T in the Park
In principle, I hate rock festivals. However, I have attended T in the Park every year since it began in 1994. This is partly because of being able to go home to my own bed, but also because the festival has had enough to recommend it. The site is excellent (especially compared to its origins in Hamilton) and over the years there have been some real coups – Nick and Kylie, Keanu Reeves, Massive Attack, The Roots, Sonic Youth, Bjork and the Beastie Boys spring to mind.
The problem is the ‘rock’ part of rock festival, and T in the Park, this year more than ever has lots of ‘rock.’ Proper stadium filling rock from America (Foo Fighters, Green Day), the post-Live 8 generation of one-size fits all and offends no-one rock (The Killers, Keane, Travis, Razorlight) and lots of frankly hopeless rock clogging up the tents. Stand up The Paddingtons, Art Brut and the rest of you – you know who you are.
So why has T in the Park become the least adventurous of the U.K. festivals having started out as the most innovative? Two reasons spring to mind. The first is simply to do with the trends in the live music market over the last ten years. In essence the equation is bigger bands + bigger audiences + bigger ticket prices = bigger payments for artists and bigger profits for promoters. As a result, concert promotion is now a much less hazardous proposition (at this level) than it was when Stuart Clumpas launched the festival (and made a loss) in Year 1. Conservatism pays.
The second reason is more specific and to do with demographics. Tennents sell a lot of lager in Scotland. T in the Park is a genius marketing idea, where they are able to monopolise lager sales in a town on 70 000 people for two days, with no middleman costs at all. Lager sells mainly to males of a certain age, and it would be folly to change this demographic by encouraging a different type of audience.
The outcome is depressing: a huge majority of male fronted, white guitar bands, with the only variation being in the degree of senisitivity, on the stages, groups of incoherently pissed blokes wearing home-made matching t-shirts on drinking/ stage weekends.
Some of these, of course, are to be expected – but in spite of all the carefully choreographed media releases from the sponsors willingly devoured by almost all the media, it is perhaps time both the sponsors and the organisers reflected on the missed opportunities. Next year there is no Glastonbury, and T in the Park has claimed that it wants to fill the role. To avoid a crushing anti-climax for those coming from south of the border for the first time, a more inclusive, multi-cultural approach is imperative.
It is hardly co-incidental that this yar’s most remarkable peformances came from the furthest travelled (Rilo Kiley and The Dears were both outstanding, Snoop Dogg priceless), the most refreshingly upbeat (The Go! Team), the unheralded geniuses (Super Furry Animals, James Murphy of LCD Soundsytem) and those who harked back to an era when guitar music still held open worlds of possibility. In this context, even the (relatively) geriatric northern trio of New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen and Ian Brown sounded light years ahead of their ancestors filling much of the rest of the bill.
By my calculations, the organisers have �1.75 million sitting in the bank in advance sales for next year’s event, and a nice amount of interest accumulating on a daily basis. Along with the other – and for how much longer will the rip-off culture of festivals be tolerated – proceeds from this year this can be viewed as a blank cheque to take risks. Think – announce a Merzbow tent and 25 000 would still have to attend! Of course this is not the point (and crowd-pleasers are an important part of any festival bill), but my fear is that the advance sales serve to impose more restrictions on the organisers. Taken as a ringing endorsement it merely encourages the safety first approach – having parted with your �65 now, don’t complain while you are sitting next year listening to David Gray and Texas rounding off another triumphant year.
Some other views: