I must confess this headline isn’t mine, I overheard it last Saturday and had to laugh as I was in fact standing in a queue for a porta-loo at a day festival. I was glad to have found this particular bank of individual cabins, since hours earlier I was among a potentially dangerous crush of bodies trying to get around a corner to access comfort stations colliding with those trying to exit the space. A poorly placed water station in the same corner meant any possibility of forming the traditional English queue disintegrated, and since people couldn’t see which side of the walkway they needed to be for which need, chaos ensued. Luckily the mood among my fellow festival goers was still cheerful at that point, but the bar queues soon poured cold water on that, faster than thirsty attendees could get to the taps too.
It had started out on a mediocre note. The weather was sensational as part of our group arrived at Finsbury Park for a day of music curated by rock legends Queens of the Stone Age. It was the first time some of us had would be seeing them and we were all looking forward to some literal fun in the sun. The first proverbial cloud appeared when they stopped one of my friends from entering because her backpack was ‘too large’, forcing her to leave it at a charity shop across the road and to buy a smaller bag to transport all her items. She was understandably fuming further when she did finally get back to the gates and security didn’t even bother searching said smaller bag, or even scanning her tickets. She was not the only person in our group who had difficulty entering.
A couple of us waited inside the park itself, and while there weren’t too many people who had arrived, the bar seemed slow and the staff ill experienced in completing orders efficiently. The lack of availability of card machines also seemed strange in this day and age. Considering there is a reduced drinks variety at festivals I quietly hoped they were expecting more help as the day progressed since demand would only increase.
Making our way to the smaller stage my friend and I enjoyed local band Skinny Girl Diet and then made our way to the massive main stage draped with “Queens” banners for Deap Vally, who also smashed it. They are my new favourite band. Both groups had an all-female line up which was refreshing to see at traditionally male dominated rock shows. It also finally felt like feminism was making headway in a genre not generally associated with it.
We had some time to kill before the next gig we wanted to see, so my friend and I strategized between replenishing water bottles, emptying bladders and heading back to the bar in the break. It was mid afternoon, and the headliners were due on after 8pm so I doubt capacity had yet been reached in the park. I spotted a merchandise caravan too so I joined the scramble of people waiting to buy some memorabilia.
Woefully slow and understaffed, it took over half an hour to be served at the counter and then to battle my way out through an increasingly impatient crowd. In the meanwhile my friend had joined the bar queue which was an additional half hour at least. Streams of people trying to get in and out of the aforementioned corner loo block smashed into the ever growing bar line we were in which created another general swirl of chaos. Potentially dangerous if someone became startled and panicked.
We were amazed to make it to the smaller stage again just in time to catch Brody Dalle and meet up with the friends delayed at the entrance. I really enjoyed seeing her for the first time, and although the performance seemed a little under-enthusiastic, I loved it. I was also more familiar with her Distillers catalogue than solo work so didn’t know the tunes she sang, but her unmistakably raspy voice was enough to fill the space, sounding like a mash up of Courtney Love and Courtney Barnett. Backed by members of The Savages it was brilliant that three gigs into the day I was yet to see a man performing on stage. We did however catch a glimpse of Josh Homme, Queens frontman and Dalle’s husband, watching from the side of the stage with one of their kids. Adorable and exciting.
Capacity had of course increased by the end of her set and the route to the main stage was jammed with longer queues and people moving awkwardly in various directions. Phone signal was abysmal, so texting friends in order to find them was basically useless; messages were being delivered in random spurts all at once and calls not connecting. Somehow, by luck and/or fate our group managed to find each other and we were able to enjoy Run the Jewels as a whole team.
