005 – In The Swamp – IOW Festival 2012


Third Day (cont’d)

Eddie returns. Ryan takes speed. Pearl Jam. Campsite thefts. Neighbourhood declares the festival a washout and a failure. Exodus. 

Ryan was still feeling the comedown. Eddie hadn’t shown yet. He was out there somewhere, past the tents and the fairground rides, maybe out of his mind watching a mid-chart act. Cass’ weekend lifestyle was taking its toll on everyone that tried it. It was too much for Ryan. He’d hardly left the gazebo all day. He was restless. He needed something to perk him up.

‘Cass,’ he said. ‘You got any drugs?’

‘What do you want?’

‘Anything,’ he said. ‘Anything that’ll stop me feeling like this.’ He wanted something up. Something to get him out of the chair.

‘You want some speed?’

An energy spike in a rizla. Ryan accepted.

Cass made bombies with a beer can between her knees. Her body was shaking slightly. She was rattling and wired from endorphin receptors to toes. The can slipped free and splatted in the mud. She shrugged and laughed. The packages were complete. She handed one to Ryan and they dropped together. Their faces contorted. The little nub of speed was bitter as it ran past the back of the tongue. After a few minutes, Ryan left to replace Cass’ drink and get one himself. She was asleep by the time he returned. Stimulants can only get you so far.

Ryan said the speed made him want to do something, anything really, but at the same time there was a nervousness and anxiety that made him reluctant to leave the gazebo. He had an abundance of energy but too much fear to exert it. We suggested he go take a look outside. He ducked out. For a while we could only see up to his stomach. When he popped his head back under, he seemed shaken. The desolate view that he found was too much for one man suffering the after effects of so many drugs. He was toddler-like. The gravity of the situation was upon him. The expanse of it all. The scope. Out here we’re isolated from common decency and away from the world. News is something that happens when you get home.

By nightfall Eddie had returned with their drugs. He looked surprisingly cogent for a man who’d been intoxicated enough to drink urine the previous night and who hadn’t really slept since. It was nearly time to make our way to the mainstage. Pearl Jam were the only reason we were here in the first place. We knew Cass and Victor wanted to see them too and it seemed like the festival would be a complete dead fucking loss if you didn’t see at least one decent band. We went to their tent—both of them were passed out inside—and woke them. Together, Ryan and Eddie, me and Yuri, Cass and Victor, we started out the campsite. Once past the security lines, Cass and Victor turned back. Their odyssey was ending in haze and exhaustion.

As we came down the muddy slope to the stage you could hear the hum of 20,000 or more voices. The field was an ocean of excited heads and shoulders. Flags flew at the end of long, bendy tent poles, beach balls were thrown into the air and passed between waving hands. That night Pearl Jam played two encores and stood before jumbo jet applause. Their two-hour set felt like five minutes. From this distance you could almost make yourself believe it was the 90s and these guys were in their prime.

About a third of the way into the show, I pulled my hood down, closed my eyes and let the rain onto my hair. You could see it falling when the stage lights panned. It was the first fresh water to touch my face in days. I felt cleansed. That feeling of having been moved, when your mind is buzzing and you’re on a high, this was the first time I felt it since I’d arrived at the Isle of Wight. At some point, Pearl Jam covered the Beatles’ Rain. With the drizzle and the background cold it felt wholly appropriate. This was about as close as I’d ever get to hearing that song live.

Walking back, Yuri and I spoke in a din of other voices, about the songs, about the band and especially about how this show, this one particular show, felt different. But all things feel grand to those that experience them. The buzz from a good performance can cloud a thing, same as any high. It was probably nothing spectacular, somebody’s day in the life.

We trudged back through the mud. When you see the grass it’s as slick, wet, brown. You don’t walk, you wade. In some places mud comes to near the tops of your shins and drains thick waterfalls into your boots. We past the usual rivers of piss, past all the overpriced food and drink stalls. You notice things like; in any given part of the festival ground there are at least four bars and at most one soft drinks vendor. You notice that Apple have erected a mini-Apple store and that car companies are running competitions from inflatable stands.

As we queued to enter the campsite—the security checkpoints always created bottlenecks—I noticed that we’d stopped behind the Australian pissing fetishists. We were separated by only a person or two. The Girlfriend was still wearing the besmirched Pearl Jam flag. I grabbed Yuri’s jumper and pulled him into a different line. Neither of us wanted to risk another surreal encounter.

