Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Derby days

This past weekend-and-a-bit saw me lose my music festival virginity at the third-ever Maifeld Derby in what was an extremely sunny Mannheim in central(ish)-southern Germany. I'd been to a day at the now defunct Fleadh in Finsbury Park many years ago, but that was just a few hours in a park in the same city in which I lived, so could hardly count.

Cards face up, first of all. Anybody who knows me will know that I simply don't understand the idea of travelling any kind of distance simply to listen to music, because I'm not into it in the way most people seem to be. I'm not moved by it (or at least, not often) and certainly wouldn't give up the home comforts of bed, shower etc to enable this to happen. That people do this, in their hundreds of thousands at any one time, and seem to actively enjoy casting aside many of the advances we've made in industrialisation  to improve our lives - sanitation, for example - for a few days in a tent, I find particularly baffling. Personally, camping is the sort of thing I'd do only if society had broken down in, say, a zombie apocalypse, and the cities were no longer safe. Even then, I'd try to find an empty house somewhere rural before I'd resort to canvas.

Anyway, I digress. I was in fact doubly fortunate. Not only did I not have to camp, but this Derby at which I broke my festival duck is organised by people I know, so I was lucky enough to be granted access to the private bits usually set aside for the bands, the workers etc. So, sporting a gold wristband no less, I joined a few thousand other people to enjoy what for them was probably a familiar experience, but for me was completely new.

Observations from this newbie, then. Much of this will be second nature to many of you, but to me the idea of listening to music for anything up to 15 hours, however easily the beer flowed, was unfathomable. It'd surely be crushingly boring to somebody not into music, right? Well, I'll be honest, there were moments during some of the sets from bands whose music I didn't like that I did get a bit bored. These were, though, fleeting - there was always somebody else playing something entirely different on another stage. There was always beer and food available. And in most cases, even bands I'd never heard of (most of them, if I'm honest, but that's a reflection of my ignorance, not the standard of the bill) proved very enjoyable.

It helped greatly that, two hours out of the three days excepted, it was warm and sunny. It helped that I drank a lot of beer, and a lot of whisky'n Cokes, but I did enjoy the live music more than I expected to, even if I'd never heard most of the songs before. I was introduced to, among other things, the delights of Austrian electro-pop-rock funsters Bilderbuch (complete with a lead singer who looked like the love child of J├╝rgen Klinsmann and the lying blonde kid with the 'clunge' obsession from The Inbetweeners), whose set climaxed with an ode to all the sex things they wanted to do to a yellow sports car.

Then there was Temples, a British band who sounded like a throwback to the prog-rock era, with songs lasting five or six minutes past the last vocals; long, repeating sections that harked back to The Doors, a proper throwback sound which was superb live. There were others - Keston Cobblers Club, another British lot who all seemed to be multi-instrumentalists, and played an old English folk sound on a host of instruments, some of which I'd never seen before. Or Moscow Metro, an Irish rock band who had to cope with a guitar failing to work mid-song and did so without half as much swearing as you'd have heard from me, if I'd been in their place.

One thing that hanging around 'backstage' showed me was how much enthusiasm the bands themselves had for other bands. Their own work done, they'd be talking about who they were going to see with all the excitement of the paying punters. The band which was, I was told by one of the musicians, 'every musician's favourite band', The National, closed the whole thing with a two-hour set. I'm afraid, here, my ignorance got the better of me once again. While all around me, people with extraordinary musical talent of their own were excitedly heading off early to get a good spot for The Nationals' set, I ultimately thought them inferior to many of the bands standing there in the audience listening to them. I was clearly in a very small minority, though, because the main stage was packed for their slot, and they were received with huge enthusiasm.

And so my festival virginity was lost. Back to Frankfurt from Mannheim, and thence home. (If, by the way, you ever get the chance to use Frankfurt Airport, don't. It's crap.) I realise that, to the purist, a hotel room, a private-area-access wristband and a lack of knee-deep mud means I haven't done it properly at all, but I'm counting it.

By the way, the above descriptions of how some of the bands sounded must be regarded with caution, filtered as they are through my entirely ignorant and uninformed ears. That's just how I heard them, but isn't that the fundamental experience of everybody at these things? We must all hear them through the quality control mechanisms of our own tastes, even if that taste is formed from very little experience.

(My sincere thanks to L, P, T and all those others who know who they are, who were so generous in inviting me and my missus and looking after us so well when they had better things to do with their time.)