The IOW Festival: Your Opinion Doesn’t Matter. And Neither Does Mine.

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Last week, after the Isle of Wight festival closed with a reanimated Fleetwood Mac currently touring to pretty much universal acclaim, Headfunk columnist Smithee had the audacity to label them  “American coke heads who were once quite successful” and denounce the entire festival thus: ”acts you thought were dead or acts that are dead… Hands up who wants to see a pub rock covers band this weekend? Great, there’s at least twenty of them playing.”

Seemingly in tribute, Billy Idol somehow contrived to become an undead pub rock Jim Carreyalike of himself. But many took issue with Smithee’s satirical swiping. In a move that definitely wasn’t designed to remove Smithee’s tongue from his cheek and ram their own firmly up John Giddings’ arse, WeFlyMedia flashed their pilot licenses like Kung-Fu Fury Police Cops in a 1980s buddy movie: “It’s snobbery and it is jealousy. For some reason people seem to get a kick out of kicking the Isle of Wight Festival, it’s become an annual sport. See how far we can throw the insults, this is so much fun! Well I will tell you something, nobody at the festival gives two hoots about your snobbery.”

So far, so Isle of Wight.

The WeFlyMedia columnist (who cleverly disguised his pseudonym by publishing his real name at the top of the article) singled out the Electric 80′s tent for special praise “The queues were absolutely huge to get in, and it is no surprise why, it was just a great tent to be in.” Yes. Particularly when it’s raining.

But Zippy/Dennis/WeFly have a point. It’s unfair on the Festival’s many bands, DJs, and tent organisers (the great majority hard-working and unpaid) to dismiss them with something as derivative as “unoriginal… mainstream garbage”. Just as it’s out of order for instance say, to imply those unable to reach the festival site because of rain-induced chaos in 2012 would be refunded only to almost immediately renege on this promise.

Zippy and the many others who spontaneously leapt to the Festival’s defence were open, honest and impassioned, and I don’t doubt any of them had as much festive fun as they claimed (possibly in designer wellies and straw cowboy hats). They deserve respect not belittlement. It’s just unfortunate in their rush to defend the Festival from anyone dismissing it as syndicated and inauthentic, they overlooked one key fact: the IOW Festival is unashamedly an apocryphal corporate clusterfuck.

Yes, the Isle of Wight festival is a brand. One built on free love and the apex of counterculture. John Giddings is a Steve Jobsian genius, fashioning something safe, digestible, mass-market friendly and (most importantly) profitable, from the carcass of a very famous historic example of people gathering in an Isle of Wight field to enjoy sex, drugs, and rock and roll (not to mention rain, mud, and inconvenience).

Allow me to be blunt: not everyone is comfortable with branded counterculture.


And this aversion to mainstream consumerism and the way it infects everything like airborn Ebola certainly isn’t a uniquely IOW Festival grumble either: witness the “I Can’t Believe It’s Still Glastonbury” Kayne West fallout.


Taking issue with “sold out” compromised integrity or cultural piracy isn’t a new phenomenon. And it’s not a particularly profound observation either. “£5 for a pint of pisswarm Carling whilst watching that cunt who regularly rips off Marvin Gaye parade a child with cerebral palsy around instead of, you know, donating some of his exorbitant fee to a cerebral palsy charity” is not, surprisingly, the epitome of enlightenment. In pointing any of this out, I am not pretending to be the Dalai Lama (he’s a sellout anyway now because he’s headlining Glastonbury with Kayne). At best I’m old, boring, and clinging to ideals that probably aren’t important to anyone who happily paid for their festival ticket via a Wonga loan using an Iphone 6 as soon as they saw Pharrell Williams was headlining. At worst I’m guilty of pointing out the fucking obvious. But here’s the kicker: there’s not an ounce of snobbery in any of it.

Snobbery, you see, is very much an “us and them” thing. Airs, graces, and pomposity being its oxygen, you are more likely to find it backstage at a festival oozing pus-like from the lips of a thousand name-dropping braggarts wearing sunglasses on their heads as they  loudly bray about how expensive their drugs are and the line of ketamine they’ve just shared with the instantly forgettable one from The Prodigy.



Nor is it a superiority thing. I would not consider my taste in music to be anything other than personal preference. Dismissing the IOW Festival because it regularly books acts that sound like the sonic equivalent of someone waterfalling Will.i.Am’s warm shit into my ears is about as pointless as my dismissing Britain’s Got Talent – a primetime ITV show aimed at Coronation Street viewers – for being “a bit doggy” and populist.

The wonderful thing about wonderful things is that they’re subjective. Music is, and has always been, shaped and forged from personal opinions and “feelings” (whatever they may be). This goes part way to explaining why people’s appreciation of it is also subjective (this incidentally, is also what grants it the gift of variety: there are around 1264 genres of music… incredible being there are only 12 musical notes in a chromatic scale).



The most surprising thing about an en-masse celebration of a subjective form (which is perhaps the wordiest description of a music festival ever) being interpreted subjectively? That anyone is pig-shit ignorant enough to be surprised by this. Moaning that not everyone enjoyed this year’s IOW Festival is a bit like moaning not everyone thinks every fruit is an apple, all doors are windows, or that the world’s greatest colour is a sort of dog-shit beige.


Love the IOW Festival? Then go. If you enjoy yourself go next year. If you hate it it’s pretty easy to avoid (provided you don’t drive anywhere near Newport and are deaf).

Subjectively? It’s not for me I’m afraid. I’m uncomfortable 50%+ of its fringe acts work for free on the vague promise they might benefit from the exposure given the organisers benefit hugely from a large chunk of their event being provided for the square root of fuck all.

In other industries this sort of behaviour might be labelled a pyramid scheme or a multilevel marketing scam. In the music business “it’s a glorious opportunity”. Local acts have been love-bombed in exchange for free labour over the past 13 years (a sort of Musical Workfare Scheme), with the Festival itself probably only three masonic handshakes away from officially being declared a cult.

When there I tend to just end up watching local bands, and given this I’d rather support them when they’re playing a paid gig out somewhere.

If you’re a musician play the festival for free because it’s a laugh/cheap wristband/supportive of a local cause.

But these days free exposure  = YouTube.

Playing to large crowds for free (still) = busking.

Hell… these days you can even combine the two. Sometimes that can be great.



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