Should festivals be more rooted in local communities?



Music is important to every community, from the classic clichéd picture of native men and women dancing round a flickering fire to tribal beats, through to the clubs and concerts of recent years; music brings people together in a way nothing else can. It’s a shared experience that we can all relate to, whipping us up into a friendly frenzy of forgetting ourselves as we dance the night away with faces old and new. Without question the medium of noise has been a unifying factor in almost every society since the dawn of time.

We’ve been lucky in the UK for many years. Dance music bought us all together in the clubs, venues and even in the fields for a moment that we all lost together on ecstasy. We took those little bits of heaven that we’d gleaned from tripping the light fantastic back to our real lives and the world started to feel like a more together place, despite the capitalist excesses of the 1980s. It made us realise what a special feeling it is to be with people who’re united by nothing more than the fact they’re drinking down the same sound.  Back then, in the face of a social policy wrought out by the Iron Lady, music gave us back our feeling of belonging. Now, in a world that’s ever more desperate, getting together for music events is becoming ever more important. A recent study shows that 70% of festival goers are turning up not for the headline musical acts, but for a mysterious force that’s been known as “the vibe” since the 1960s. This just goes to show that people not only value the social aspect of festivals, but that for many, it is the main reason to turn up.

The modern world

Now, as with many things in the modern world, something that started as a semi social movement has been leapt upon by big business. Michael Eavis claimed in a recent Guardian interview that he likes to use Glastonbury to project a global political message to the world and whilst this is a very noble cause, sometimes people lose sight of the good that they can do in their immediate community. Smaller, local festivals, impact positively and immediately on local businesses such as juice bars, brewers and food producers who can get their message across to the immediate community. Local musicians get some much needed recognition too.

However the most valued thing about a festival is the sense of community it bestows on the participants; an unquantifiable sense of togetherness that can make and renew social connections.

Pop has eaten itself

Let’s be cynical for a moment, because it gives us a good point from where to reflect. Many say there is no more good music; that pop has eaten itself and EDM has re-sampled everything to the point where it’s choking on its own regurgitated production in the form of Dubstep. They argue that there’s a distinct lack of new music for people to get down to. Perhaps these people are missing the point, sound doesn’t always have to be some new kind of sensory experience, propelling your consciousness into a shamanistic trance state.

Why do we need expensive headline acts to come into a festival and give us a story of a stereotypical vision of modern society that sells our lives as generic sentiment? After all, many of the tunes that sell the most these days simply do through saturation; bashing people over the head with the same 16 bar melody until they’re forced to start liking it. Songs can tell the stories of local people, the area they live in and the struggles they face. With this in mind, bands and producers who are native to a local area take on a special significance as they’re able to relate to the people around the locality in a way no one else can.

Where is the support?

So in the modern world where is the social support? Isn’t it time that the councils realised the true value of these festivals and stopped selling licenses to the highest bidder so that greedy promoters can make money out of this ineffable togetherness that people enjoy; and instead start valuing it as a cornerstone of local community. There are different examples of this all around the country. For instance in Guildford, Guilfest regularly attracts big names and is still run by the same bunch of people who had its original vision. However, in the city where Festival Mag is produced, we’re now seeing a council funded event called the Norfolk and Norwich Festival being put on in a local park. It features musicians from all around the world, but very few from the local community. Many of us are wondering why the council isn’t doing more to support our local musicians. It’s time for the nanny state let go of people’s hands and start giving time and space for free festivals again. Sure there might be all kinds of problems setting up these events, but the shared sense of group challenge in overcoming difficulties would surely bring people together more? Now more than ever we need something to unite us as people and it’s high time that these events stopped being a cash cow for the same old faces.