I’m not going to pretend I’m an intelligent person. When something happens at home (see: bleeding a radiator, hand-washing delicate items, the correct way to reheat rice without dying), I turn to Google. If I need to do some maths, I use the calculator app on my phone. Without the internet, I am the dumb not-yet-an-adult-no-longer-a-child-freak The Economist warned you about (minus the avocados and family trust fund). Really, one of the few things I have going for me is a knowledge of music so deeply entrenched that it’s taken up space in my brain where the important stuff should go.
I shouldn’t need to qualify any of this – this is Noisey, a music website. In the past ten years I’ve ticked all the boxes of the live music experience. I’ve seen Paul McCartney play on a truck in Covent Garden. I’ve waited five hours for Young Thug. I’ve dragged my limp decaying carcass across 50 plus festivals – ranging from boujee meditation retreats in Jamaica, to the muddiest of Glastonburys, to the biggest tribute-act festival in England (shout out Oasish). But I thank these experiences, because they enable me to say that last weekend’s round of shows put on by Festival Republic were a joyless, depressing scourge on live music, and the people who pay money to see it. Think Fyre Festival but in north London's Finsbury Park (AKA not even a Top Ten Park in London).
Okay: so it wasn’t that bad. A guy somehow linked to Ja Rule didn’t defraud anyone. Environmental disaster tents were not involved. But that… really… is about the only good thing I can say about the festival. Or at least the only good thing beside the performers who, on the Saturday, included Iggy Pop (still resembles a sentient leather shammy; still great), Hinds (really fucking great, listen to their new-ish song “Soberland”), and Brody Dalle (uuuuuuh a living legend are you mad? Also great). These are simple-minded opinions though, and we all like different music, so for the sake of argument let’s get into the facts.
For me, it all started with a backpack. A normal backpack, really: the kind you might usually take to a music festival to store essentials like sun cream and a water bottle, which were especially important in last weekend’s heat. Fair enough: the small print on the back of the ticket (which I didn’t read) dictated that no bag bigger than A4 would be allowed in. However as a fundamental piece of festival equipment, I assumed a normal-sized backpack would be OK. Wrong. Despite being searched by security, I was told to throw my bag away, leave, or hand it in at an uninsured newsagents around the corner where they were charging £15 for the privilege. Fifteen pounds! In. This. Economy.
Carrying a bag to this festival was my mistake. The small print is there for a reason (and I didn’t read it). The bigger offences, at least in the eyes of the public and to which Festival Republic have offered a pitiful apology were: a) the two-hour long queue for the bar (this isn’t an exaggeration) that rendered the crowd as thirsty as they were angry; b) the near dangerous exit strategy on the Friday night after Liam Gallagher’s headline set and; c) the quality of the speaker system, which meant Queens of the Stone Age sounded not dissimilar to the time I was woken by the sound of “No One Knows” coming through university floorboards. A sorry scene then, and an even sadder one last weekend, since thousands of people travelled and spent money for the tin-can-like experience while the festival raked in their money. It's further soured knowing that Festival Republic's Managing Director Melvin Benn did the award-winning work of helping to organise last year's post-Manchester bombing One Love benefit gig with Ariana Grande.
I shouldn’t be too upset about this. It is, after all, a music festival. But off the back of a similarly disorganised Field Day last month (where a set from Four Tet was shut down due to overcrowding), the missteps by the Festival Republic team hint at the devolution of London day festivals. Once great, they’re sliding further down the scale and into a level where punters leave unfulfilled and pissed off. To be fair to Field Day, their line-up was snatched away by the first-ever All Points East festival. But something like Festival Republic – a behemoth-like promotions company who run Reading and Leeds, Download and Wireless festivals – should know better. There’s even a petition requesting that anyone who attended the Finsbury Park shows be given a refund.
Of course, there are monumentally bigger problems than not being able to get a drink, or hear the band, or carry a bag inside a festival. However (ignoring those who spend nights reading the small print for the latter), these are expectations the ticket-holder generally has when going to a festival. These places are historically and ostensibly great big fucking fields full of beer and music, where people go to escape the mundanity of day-to-day life and get lost in a whirlwind of loud and special wonder. And so, when big conglomerates like Festival Republic take advantage of their crowd and snatch that experience away from them, it feels like a move away from the thing festivals are about. That’s a sad thing to see. Dumb not-yet-an-adult-no-longer-a-child-freaks can still say shame, can’t they? Because shame. Or as a parent (or Drake, same thing now tbh) might put it: I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.
You can find Ryan on Twitter.