What’s your fantasy festival?

We asked some old festival hands what would be in their field of dreams. Their answers included VIP- and corporate-free events, earsplitting sound, cyberpunk roleplay… and Macca on the door

MØ, Scandi singer-songwriter

The best festivals create a universe you can get lost in. If I was to make a festival, it would be on a small island where the whole island is the festival. It would be fun if you made the festival into a role play. It could be a cyberpunk universe or it could be Dungeons & Dragons. The audience would be a part of it. Dressing up and turning into a different person is a nice escape from the things that annoy you in daily life. People really let go when they’re dressed up! I like festivals with a strong concept, where everybody has to plug into that. It reminds me of being a child. As a grownup, you don’t play any more.

Stuart Braithwaite, Mogwai noisemonger

My main irritant is the amount of corporate sponsorship at festivals these days. Some of the big ones are grotesque: you can’t see the stage for inflatable beer cans. Another thing is the segregation depending on how much you’ve paid for your ticket. At some of the ones in America you can’t get anywhere near the stage unless you’ve paid $1,000 for your ticket.

My ideal festival would have no VIP area. I like it when you can have a chat with the bands after they’ve played. At ATP [All Tomorrow’s Parties] there wasn’t really a backstage, so there was no separation between artists and audience. I saw Michael Rother from Neu! dancing in the bar to Boys Boys Boys by Sabrina. That image was definitely burned into my retinas. It shows that musicians aren’t special – they’re complete idiots like everybody else!

Bob and Roberta Smith.
Bob and Roberta Smith at the William Morris Gallery in east London. Photograph: Paul Tucker

Bob And Roberta Smith, artist and sloganeer

Many of the big festivals commission art but it just gets trodden into the mud. You spend a lot on a ticket and end up stuck in a field with a bunch of people like yourself. I’d take over a small town like Ripon or Bedale, and make it more about the public realm. In Ireland it’s almost mandatory that every town has its own festival, which brings different culture to that town, as well as being a celebration of the people who live there. You could combine music and art and talks, and celebrate the existing spaces.

With festivals, you’re sold an egalitarian idea about everyone experiencing it together but I’m not sure that really happens. The performers’ area at somewhere like Latitude is amazing, because you run into all these musicians and authors and interesting people. But the audience isn’t always privy to that. Whereas at a smalltown festival it does happen, because you’re staying in a B&B with performers and members of the public. It’s not on such a big scale as Glastonbury, but the charm of it is huge.

Chris Packham, wildlife expert and presenter

I’d like to see environmental awareness be part of the policy. When T in the Park moved last year, the organisers – rather disgracefully – tried to prevent the local ospreys from nesting. As it happened it all turned out well, the ospreys moved and bred successfully. But the initial outlook of the organisers was to see the birds as a nuisance rather than something they could have involved in the festival. They should have set a tent up, got a few geeks like me to go along, put a Springwatch-type camera on the ospreys, and people would have had to chance to enjoy the birds as part of the festival experience. That seemed like an opportunity completely wasted, unfortunately.

Also, the music at festivals is always too quiet. I don’t want to hear other people’s tedious conversations, I want to hear the music! I’d love to see Girl Band, but wouldn’t it be disappointing if they weren’t ear-splittingly loud? I’m not a nostalgic, either. I don’t want to see Lionel Ritchie. That kind of thing stops a festival from being an adventure. It’s like going round your mate’s house and listening to old disco records, and who wants to do that?

Emmy the Great, singer-songwriter and journalist

I like the size of Glastonbury. But they should lay it out more like a town, so it’s architecturally satisfying and you feel inspired just walking around. And there should be a library. I’m always reading a book at festivals, and I’m sure there are others who want to see bands but also want to spend an hour reading in a quiet place. Everyone who goes becomes a citizen of this festival. It’s like John Lewis – everyone has a stake, so they don’t want to destroy the festival because if it goes well they get something at the end. I don’t like festivals that are just carnage. At my ideal festival there’d be a collaborations stage where you put your name down and get on stage to create something with a random person. You’d still have the main stages, but you don’t need 500 bands on every day. Instead, there’d be stages where people create their own entertainment.

Swedish band Goat suggest entry through a massive oak gate, fit for an old castle.
Swedish band Goat suggest entry through a massive oak gate, fit for an old castle. Photograph: Tammy Karlsson

Goat, Swedish psych-rockers

Our fantasy festival would take place somewhere in the north, where the winds are grim and cold. Maybe on a plateau, or a frozen lake, or inside a mountain hall or huge cave. This would add a nice natural reverb and vibe to the whole thing. But it could also be nice with a warmer location somewhere in the southern hemisphere, where there would be less chance of freezing to death.

