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Pete Lawrence - 23 Nov 2019


"The hardest thing is the flying side of things,” Coldplay's frontman Chris Martin told The BBC. Does this mean purely local 'acts' at festivals in the future?  Does this mean the death of 'world music' as we know it?

Some of the elders amongst you may remember the days when prog rock goliaths ELP went on tour. Their full name was Emerson Lake and Palmer and their full touring cortege consisted of three huge articulated lorries - one for each member, with their initial emblazoned on the roof. Rock excess at its worst perhaps, but these days the carbon footprint of an average festival is equally scary. And the alarm bells are hardly ringing just yet, despite the music industry's most recent figures suggesting that live music generates 405,000 tonnes of greenhouse-gas emissions in the UK every year.

At yesterday's panel at Milan Music Week, I was sitting next to a dance promoter who told me - and his crowd of adoring young male fans - that he was putting on an annual Nameless Festival near Lake Como, close to beautiful Alpine slopes and hoped to up his crowd next year from 80, 000 to 120, 000. 

He talked about being dependent on private transport as the rail finished at 10pm, he talked about the fact that the site was not connected to mains water so he couldn't offer refills via taps on site, he talked about all the reasons why his crowd wouldn't pay a little more to help achieve a more sustainable event and less of a disruptive impact on the local region. Most all he seemed to shrug when asked how he could do things differently, at best admitting that it would be a slow uphill struggle.

80, 000 revellers at Nameless Festival near Lake Como

Earlier in the day I'd passed through Milan's impressive BASE warehouse building as panels with titles like 'Rocking All Over The World' had talked about rolling out this and that, about maximising revenues from touring and about tweaks around the edges that might mean a greener festival.

'Business as usual' has to change

There was much gesturing but little realisation that we can't carry on with 'business as usual'. For all the talk about phasing out plastic bottles, about carbon-neutral generators and more recycling on site, the overall model for most promoters remains the same. It's about consumerism, about taking advantage of people while they are in an enclosed environment.
In a week when Coldplay announced a suspension of touring as they work towards developing carbon-neutral concerts, it was time for the music industry to face the music of its own making. To own up to some fundamental truths about the impact it was having on carbon footprint, not just through having huge numbers descend on beautiful parts of the countryside, by installing huge PA rigs, lighting towers, gigantic projection screens and security fencing, but through its failure acknowledge that there are deeper issues at play. When Emma Banks, UK agent at Creative Artists was quoted as saying "we need to dial it down a bit" she wasn't kidding. A revolution in event-related thinking is needed.  Just as a revolution in how we communicate online is badly needed too.

Last weekend, I'd met up with someone who had been involved in events and described herself as a seasoned festival goer and she described how when attending WOMAD (one of the more environmentally-friendly large events in the UK) last summer she'd had something of an epochal moment, realising that this gated community she'd found her way into, via frisking security guards was then all about VIP areas, and most of all about consumption, whether via the many stalls or via the big stages that she sat in front of. The return of the 'herd em in, herd em out' mentality, being sold to at every corner, watching ten-piece bands who had been flown in on long-haul flights. In essence it was, as she put it, a "temple of capitalism".

I quit The Big Chill twelve years ago, a festival I'd conceptualised in the mid 90s as a temple to calmness and the 'chill out' ethos, when I realised the formula had become so corrupted by the forces of capitalism and profit-making that it had hopelessly lost its way and this was confirmed by early Big Chillers leaving in droves. A couple of years after I left, the event went bankrupt and then sold what remained of the soul of its brand to the devil - Festival Republic. 

Despite its unglorified exit, its spirit and legacy lives on, not only in The Little Chill but seemingly everywhere I go and bump into ex Big Chillers, many with fond memories or stories about another couple I didn't know about who married at the event. This trip to Italy has been no exception. 

