Friday, August 23, 2013

Festival review: V Festival (North)

"Ladies and Gentlemen, go straight on for Orange, Grey and Green campsites. 
For all other campsites go left.
 When entering the campsites, please hold up your wristband in the air.
 Please be patient when exiting the arena. Thank you."

Imagine this very message repeated over and over again; the monotone tannoy voice bored through familiarity; these exact words echoing across the slowly depleting arena, bouncing off the endless watchtowers surrounding the site and scattering along the small desert of discarded plastic cups like some kind of Orwellian nightmare. This was 4 hours of my existence as the security began leading people out at 11 each night. Add the slow march of 65,000 herded individuals pressing themselves tightly to squeeze between three meter walls with blinding white lights oppressing from above and you can’t help but question the real reason for coming.Festivals are, by in large, exclusive, paid-for parties. You hand over X amount of money (£190, in this case) and expect it to be bundled together with everyone elses’ and put towards a venue, music, attractions and so on. You turn up, have a good time, meet some new people and enjoy what you payed for. So why did V Festival feel less like a few million pounds worth of party and more like a POW camp?

The obvious answer would be the artists paid to perform. Not because any were bad enough to trigger a Great Escape-like event (though Basement Jaxx came pretty close), but due to the fact commercial headliners like Beyonce and Kings of Leon do not come cheap. The first few rows on the line-up sheet may well have been read in six figure payments, leaving a pretty thin selection of smaller daytime acts to chose from. With blisteringly diverse genres on show as pop-rock, pop-dance and -well- pop, it resulted in a bland itinerary as one act blended in with the next who sounded like the next etc. If I wanted my mind to steadily numb I’d listen to, and when faced with so many similar live acts there’s no real excitement in seeing any particular one.

It also appears the organisers of V Festival made no attempt to encourage any kind of positive atmosphere at all. The site itself was made entirely of green metal walls, burger vans and a handful of intimidatingly spread out stages. Nothing vibrant, let alone unique, ever seemed to cross the designer’s mind as he/she split up the field into equal parts music, toilets and commercial areas. It all seemed a little bit depressing to eyes too sober, and a hilltop view of the swarms of crowds trudging between them only served to make it appear more lifeless.

Even split down to individuals, the results aren’t brilliant. V Festival (or at least V North - the festival is held at two locations with flipped line-ups) attracts a pretty odd bunch. I’m not saying everyone there was weird, just suggesting the mix of 16 year old kids, pissheads, middle-aged couples and umpa-lumpas isn’t something you’d expect this far from the worst nightclub in Essex. Coincidentally, V South is held in Essex.

Having fun for the camera...

Not your expected festival crowd then, which is not something I have a problem with but when I’m watching a 10 man brawl break out right in front of me during Stereophonics’ set over someone looking at someone else “funny,” I lean towards criticising. The amount of Hunter wellies on show on orange legs as punters tackled the tough, dust-dry terrain was a bit bemusing too, if harmless, in the same vain of the man to the right of me 20 minutes after the fight ended, who started crying halfway through “Bartender and the Thief” because someone was mean to him. A girl flashed me too, but it’s a struggle to complain about.

So £190 nets you a small selection of acts, an oversized holding pen and an overabundance of pricks to enjoy it with. Truth be told, the acts themselves actually weren’t too bad even though they weren’t my personal cup of tea. Both headliners got through their sets without any hiccups, even if Beyonce took so long to get on the stage a small but loud section of the crowd started booing. Sets from Goldie Looking Chain and Kendrick Lamar stood out as the best, though the overpriced programs resulted in only the few and fortunate knowing when and where they were on.

So why do you go to V Festival? It’s probably bloody obvious it isn’t my thing, but even to those who seemed to be enjoying themselves it looked to be a lot more complicated than simply turning up to have a good time. With it’s tiny two day line-up, on stage twitter feeds between acts, humourously ill-suited “festival wear” and the ever present twinkle of self-takes, V Festival is very much a festival you go to so you can say you went to a festival. Why else? It’s overpriced and short, and with festivals now entrenched in UK culture it isn’t really a surprise to find a major company swooping in and making a tidy profit off the “should know better” crowd.

In short: don't go, please. You might have a good time -and plenty did- but then give any group a load of alcohol and a field to drink it in and the result would be similar. It wouldn't cost the same as a short holiday somewhere much nicer, either.

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