The Weekly DiScussion: the best festivals EVER
Get the feeling that your summer weekends are over-stuffed with festivals and outdoor shindigs? This weekend alone sees two DiS-associated events ‘go off’, namely Field Day in London and the Summer Sundae in Leicester (preview). God knows how many more ‘low key’ and ‘specialist’ events there are, each vying for your attention.
The general vibe is that there have not been too many standout happenings in ’08, yet. The rent-a-headline majors have lacked any semblance of stylish singularity, full with bands that suspiciously seemed like they were topping the bills last year. Sure, you can always plot an excellent set-watching route through the likes of Glastonbury, full of gems hidden away, but the DiS messageboards have yet to thrum with consensual joy over any mass gatherings this spring and summer. With the exception of one, perhaps.
Primavera Sound, taking place in Barcelona at the end of May, had almost everyone in apoplectic joy at the bands, conditions, atmosphere and €1 shots of Jaeger (review). It’s already gone down as one of the modern greats, leading us to consider other great weekends away. Below are a short selection – not definitive of course – of the greatest events of recentish times you probably weren’t at, but really, really wish you were.
Yes, it was muddy as hell; yes it coined the entirely inappropriate phrase ‘Somme spirit’ (432,000 dead or wounded Englishmen in sub-human conditions in the French wastelands apparently comparable to 150,000 people a bit grimy in Somerset); but is also had both* Radiohead *performing one of the all-time great sets, basking in the light of their just-released OK Computer album, and also a heady sense of culture, music and post New Labour positivity coming together. 1997 was probably the final Glastonbury before it was subjected to death by three-wheeled buggies and blanket, hyperbolic BBC coverage. The three days fell somewhere between the epoch of greatness and the end of an era.
Video: Radiohead, ‘Lucky’, live at Glastonbury 1997
Lollapalooza 1994 (various dates)
Well beyond its heyday as an exciting counter-cultural event whereby those limited previously to the college-rock and local circuits received the oxygen of wider exposure, 1994’s touring line-up still exceeded the previous year’s doom-laden, lumpen gathering of Primus, Alice in Chains and Fishbone. Compared to those flannel-clad horrors, the relatively day-glo line-up of Smashing Pumpkins, Beastie Boys, George Clinton & the P-Funk All Stars and (less colourfully)* Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds* was low on introspection (give or take a Pumpkins 30-minute wig-out) and high on thrills. Joining them for the second half of events were Green Day, in their first-phase pomp, and frankly a damn-good live band. Add a Side Stage line up that included The Flaming Lips, The Verve (on the tour that essentially broke them – and not in the good way),* The Boo Radleys, Guided by Voices, Lambchop* and* Stereolab* and, well, it just sounds like a hell of a lot of fun.
The most important act to play, of course, was missing. *Nirvana *were scheduled to headline, but pulled officially on April 7, the day before Kurt Cobain was found dead in Seattle. Somewhat inadvertently, the festival became essentially a mourning of a movement set to pass and the heralding of a period where American rock post-Nirvana was utterly dominant. Scroll back two years before and cross an ocean, though...
The will they / won’t they speculation over the appearance of headliners Nirvana ended with journalist Everett True cheekily pushing Cobain onstage in a wheelchair. Cue amazing gig, tales of generations told. Perhaps an era where music seemed more vital in terms of cultural importance – or at least something to be treasured rather than divvied out amongst the entire tabloid reading masses – attendees still revel in the tale of how Manic Street Preachers’ Nicky Wire managed to hit a security guard with his guitar, leaving him in need of 16 stitches whilst attempting to despatch said instrument into the crowd. Idiot. The band fucked off straight away, not even getting paid.