Some of my mates were already fans, I had to acknowledge that they were not my usual cup of tea, but they sounded so good and were so much fun I couldn’t help but get involved. It was also good to have some room to dance around in, which I knew would diminish as the day wore on. Baseline thudding, positive messages about looking after each other as well as encouraging feminist words from the guys; outwardly condemning any unsolicited touching, especially of women, in the crowd and telling the women specifically that they have worth and should not be diminished was received well by all genders in the crowd. It was fantastic to hear this being called out on such a platform, and to highlight the additional concerns women have to be aware of in large crowds where the individual can become anonymous and unaccountable for inappropriate behaviour. While their set didn’t impress our whole group, I got stuck in and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Suitably energised we split again and a few of us moved forward towards the stage, including me, for another huge tick on my bucket list – the one and only Iggy Pop. Strutting out on stage like a topless peacock to the brutal first few bars of “I Wanna be Your Dog”, I felt my life was made. I must say his vocals were not quite so good, and he did seem a bit worn, like he’d cocked his hip out into that famous pose so much over the decades he couldn’t quite rectify himself anymore. Belting out classics “Lust For Life”, “Passenger” and a cover of “Jean Genie” I felt validated for weirdly trying to explain earlier that seeing Iggy felt like the closest I would ever get to David Bowie. Hearing that a stage invasion is a long standing tradition we were disappointed by the crowds remaining penned, but Iggy came down to touch fans and sing along. He flung his mic stand off stage midway through, and once it was returned, swung it over his shoulder smashing it into the stage a couple of times as a finale. He gave us a thoroughly enjoyable set and I would like to be that rock ‘n roll at 70. (Although he did seem like he was held together by ‘residue’)
It was his exit that signaled the crowd to surge forward for the final band on the line up, and deciding to give up our spots for a comfort break we opted to only queue for the loos and fill our water bottles. Going to the bar would have been a disaster with wait times reported to be up to two hours by that point, just unacceptable. Somehow again, our crew all managed to congregate together for the long awaited Queens of the Stone Age.
I lost my words as the crowd roared. I was disappointed to read later that some festival goers had a poor sound experience, but from where we were it was amazing as the guys ripped through an impressive quarter of a century of material. One classic I was hoping for, “Feel Good Hit of the Summer”, didn’t make the playlist, but “Millionaire”, “Go with the Flow”, “The Way You Used to Do” and of course, “No One Knows” made up for it. A protracted audience singalong to “Make It Wit Chu” seemed to give the towering (and visually ‘artificially enhanced’) Homme the same ‘feels’ he was bestowing on us. Homme mentioned that they first played to a couple of hundred people in the UK 25 years ago and now he was standing in front of 45,000 people; a realisation that stunned us all.
The tightly packed crowd were frenzied by the unrelenting, meaty riffs hurtling off the stage and a mosh pit formed directly in front of us. It was tempting to join, but I was inappropriately dressed to behave like a bettering ram, and felt like I was sufficiently coated in enough liquids from launched cups. Finally exiting the stage following their encore to a scream of feedback, the mass exodus of fans began.
This was actually a dangerous situation, and I think Festival Republic need to be held to account. The entire crowd was made to walk the length of the park – essentially from Finsbury Park station down to Manor House, but I saw about three other exits along the way that were sealed. Major congestion on the singular exit caused a bottle neck and even though they had closed Seven Sisters Road to allow for foot traffic, the entire endeavor felt unsafe for lack of exit alternatives. If there had been any kind of emergency evacuation situation during the day there would have been deaths. There was nobody taking control of the crowds from inside the park that I could see, and it seemed stewards only appeared at the end of the night, outside of the park, barking directions towards tube stations and buses in the road.
While I committed to enjoying my day and did, I am very wary of attending any Festival Republic event again. I am shocked that one of the biggest promoters in the country dropped the ball so badly on this one. They put so many people at risk, not only from overcrowding, but accessing essentials like drinking water on one of the hottest days of the year so far, and seemingly providing very little visible support as well as inconsistent security. Any anxiety sufferers would have had a very difficult time coping with the chaos and I have since read that many people just gave up and left. They should be refunded. An apology was issued by Workers Beer Company, who managed the bars, which I am glad to read because the service was shockingly bad; slow, confused and understaffed. I do think that the general organisers need to step up and do the same, passing the buck is unacceptable.
I took to Twitter with a politely disgruntled moan, which was published in Clash Magazine the next day. The expletives of irate fans dripped off the organisers hashtag and there are plenty more very angry festival goers. It’s sad that this has become the focus instead of the day’s music, which was excellent, and ruined what should have been a wonderful day. Festival Republic have a lot to answer for, and now that the mess has hit national news hopefully we can keep applying pressure. It’s just not good enough that they got away with no injuries. That’s a requirement, not a success.