Norman Jay at The Big Chill, Eastnor Castle Deer Park

The Big Chill did have a Leave No Trace policy and in some ways, led a somewhat half-hearted early charge towards a greener festival. It was also about feeding through new talent rather than 'headliners'.  My idea of a headliner wasn't about the big stars who breezed in with their big tour bus and left after the 'show'. They were bands like The Bays who formed through the community and gained respect in it through playing smaller events and building grass roots support to the point where they could wow the crowd on the main stage on a Saturday night in front of 20, 000 people. Along with everyone else, they camped in tents too. The Big Chill didn't have a VIP or backstage area. Anyone walking backstage by accident may have ended up helping carry a heavy flight case. There wasn't much else going on behind the stages. The Big Chill should never have been about the line-up and gambling on expensive 'headliners', it should have always been about the community, the family coming together to celebrate life. Once the delicate balance was lost, the magic went away.

My exit, after a decade and a half of feeling part of a family led to some soul searching and a rediscovery of what the essentials for outdoor gatherings were for me, but also about what sort of 'family' I wanted to feel part of. For me, it starts with bringing people together in nature, giving them space and respecting their own differences and preferences. In continues with an ethos that blurs the boundaries between 'audience' and 'performer', between 'organiser' and 'ticket holder' and and gives its attendees personal responsibility and respect. the people who come make the event as much as any artist. We are all potentially artists and nearly all have a fertile creative streak. The Big Chill went some way, but only scratched the surface. Now we need something much more radical. 

We have to respond to the forces of nature

So, given that more and more are waking up to the fact that we need to change, the following forces (amongst others) are in full effect:

1) The climate emergency. Rapid and urgency adjustment to our lifestyles, our habits and the way we interact with nature as one is needed now. Flying is a huge issue and many people have stopped flying or cut down in the last year or so. "The hardest thing is the flying side of things,” Coldplay's frontman Chris Martin told The BBC. Does this mean purely local 'acts' at festivals in the future?  Does this mean the death of 'world music' as we know it?  Surely better to not have to deal with carbon offsetting retrospectively by not creating the issue in the first place, as my co-panelist Katia Costantino argued yesterday.

2) The end of capitalism. Very much allied to point 1), We have a moral responsibility in the UK, as leaders of the Industrial Revolution - and the effects of its ensuing capitalist detritus - to trailblaze models for a new greener world. let's start not just with economics and politics, but with a rounded holistic view that starts with us, how we feel, think, listen, react, choose and pass on ideas and frameworks. Exciting new models, based more around horizontal community / co-operative frameworks will replace hierarchical structures..

3) Turning beautiful places into theme parks. Whether just for the weekend with a gated festival with ticket prices in the hundreds of pounds or whether it's a more permanent putting an entry price on common land for profit 

Coming to terms with climate breakdown is changing human behaviour at all levels

Building a new sustainable model 

Just as social media needs a new model based around community, it's time for the events industry to take a long hard look in the mirror and and to find ways to reinvent itself.

Yesterday I talked about the need for a new festival model, about what can happen when a community comes together. We are trialling these ideas at our Campout events.

1 Smaller, more self-sufficient, carbon neutral, more inclusive events that move away from consumerism festivals to participative gatherings. Away from hedonism towards purpose and intention. To do this successfully, you need to change the mindset and develop a new culture.  Personally I have been developing the idea of not needing stages, lighting rigs, security, fencing and so on...

2 Personal responsibility and collective responsibility are at the centre. The old attitudes around 'what's in it for me, Jack?' are replaced by 'What can we build together?' which is a model that apply to pretty much anything in the new economy. Check out the model of Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth. Litter is a problem we should all take responsibility for. Should we still expect litter bins to be put out? What happens to that litter?  

3 Build an event together. The ticket money each person puts in is not a cop out clause, so that they can expect things to be done for them, it's an investment in growing and supporting and growing the amazing potential of a community event. Bring your own chair / blanket / sun shade / plate, refillable water bottle, cup/mug and cutlery.

4 More flexible programming - open space. We can create our own event. See what happened at the first trial Campout 2018 and hear the Firecast interviews after the event.

