I like Big Nights Out (you know I do), but festivals – the national Big Weekends Out – are a disaster for me. I’ve never had a good experience, be it during the one day I spent at V Festival 2000 (highlight: Foo Fighters), a weekend at Reading 2006 (highlight: Larrikin Love) or something called Electric Gardens (highlight: fuck knows). I hate camping, Carling, straw hats and about 90 percent of the music on offer.
I had recently breached two decades of life on this Earth when I realised: I’ve never been to a festival before. I’d always been aware of them, from the Sixth Form crews who went to Leeds yearly (considering the acts were the same and they were about equidistant from home, I presume Reading lost out because it wasn’t edgy enough) to the girl at uni with almost a decade’s worth of Glasto wristbands adorning her arm, but only ever as a curiosity.
However, with myself surely approaching the age where festivalgoing begins to look less acceptable, I thought it was time. One barren summer arrived to fuel my enthusiasm and before long I had come up with a rough plan. I wouldn’t just go to a festival, or perhaps two. I would go to ten. It would be a veritable Festageddon.
I don’t know why I do these things to myself.
#1 Sound City, Liverpool (GB)
Derek Kaye, Âme, Mano Le Tough, Floating Points, Mount Kimbie, DJ Koze, Leftfield, Makes No Sense, Jemmy, Gerd Janson, Henrik Schwarz, Motor City Drum Ensemble, Hot Chip, 2manydjs
My first festival (non-camping), as well as my first shift working for a local security firm. I got given front of house for the Baltic Warehouse stage both days and apart from having a Scouser threatening to stab me on my second day at work, it was jolly good fun.
#2 Parklife, Manchester (GB)
Vague bassy noise
Security again, this time on the perimeter which got in the way somewhat of hearing the music. Still counting it though.
#3 Secret Solstice, Reykjavík (IS)
Jack Magnet, Lady Leshurr, Kelela, Goldie, Úlfur Úlfur, Action Bronson, Landsleikur, Högni Egilsson, Agent Fresco, Kerri Chandler, Roísin Murphy, General Levy, Of Monsters and Men
Secret Solstice was the catalyst for my interest in festivals. After hearing about it through on article on their Into the Glacier side-party, I searched on the Secret Solstice website until I found the ‘Get Involved’ link. The wheels began to turn.
And so I found myself in a newly-bought tent in a field in Reykjavík, not really sure what I was doing but certain it was going to be a good time. I stumbled bleary-eyed through the campsite, unsure what the protocol here was. If I was on my own, how far away from other people was considered polite? How could I best avoid a repeat of Gold DofE, where my tent flooded because we’d set it up the wrong way round on an incline? Why had I chosen my first experience to be in bloody Iceland?
This all washed away when the girl next to where I’d decided to pitch asked if I was from the Couchsurfing group. I had no idea what she was on about, but she explained there was a group of them who’d been in touch for a little while and planned to camp together, and invited me to join them. Things were starting off promisingly.
The group was cool. Two Germans, a girl who’d come all the way from Portland and two Canadians: one quiet and the other ‘interesting’. Within five minutes he’d offered me a bowl and taught me more about poi and flow control toys than I would have ever thought necessary. He was also off his nut over the announcement that Sister Sledge would be the first night’s secret headliners, which was an enthusiasm I struggled to mimic.
After initially waking up at 02:00 and bricking it at the thought that I’d slept through until 14:00 (96hrs of continuous sunlight‘ll do that to you), I got up at the more reasonable time of 11:00 and got ready for my first shift as a ‘Production Runner’. The info booklet described the job as
you’ll have all sorts of tasks and
never be bored, so I had no idea what to expect. Waiting around for instructions I talked to the other volunteers — a lot of litterpickers and the one other Production Runner! We eventually got told what we were to do: man the info stall and lost & found that had been set up in response to issues the day before. Easy work, and we even found time to marry a couple (which I later worried might have been legally binding due to my ULC ordination, but apparently they’re fine).
We were right in the arena, by the main stage, so we had a great view of the acts. Jack Magnet did some really interesting Indian-inspired things and Lady Leshurr was great even when pretending Reykjavík was the best place she’d ever performed. Kelela was putting me to sleep so I took my break to go see Goldie and Úlfur Úlfur did an excellent rocky set. Action Bronson was a strange one, coming on as he did to the sounds of toilets flushing and having the most antagonistic crowd chat I’d seen.
