Glastonbury 2013 – The Worst Ever?

By on Wednesday, 3rd July 2013 at 5:45 pm
 

Header photo of the Rolling Stones at Glastonbury 2013 from Rolling Stone (that’s weird…)

Everyone knows Glastonbury Festival is the biggest and most important musical festival in the world. Don’t they? Certainly the BBC and The Guardian appear to think so given their blanket coverage. But observing the broadcasts of this year’s event, one could be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about. Certainly if one wishes to spend 4 days in the company of career crusties, minor celebrity poseurs, home counties yahs, London investment bankers and industry liggers in varying states of intoxication, Glastonbury is just the ticket. But if one actually wants to see and hear some decent music, is it the correct choice for the discerning music fan? Let’s break things down a bit to find out.

Too big, too expensive, too overcrowded
The event has a capacity larger than the city of Oxford. It costs over £200 for a ticket. It takes ages to transit between stages. Over 100,000 people turned out to see the Rolling Stones (of whom more later), more than the field could comfortably hold. The chances of actually seeing the acts on the Pyramid Stage are slim to none, except if one turns up very early in the morning to bag a spot near the front, and is prepared to forgo dignified toilet arrangements throughout the day. Even hearing them might be a bit of a struggle if you turn up late and end up near the back. The smaller stages offer a better view, but then again…

Headliners
The raison d’etre of Glastonbury is the Pyramid Stage and big headliners. Many of the undercard bands can be seen at any number of alternative events, for far less cash and inconvenience. So the success of Glastonbury stands or falls on its big acts. And in recent years there have been several rum choices of headliner, with 2013 really taking the biscuit. Of which more later.

Demographic
There’s no easy way to say this – people at Glastonbury with frightening regularity display a particularly irritating combination of smugness, vacuosity and infantilism rarely found anywhere else. Need evidence?

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgKDb5V3ilE[/youtube]

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QpQPlcui6YQ[/youtube]

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7zN9Guov3TY[/youtube]

The phenomenon is difficult to explain but may have something to do with the lottery-style nature of the ticket-buying process. By simple virtue of successfully negotiating the rigours of purchasing a ticket, one can be drawn into a false sense of superiority; that one has been specially chosen by the Gods of festivaldom to pass through the sacred gates of Worthy. This is, of course, an illusion – even with a Glastonbury ticket, you are not more attractive, and after several hot ciders, your wit, like everyone else’s, has descended to protoplasmic level.

The Irritants – Flags, Fancy Dress, Poi
Even if one is lucky enough to bag a spot at the Pyramid Stage from which one can identify the performers without the aid of a telescope, there are the bloody flags to content with, which will conspire to block your view at every critical moment. Multiplying in number every year, these pointless appendages are surely nothing more than vanity poles. (“You won’t see me in the crowd on TV mum, but you might see my flag, complete with inane scribble!”) If flags at festivals have any point, it’s to identify the location of one’s tent. Which is where they should be left. If you need to find your mates, use a phone. (David Quantick summed it up best here with the Tweet “The giant flags you see at Glastonbury are intended as an easy way to identify a wanker with a giant flag.”) Fancy dress (men in tutus, gorilla suits, that sort of thing, not just a bit of face glitter) means you’re there for further attention seeking. Practitioners of poi, listen up: if bimbling around twirling a Swingball is the summit of your ambition, have a lifestyle rethink. Learn an instrument, maybe. And not the ukulele.

Glastonbury – the festival for people who don’t like music
This is a controversial one, but bear with me. As previously discussed, headliners play a significant part in Glastonbury’s success. And by definition, headliners are big artists, with broad, often mainstream appeal. The charge is that one can have a CD collection that fits into a small corner of the living room (and most of those are Coldplay’s back catalogue), and still feel the desperate urge to drive down to Glastonbury and check out the headline acts. There’s no need to have any depth to one’s musical ambition, any desire to experience challenging performances, any need to wander away from the safety of the top of the charts, to enjoy Glastonbury. And there’s no doubt a great swathe of a certain type of Londoner who would rather stay at home than go to a festival that wasn’t ‘Glasto’ – if it’s not swarming with TV cameras and minor celebs, then what’s the point? And somewhere between those lines of thinking is the fatal flaw in its character.

