Let's Be Honest: If You're In Your 20s, Festivals Aren't About Music Anymore
By Jazmin Kopotsha Posted on 31 May 2017
How do you solve a problem like millennials? It’s the question that rings too many bells for just about any industry hoping to still be relevant in a few minutes time. We, the ever-hashtagging, FOMO-fearing, YOLO generation have changed the game in many ways, and an area really feeling the effects of well, us, is music festivals.
Remember the good old days back in your teenage years when you’d be perfectly contented by sitting in a park with your mates sharing a big bottle of Smirnoff Ice before stumbling home and having to pretend to your mum that you weren’t in the slightest bit tipsy on a 4 per cent alcopop?
Soon after came the glory days. When we were barely 16, 17, 18 years old and would traipse off to Reading and Leeds festivals, waving goodbye to parental supervision for an entire weekend and sticking a middle finger to those shit exam results we refused to let put a dampener on the weekends of all weekends. Oh, how excited we all were to camp in a field with strangers, get pissed on lukewarm cans of Strongbow and absentmindedly jump around to The Kooks.
Even back then, though, it was never just about the music. We might’ve gotten excited if one or two of our favourite bands showed up. Live music out-of-doors as performed by more than one act was still a bit of a novelty at that age, wasn’t it? But now more than ever, we want more from our time spent in a field covered in mud. In fact, if you could hold the mud that would be great because as fun and silly as it once was to trudge around covered in the stuff, it doesn’t do much for our Instagram feeds.
If there’s one thing that our generation values more than any, it’s immersing ourselves in ‘experiences’. We begrudgingly live for the FOMO-inducing series of social media posts that show off how much we’ve seen and done. (Have a look at the last thing that mate who’s Instagram game is too strong for their own good posted for proof). And we’ve realised that the once humble festival, can give us what we’re looking for. Speaking at a big music industry seminar called Wide Days, Geoff Ellis, boss of Scotland’s T in the Park festival, said: ‘It’s a constantly evolving marketplace, more so in the last couple of years than ever before. We’ve seen the rise of boutique festivals throughout the UK, as well as a Europe. That’s had a big effect.’
‘The big thing we’ve noticed is the behaviour of millennials now’, he added. ‘They maybe want to go to a festival like T in the Park or Creamfields, but once they’ve ticked that box they’re off the next year to Magaluf or a festival in Serbia. It’s not that they didn’t have a good time, it’s because they want to keep doing different things, whereas a festival-goer ten years ago would go back every year with their mates. That’s all changed. People are chasing the next experience’.
I don’t know about you, but this sounds all too familiar. And that’s not to our detriment. It’s just what happens when the world changes, technology advances and we all become accustomed to there being more to see, more on offer and a pressure to prove we were part of it. Over in the US, Brian Moon, assistant professor at the University of Arizona’s Fred Fox School of Music used everyone’s social media favourite Coachella as an example: ‘Coachella builds itself as a “music and arts festival” as a means of drawing attention that there is going to be more going on’. And if by ‘more going on’ we mean hundreds of celebrities, influencers, trend spotting and unsubtle brand endorsements, there’s a hell of a lot going on.
On the other hand festivals like Burning Man remain so popular because, well if it’s an ‘experience’ you’re after, it’s hard to top one in the middle of a desert where you need to carry goggles around at all time to protect your eye from unpredictable sandstorms, you’re not allowed to take money for food and drink but instead have to rely on your fellow festival goers to ‘gift’ stuff to you and essentially find yourself having travelled a gazillion miles just to watch a Man statue go up in flames.
It’s perfectly acceptable if not expected to be just as excited about swimming in the lake before holing up at the Jose Cuervo Tequila Town as listening to the actual Wilderness Festival music line up. The popularity of some of the UK’s biggest and best festivals, such as Secret Garden Party are a testament to the whole ‘chasing the experience’ thing too though. Albeit a little less dramatically. The now iconic SGP started off in 2004 as a single stage and an audience of about 1000. Now they’ve got more than 15 stages (one of which casually floats in the middle a beautiful lake) and up to 32,000 people on site raring to dive in the plunge pool, chill in a yurt sauna, roll around in one of those giant zorb balls or take part in art workshops. Oh yeah, and listen to some people play some music too…
Even those who do pay the hundreds of pounds (and rising) to go and see the one or two acts who have been on their bucket list for years, probably won’t get to see that much of them these days anyway. ‘Set times are getting shorter because festivals are trying to fit all the artists in’, booking agent Greg Lowe told The Guardian. ‘With the exception of the headlines, 45 minutes is now normal. If hey [the artists] get offered 40- or even 30-minute sets, they do question if it’s really worth it’.
And because the way we interact with festivals has changed so much (through the eye of our phone cameras instead of the two on our faces), there’s a different sort of pressure on musicians who are adjusting to being a component of a festival rather than the be all and end all. ‘[Audience’s] attention span will pick up for the big anthem hits, but otherwise there’s not much participation […] Not every festival can be like Worthy Farm, where you look down from the top of the hill and see a seething mass of people all singing in unison’.
He’s right there. Everything is growing exponentially to accommodate the millennial appetite for experience. More artists, more festivals, more things to do there. A study by Eventbrite in 2014 even goes so far to say that our generation is the driving force behind festival attendance all thanks to, you guessed it, social media.
The study was based in the US but it’d be fair to say a similar habit probably takes place over here. It found that not only did online conversation around music festivals rise by 34 per cent this year, but more than a fifth of that conversation was specifically centred around festival experience as a whole, not the music that was playing. The study also found that when people did actually use social media to talk about artists performing, they were four times more likely to talk about the line up as a whole rather than specific artists or performances.
Our festival attention has shifted massively, you guys. And that’s not to say that we don’t appreciate the music. We’ll still trudge in our definitely not waterproof glittery wellies to the mainstage so not to miss that musical moment everyone’s going to be talking about the next day. Some of us even still go through the effort of listening to some artists’ back catalogue in advance to make sure we can sing along when we get there (just me?).
But the fact of the matter is that festivals are now more of a rite of passage than an annual tradition to our generation. And that means we’ve got a hell of a lot to pack into these now once (twice at a push) in a lifetime experience in various fields across the country, and we expect those festivals to accommodate our desire to have more than a man with a guitar on an empty stage to Instagram when we get home.
Like this? You might also be interested in…
Follow Jazmin on Instagram @JazKopotsha
This article originally appeared on The Debrief.
Keep up to date with all the Fashion & Beauty news, click here to subscribe to Grazia on Great Magazines and have the latest issue delivered to your door every month.