Art and Music      


My First Festival

GEMMA DE CRUZ: It’s just gone nine on Friday morning; I unzip the tent and look out into bright sunshine. There’s a girl in a blue satin disco ensemble dancing like Edie Sedgwick about three metres away. ‘Hey, look at that girl dancing’, I say to my friend back in the tent.  Without flinching she replies ‘Yeah, she’s out of it’.  Wow, I’m thinking, I really have led a sheltered existence.

Yeah, I read Glastonburied, David Sheppard guru of all things tells it how it is.  Festivals are like, so over, right? Corporate overkill, saturation point - It can’t be the ‘60s anymore. I’d even been a daytime festival tourist and didn’t really feel like I was missing anything.  But I remained curious so when my friend suggested we check out the Secret Garden Party in Cambridge it sounded perfect.

The Secret Garden Party is like other festivals, but different. It’s comparatively small, fancy dress, strictly no corporate branding (great, if you don’t count the obligatory Hunter wellies) and there’s an ‘arty’ theme.  But the rudiments are the same; you’re in a field, you camp, there’s a main stage, smaller stages and dance tents. We arrived in twilight and attempted to put up the tent while knocking back pink Prosecco. The benefit of arriving in near darkness is that everything looks magical. The whole site was decorated with fairy lights and as we crossed a bridge into a mini forest it was like stepping into the perfect David Lynch-meets-The Magic Roundabout dream sequence.  

But nothing looks the same in the light. The next day it all looked a bit like Highbury Fields on bonfire night - a lot of people walking in all directions eating burgers and swigging cider. It didn’t take long to get used to girls in bikinis juggling and hula hooping while guys came up to you trying to sell you vodka jelly before you’ve even walked to the tap to brush your teeth. Then, my friend buckled on a dodgy plywood step. It was a code-red-crack-team situation; the (excellent) on site medics arrived and stretchered her off to hospital.  I got a call from her saying “I’ve been through hell”. It turns out the doctors and nurses thought she was just a piss-head and told her she wouldn’t be re-admitted to the festival as she was a danger to herself.  She made a dash for freedom, assuring them that nobody could be more concerned about her health than she was.  But, this revealed a flaw in Utopia. As she hobbled around on crutches trying to avoid being knocked over, people called out names like ‘hindrance’. It all felt a bit like The Beach, we all love everyone as long as you don’t stop us having fun; suddenly tolerance and equality were out the window, now we really were back in the 60’s. It struck me that I hadn’t seen a single person in a wheelchair and now we were trying to negotiate the uneven ground, getting in and out of the toilets and being barged out the way by wasted eighteen year-olds. Sure, the ‘60s was all about fighting for tolerance and equality, mannnnn and that fight seeded the politically correct society we hope we live in today; but given the chance, do people instinctively revert to ‘survival of the fittest’? While drinking fairtrade coffee, of course… 

The band line up at the Secret Garden Party wasn’t the greatest.  Jarvis Cocker was headlining and while I’m not convinced his songs are cutting it anymore I couldn’t figure out if in this context he was either too big, or too over. He’s still busting the moves and is so likeable that you can’t help but get sucked in.  By the end of the set he’s surrounded by revellers he’s invited to join him on stage. A girl grabs the mic and shouts out “it’s my hen night!”  Back in possession, Jarvis says jovially  “do you mind, we’re in the middle of a concert here” and ends the set on the (discosong) ‘You’re in my eyes…’

Watching Jarvis now I’m thinking how in 1995 Pulp headlined Glastonbury which in no small way accelerated the thin, bespectacled, pop misfit‘s ascension to wider fame. I wonder how he feels now playing to cats who weeks earlier went to Glasto to see Blur, Britpop's answer to Friends Reunited. 

Like all the best work of David Lynch, the festival had no conventional narrative. Aside from Jarvis headlining and VV Brown stealing the weekend, the delineation of the line-up made no sense.  Noah and the Whale bombed on the main stage as did Emmy the Great while Au Revoir Simone, Chairlift and Zero 7 who played successive storming sets, were shoved into a tent smaller than the 100 Club. Is it really all just about having good management?  Still, even this fitted the festival etiquette appropriately - go with the flow, it’s all about the vibe; the music is background… 

The musical highlight for me was seeing Chairlift, even though I’d been pre-warned by Daniel Tapper and prepared for them to be shambolic and not live up to the excellent production on their CDs.  I adored Miss Polachek’s keys and whimsical delivery while ignoring the dodgy guitar playing. ‘Bruises’ didn’t work live but ‘Planet Health’ was nothing short of brilliant. So last night, wristband still intact, I call up my friend for a de-brief and we both agree that injury and ill treatment aside it was the best weekend ever.  And I ask, “…and do you remember that gorgeous guy I met who looked like a young Kurt Cobain?”  And she says, “Gemma you didn’t meet a guy… but you did have a space cake…”

Gemma de Cruz


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