BAND TO­GETHER

Aside from the crowds and dodgy weather, Glas­ton­bury is still the king of Europe’s sum­mer mu­sic fes­ti­vals, ob­serves Tim John­ston

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

THERE comes a point be­yond which it is im­pos­si­ble to be­come wet­ter or mud­dier. The rain has found its way through my jacket and is run­ning down the back of my neck. The mud has reached above my knees and I have reached the stage where I cease to care. And that’s when en­joy­ment starts.

The mu­sic fes­ti­vals that stud the cal­en­dar of the Euro­pean sum­mer aren’t for ev­ery­one. But for a hard core of fans will­ing to put up with un­cer­tain weather, me­dieval san­i­ta­tion and abom­inable food, they are the mile­stones of a new kind of so­cial sea­son.

The mother of them all is the Glas­ton­bury Fes­ti­val of Con­tem­po­rary Per­form­ing Arts, which is the rea­son I am in a field 180km west of Lon­don won­der­ing how much wet­ter I can get. It seems there is some­thing about stand­ing in a steady down­pour as some of the world’s top bands give their all that keeps tens of thou­sands of peo­ple com­ing back to this an­nual event, which those in the know re­fer to as sim­ply Glasto.

The fes­ti­val, held on a farm in a damp cor­ner of south­west Eng­land, has be­come one of the world’s largest live mu­sic events. Leg­endary rock­ers, in­clud­ing the Who, come back, pos­si­bly from be­yond the grave, to head­line. For three days, 12 hours a day, bands known and un­known play on 12 main stages and a dozen sec­ondary venues, en­ter­tain­ing a crowd that reaches 137,000.

On top of that, there are an­other 40,000 artists, burger flip­pers, se­cu­rity guards and sundry work­ers who keep Glasto go­ing, rain or — some­times — shine.

If your son or daugh­ter is head­ing off to the north­ern hemi­sphere with a back­pack in an Aus­tralian win­ter, it is likely that Glas­ton­bury will ap­pear some­where on their event hori­zon. But not ev­ery­one’s lucky. Get­ting hold of a ticket is a chal­lenge: all 137,000 sold out on the in­ter­net in less than an hour when they went on sale ear­lier this year and se­cu­rity is such that it is all but im­pos­si­ble to ei­ther buy one off a scalper — all tick­ets have a pic­ture of the holder on them — or climb the fence.

For the un­lucky, and for those whose en­joy­ment re­quires rather more pre­dictable weather, a whole slew of fes­ti­vals has sprung up in Bri­tain and across Europe.

The web­site www.efes­ti­vals.co.uk listed 465 fes­ti­vals in 2007, and that’s just in Bri­tain. They cater for all mu­si­cal tastes. For ex­am­ple, had you been in Scot­land in May you could have at­tended the Knock­en­gor­roch World Ceilidh in Kirkcud­bright­shire, where the folk act Shooglenifty was head­lin­ing. If the beer didn’t get you, the vow­els would. Euro­pean fes­ti­vals are grow­ing in size and pop­u­lar­ity. The Roskilde Fes­ti­val, just north of Copen­hagen, has de­vel­oped a Dan­ish let-itall-hang-out at­mos­phere, lit­er­ally: it’s home to per­haps the world’s largest an­nual naked run, held on the Satur­day night, with a first prize of a pair of tick­ets to the fol­low­ing year’s fes­ti­val.

This year, like Glas­ton­bury, Roskilde had a cer­tain re­sem­blance to a World War I trench. And prov­ing that the young do not have a mo­nop­oly on re­peat­ing fool­ish mis­takes, the Who head­lined there, too.

For those who like their mu­sic with­out sloppy mud, south­ern Europe is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar.

The Beni­cas­sim fes­ti­val, held near Barcelona in Spain, is billed as a Bri­tish mu­sic fes­ti­val with sun’’ or Glasto del Sol. But al­most guar­an­teed sun­shine can bring its own prob­lems. Wak­ing up with a hang­over in a tent in 40C heat is enough to make you yearn for the gen­tle soak­ing of an English sum­mer.

Beni­cas­sim has a dis­tinctly con­ti­nen­tal at­mos­phere. Noth­ing hap­pens un­til 5pm, al­low­ing a gen­er­ous amount of time to re­cover from the night be­fore on the beach or in one of the re­sort town’s cafes. And for those who still haven’t had enough af­ter the week-long fes­ti­val, it ends with a leg­endary beach party.

The EXIT fes­ti­val, held in the grounds of a cas­tle in the Ser­bian town of Novi Sad in July, is well on its way to es­tab­lish­ing it­self as an­other must-see event. This year’s line-up in­cluded a range of tal­ent, from Robert Plant to Snoop Dogg and Base­ment Jaxx. Ac­com- mo­da­tion is in the univer­sity halls of res­i­dence and rev­ellers have a lake in which to frolic.

