Have we lost 'being in the moment?' Or am I just turning into a fuddy duddy. You decide...
When I was 15 all I wanted to do was to go to Glastonbury. It was honestly the only thing I wished for in the world.
I wanted to see Kasabian, Amy Winehouse, Franz Ferdinand, The Arctic Monkeys and whoever else was charting, live on stage. The music was defining and resoundingly cool. New Rock ’n’ Roll, and Brit-Pop was the sound. The look was Kate Moss and Pete Doughty in her little shorts and black singlet in those Hunter Gumboots and him in his wide-brimmed hat, slouching around, smoking a fag. Glastonbury was attainable, yet also so far away - a certain muddy, messy, dirty mid-2000’s era, made iconic by Alexander McQueen, the Libertines, and documented in glossy printed magazines. What inspired me was the sort of dirty, unsanitised nature of it all. You could be whoever you wanted to be at Glastonbury, covered in mud, looking like shit, and then probably be in the line next to the Siena Miller (circa 2004 - The Jude Law Years) like it was all normal.
In January 2007, when I was 17, my friends and I were damn lucky to go to the Big Day Out in Auckland. We had a great time, and it was a massive deal. We were chaperoned by our friend Hayley’s mum (the cool Mum), where we stayed with her in a family friends apartment and pooled our money for a bottle of vodka to share. We wore Supertubes by Lee, purple Tights from Frutti, and thick black eyeliner. We spent all our hard earned Summer pocket money from working at Moore Wilsons on Merch at the show (i bought two tees which I still wish I had). And we had an amazing day. We were there for the bands. Tool, My Chemical Romance, Muse, Lily Allen, Peaches, and The Killers all stand out. I think Hayley even got me to see Shapeshifter with her. I had no clue who they were. For a one day concert, it sure was a line-up! Significantly, I can’t even recall putting any photos on MySpace, as I brought my film camera which I needed to get developed when I brought it home. I couldn’t have put the scanned copies on Facebook because I only got Facebook later in August 2007.
On reflection, our epic adventure to Mt Smart Stadium sounds cheap and rather tame. How things can change in 10 years.
C-O-A-C-H-E-L-L-A. For 18 - 25-year-olds today it is all about flying to LA to go and be seen at Coachella. Although relatively unheard of until a few years ago, now Coachella has become a massive thing. For those who don’t know, Coachella is a Festival in the desert near Palm Springs, headlined by acts like Beyonce and Katy Perry. Think of it as an Americanised Glastonbury/Reading/Burning Man. And by Americanised, I mean commercialised.
Noticing everyone popping up on Instagram stories this weekend, having fun at the Festival, I wondered if social media has changed how we experience the music festival and whether it has made it more or less interesting as an overall experience. Leaving money and permissions out of it (Moore Wilson’s wouldn’t have funded a return flight to LA and accommodation at peak, plus I don’t think my parents would have been thrilled), in my opinion the big difference from when we went to Big Day Out in 2007 and those attending Coachella in 2018 that it is as much about documenting yourself being there as it is actually going.
A large part of the allure of going to Coachella Music Festival for Kiwis was due to the demise of The Big Day Out and other similar festivals. However, it also became attractive through the rise of influencer marketing, bringing it to the attention of users of Instagram from about 2013 onwards. A few years ago brands began to pay for influencers to attend the festival and unofficially act as brand ambassadors for their trip. This meant paying for flights, somewhere to stay, tickets, and providing them with free products to wear or use while at the festival. It was a simple idea, based on the premise that an interesting setting and attractive young people could sparkle some of their fairy dust over whatever product was being manufactured by the brand, from skincare to clothing.
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Over the past few years, more brands caught onto the idea and also began to use marketing budget to get exposure through vloggers, bloggers and influencers ‘on tour’ with that brand. Obviously, something must have worked, as now influencer marketing and Coachella have grown in popularity hand in hand, with attendees from all across the world, arguably drawn less by the music and more by the glittery, mystical, dream-catcher aesthetic.
But where celebrities would once be at a festival to relax and be ‘normal’, avoiding the eye of the press, smoking fags, wearing no makeup and maybe, at most luxe, sleeping in a camping tent, today this isn’t the case. The music festival, particularly Coachella, has become one giant sales expo - with the vendor stall price based on which influencer you can afford to get (and some running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars to ‘hire’). Back in the day, a celeb wouldn’t be caught dead endorsing anything at a music festival. Sales only would occur if a magazine took a photo of a socialite, actress, musician or model, printed a story about how their outfit was THE LOOK for the season (see Kate Moss and Hunter gumboots above, or short denim cut-offs or Siena Miller Boho), and fashion-crazed-mob mentality ensued. It was all very natural and organic.
Coachella has changed that. People are THERE to be seen. Uncomfortable and impractical outfits are derigeur. The outfit is more important than whether you are comfortable. Being seen is more important, arguably, than the music. And one has to ask, whether that is the POINT of festivals, or whether this awesome invention has been hijacked by commercialism. In the words of Caitlin Moran “If you’re not off your face peeing in a field at 3 am, you’re doing it wrong.” Instead, today, everyone is manicured and glittered up to within an inch of his or her life. It’s about how you look, how good your makeup is and who you’re with.
This is completely the opposite of why we first loved music festivals.
This is a huge contrast to what used to make Glastonbury magic.
Music Festivals had an allure to me because they felt like a commune. It felt like a place where you could be completely yourself, uncensored, and no one would ever find out what happened when you got back to ‘the real world’. They were about the release, about letting go, about getting off your face and making friends with random strangers and sitting up until sunrise talking about an art installation and made some obscure university scholar from the 19th century.
The smartphone has changed many areas of our life, for better and for worse. But if you’re standing at the front of a crowd, worrying about getting that shot, worrying about how your face looks, and worrying about dropping your headdress or your diamanté face stickers falling off, perhaps you’re missing the point.
Personally, it feels like Coachella is a bit stale, and that something new needs to rise from its ashes to take its place. Maybe it will be burning man. Maybe something else. It’s unclear. But if there is one thing that’s clear - it’s this: if I ever make it to Glastonbury, I’ll make sure my god damn hardest I’m peeing in a field at 3 am. And frankly my dear, you’ll damn never ever know. For now - I'll be sticking to going to Moon Bar in Wellington to see my bands...