The Wire

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The Mire: Tangents, threads and opinions from The Wire HQ

non-urban field place

Derek Walmsley

A puff-piece on Radio 4 recently marvelled over the rise of popular music festivals in the UK and beyond. Admittedly, it's nice that festivals like Green Man are taking advantage of outdoor settings for staging music, and certainly the feeling of a return to nature, of reclaiming the land, is a powerful one. However for me it's hard not to see the rise of outdoor music festivals in the UK as a corollary of the decline of urban music venues and the rise in property and rent prices everywhere. As cities grow, urban space becomes prohibitively expensive, and the only leisure spaces are at the peripheries, in temporary zones a day trip away from the city. Promoters turn to the greenbelt to host their events, and music festivals pile the acts high to keep prices relatively cheap. The performers appearing become ever more bland, as promoters focus on providing an undemanding soundtrack to the brief moments of summer reverie we get in the UK. Like out of town shopping centres, we end up with lots of choice in outdoor music festivals, but no real quality.

It's not the only example of live-flight in London music. Grime and garage events almost never happen in the city anymore – the police, assuming a role of 'advising' music venues, create a de facto ban on all but the most selective of these events happening in the city.

When in Blackpool recently, it struck me how much of the economy of modern life these days is predicated on punters paying money just to move around. Large tourist attractions make a lot of their money from meals and drinks, ie the subsistence costs people pay to sustain themselves in these other-places. It's why coffee places thrive in city centres – cities are so unwelcoming and psychologically stressful, you need to pay to go somewhere to chill out, and there's a feedback loop where the less publicly accessible places there are in cities, the more you need these refreshment waypoints and the more they make. Festivals are largely the same – you get sponsorship from a drinks company, and they mop up the refreshment tab. Like a lot of things in modern life, increasingly you don't pay for the actual products you want – ie music – but the delivery systems for those products.

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