Whilst music and art are enormously important in the curation of festivals, it is consciousness and the capacity for a festival experience to change the way we think which is becoming increasingly relevant in a world where social media breeds an impatient thirst for instant gratification.
When a word is used enough, it inevitably gets wedged between two speech marks, hijacked by opportunistic marketing teams then fed into social news feeds and, over time, loses its gravitas.
Transformational is one such word. But, however much it may get overused, we shouldn’t disregard the weight it carries and what it truly represents. Festivals have been around for millennia, people congregating and uniting as one to celebrate traditions, to give thanks for life and reconnect with friends and family.
They are gatherings that can be so highly concentrated with sensory overload and positive energy that they have the power to change people’s perceptions of themselves in an instant, and in turn project that energy into their day to day lives. As humans we are all a summation of our experiences, and the relationships we build shape our behavioural patterns.
Whilst we come together to celebrate as one, we do so in an environment where we are encouraged to express ourselves on an individual level. Of the 200,000-odd people at Glastonbury for example, each and every one of them will have a different story to tell by the end of it, every single year – even close friends and lovers.
In general the festival-loving demographic, regardless of background, are open minded, or at least willing, if only on a visceral level unbeknownst to them, to accept new realities. This enhanced consciousness and openness to new experiences is the essential prerequisite to having a transformational experience. The festival itself then acts as the catalyst. Some things, which may take years or even decades to realise about yourself in the ‘real world’, can be brought on in a matter of days, or even in a single moment, at an event where inhibitions are lowered and the atmosphere is safe and permissive.
In our capacity as both festival goers and organisers, we find ourselves in a position which allows us to appreciate and bene t simultaneously from the transformational effects these events have on people. In writing this piece I was asked, albeit indirectly, to explore my consciousness. I was inspired to look back upon my life in festivals and calculate the sum of my experiences, to weigh each one against the other, and in doing so revert back to key moments in my own personal growth. As a result composing this has been far more emotional than I had previously imagined. Retrospect has reminded me of the gargantuan amount of pure, unadulterated joy I have been exposed to as a result of the love and dedication of others.
The festival I am part of is part of me, and it’s changed my life irrevocably for the better. But beyond the experiences I have shared with my friends on-site in Leicestershire, I have my own history. Shorter than some, longer than others, and it all started at the Car- ling Reading Weekender in 2005… Completely unprepared, we descended on what looked like the Somme. There is no other way to de- scribe it other than a battle eld, but instead of hardened soldiers ardent for glory, there were hordes of goths and rockers, diluted, much like the beers, by groups of intimidating hooligans baying for booze. After watching The Darkness and The New York Dolls play, we caught a brief glimpse of a member of Dirty Sanchez (Wales’ answer to Jackass), smoking some- one else’s pubic hair through a bong filled with another person’s urine. He then proceeded to drink said urine, and at this point we decided to head back to our tent, which had become amphibious in the marvelous British weather.
Eventually we made it back safe and sound – at one point we had to hide behind a bar in order to strategically evade a centurion of (younger) teenagers, all of whom were sporting t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “I Hate Morrissey”.
Leaving Reading on the Sunday I couldn’t help feeling that the Hari Krishna cheerily trying to sell his religious literature at the exit may have targeted the wrong crowd – I also couldn’t help feeling that I too wasn’t a fan of Morrissey. Still, I bought a book from Mr Krishna and drove home. That book remains on the shelf at my my parents’ house, a stark reminder of that very first weekend in battle. I didn’t come out of that festival with a new outlook on life, and there were certainly no biblical revelations to speak of. But there was definitely something intoxicating about it, there was an energy which was infectious and I was conscious that I wanted more of it.
It wasn’t until 2007, and “The Wet Year” at Glade back when it was at Aldermaston, that I had arguably the most important festival experience of my life. The excitement in the air was tangible, as was the rain, and for four days I swam around the site elated almost to the point of self-combustion. I fell head over muddy heels in love with festivals that weekend, and even more in love with electronic music thanks to a truly subliminal performance by Trentemøller of his album ‘The Last Resort’. It was during the opening track ‘Take Me Into Your Skin’, that myself and my great friend (and Noisily co-founder) Will, first spoke of organising a festival.
Perhaps it could have been a pipe dream that never happened, nevertheless we were inspired and wanted to create something that had the same effect on others. In the decade which has passed since that moment of clarity in the knee-high mud of Glade, there have been many instances where the surroundings and experience have lead me towards answers in my- self, shifting the paradigm of my thought processes and opening up my consciousness to answers with- in. It’s almost as though festivals are a giant group therapy session.
A festival is an invitation to be yourself but turned up to 11, it’s a no holds barred playground where self-expression is given room to thrive, and some of the world’s best events for this liberation of self are contained in pages of this weighty bible. If you are craving a release, have a penchant for hedonism, a whole lot of love to share, or simply want to get to grips with yourself, there really is no better environment to transform than at one of these celebrations. Festival experiences are ones wherein the very best elements of your personality come into being. Pieces of you which may have remained suppressed under the weight of day to day life, and the expectations of an antiquated society. The age of the stiff upper lip is drawing to a close, giving voice and stature to free thinking, allowing a generation to express themselves and how they feel, without fear of being ridiculed, or better still, with the innate courage to rise above it.
Photo credit : Juliana Bernstein
Written by : Charles Audley