I just want you to fucking move your fucking ass. I want you to dance for me.
That night I went clubbing with the other Production Runner and her Italian pals and spent £7.40 on a pint. Leaving the club at 3am and walking into the cold, stark realities of a perfectly well-lit city street was just as jarring as it is when you do it at 6am back home.
For our second shift, we waited with bated breath to find out what we were doing — we’d heard of Produciton Runners having to litter pick and didn’t really fancy it. Instead, we were sent off to the Secret Lagoon side party where Kerri Chandler put on a 3hr set to 150 or so people at Gamla Lagun and we did practically nothing. It was great. When I mentioned to some guests that my plan was to get as drunk as possible between the end of my shift at 18:00 and the start of Die Antwoord at 18:45, they gave me a bunch of their VIP free drink tokens. Festivallers are so friendly.
We got back to find that Die Antwoord were delayed by
ATCs not turning up for work (very Iceland). I hooked up with the Portlander when I got back to the campsite and we went to see Roísin Murphy, who seemed to be trying to channel Lady Gaga with all her mad costumes. She got through about three a song, there didn’t seem to be any sort of connection between getup and song and by the end of it she was wearing a backwards hi-vis jacket, massive billowing dress and a slice of pizza on her head. This was all after she’d been in and out of the massive vagina costume for no reason.
After, we joined an Aussie we’d been camping by and went to see General Levy, whose entire schtick was getting pop songs and making the lyrics about weed (case in point: Herb, Herb, Herb). Along with that, his DJ rewound about a minute into every song. Before long we were sick of it and went to go see Of Monsters and Men, which is something you definitely want to do in Iceland. They’re about their only big musicians that aren’t Björk and the Icelanders go nuts.
Portland and I waited in the queue for Die Antwoord, now moved to the smallest-capacity venue at the festival, drinking schnapps and getting fed up until we realised that the venue was full and the queue only moving when people left. We cut our losses and went back.
I packed my tent in the rain at 4am because I thought booking a 7am flight was a good idea. At the airport I ran into another girl from the festival, whose festival beau had been milling about the hostel off his face when I left.
Yeah, he was weird, she summarised. He fit right in.
#3.5 Extrav Week, Lancaster (GB)
Barely Legal, Laurie Marriott and Josh:Lee, Atomic Brass, Soundslave, The Calls, Lake Komo, Rews, The Lottery Winners, Alex Hardman, Marco Tamimi Music, Joseph Gardiner, The Escapades, Jack Culpan, Nafrob, Rek:Law, Mat.Tü, Mike Sutton, DubRocca
Not really a full festival, but I did three days of security for Lancaster University’s end-of-year Extrav Week. Saw some music. Was good.
#4 T in the Park, Scotland (GB)
Disclosure, Oh Wonder, Jamie xx, Tinie Tempah, Major Lazer, Diplo
Volunteering as a Gate Steward meant standing on the gates for eight hours scanning tickets and little else. Thank God, then, that the Scots are excellent craic and were all pretty jovial even after the trek it took them to get to the festival. Time largely flew and left plenty for the festival itself.
I started off with a squad from the staff campsite, including the girl who’d driven me up from Carlisle and some people she’d volunteered with the year before, but as our music tastes diverged I ended up with a couple from uni (one of whom is the sister of half of Mat.Tü, who is a really good DJ).
After some intermittent torrential rain on the Saturday, which flooded the campsite, the site remained a state for the duration of the festival. The arena floor was covered in a 6in thick mud soup, with occasional deeper holes that you could see festivalgoers disappear down into as you surveyed the scene. Spirits remained undampened, although I was silently massively grateful that I’d decided to do Extrav Week rather than working security at Glastonbury this year.
So I split my time between mindlessly scanning tickets and out-of-my-mindly third-wheeling my way through life, realising just how unprepared I was for festivalling (
waterproofs? Don’t know why I’d need them) and getting repeatedly bailed out by my Carlislian ride, who never failed to produce exactly what I was whinging about not having at any given moment.
I ended the festival with Diplo, immediately after Major Lazer, and thought him to be a bit like a kid who has just discovered bass. Maybe that was just the sound system. A night spent emergency crashing on a spare bed in Carlisle later and I was on my way home for the first time all summer.