Opinion: The Future Of Festivals, Or Sensible Is Sexy

June 25, 2018

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Parklife / Marks Park, Johannesburg


“You know what I really like about this festival? You can go home after the set. Have some real comfort. No trying to find your tent in the mud and then being unable to fall asleep ‘cos the idiot next door is making a racket.”

This from a label executive, a guy who goes to festivals to support his acts; who makes sure that other people go to festivals to support his acts – a guy for whom good festivals are good business. If he reckons its’ time for a different formula, it’s probably time for a different formula

He has a point about the mud and the tents, though. There’s an age, or perhaps a level of maturity, that some music fans reach when all they want to do is sit in reasonably comfortable surroundings, fairly close to the stage, while they enjoy their live music. A great bill means nothing if the acts are doing their thing 400 metres away; specks on a canvas that you can only glimpse through the fog of smoke, dust and BO stirred up by your fellow revellers.

That old-fashioned model also includes a choice of burned sausages and some sort of deep-fried potato option. That’s ok once or twice, but the inevitable heartburn rather puts a crimp in your day. What you want is a range of food types and presentations, a mall’s worth of tasty edibles from which you can pick and choose in the same way you highlight your favourite bands on the day’s schedule and walk around the festival venue to get yourself a spot in time for each fresh set.

Getting around the venue – man, another hitch for folks who simply no longer feel that it’s worth it to elbow their way through a crowd the moment one act winds up their last song in order to get over the hill, across the field and through the copse to catch the last two songs on the Rock/EDM/Metal/Punk stage on the other side.

Parklife 2015 – the Johannesburg leg, held at the Marks Park Sports Club – is the new kind of festival, the kind where it’s okay to park within sight of the stages, which are in turn only a few hundred metres from each other on a compact campus that features a bar area and 20 different food-truck options for breakfast, lunch or dinner, all of them gourmet – plus a coffee stand with an espresso machine, rather than just a hot water urn and *retch, hack* a can of Frisco.

The first bands up were on at 10h30, the last – Modest Mouse – scheduled for 18h10 and actually ready to start less than half an hour after all of that. The keeping to schedule is what made the whole project work: bands on the two main stages (Park and Orange, within easy hearing range of each other) alternated, with one only able to start as the other finished. One level up, on what is usually an archery range, was The Arch, a smaller set-up where the dance acts were operating, and you had to walk through the mobile smorgasbord to get there. So compact. So sensible.

Somewhere, there’s a group of music fans saying: “That’s not very rock and roll, dude.”

Happily, they’re wrong. It was.

Monark staked a claim for being the best live rock band in the country, outperforming more commercially established – and equally talented – acts like Gangs of Ballet, Kahn Morbee and Prime Circle, all of whom delivered solid sets, great value for money if not, on this particular occasion, the magic they’re often capable of.

Capetonian nu-folk man Jeremy Loops added enormous energy to the hooks that have already made many of his singles to date major hits, and probably edged it as the crowd favourite on the night.

Of the imports, American Authors gave a good account of themselves, their Good Charlotte-meets-Maroon 5 poppiness easy on the ear. Headliners Modest Mouse were a tougher proposition, with their art-rocking lack of structure meaning that a good portion of the crowd were trying their best not to appear confused, as that would mean appearing out of synch with the festival vibe.

Guys, in future, don’t stress. There’s more than one kind of festival that it’s okay to be enthusiastic about. And where there’s more than one action, more than one reaction is perfectly acceptable.

To compact, comfortable festivals where stereotypes don’t necessarily apply. Let’s raise a cappuccino together – cheers!

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