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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.

 

Preview: Glastonbury 2013

 
By on Monday, 8th April 2013 at 9:00 am
 

2012 had it all, didn’t it? London 2012, the Diamond Jubilee, James fucking Bond returning in a blaze of balls-out guts and glory and some great music to boot (we’re ignoring Muse’s Olympic song ‘Survival’, don’t worry).

Had it all though? Every classic British summer needs something, and 2012 was drastically missing it: that cornucopia of eccentricity and old-school values, Glastonbury. Where were Mssrs. Eavis squared, where was the Pyramid Stage, where was Worthy Farm? Healing, nursing its wounds. In preparation for a shindig 26-30 June 2013 that’ll remind the British populace of the importance of the institution that is the Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts.

To make it a year to remember, though, one thing is certain. That the bands they are going to have must have that clout that makes punters stand erect and to attention. Enter Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood, a year after the Rolling Stones‘ 50th anniversary. They’ve never played the legendary Pyramid Stage and it seems that finally the Eavises have gotten their way and secured easily one of the biggest draws that the music industry has to offer.

Joining them atop the almighty Pyramid are a band who have already set tongues a wagging once with their Glastonbury exploits. We are of course talking about the Arctic Monkeys (pictured at top), who are now four albums strong and flaunting their new-found maturity. The most surprising and probably most controversial bill-topper is the biggest marmite act around at the moment: The USA-smashing Mumford and Sons, riding high on the crest of the wave of success of last year’s ‘Babel’, and wading through the swathes of critical approval.

But with Glastonbury, you know it isn’t all about the headliners, with over 1,000 artists appearing across a multitude of stages over the weekend. Arctic Monkeys not floating ya boat? Check out The Smashing Pumpkins instead. Pyramid Stage too mainstream for you? Portishead will be bringing their trip hop stylings to the farm in a set surely not to be missed at any cost.

Further down the bill you’ve got math rockers Foals, Enter Shikari, Mr. Controversial Tyler, The Creator and crooner Maverick Sabre.

That take your fancy? Well, if it does, resale is closing up, so get that hammer out and give your piggy bank a good smashing, as this festival is *not* one to be missed.

 

The 2013 BRIT Awards – The Nominees

 
By on Friday, 11th January 2013 at 4:37 pm
 

Is there any point to the BRITs? Granted, it gives a certain demographic of London teenager the opportunity to sting Daddy for the eye-watering £70 ticket price, no doubt getting stuffed with half-term pizza and fructose syrup before spending three hours squealing loudly at microscopic effigies of their latest tabloid-endorsed musical crushes. But beyond that, does any vestige of musical credibility remain within the unhallowed, chart-obsessed recesses of the BRIT Award psyche?

A swift perusal of the nominations, released yesterday, would indicate: maybe, actually. The usual mega-selling suspects are there: Emeli Sandé, Mumford and Sons, Robbie Williams, Olly Murs. But look a little deeper and could there just be enough respect for the breakthrough, even the underground, so that beyond the face paint and lasers, there’s a bedrock of credibility?

Step forward Richard Hawley, the most unlikely of the entire nomination list, proving that the BRITs aren’t immune to a decent bit of ‘70s-throwback guitar action and heart-on-the-sleeve balladry from a bequiffed Yorkshireman. Plan B also deserves a shout for his unflinching portrayal of council estate life in ‘Ill Manors’, which still deserves to make more of an impact than it has.

Jessie Ware gathers two nods, a fine result for her this early in her career, single-handedly making 2011’s Critic’s Choice Award for her namesake Jessie J look ever more ridiculous. The more listeners turned on to her coolly urban soul, the better. Paloma Faith is also up for two gongs – British Female Solo is fair enough, but British Album of the Year for ‘Fall to Grace’, for a collection significantly worse than her début, is deeply suspect. British Group unoriginally throws up two previous Mercury Prize winners: unlikely media darlings alt-J, and minimalist electro-songsters the xx; Muse are nominated for the ninth (and tenth) time, with Mumford and One Direction predictably making up the numbers. A rum collection, if ever there was one, and despite the disparate yet singular talents of each, hardly a state-of-the-nation statement.

The British Single category is too depressing to analyse deeply. Suffice to say a more turgid collection of middle-of-the-road dross it’s difficult to conceive. Any list containing the execrable ‘Mama Do the Hump’ by Rizzle Kicks deserves to be encased in concrete and dropped into a very deep hole. Thankfully each of the British Breakthrough nominees have something to commend them, though surely Jake Bugg is the most extraordinary of the lot; his compellingly grizzled, world-weary, yet uplifting take on vintage blues in his debut album means he should have no problem in lifting the spotted statue next month.

Ironically, there’s far less to complain about the International (read: American) nominees. Perhaps it’s because we expect the USA to do bigness well, it’s difficult to complain about someone like Bruce Springsteen being nominated, although one wonders just how much pride of place a BRIT award would take on the dashboard of his pickup truck.

As always, it’s good to see producers, the guys behind the desk who really make the music, getting their opportunity to shine, although it seems somewhat unfair that Damon Albarn should be sharing their limelight – hasn’t he had enough of it by now? If the Albarn effect can be resisted, Paul Epworth should walk away with this one, although personally I prefer listening to his sister’s output to his. And what of Amy Winehouse and The Rolling Stones, both nominated, neither deservedly? Stop it, BRITs! Pick people who are more alive!

The 2013 BRITs take place on Wednesday the 20th of February at London’s O2 Arena. TGTF will be reporting, either from the event itself, or from somewhere else in London more interesting. Watch this space.

Who should win the British Brits, I reckon?

Male Solo: Richard Hawley
Female Solo: Jessie Ware
Breakthrough: Jake Bugg
Group: One Direction
Single: Alex Clare – ‘Too Close’
Album: Plan B – ‘Ill Manors’
Live: Coldplay
Producer: Paul Epworth

Full list of nominees after the jump.
Continue reading The 2013 BRIT Awards – The Nominees

 
 
 

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