The Rolling Stones
Check out the comments to Alex Petridis’ fawning excusefest and Dorian Lynskey’s sycophantic five-star review of the Rolling Stones’ Saturday headline set to fully understand two things: firstly, the extent to which otherwise well-respected music journalists are prepared to bend reality in order to remain the “media partner” of choice of Glastonbury (did anyone mention payola?), and secondly to understand the actual public ridicule that the ageing rockers garnered for their piss-weak performance. It’s all been said before, but for posterity, let’s restate things – Jagger was a tuneless pub singer (guess the song: “uh ca uh wa gi wa uwow”), Richards present in body but certainly not in mind or spirit, and the stage looked enormous, shrinking their already slight figures to feeble automata, a husky caricature of a band that was last decent a few decades ago. Nothing sums up the celebration of reputation over substance, of promise over delivery, of shallow posturing over actual hard graft that Glastonbury at its worst represents, so much as the ridiculous hype preceding the Stones’ limp, limping appearance, and the ass-kissing mainstream reviews that have followed. The yawning gap between rhetoric and reality at the heart of the event calls into question Glastonbury’s very credibility.

Mumford and Sons
It couldn’t have been scripted any better. As Marcus Mumford unleashed his porcine gaze upon the Worthy multitudes, the final nail in the Glastonbury coffin could just be heard being driven in over the clang of a piezoelectric pickup. For the man himself is a pale imitation of a musician, who doesn’t sing so much as strain at stool; and as his shill, shrill partners in music crime made a vain attempt to appear to be a credible choice for a 90-minute set at the closing of an event which is supposedly the epitome of live music, there was nothing but a stark light shining on a gaping posterior of a stage which should have been full of the best musicians the planet can offer. (Hint: Prince, Beck, Bjork.)

Any good bits?
Of course with over fifty stages running, one couldn’t fail to make some good choices here and there. Chic, Portishead, Smashing Pumpkins, amongst many others, made some fine music. And the peripheral paraphernalia of Glastonbury never fails to remind one of the essential extrovert eccentricity of the British middle classes.

Where now from here?
Glastonbury needs to rid itself of fawning media coverage, where everything is “superb”, “iconic”, or simply “absolutely brilliant”. Streaming each stage certainly is the future, just lose the sycophantic punditry. The headliners need to be proper world-class musicians in their prime, not sell-out oldtimers or fly-by-night populist counterfeiters. And finally, the public need to wean themselves off Glastonbury as the only festival going. It’s ridiculously crowded and pretentious, and smaller events can offer just as much listening pleasure (there’s only so many hours in the day, after all). Take a look at Beat-Herder, Kendal Calling, Standon Calling, Deer Shed, Beacons, Festival No. 6, End Of The Road, and it’s pretty clear that all the fun can be had for half the cost elsewhere, and in some considerably more pleasant locales. Was Glastonbury 2013 the worst Glasto ever? Arguments can be made one way or another. But it certainly marked the point where the legend overtook reality, and that’s never a healthy state for any entity to exist within. So if you get a ticket for next year’s festival, kindly pass it to me to dispose of.

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4 Responses

5:50 pm
3rd July 2013

New post: Essay: Glastonbury 2013 – The Worst Ever?: http://t.co/hgpDXzf8g6

5:56 pm
3rd July 2013

RT @tgtf: New post: Essay: Glastonbury 2013 – The Worst Ever?: http://t.co/hgpDXzf8g6

5:57 pm
3rd July 2013

our Martin ponders some very real concerns about the validity of Glastonbury based on what went on this year: http://t.co/hgpDXzf8g6

1:27 pm
4th July 2013

Misses the point. Glasto is not about the music totally. Its about the green fields, the performance art, the circus and theatre. Its about the experience. If you want to see bands in a sterile environment go to V or T they are horrific experiences but you do get good views of the bands.

Know my choice.

Festival Number 6 is the best now though.

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