Fewer VIPs, less El­bow more­fun

With fes­ti­val sea­son fi­nally upon us, Louise Bru­ton goes­be­hindthe scenes and get­s­the low­down­from vet­er­ans on what’s best and worst about the scene, and­what canbe done­tomake things bet­ter

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - COVER STORY -

Over the course of 10 years, Ir­ish mu­sic fes­ti­vals have seen a com­plete over­haul into more pol­ished ma­chines, ca­ter­ing to wider au­di­ences and pro­vid­ing more than just head­line acts for en­ter­tain­ment and a plas­tic pint of wa­tery beer for nour­ish­ment. We look back on how far we’ve come and some key play­ers in the fes­ti­val cir­cuit tell us what they love and hate about this time of year. Less ad­ver­tise­ment As al­co­hol brands fight for your money at the mon­ster fes­ti­vals by dis­guis­ing bars as grandiose venues with some­one from Fade Street DJing, smaller fes­ti­vals such as An­other Love Story (ALS) are draw­ing a big­ger ap­peal.

“On a wider sense, we cre­ated ALS as an an­ti­dote to the large-scale com­mer­cial fo­cused fes­ti­vals be­cause we felt among our­selves and our peers a grow­ing tired­ness with that un­avoid­ably big-busi­ness feel that those events en­gen­der,” says Em­met Con­don, who runs the fes­ti­val with Sam Bishop and Peter O’Brien.

“I don’t think there’s any sin in be­ing spon­sored,” he adds. “But the vape tents seem to be to be only a half step away from a Shell Oil Arena to me, so I’d like to see at least a lit­tle dis­cern­ment in these ar­eas.” Less VIP non­sense Mu­sic pho­tog­ra­pher Ruth Med­jber agrees that while larger fes­ti­vals have lost their shine – with VIP ar­eas filled with any­one ver­i­fied on Twit­ter – we have other op­tions. “I think the magic has kind of worn off for me, though I do like dis­cov­er­ing new tiny fests, where there’s no VIP non­sense, no mas­sive queues and no big brand spon­sors. It’s more about shar­ing an ex­pe­ri­ence with your mates than watch­ing the next big band,” she says. Thanks Pen­neys Tak­ing lazy inspiration from Coachella, fash­ion pages in Ir­ish mag­a­zines try to con­vinces us that cro­cheted biki­nis and blood di­a­mond bindis are fes­ti­val fash­ion es­sen­tials. But our sc­c­ch­h­htyle tends to be what­ever we find in Pen­neys, paired with the just-eat.ie branded rain pon­cho.

Like a fab­u­lous al­gae, bou­tique camp­ing ar­eas with fully stocked, pre-pitched tents are tak­ing over our fes­ti­vals, leav­ing general-pop­u­la­tion camp­sites in the shad­ows

Be sound to bands

“For the most part, fes­ti­vals are magic,” says Other Voices host and Le Galaxie reg­u­lar MayKay, whose first fes­ti­val ap­pear­ance was in 2007 with Fight Like Apes at Elec­tric Pic­nic, so she has seen it all. “Down­sides: some fes­ti­vals are just shit. There’s no heart in them. And you can feel that from when you get to the front gate.

“You ar­rive at the stage to a pissed-off crew. You get rolled on and rolled off stage. You get eight warm beers and a food voucher for a hot dog. Rea­son #437 why you need to get along with your band mates,” she says.

“These same fes­ti­vals just book what­ever big-name bands they can book, and put lit­tle to no thought into pro­gram­ming and clashes. I met Jenny Lewis back­stage at an Ir­ish fes­ti­val be­fore and asked her why she looked sad and she said some­thing like: ‘Em. I’m on the same time as Bey­oncé. Ei­ther I’m about to play to no one or I’m much big­ger here than I thought I was’.”

Glamp­ing: Does ‘gen pop’ ex­ist any­more?

Long gone are the days of sel­l­otap­ing the fly sheet to a tree and hop­ing for the best. In­stead, we have glamp­ing. Like a fab­u­lous al­gae, bou­tique camp­ing ar­eas with fully stocked, pre-pitched tents are tak­ing over our fes­ti­vals, leav­ing general-pop­u­la­tion camp­sites in the shad­ows. Op­tions now in­clude bell tents, silk tents, tipis, fes­ti­huts, yurts, squrts and PodPads, all for the price of one month’s rent. If a camper camps in the general camp­site, does the camper ex­ist at all? An­swer: no.

