Festivals Need to be More Political than Ever
Ahead of this week's general election, we asked punters about the intricacies of parliament.
"If you're a Tory, there's the door—fuck off," I remember a jump-up D&B MC roaring down his mic at Boomtown last year. It wasn't long after the EU referendum and it was the first time I noticed how party politics had begun to infiltrate festivals.
It seems that the closer we are to a major political event, the more politics seeps into festival culture. At Love Saves the Day in Bristol a week ago, the back of every bar had a promotional message for Labour draped over it. It read: "Vote Conservative to destroy our NHS. Vote Labour to save it." Corbyn did a speech onstage at the Wirral Live festival last month in front of 20,000 people waiting for the Libertines to play a headline set. Fuck the Tories, that's strong and stable.
It's no surprise that the entertainment industry would want the Tories out, since they don't value cultural capital in the slightest. We all know that the number of clubs in London has decreased by 50% in the last five years. There's no telling how many would be left if the Tories get another term to give the industry another five-year hammering.
With more and more young people not bothering to vote, are festival organisers and political activists right to capitalise on a young captive audience? Or should festivals be an all-inclusive environment free from political influence? I wasn't sure, so I headed out to Field Day to drink some tepid £5 Red Stripes in an East London park and ask people there what they thought about the infusion of politics and festivals.
Given the fact that we are so close to a general election, politics was, unsurprisingly, thrust into our faces with the uncalled for enthusiasm of an hysterical student welfare officer serving up condoms at a fresher's fair. This was before we even got to run the gauntlet at the gates lined with sniffer dogs. Close to the entrance we met a group of activists with EU flags.
One activist, adorned with a crown, clutched a placard depicting an unflattering image of May with the caption 'You Can't Trust Her,' and with a megaphone they boomed: "YOUR VOTE WILL MAKE. A. DIFFERENCE, FOLKS," receiving a warm response from passers-by. "DON'T LET HER BRING A HARD BREXIT - THAT WILL DAMAGE THE UK FOR A GENERATION."
I spoke with a woman called Diane who identified herself as the leader. I asked her why they had come there to campaign. "Because there are young people," she replied. "We're here to approach and engage with as many young people as possible as they notoriously don't vote."
"We want them to vote sensibly. I think most of them are anti-Tory, but that doesn't mean that they'll vote. It's good at places like this because everyone is enthusiastic and like, ' Wheyyyy'. But we want them to take that enthusiasm to the ballot box."
Once we were inside the festival, I spoke to a charity worker called Ross queueing up for the toilets. He strongly promoted the idea of political influence at music events. "It's really important," he said. "Music and politics to me have always gone hand in hand. Music is all about standing up and speaking out in the same way that politics is. I think they're perfect companions."
"These events are perfect for people to get their message out there. It's a young audience and we know that they don't vote as much as older people. If they don't vote then they don't get a say, so it's really important that people try and engage them in politics."
Of course not everyone agreed. "I think it's nice when it's on the outside but I'm not so sure about it being in the festival. For some people it could ruin it," Sophie, a student, argued. Yet her friend Sam, who works in a GP's surgery, disagreed. "They are trying to get the young vote, aren't they? Right now it is really important to have that. We can make the difference."
I asked if she really thought bringing a political message to festivals would make a difference. "I'm not sure, but I think more young people will vote in this election; we know what's going on because it's on Facebook and on the tele." I was definitely getting a mixed reaction. Fiona, who works in the civil service, wasn't sure about getting politics involved. "At the moment it's everywhere; on Facebook, everyone's talking about it," she argued. "But people go to a festival to escape the mundane."
Another student, Jessica, said that she'd rather not see politics at a festival. "Well, this is a place where lots of people are coming so it would be a good place to spread your own ideas and thoughts," she said. "But it's a Saturday and it's a festival and I don't think it should be political at all. I just don't think politics or religion should be part of it at all."
Kat, working in retail, seemed to fundamentally question whether festivals would be an effective place to campaign at all. "It makes me happy when I see political things at events," she said. "If I see people that are anti-Brexit I like it because that's what I support. I was really happy when I saw people giving out stickers and stuff."
But what if it wasn't the opinion that she agreed with? "I would hate it," she replied, shaking her head. "But I wouldn't expect it here and I wouldn't go to a festival where I would." It was around that time that the daylight began to dwindle. A combination of mushrooms, Nicolas Jaar and Aphex Twin caused my interest in politics to rapidly diminish. I began to ponder the real big issues of the day: Like what would this room look like if everyone were monkeys? Or the concept of money – strange one, innit?
Away from these poignant hazy questions, in the clarity of the days that followed, I've begun to feel the same as Kat. Politics at these events has never pissed me off, but it's always been pushing the agenda that I agree with. So, maybe festival politics is just an IRL version of the Facebook echo chamber; everyone who agrees are put together, agreeing together, just with much more MDMA and unending requests for filter tips and king-size skins. It's not going to change the world. But maybe that's not such a bad thing; when I go to an event like this I don't want to change the world. I just want to escape it.