Opinion: T in the Park, festival amateurs and ‘neds’
After the annual backlash against T in the Park rears its head, David Pollock wonders why we’re so quick to go for the classist approach
The newly relocated T in the Park doesn’t have its problems to seek this year, so let’s not dwell too closely on the ones everyone knows about.
Yes, driving in and out of the site was a nightmare at peak times, and sadly the anticipated continuing objection from a few committed locals will mean the required dual carriageway straight to the front gate won’t be getting built any time soon. No, the festival itself wasn’t that bad, with the bottleneck on the way out of the BBC Three / Radio 1 stage (there was another route, although few seemed aware of it) and the treacherous, muddy slope just inside the west gate the only downers on a typically passionately enjoyed three days. Your mileage may vary depending on your taste for lairy white male rockers and EDM, of course.
So let’s talk instead about the real ugliness at the heart of T, and the worst of it is very little to do with those who go. Checking the festival’s Twitter and Facebook feeds over the weekend, it was clear that tempers were boiling over during interminable, ill-dressed pick-up queue waits and sleepless nights while the campsite rave continued in the rain. After Saturday in particular, with the weather at its worst, a grim video showing an apparent campsite bottling doing the rounds and the news of the tragic death of a 36-year-old man casting a cloud over the event, frustration became lashing out.
‘Don’t know how I didn’t smash up some of the wee smelly drugged up neds,’ ran one Facebook comment. ‘For festival amateurs and neds… mind there was a time when folk could actually take their weans?’ asked a woman on Twitter. ‘I think I’d quite like it if it weren’t for all the junkies/neds/junkie neds,’ said another. ‘Neds’ figured highly in some of the more bitter and piss-takey comments, as did ‘scum’ and ‘junkies’.
One Facebook comment - and this is from memory because I can’t find it now – declared the festival had gone right downhill since people from Glasgow had started attending en masse, which is odd considering it started on the outskirts of Glasgow. Irvine Welsh was even in on the act, prematurely. ‘Murray scenting blood like a drug crazed mob of neds at T in the Park,’ he tweeted a couple of days before T started, while watching Wimbledon; that bourgeoisie / underclass dichotomy summed up there in 140 characters or less.
It’s hard to know how to respond to this, because, do you know what? Yes, T in the Park welcomes many working class people who want to drink freely in the company of their friends. And if people are free to drink, they’re free to do it to excess. In discussing this piece, my editor said she can’t remember T being particularly ‘neddy’ when she was a teenager. Nor can I, and my memory of it stretches back to the first year at Balado in 1997.
But then I was young and working class, and I wanted to drink freely in the company of my friends. I didn’t want to fight or vandalise anything, or take my tap aff to achieve a lobster pink Scots sun tan, but I definitely can’t recall being concerned about the manners of those around me. Walking the site across the weekend just gone, the vast majority of those in attendance were clearly only there to have a peaceful, if maybe slightly loud, good time. In pockets, worrying-looking groups of lads strutted with their tops off or sporting cheap sportswear, but attending for pleasure or work I’ve never felt threatened.
The only interaction tends to come when one might grasp you firmly by the hand or around the shoulder, point to Noel Gallagher / Kasabian / David Guetta onstage with a beatific, heavy-lidded look on their face and exclaim ‘fuckin’ browyant, mate!’ I used to love that, the recognition that passed between people who might not talk on the street over a shared love of a song or an artist. To a sober adult wondering when I’ll get a phone signal and can get back to work, it’s as innocent as it is annoying.
But you know, that’s one perspective. There were stories of thefts from tents, tents being vandalised, fights in the campsite and fires being lit onto which cans of deodorant were thrown. On social media this can give the impression of small wars breaking out, and who knows, they might have been. I’d rather brave the traffic queue than the campsite myself. One point that kept being raised was that security appeared to be conspicuous by their absence, and if it’s been said on the internet, it’ll be something DF are all too aware of needing to remedy for next time.
It’s easy to patronise with clever advice. Don’t take valuables or leave them in your tent. Get the shuttle bus rather than camp if you don’t like the sound of the campsite. If others can’t mediate their behaviour, mediate yours; don’t drink too much, stay alert, stick with your friends. It’s also easy to pretend you know what’s happening from afar. ‘Been told by various people that there were far more instances of violence at this year’s festival,’ declared a non-attender on social media. There were 54 arrests this year. A quick search online says there were 52 in 2014, 91 in 2013, 64 in 2007, 70 in 2006…
It’s also easy to talk about class these days, because everything’s about class, right? If only every festival were like Glastonbury, where class doesn’t matter for four days. Then I read this by the brilliantly, insightfully angry writer Taylor Parkes, interviewing Sleaford Mods on the Quietus this morning: ‘Glastonbury's always been a middle class craft fayre, but it was kind of OK when the punters took their attempts at an anti-establishment lifestyle halfway seriously, at least. Now you get the worst of consumerism coupled with the worst of hippiedom. Twee and passive, but cut-throat underneath, because of their real priorities...’
Like a person or a city or a country, every festival has a personality. Some people get along with it, some people don’t. To some it’s their best friend, and they’ll love it even when it fucks up. In the T crowd there can be a lack of imagination, a full-throttle love for going all-out whatever the consequences, but then many people will tell you that’s all they have to look forward to. There’s a certain honesty to that, which is what we all hope for at the heart of pop culture. T is like Scotland; we know it’s not always as good as it could be, but it’s ours and we should make the most of it. If only it had better roads…
Read all of our TITP 2015 coverage.