Go green

Peo­ple are be­com­ing more aware of the waste we cre­ate at fes­ti­vals, with some peo­ple treat­ing their tents with the same re­spect as dis­pos­able cups, but Body & Soul com­mits it­self to be­ing as eco-friendly as pos­si­ble.

“We’re cer­tainly see­ing the emer­gence of a more sus­tain­ably aware, con­scious camper, which is won­der­ful. The younger gen­er­a­tion are seem­ingly a lot more tuned in to these con­cerns and ac­tively want to be part of this mind­set and our leave-no-waste pol­icy,” says Body & Soul cre­ator and di­rec­tor Avril Stan­ley. “Pre­serv­ing the grounds is a cen­tral con­cern, and the ex­pan­sion of our Us & You camp­site is a clear re­flec­tion of this.” She ex­pects 5,000 peo­ple to use the Us & You leave no trace camp­site this year.

Safer drug use

Fes­ti­vals are a time of indulgence, whether your vice is booze, UV paint, Piem­i­nis­ter or drugs. Drug use at fes­ti­vals hap­pens, and even if users drink the right amount of wa­ter or mea­sure their doses care­fully, there’s no pre­dict­ing what way a high can go. So fes­ti­vals should con­sider on­site drug test­ing kits or pro­vid­ing safe spa­ces.

As it stands, test­ing kits do not test pu­rity: they sim­ply rule out the pres­ence of cer­tain sub­stances. So, for ex­am­ple, a fes­ti­val user can test if their MDMA is con­tam­i­nated with harm­ful sub­stances such as PMMA: it can be toxic at lower doses and its ef­fect take much longer to kick in those for MDMA.

Com­pared to the UK, the use of drug test­ing kits at Ir­ish fes­ti­vals has been slow to take off. The dis­tri­bu­tion of SafeSesh kits in Ir­ish uni­ver­si­ties by Stu­dents for Sen­si­ble Drug Pol­icy (SSDP) has proven pop­u­lar. But SSDP and Help Not Harm – which, at last year’s Elec­tric Pic­nic, im­ple­mented the first drug wel­fare ser­vices at an Ir­ish fes­ti­val – want to see a more hands-on ap­proach.

“I think dis­tribut­ing test kits is a good start, but we have to fol­low in the foot­steps of Por­tu­gal and ser­vices like The Loop [a non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion that con- ducts foren­sic test­ing of drugs at clubs and fes­ti­vals in the UK], where test­ing is car­ried out by of­fi­cials, work­ing with the po­lice and medics to en­sure peo­ple are tak­ing drugs as safely as pos­si­ble,” says Fer­gal Ec­cles, di­rec­tor of fes­ti­val wel­fare for Help Not Harm.

“This ap­proach opens up av­enues for young peo­ple who choose to use drugs, to get in con­tact with un­der­stand­ing, ed­u­cated and com­pas­sion­ate ser­vice teams at fes­ti­vals. Fes­ti­val-go­ers are of­ten de­terred by the law to seek help if they find them­selves or a friend in an emer­gency.”

Less El­bow

Like Ker­mit sip­ping on tea, Le Galaxie’s Michael Pope has the fi­nal say on Ire­land’s fes­ti­val cul­ture.

“Sure, maybe there’s a lot to dis­like about fes­ti­vals. The noise, the over­priced food, the over­priced drink, the top­less bros, the bot­tom­less babes, the wacky shades, the cow­boys hats, the cow­boy boots, the flower crowns, the bindis, the Na­tive Amer­i­can war bon­nets, the mud, the grass, the sky, the in­flat­able ham­mers, the camp­site acous­tic guitar player, the camp­site, the un­der­cover cops, the pub­lic uri­na­tion, the pub­lic for­ni­ca­tion, the toi­let sit­u­a­tion, the toi­let roll sit­u­a­tion, the phone sit­u­a­tion, the ATM sit­u­a­tion, El­bow, El­bow fans, El­bow’s mu­sic, El­bow’s fans sing­ing El­bow’s mu­sic, Guy Gar­vey from El­bow. But there’s positives too, I guess.”

Field man­ual (clock­wise from main) Tak­ing time out at Elec­tric Pic­nic; the glam­our of glamp­ing; Guy Gar­vey belts out an­other an­them; Michael Pope from Le Galaxie

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