A subtly-named sneak peak of my forthcoming European travel guide
Britain is home to some of the most legendary music festivals in the world. Legends are made on the pyramid stage at Worthy Farm; the Isle of Wight Festival witnessed Jimi Hendrix’s genius in 1970; a hospital gown-donning Kurt Cobain was immortalised at Reading Festival in 1992; and the Stone Roses arguably initiated the baggy movement at Spike Island in 1990. Every summer for the past four years I have been lucky enough to revel in the glory of music festivals, embracing the atmosphere, witnessing musical history and drinking warm cans of Strongbow as early as 10am. Consequently, every winter for the past four years has been spent mourning my post-festival blues. This summer, however, I plan to expand my horizons and venturing across the channel, seeing how Europeans do music festivals. Here is why I think more should be daring decision and take their tent, wellies and trusty clashfinder to continental Europe.
The UK offers a selection of culturally unique events to satisfy most, with the likes of Bestival, Boomtown and Latitude. But, European festivals can offer this much and more with the festival experience abroad varying tremendously from that in Britain. Very few British camping festivals offer a unique city or beach experience alongside the music and arts. Primavera Sound boasts the perfect festival location, in Barcelona, minutes from the beach. The only comparable British festival beach experience is Boardmasters, on the Cornish coast. Sorry Cornwall, but I’d rather be on the Mediterranean. At Rock en Seine you can enjoy great music, a complimentary croissant and view of Paris. No disrespect to Leeds Festival but Leeds city centre does not quite have the same appeal, likewise Reading festival for that matter. Other notable European offerings include Colours of Ostrava in the Czech Republic, which is held on the industrial site of former blast furnaces, mines and ironworks. Also, the 300 year-old Petrovaradin Fortress plays host to Exit Festival in Serbia.
Although British festival line ups are always reliable, never disappointing though rarely mind-blowingly good, some European festivals regularly produce exceptional billings. In 2015, Belgium’s Rock Werchter boasted a line-up that defies belief, enough to make any music fan salivate over. Spread across four days were Foo Fighters, Florence + The Machine, Mumford & Sons, Pharrell Williams, Alt-J, The Chemical Brothers, Faith No More, The Prodigy, Lenny Kravitz, Noel Gallagher, Muse, Kasabian, I could go on. The fact is, it contained numerous acts that were headlining Britain’s biggest festivals last summer. Emily and Michael Eavis could only dream of having a line up like that at Glastonbury. Sziget, in Budapest offers 7 days of music, which means 7 headliners for under £200. 7 headliners for the price of 3. If the headliners aren’t what entices you to a festival look no further than the world-renowned festival phenomenon Tomorrowland, which has the best selection of EDM and dance artists spread across 20 stages. Surely enough choice for any picky punter. The only problem is acquiring tickets. Think Glastonbury is bad; Tomorrowland tickets sell out in just 60 seconds.
Which brings me nicely to my next point. The ticket prices. For all that offered by Rock Werchter in 2015, you only have to fork out 226 euros, which thanks to the strength of the pound, is around £170. £50 cheaper than most British music festivals. NOS Alive, Portugal’s biggest music festival is even more affordable. At just £102 and already claiming a tasty host of acts for this summer with Radiohead, Arcade Fire, The Chemical Brothers, Pixies, Foals and Tame Impala confirmed for the Lisbon festival. With return flights to Portugal’s capital costing less than £50, the festival situated 10 minutes from the city centre and 15 from the beach, it is really is too good to turn down. Similarly, £110 can get you into the four day Open’er festival in Poland and seeing the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Florence + The Machine and LCD Soundsystem’s return. Again, Germany’s hard rock festival, Rock Am Ring, is just a better Download but for £100 cheaper. Granted, travel expenses do drive the festival cost up closer to the British price mark, however for all these perks it is surely worth it.
It is certainly worth the money to avoid the rib-tickling, thigh-slapping, god-awful fun of British festivals. The infamous and intolerable ‘Alan’ and ‘steve’ ‘banter’, I would assume is a very British creation. I can only hope that this has not made its way to continental Europe. Each year at festivals I expect Alan/Steve to have been a thing of the past, for the missing pair to have finally been confirmed dead on the last day of the previous year’s festival with the joke finally dying too. But no, within minutes of arriving through the festival gates, some imbecile probably wearing yellow ray bans and ‘d*ckhead’ painted across his topless torso cries ‘Alan’. His mate-ing call is answered as another imbecile probably in a morph suit, responds ‘Steve’, the height of wit. I yearn for the day that British festival-goers recite Monty Python to each other.
The terrible banter and the people engaging in it are not the worst thing about British music festivals, however. Sporting a backwards Polo Ralph Lauren cap delicately placed atop an iced-gem shaped haircut, a wife-beater that fails to complement their skinny frame, short denim shorts straight out of the Top Man shop window, a hideous Adidas satchel and even more hideous and completely impractical Nike Huarache, the not-so Great British festival chav is a plague. When they’re not spending all day sat on stolen deckchairs outside their tents vaping and holding a can of Stella Artois neither of which they are old enough to legally purchase, they are attempting to mosh during serene acoustic sets, watching an artist to hear their one song that charted in the Top 40 and trying to incite a riot with the ‘Yaya/Kolo Toure’ chant. While the utterly pretentious, tie dye t-shirt sporting, daisy chain hairstyle wearing, butterfly tattoo donning, gap-yah whining, festival hippy wannabes are just as insufferable. They have only just managed to escape my full wrath because they simply want to have a good time. And get high.
British festivals are most iconic not for the half-wits discussed above, nor the culture or the musical talent on show, but for the dreadful weather. There aren’t many more painful experiences than watching the weather forecast days before you attend a British music festival. Quite simply, the weather is pivotal to your enjoyment of the weekend. The forecaster smiles evilly as they prepare to reveal the devastating, yet inevitable, news that the weekend will be a washout. They then proceed to tell you that a heatwave is expected the following week, sadistically mocking the fact that you will need a power hose to shower off all the mud you are covered in, your tent will be submerged in campsite swamp and you will probably have a miserable weekend. Though there is something fulfilling about braving a wet weekend and earning your festival experience, I doubt anyone has ever required wellies or waterproofs at Benicassim, in sunny Spain.
By going to a foreign music festival, I absolutely don’t mean the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California. That is not a music festival. That is a fashion show. A commercial catwalk. Exposure for the monstrous Kardashian/Jenner clan. The truth is I am only bitter I missed out on a ticket to the greatest music festival in the world, Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts. I wouldn’t have written this article otherwise.