Groove Column: on fear of festivals

photo: M. Jeremy Goldman


Come summer, come festival season and from the moment I spent a whole day at Reading in 1989 sheltering from the rain in my girlfriend’s Mini Metro, bickering and waiting for New Order to come and make everything OK, I’ve known they might not be for me. I’m 40 now and have come to appreciate life’s small luxuries – mattresses, a ceiling, plumbing – so although I’ll defend to the death the rights of kids to ingest their bodyweight in ketamine on a leyline I’d rather not be in the tent next door while they do.

Being British my festival fear is largely weather-based. Three years out of four you find yourself re-enacting the Somme. If you manage to dodge the trench foot you get sunstroke instead; everyone so in awe of the yellow sky-God’s return that they forget to offer up the factor 30. Work has sent me to festivals in warmer climes. They’re better surely? Well there was that time a hurricane hit Spain as I was on stage trying to coax techno out of my rain-soaked-but-ever-so-connected-to-the-mains MPC. I’ve never fled a disaster area so fast. And when I DJ’ed in 46C Australian heat, smoke from a nearby bushfire drifting menacingly over the escarpment toward us. Dressed as a Care Bear. Slimming.

It’s not only extreme weather that makes you feel like a correspondent at the end of the world; many festivals resemble ad hoc experiments in post-apocalyptic town planning. Parachuted into Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome but instead of Tina Turner you get 40,000 dust-masked Spaniards pogoing to nosebleed techno. You play your biggest records 10bpm faster than usual and wait for the airlift to civilisation. Friends rave about Burning Man but I’m not ready to barter for toilet paper with someone wearing a suit knitted from hemp and Bacofoil who travelled into the desert atop an iron spider.

But there’s hope. I spent the last two weekends in Corsica and Croatia in coastal festival bliss. Where the only fear is stepping on a sea urchin as you plash through cobalt sea, piña colada in hand. I’m going gently into the summer afternoon that is middle-age aboard a Balearic boat, surrounded by friends grateful for a bit of the music they love, a respite from the rain and the odd glass of wine. You can take your psychotropic-fuelled adventures in Utopia. I’m happy to visit Bartertown occasionally, but it’s not my neighbourhood anymore.

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