5 Creating 'stars' within the community. This is the antithesis of celebrity culture. Everyone is a star in their own orbit with potential to step up and a right to feel empowered. 

6 No security. The people attending the event are community members and the gathering is that community's business. It's a new way of looking at events but one many will look at adopting in the future. 

7 Ceremonies, rituals and magic. An increasingly important part of the new philosophy of bringing people together, empowering individuals and collaborative contact within a community and offering something that transcends the mundane. Read about The Power of Ceremony in the Campfire environment.

It's time to come together around the Campfire. Let's keep it intimate and build something together.

Campfirers at Campout 2019

Touring's environmental impact - Mark Savage, BBC Music reporter

"Staging a world tour isn't as simple as bunging Chris Martin and his bandmates in the back of a mini-van with a map and a year's supply of digestives. 

In fact, the band's last tour employed 109 crew, 32 trucks and nine bus drivers, who travelled to five continents, playing to 5.4 million people at 122 concerts.

There's no easy way to calculate the band's carbon footprint; but the music industry's most recent figures suggest that live music generates 405,000 tonnes of greenhouse-gas emissions in the UK every year.

It's not just flights that cause the problem. Fans travelling to and from shows are the biggest source of pollution; but there's an environmental cost to producing merchandise, powering the spotlights and moving stages from venue to venue.

At the most extreme end of the scale, the ambitious "claw" structure that U2 took on the road in 2009 required 120 trucks to shift it around. According to one environmental group, the band generated the equivalent carbon footprint of a return flight to Mars. 

Since then, the industry has stepped up its efforts to become more sustainable. 

Radiohead swapped spotlights for LEDs, which use a fraction of the power needed for a traditional lighting rig. The 1975 have stopped making new merchandise, and are donating £1 from every ticket sold to One Tree Planted, a non-profit organisation that plants trees all over the world. And U2 have enacted a number of changes, from recycling guitar strings to using hydrogen fuel cells.

Coldplay are going one step further. They don't just want to be carbon neutral, but to have tours that are "actively beneficial" to the planet. And by putting their concerts on hold, they're giving up a huge pay day: The Head Full of Dream tour made $523m.

The industry will be watching to see what solutions they come up with.




Steve Thorp

Excellent article Pete. Really interested to read about how what considers itself to be a progressive movement is simply another big carbon-guzzling money industry. We seem almost to exempt big name musicians and DJs from their responsibilities because they're big names! I went to see Elton John's gig in Cardiff, part of a two year long global journey. Its was amazing to see him, but I wouldn't like to guess at the carbon footprint of the whole tour... I've always found festivals strange creatures – but never considered that they may be monsters, rather than odd other-worldly places where we lose ourselves for a weekend!


Jeremy Pearce

There are small underground festivals that have a direct linage to the "Free party scene that goes back to the 60's and the rave scene that have never ever even partly been part of Industry Capitalism and consumption thats completely contradictory to the "Organizers and the people who attend s ethics and run at an almost non profit level .I go to a long running bi annual one that doesnt even have a fence round it .The fence is something farmers put round live stock isn't it before milking time ? It s aligned to the traveler festivals that were a great part of my life and the ethic I still believe in whole hardheartedly The 1st industry dance festival I went to was the 1st Tribal Gathering ,It was the 1st marketed offering "Apres Criminal Justice Bill " and the 1st rave I had ever attended with a fence round it .Scary men dressed in black with leashed alsations and Smirnoff Vodka .I spent the entire time there wishing that I was some where else ."Torpedo Town "perhaps .A free party traveller festival held on MOD land off the A30 .These festivals self policed and had minimum enviromental impact .If you wanted to use a toilet you buried it . I think the event you went to Pete was made up of people who never free raved .Never watched bands off the back of flat back trailers and had not even the concept of how it felt to be part of the "Floating Free Anarchy " that s where my heads at possibly 30 years on and will always be .We were never into mass consumption and definatly never into "Burning the planet .

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