Fash­ions change, and what’s hot one year is ir­re­triev­ably passe the next. Glas­ton­bury seems to have sur­vived with its street cred in­tact but some oth­ers haven’t. James, a young English brickie who was in Novi Sad in July, had con­sid­ered go­ing to the Se­cret Gar­den Party, 110km north of Lon­don but, he says, it has been taken over by the south Lon­don elite (think Syd­ney’s east­ern sub­urbs in de­signer jeans and black polo shirts).

For the re­ally hard­core par­ty­go­ers, a new scene is emerg­ing: the hit-and-run fes­ti­val. Huge pan­tech­ni­cons, called tech­no­vaurs, fit­ted with sound rigs big enough to make your ears bleed, criss-cross Europe, set­ting up for a sin­gle night be­fore mov­ing on, keep­ing one step ahead of the po­lice. Like the raves of the 1980s, the gath­er­ings are il­le­gal and di­rec­tions are sent out to the cognoscenti by text mes­sage, giv­ing even greater ca­chet to events that afi­ciona­dos say fea­ture some of the best new dance mu­sic.

But if th­ese fes­ti­vals pro­vide more street cred, bet­ter weather or greater ex­clu­siv­ity, they all, in their own ways, hark back to the genre’s lode­stone, Glas­ton­bury. And like Glas­ton­bury, they as­pire to be about more than just the mu­sic.

For thou­sands it is a rite of pas­sage, a kind of schoolies in the mud; for oth­ers its a reaf­fir­ma­tion that the salad days of youth haven’t en­tirely wilted. It’s 37 years since cat­tle farmer Michael Eavis de­cided to charge £1 for rev­ellers to see bands such as T-Rex on his 320ha farm, but Glasto seems com­fort­able with the on­set of mid­dle age.

That is not to say that the mu­sic isn’t spec­tac­u­lar. Along­side the Who are some of the world’s hottest con­tem­po­rary acts: the Killers, Kaiser Chiefs and the Chem­i­cal Brothers. And it is also where young bands get dis­cov­ered: Coldplay got their big break at Glas­ton­bury a few years ago and this June’s high-volt­age per­for­mances from un­knowns Mumm-Ra and the Gos­sips prom­ise much.

Some fes­ti­val-go­ers, such as James, com­plain it has be­come too mid­dle class, and they have a point. It’s a fes­ti­val that started this year in weak sun­shine, with ev­ery­one wear­ing the class­less uni­form of shorts and T-shirts. When the heav­ens opened, much of the crowd pulled $500 su­per-light­weight rain slick­ers from their packs. It seems the com­mit­ment to egal­i­tar­i­an­ism doesn’t ex­tend to get­ting equally wet and un­com­fort­able.

But in many ways the core val­ues have re­mained the same, with large do­na­tions each year to Green­peace and Wa­ter Aid. The com­mit­ment to tol­er­ance seems to work. The large quan­ti­ties of al­co­hol and nar­cotics, com­bined with loud mu­sic and a lack of sleep, could pro­duce a night­mare of hor­monal ag­gres­sion, but prob­lems are rare.

It would be un­fair to dis­cuss the mer­its of go­ing to Euro­pean fes­ti­vals with­out a warn­ing about the toi­lets.

I don’t think I will ever for­get them,’’ says Katie Lee as she heads home to Lon­don af­ter her first Glas­ton­bury this year. The me­mory evokes a small spasm of hor­ror. By the end of day three, strong men quail at the aw­ful prospect of hav­ing to visit the pit la­trines, and it is un­wise to con­tem­plate a visit to one of the con­struc­tion site-style chem­i­cal lava­to­ries with­out a full body-con­dom.

And never, ever, pitch your tent down­hill from a toi­let site. They over­flow and you are likely to wake up with a small river of sewage run­ning into places you re­ally don’t want small rivers of sewage run­ning into.

But you can avoid this. In a move that has dis­gusted purists, Glas­ton­bury is of­fer­ing a much more civilised op­tion. You can rent a teepee for the princely sum of £1650 ($3900). Th­ese sleep eight and a ticket is in­cluded in the price. But, as those who shelled out their money this year dis­cov­ered, teepees have a large hole in the roof, and large holes tend to let in large quan­ti­ties of rain.

For the re­ally well-heeled, a lo­cal farmer has set up Camp Ker­ala. For a mere £6000 (plus tax), each pair of guests gets a tent bought from an In­dian ma­haraja, a king-size bed with hand­made In­dian quilts, sheep­skin rugs from Greece, silk-trimmed tow­elling dress­ing gowns, proper show­ers and hot and cold run­ning wa­ter, as well as room ser­vice. There’s even a masseur. Plus, of course, free wellies.

Check­list

The 2008 Glas­ton­bury Fes­ti­val will be held on June 27-29. www.glas­ton­buryfes­ti­vals.co.uk www.efes­ti­vals.co.uk

Muddy but not bowed: Clock­wise from main pic­ture, a rev­eller sur­ren­ders to the el­e­ments at Glas­ton­bury; Arc­tic Mon­keys lead singer Alex Turner; an ae­rial view of the fes­ti­val

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