Video: Nirvana, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, live at Reading 1992
ATP’s_ The Director’s Cut_, Weekends One & Two 2004
Slightly cheating maybe, including two weekends of action, but for a certain type of fan this was one of those events where mixtape dreams and “what if X and Y played together, that’d be OMFG!” conversations were fully realised. Over two consecutive weekends, Shellac, Mogwai, Tortoise, Sonic Youth and Stephen Malkmus pulled out their scribble pads and wrote down a who’s who of primarily US-centric indie heroes from across the previous few decades. It’d be unwise to list the highlights (you’d be here for a while) so click here for details in full. Arguably, the twin Director’s Cut events of 2004 represent the last time that an ATP festival has felt truly special – the thrice-annual weekenders are always excellent band-wise, but maybe some of the charm of the holiday camp-held festivals has dissipated as the wider mainstream’s caught on to/up with its appeal.
Futurama Sci-Fi Festival, Leeds 1979
Essentially a two-day Public Image showcase festival event at Queen’s Hall, Leeds, the line-up of the probably well-regarded bands of the day now reads like a seminal post-punk gathering for the ages. Among those hitting the boards were Cabaret Voltaire, A Certain Ratio,* Hawkwind, *The Fall, The Only Ones, Echo And The Bunnymen,* Joy Division, *The Teardrop Explodes and O.M.D. plus, as they say, many more. For a Joy Division-centric report of the event, click here.
Monsters of Rock, Castle Donington 1984
Generally proclaimed to be the greatest Rock gig ever, 1984’s Monsters of Rock saw the legendary AC/DC headline in their pomp, with a supporting cast that included* Ozzy in his ‘rabid dog’ years, *Van Halen at their peak of glorious ridiculousness, and a near-show stealing performance from the emerging Mötley Crüe. Oh, and as was traditional for these things at the time, Gary Moore fret-wailing those blues away. It was one of shows where the sun beat down almost as hard as the bottles of piss did on the main stage during Van Halen’s set, provoking Roth to spit out the immortal line:_ “"If you throw another bottle at me I'm gonna come down there and fuck your girlfriend”_. FTW, Roth, FTW. You needn’t be told that AC/DC were simply incredible. They always are.
Video: Mötley Crüe interviewed at Monsters of Rock, 1984
Bowlie Weekender 1999
Also known as ‘the first ATP’, Bowlie saw a bunch of indie bands rocking a holiday camp in Camber Sands gently. Words from our man in attendance, MM, read as follows:
“Most of the bands playing this are still around now, and in many cases that's unfortunate. For the full list of bed-wetters see here. At the time I was the type of twat who'd argue that The Pastels would have a meaningful effect on the future of music. Four in the afternoon, on the Saturday afternoon, the ‘never going to amount to much but always interesting’ Flaming Lips were scheduled. We didn't know it, but this was the first performance of _The Soft Bulletin set: projected drummer, blood-soaked Wayne Coyne, et cetera. About 300 people stood there (200 of them in bands themselves), mouths agape as they did what they did. Seeing it for the first time was really quite ridiculous. Obviously at the time I didn't think that they'd carry on performing this same show for the next eight years, but hey, if it ain't broke... And it really wasn't at the time.”_
Nominally headlined by the then-live-reticent Belle & Sebastian, Bowlie also featured Godspeed You! Black Emperor,* Mogwai and Mercury Rev*, and absolutely laid the foundations for all the ATPs that have followed since. Awesome.
DiScuss: What's the greatest festival you've ever been to? Did you attend any of the ones mentioned above? Anything else through the annals you'd like to add? Surely no festival in the future could go as wrong as this…
_DiS will be bringing you coverage of all the best festivals in the UK and abroad this summer, with content brand new and from our considerable archive accessible via our special RAC-sponsored Festivals Site – click here for the latest from our team of in-the-mud reporters.
Forthcoming: all the best bands at Field Day reviewed and photographed, plus coverage of Summer Sundae, Green Man, Reading and Leeds, All Points West in New Jersey, La Route Du Rock in France, ZXZW in Holland, London’s new urban festival Concrete & Glass and much, much more. Visit our sponsors RAC here. _