbrick uni. I got asked what the target demographic was, and what importance it had. It’s just wealthy people isn’t it, who can afford £150 or so to spend a weekend in a field watching other wealthy people and eat nice posh food right? There’s no great social experiment going on.

This summer, I worked at a couple of different festivals in London. Community, and Olympic in size and stature.

I had acts play at some of them, and they were very much for the people. Free, or dead cheap. It felt good to be doing something which wasn’t just self- ghettoisation and peer group ego boosting. Bands are in some ways responsible for the problem making the beeline that they do to the honey pot. We all like to spend entire weekends, and more (they start Wednesday and finish Monday these days) in the company of our aspirational peer groups. It would do us all good to venture out of our comfort zones from time to time.

Related posts:
preparing for a phone interview with Charlotte Gainsbourg

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