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Festival Treason: Why I Won't Be Buying a Ticket This Season

16/07/2014 13:53 | Updated 14 September 2014

I have a confession to make. It's something I've been struggling to come to terms with for the past five years; a skeleton that I've confined to a closet. All in the name of, well, being a Proper Young Person. Social convention, if you like. This confession is like admitting that you quite like Chris Brown, or that you think Bashar al-Assad is misunderstood (and kind of sexy, in a all-of-my-beaky-features-are-located-in-the-very-centre-of-my-face way). It's something you just wouldn't tell anyone about.

But I'm sick of this awkward secret, and as we all know from daytime television, the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. So here I am, admitting that I have a problem. With, [deep breath], festivals. Not like, a 'festiaddiction', as Cosmo would probably call it (because it can't be written about unless it has a crap portmanteau). More like, that I don't like them. I think I might even hate them.

It's not that I don't like music. I like music, loads. All different kinds of music. It's not even that I don't like camping. I have voluntarily, repeatedly, slept in a field without a tent in February with the Army Reserve. Festival camping is veritable luxury compared to that. You don't have to poo in a bush. You don't have to eat cold yellow soup of an indeterminate flavour out of a foil bag.

So in theory, I should actually really like them. Apparently everyone else does. They collect and boast about festival experiences like Pokémon cards. They keep their crummy wristbands on, hoping that wearing physical evidence that they attended T in the Park last year with their Vans constitutes edginess.

And it's that inescapable whiff of people trying really bloody hard that gets me feeling all bilious when I'm actually there. Everyone is wearing An Outfit, instead of just clothes. Everyone is name dropping bands and DJs. And a lot of people are feeling delightfully gritty because they just bought a bag of crushed up ibuprofen from a man who is probably wearing tracksuit bottoms and may or may not be called Pete.

Festivals embody everything that is nauseating and inane about youth culture today. Squads of hair-extensioned, Hunter welly wearing dunces garnished with crowns of plastic flowers; too-fat girls audibly chafing in too-tight high waist shorts and crop tops, in blind deference to the doctrine of Festival Chic. Onesies. Morph suits.

It can't be the music that people like - it invariably sounds second-rate. Because, a) the band is even more pissed than usual, b) the sound system is arse, c) you are two kilometres from the nearest speaker, or d) all of the above. Even Professor George McKay, who wrote a book on festival culture, says so; 'people don't go to festivals for the music. They go because of the event itself. Some festivals are simply 'cool''.

Like a four day, corporate New Year's Eve, there is relentless pressure to be having 'the greatest time ever, OMG take another picture of me so I can document my fun loving persona on social media'. But waking up in a piss stained tent pitched in a Vodafone sponsored wasteland of sixth formers' discarded Stella cans is not my idea of great.

In December, eminently irritating Kiwi extraordinaire Zane Lowe announced Blink 182 as the headline act for Reading and Leeds. The middle aged pop punks will be supported by Jake Bugg (#indie!), which will surely have been rousing news for scores of gap-yearers who until then had been slumping around in Camden pubs, gazing mournfully at their precious wristbands and wondering if they would make it through the hollow pain of the winter to grace the next Festival Season.

Personally, I will be boycotting festivals forthwith. But the season is in full swing and the weather is set to stay fair. It's prime time for those stricken with social anxiety following the recent onslaught of festival themed Facebook uploads to score some tickets before the supply dries up. In that spirit, behold my non-exhaustive mini guide to the most repellent music festivals of 2014...

3. Boomtown - £156
7th-10th August, Hampshire


Boomtown Fair will be six years old this summer, and for the latter half of its life it's taken place at the Matterley Bowl near Winchester. The self styled 'UK's Maddest City' is a purveyor of mostly ska, reggae, gypsy punk and electro-swing, and presents itself as a 'neo-noir' pseudo-world, whose convoluted fictional history is chronicled in a 2,928 word literary haemorrhage on its equally nonsensical website.

If this promotional description of the stage Jimmy Cliff and Shaggy are playing on is anything to go by - 'This bad boy stage is held in the district of TrenchTown with Town Councillor BOSS MAN there to ensure a serious high skankin' time is had from start to finish.' - it's going to be 'next-level', bro.

A new addition last year was the arrival of the Arcadia Spectacular, which is basically a big hydraulic spider with acrobatic cybergoths and bad dubstep. Think del Toro's Hellboy, but in a musical theatre format, and with more pyrotechnics.

Boomtown is otherwise notable for the unparalleled strength of its weed/incense aroma, exuberant use of psychoactives, and a heavy steampunk contingent. Its license has been renewed following a formal review for exceeding noise limits last year, so buy a ticket if the idea of doing ketamine in dystopia appeals.

2. Field Day - £59.50 (2015 early bird)
7th-8th June, London

By rights, Field Day should not be on this list. It offers almost unfeasibly good line-ups - Blood Orange and SBTRKT in 2012, Jacques Greene and Solange last summer, and Warpaint, Ghostpoet and Jamie XX this year. The tickets are relatively cheap. The sight of a Cath Kidston tent is a logical impossibility (there's no camping). And if you, like nearly a quarter of rest of the UK, live in the London metropolitan area, then its location in Victoria Park is pretty convenient too.

And yet, when it's happening, nobody seems to be having a good time. Perhaps it is the very strength of the proposition that makes Field Day's physical manifestation an almighty let down. Perhaps it's the fact that many of the attendees are depressed Deloitte workers. More likely, it's because the festival is plagued with sound and logistical 'issues' and suffers from a profound lack of atmosphere. Distressing line-up clashes and an unconsidered layout add to the already pervading air of deficiency.

Having weathered a rain of complaints in its first year, 2007, the organisers have since done little to shake off its sucky reputation: last month Drowned in Sound called it 'the pantomime villain of the festival circuit'. This year it expanded from its humble Saturday only beginnings anyway to become a proper all weekend event. Snap up a ticket for next year - they're already on sale - and prepare to be underwhelmed.

1. Benicàssim - £170.55
17th - 20th July, Costa Azahar, Spain


The Festival Internacional de Benicàssim takes place in the town of the same name about 100km north of Valencia on the east coast of Spain. For a number of reasons, it is majestically avoidable.

The camping is infernal. Temperatures bob jovially in the high thirties, meaning that if you're lucky enough to be woken up (ie. you have actually been to sleep for an hour in spite of the incessant euro techno pumping through the campsite) by the sun as you inevitably will be when it comes up just after 6am, you get to experience a slow, withering half-death by heatstroke.

To alleviate this you might queue for one of the showers, which consist of a scaffolding frame punctuated by hosepipes. Said showers are open, outdoor, and unisex, meaning that if you want to wash your bits properly during the eight days of camping, you have to do so in front of a patrol of pubescent Liverpudlians dressed as Where's Wally.

'Beni', as it's affectionately known, is not about the music. This year, in a line-up presumably designed to attract the broadest demographic of non-music-liking dullards, Tinie Tempah, Manic Street Preachers, Ellie Goulding and Travis are playing. Rather than a music festival in the traditional sense of the term, it's an excuse for young Brits to play an extended game of Embarrassing Ourselves in Europe. It is an exercise in scarlet-skinned, vest-wearing, inebriated inanity. It has no redeeming features. See also: V Festival, Wireless.