Monday, June 27, 2011

Glastonbury 2011: Alcopopalypse Now

You would be forgiven for thinking that the Glastonbury festival was a great national celebration, given the near-blanket coverage that the BBC provides. You might well think that everyone in Britain would be heading to Glastonbury or one of its numerous imitators, given the almost daily ‘festival essentials’ features running in the broadsheets for the past month or so.

The establishing crowd shots of a sea of shining faces give that assumption the lie, however. As the scene changes to a closer shot, it’s even more apparent that Glastonbury is an almost exclusively Caucasian event. 

As the camera zoomed in even further  on the front of every roiling crowd it seemed to find those same four pretty blonde girls that are apparently under contract to The Daily Telegraph to illustrate every Summer’s record-breaking A-Level results.

Despite The Guardian’s unstinting approbation for multiculturalism, and The Daily Mail’s unbridled fear, Glastonbury demonstrates that the great influx from Asia and Africa really hasn't penetrated our society all that deeply.

The reason that the media think that everyone’s interested in Glastonbury is plain to see. That narrow demographic from which the BBC and the broadsheets draw the overwhelming majority of the staff are just the kind of people that go to festivals.

you know. People like you and me.

Lest you think that I’m suggesting that Glasto is a racist jamboree – a Nuremberg under canvas, it’s a lot more inclusive than that. There were quite a few non-white faces to be seen. On the stage. Rather than a a pilled-up Klan rally it was more like a Hunter-wearing flashback to Lenny Henry’s desperate 1975 turn on The Black & White Minstrel Show.
BeyoncĂ© was the nominal headline act, shimmying for all she was worth.  The real breakthrough turn of the weekend though was almost certainly Janelle Monae, whose future-retro funk stylings set the crowd alight and caused a stampede on Amazon as sofa-bound Glasto-watchers ‘One-Clicked’ her album.
It was a breakthrough reminiscent of U2’s pivotal Live Aid appearance. The Irish rockers did spectacularly well out of their two-song performance in aid of the starving in 1985. In 2011 U2’s Glasto turn faced disruption by a threatened protest against their tax status. There are some who believe that Bono’s self-avowed philanthropic status does not sit well with the band’s perfectly legal tax-avoidance strategy.

I couldn’t possibly comment. Nor could Art Uncut, as it transpired: their balloon of protest was quickly hustled out of Worthy Farm by vigilant security staff

Whatever you think about their accounting practices  - and I think they’re appalling – it’s undeniable that U2 are among the very best performing bombastic widescreen rock to large crowds. And that’s what they did this weekend.

By contrast Coldplay seemed a little muted to me. Frontman Chris Martin seemed to spend a disproportionate amount of their set lying supine on the stage. This rendered him invisible to the cidered-up horde and their performance was therefore appreciated better by television viewers.

As television, Glastonbury doesn’t work all that well from my perspective, Sure, the BBC fielded Lauren Laverne who despite the criticism levelled at her over The Ten O’Clock Show is, I think, one of the pre-eminent broadcasters of her generation.

She is possessed of an infectious enthusiasm, she’s unflappable even in the face of a huge field of tipsy gap-year nitrous-huffers and she can express her disappointment with narrow-minded colleague Zane Lowe with the tiniest movement of a well-shaped eyebrow.

Despite impressive sound mixing and Laverne’s peerless link-work it was difficult to care too much about the performances. Live music works because it’s live. If you’re not there, it's hard to both pay attention to the broadcast and simultaneously overcome the overwhelming irritation that you’re not there.

But when you are there, and you’ve had one of those drinks that look like toilet cleaner and everyone else is jumping around and shouting it’s easy to overlook the fact that it’s all a bit scruffy compared to the record.

People don’t really go to festivals to hear hi-fi sound. They go for the experience, the rite-of passage, the togetherness.

Or they used to. Now it’s all Wayne Rooney, Tory fixers and U2’s security team.

And the mess. Don’t forget the mess.

1 comment:

  1. Hmm. Most of the audience does seem incredibly white, which made it all the more surprising when Omar Souleyman was playing and there was a front row of faces that looked more like the man on stage than like the faces in all the other front rows over the weekend. I suspect that it was noticeable because it was so unlike the usual Glastonbury audience, even for "world" acts...