Back at the gazebo, Eddie and Ryan—having returned from a Professor Green gig—had slumped deeply in their chairs.

‘Boys, we are pissed,’ reported Ryan.

‘Everything in our tents has been nicked,’ said Eddie.

‘Oh shit,’ we said.

It was a weird time, coming back on a massive high, meeting Eddie and Ryan on a low. They’d been cleared out, clothes and all. Nothing left but their tents and the pimp outfits they wore. Even their shoes were gone. The two of them went to speak to the police but the police didn’t do anything. They were here to improve their drug stats, not to help people.

Before we got back, Ryan and Eddie had been walking, half aimlessly, hoping to track down some of their stuff. It had proven fruitless. Someone on the internet was about to get a series of great eBay deals on second hand clothes and shoes. A new cottage industry was forming. If you took enough from the tents you could probably make it all year before you’d have to go to another festival and restock.

We offered them a barbecue. They agreed. It’s harder to be upset on a full stomach. First a spliff and then sausages went around. You had to keep passing them between your fingers to stop the tips burning. Yuri observed that since this morning, Ryan had done every drug he said he wasn’t going to do, with the exception of heroin. Recovery day had been a failure. The whole thing, almost start to finish, had been a failure. The festival itself, the acts, the thefts, the weather, Pootopia, everything.

The vibe was off. This wasn’t an observation we made but one that was reported to us by festival veterans. Rumour has it, Glastonbury feels less like a prison camp and more like an open celebration, where planning is irrelevant because there’s a good chance you’ll stumble into a modern art installation and spend the rest of your day there, sampling other people’s LSD.

Maybe it’s to do with the drugs. Maybe it’s to do with the acts. The more chart acts, the more people drinking. This ain’t the 60s any more but certain artists—those typically associated with the Isle of Wight, with Glastonbury, with Woodstock, with all the big festivals—always bring a contingent that enjoy drugs that are less legal but better suited to the occasion. That’s part of what this is. At least, it’s part of what this was.

Any drug that makes you piss every half hour is not a good drug for a festival. You want something that relaxes you and opens you up socially but doesn’t give you the blind confidence needed to start a fight in a moshpit. Something that makes you happy without making too many insecurities vanish.

Unfortunately, this was a line-up of mostly chart acts. Not top-ten chart acts but chart acts nonetheless. It wasn’t inspiring. Music fans bought day tickets to this festival. The people you met around the campsites, most of them were the same crowd you’d meet at the bar of an all-inclusive hotel in the Mediterranean. We didn’t know prior to arriving but we’d accidentally booked ourselves on a four-day lad’s getaway in a muddy field.

My experience was not the romantic, drug infused, hippie dream of live music in a field of hugs. That cliché died years ago. Things have changed. There’s more money in catering to the people who do not bring their own drugs, but who buy their drugs from vendors on site. If you want a different type of clientele at a music festival, you need a different type of music. That is what is happening here and I’m sure the same commercialisation is occurring in festivals around the world. They are altering, like all capitalist enterprises, to improve on their profit margins. This means more advertising, sponsorship, online contests, more chart music, less coherence, more cynicism. More beer.

We left the barbecue glowing after the food was done. It heated us in the early morning cold. Under the low ceiling of the gazebo you don’t feel the people around you as much. Eventually, Ryan went to his tent. The festival was over for him. Probably it had been ever since returning to find his tent plundered. As he left, I told him, seeing as I’d probably never see him again, have a good life.

Eddie stayed a while longer. He wanted to go the next day. This had been a major flop and he wanted to get home as soon as possible. When he got up to leave, he asked us to say goodbye to Cass and Victor for him. They’d not emerged since their attempt to make Pearl Jam.

The next morning everyone was gone. The neighbourhood had emptied. The comedown was truly in effect and had made it onto the road. Lucy and her friend, Cass and Victor—gone in spirit if not in form since mid-afternoon yesterday—and finally Ryan and Eddie. All that remained were fucked up sleeping bags, tents, beer cans and a couple of pimp coats.

About Luke Smith

I travel around and write about it. When I'm not travelling around, I write about whatever seems meaningful to me at the time; these are usually meditations on current events, finding ways to survive the crushing existential grind of modern civilisation or vaguely philosophical musings.
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1 Response to 005 – In The Swamp – IOW Festival 2012

  1. Pingback: In The Swamp – Isle of Wight festival 2012 – Complete | Journeys Through Pre-World War 3 Britain

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