The entrance would be a massive oak gate, like the ones used on old castles. Two doormen would welcome the visitors. The doormen would be Geezer Butler and Sir Paul McCartney. Both with a full set of amps, AC/DC-size rigs, to which their basses would be connected. Everyone entering would be saluted with a thunderous cascade of full-on bass jamming. This is something that would continue throughout the festival and beyond.Everyone working on the festival would be a Rinpoche, in other words an enlightened realised being. This would add profundity to the already nice vibes. Everyone would be really nice and kind and take care of each other and those who had had a bit too much.

Wolfgang Buttress, artist and Be.One instigator

Festivals can get a bit generic, so including art, poetry, dance and comedy makes it more of a rounded experience. It’s important that all the senses are engaged. You need to feel you’re entering another world. If the festival is in the woods or by the sea, you should be able to engage more with the environment, and art can help with that. Sometimes art at festivals can be tokenistic and people need to treat it as a fundament rather than a detail. So maybe some stages could be more like installations, using projections and surround sound to put the audience at the centre of the performance. There’s something amazing about seeing a rock band up close, that sweaty, visceral connection between band and audience. But there’s also an opportunity, because you’re not in a typical venue, to push the boundaries, to create magic.

James Yorkston, folk raconteur

There was such an amazing family spirit to the early Green Man festivals. At the first one, I think there was only 150 people. There was a great feeling of camaraderie and togetherness, and as a musician it was unique. I’d definitely cap festivals at a few thousand people – it makes it more special. I like small chilled-out areas where the music isn’t deafeningly loud. I always end up in the tiny unsigned singer-songwriter tent where you can just sit in the corner having a drink with your buddy. For me, that’s way more valuable than watching the main band from half a mile away. Festivals should be a retreat. When there’s a massive queue for the cludgie and you have to walk through a swamp to even get there, they’re no fun at all.

Lethal Bizzle would insist on a caravan instead of a tent.
Lethal Bizzle would insist on a caravan instead of a tent. Photograph: PR Company Handout

Lethal Bizzle, grime MC

I love playing at festivals because the intention of the punter is to have a really good time. The energy’s always different to a normal gig. The downside is that UK weather isn’t always the greatest, so I’d have it on an island, somewhere really hot.

I’m not a fan of tents so I’d probably do caravans – keep some sort of tradition but with your own shower and toilet. I’d like to see festivals incorporate different activities: speedboat races or jet-skis, so it’s almost like a holiday.

Festivals are more open to grime now. Back in 2006 you’d only see me and Dizzee Rascal on the bill. Kids just aren’t into one thing now – they’re into grime, rock, hip-hop – so festivals have to be broad. I’d like a bit of Iron Maiden at my festival, their live show is incredible. They could bring out their mascot Eddie for a swim in the ocean.

LA Priest, electro-pop shaman

Festivals don’t always seem like they’re designed by the musicians. The musicians just fill the slots that the festival organisers put there for them. Musicians could do more to entertain people than just play for half an hour. I think people like to lose themselves a bit more in the experience, and sometimes festivals are too regimented without much room for spontaneity. It’s not easy to improvise, but you could restructure these things. You’ve got 50 or more really creative people in one space at a festival – why not make it possible for something a bit more interactive between not only the artists but the audience as well? You can see everything online these days. At a festival, people don’t need to just sit there watching because they can do that at home. I don’t want live music to be another version of YouTube.

Dr Andrew Bengry-Howell
Cultural psychologist

I’ve always been interested in the culture of festivals and what people gain from coming together with a common interest. A lot of people that we interviewed for our research talked about festivals as a time without worries and pressures, when they could be themselves outside of the constraints of ordinary life. Having said that, they also mostly wanted a reliable, managed experience that matched their expectations. The fact that it might be quite a commercialised or regulated environment was, for them, a guarantee of reliability.

For me, the interesting thing about festivals is the way that different people come together to form a temporary community and enjoy the collective spirit. We’re very lucky to have Glastonbury because they do try to accommodate different types of people. It would be hard to start a festival like Glastonbury now. People come to an event because it fits their expectations. It’s why you see a lot of niche festivals, targeted at specific audiences. Personally, I’ve got very eclectic music tastes. My fantasy festival would be one that nobody else would come, to if I’m honest!


Sam Richards

The GuardianTramp

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