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No Vuvuzelas… No Flags… No Fun – Are Music Festivals Getting Boring?

Thursday, 15 July 2010 Written by Rob Sleigh


Well, the World Cup is over for another four years and, once again, England have failed to return home with the trophy.

The last few weeks repeatedly brought bitter disappointment to the English fans, culminating in the team’s defeat by Germany, and many tears have since been shed. However, as always, there is some good news to follow the bad. The endless and monotonous drone that has provided the soundtrack to every match during the entire month-long tournament is finally over. This is, of course, a reference to the infuriating noise-maker that is the vuvuzela.

Why anyone would want to play – if that is the correct term – one of these incessantly tuneless things is anyone’s guess, but to hear thousands of them blown in unison for the full duration of a 90-minute game is almost beyond unbearable. While many people around the globe were happy to put up with this din for one last time to watch the final between Spain and the Netherlands, there was one part of the UK that was completely free from any sound of a vuvuzela.

That place was this year’s T In The Park festival in Scotland. Organisers of the event, which was headlined by Eminem, Muse and Kasabian for its 17th year, previously announced that the South African horns would be completely outlawed from the site as they “were not suitable for a music festival”. This is one of the latest rules to be set by the organisers of a festival in recent years and it raises the question of whether such regulations are actually necessary.

Although it is difficult to argue that vuvuzelas are anything but a nuisance, do we really require a set of strict laws to govern our enjoyment at one of the summer events? DF Concerts, the organisers of T In The Park, argue that “whilst there is always a fantastic party atmosphere, we have also got to respect the artists and the thousands of fans who want to hear their music.”

This is a fair point, but how exactly do they define a “fantastic party atmosphere”? Surely it involves being able to enjoy yourself without having to worry about the restrictions that are imposed on us during normal everyday life. Obviously there are boundaries, but can’t we trust our fellow festival-goers to respect our enjoyment as well? After all, we’re all there for the same reason and, at the end of the day, if someone is taking the time to go and watch a particular band, they are not likely to stand there blowing a vuvuzela.

There are always going to be one or two troublemakers that try to spoil things for everyone else, but is an innocent vuvuzela really that much of a big deal? Technically, you could probably hit someone over the head with one, but most of the time they’re pretty harmless.

ImageAround the same time as T In The Park’s announcement, the organisers of Reading and Leeds revealed that they had come up with some new regulations for this year’s event. They confirmed that there will be restrictions on when alcohol can be brought onsite, plus a ban on campfires after 8pm (which is about the time it gets dark). The organisers explained that this was to reduce the amount of antisocial behaviour that occurs in the campsite.

These latest rules follow last year’s ban on flags at the festival – a decision that was repeated at this year’s Download. Organisers of both events defended the ban by arguing that the flags were spoiling the view for people further back, but critics have suggested that the decision was made in order to improve the TV coverage. Glastonbury, on the other hand, held a vote on whether flags should be forbidden there as well and 55% opted for them to be kept.

This more democratic approach proved that most festival-goers are not actually that bothered about having their view obstructed. This would evidently suggest that people are there to enjoy themselves and, therefore, don’t let minor things like flags ruin their weekend. Besides, flags have always been a big part of the summer festivals. Part of the fun for a lot of people is designing their own flag - we’ve all laughed at some of the wittier comments that are written on them. If anything, this adds to the entertainment. Flags have some practical uses as well. For instance, people use them to find their friends in a crowd. Even if you don’t have your own, someone nearby usually has one that can be used as a landmark. Except at Reading and Download, of course.

Once upon a time, Reading was the more rebellious and rowdy of the festivals, being the main proper “rock” festival in the country. These days, however, as they lead the way in the rule-making stakes, both the music and the event itself appear to be becoming tamer. Over the past few years, Reading and Leeds have tried to rule out crowd-surfing. This decision is a bit more difficult to dispute, as there have been a few injuries related to this particular activity in the past. However, isn’t it widely accepted that the mosh-pit is the place to avoid if safety is your concern? Surely, it’s the element of danger involved in moshing and crowd-surfing that makes them so appealing to the participants.

Regardless of whether or not you agree with any of these rules, it can’t be ignored that new ones seem to be emerging each year. If these regulations are genuinely there to protect and recognise the attendees then fair enough, but there is a risk that the life is slowly being squeezed out of the festivals. These weekend-long events are the only opportunities people have to get away from their lives for a few days and properly let their hair down. These people, who are paying for this privilege, should be allowed to enjoy themselves as they please, as long as they are not hurting anyone else or ruining someone else’s enjoyment. Most festival-goers are happy to respect others and, at the same time, they are happy to turn a blind eye when another person is doing something that they wouldn’t normally agree with, like playing a vuvuzela or waving a flag in front of them.

The other danger, of course, is that more unnecessary rules could follow. They might only be banning vuvuzelas this year, but what next? How long before they ban singing too loudly, because it might bother the artists? How long before you’re not allowed outside your tent after midnight, so you don’t wake up your neighbours? This might seem ridiculous now, but who knows? Ten years ago, who would have guessed that they would end up banning flags and campfires at festivals?

So, let’s stop this obsession with regulation before it goes any further. As previously mentioned, there are always going to be a few troublemakers, which is why the festivals have security and police onsite. If we let that small minority ruin things for everyone else in this way, then it makes it so much worse. People should be allowed to party and go as crazy as they like at festivals, without someone telling them to keep it down. They should be able to eat, drink, be merry, light a campfire, wave a flag and blow a vuvuzela as much as they want. Anyone who doesn’t like it can stay at home and watch it on TV. It is meant to be a rock festival after all.

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