Reading the news is hardly a barrel of laughs and today is no different: The latest controversies around Brexit and Trump are interleaved with something equally sinister – a teenage Kurdish Iranian refugee was set upon by 30 people in Croydon on Friday (March 31). Approximately 10 of the group kicked and punched the teenager, while the others looked on.
It is necessary for everyone – businesses, institutions, families, and individuals – to do their bit in stemming this tide of hate. As a self-confessed festivals nerd I’m inclined to ask, should music festivals say something? This is a tough nut to crack, if you were inclined to try. Mostly, contemporary festivals in the UK today are necessarily like any other product for mainstream consumption – that is, politically neutral.
This has not always been the case. In fact, this politically neutral appearance is a relatively recent phenomenon, which has coincided with the post-millennial upsurge in the range of festivals. As romantic as it sounds, festivals were much more conspicuously rooted in a leftwing, liberal, idealist terrain, pre-millennium. Clashes between the free festival movement and the legislators of the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, as well as the centrality of new age travellers in the emergence of festival culture in the 70s, all attest to this fact. Glastonbury, which has influenced the size and shape of UK festival culture, also has a proud political past, allying itself with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Greenpeace.
Festival culture was also reactive to foreign humanitarian crises. If you need any more convincing, YouTube 1985’s Live Aid and watch in awe as 72,000 gathered at London’s Wembley Stadium to address the Ethiopian famine. The total broadcast reach of this event was 1.9 billion.
This might have made for depressing reading so far; but has the potential for festivals to be catalysts for social change disappeared? I don’t believe that. But if festivals are to address the issues and more openly champion the communitarian ethos on which they were built, then we (festivalgoers and promoters) need to stop being squeamish about mixing politics and pleasure.