Following his neo-Orwellian Latitude trip-hop adventure of last weekend, Sam Jennings assesses the worth of volunteering at a music festival. Posing the question: did he succeed on his quest to see Portishead?
[dropcap size=small]E[/dropcap]ver since I was a wee bairn, I listened to trip-hop. Not that I had much choice. Any chance he could, during long car journeys or short car journeys, long dinners or short dinners, my Dad would play the urban-ambient scratchings of Massive Attack and Portishead. So it was that I became, quite mercilessly indoctrinated, inculcated, brainwashed… call it what you will… to the mysterious sounds of trip-hop.
Indeed, this education (a kind of Clockwork Orange, eyes sellotaped open, blaring music education) was so overwhelmingly successful that I’m sure even Orwell’s Ministry of Truth would have questioned its ethics. Needless to say, this surely demonstrates a weak will on my part which categorically proves just how unfit I would be if I were ever to live life as a spy (just in case MI5 come knocking). To smoothly segue into the point of this article, then… when I was invited to go to Latitude this summer, and when I subsequently discovered that Portishead would be playing, it was a chance I could not pass up. Portishead play gigs too few and far between, adding to that mystical allure, and so churlish it most definitely would be to shun such an opportunity.
The hitch was this: I calculate I spent 150 VKs too many over the year and so, alackaday, an affordable ticket was well out of reach. What was once money well spent back in the hedonism of those halcyon fresher days, cutting through the dance floor with my shapely moves, now seemed… well… money not-so-well-spent. Nevertheless, I was not to be deterred. My Dad’s totalitarian musical influence had kicked in and, like some weird trip-hop sleeper agent awoken, I set out to find any and every way possible that would allow me to see Portishead.
“I became, quite mercilessly indoctrinated, inculcated, brainwashed… call it what you will… to the mysterious sounds of trip-hop.”
I decided to volunteer with a company rather dubiously called ‘Hotbox.’ They don’t pay you, but you only have to do three 8 hour shifts (a maximum of two of which would take place when the festival was in full swing). Whilst Portishead would be my cathartic, tears down the cheeks, dancing in the rain and hands up to the sky moment for me, every day at Latitude seemed to offer something that tickled your fancy until you were forced to cry uncle. I wanted to volunteer for something that would let me see a fair amount of it and Hotbox appeared to offer that.
[divider] The Good [/divider]
The first thing you should know about working at a festival is that you actually have to work. Seems obvious but a lot of people I came across (friends included) were pretty upset that they couldn’t just sack it off. Once over that initial hurdle, though, and you’re set for a fairly decent weekend at the very least. There are a huge amount of perks to being a volunteer. I’ll avoid the schmucky ‘community spirit’ aspect (of which there is plenty) and talk about the good stuff.
1. You get a wristband that says, in a quite handily vague way, ‘Crew.’ This means you get to pretend to be a tech guy for Alt-J or Noel Gallagher. It’s great if you’re out to impress. Nothing says ‘champ’ more than lying about what you do so that others like and respect you.
2. Portaloos. Volunteers get their own special ones at Latitude. Believe me, this is worth it. I had to do one of my shifts in the fetid dustbowl that was ‘Yellow Camp Toilets,’ and it feels wonderful observing imperiously as the lowly punters go to squat over filthy toilets which hang over an ‘orrible ditch (indeed so ‘orrible that the h had to be dropped). I’d say it makes you feel superior but I’ll go only so far as human. Humanity is key at festivals, particularly needed when wending your way through forest at 4am, past a gaggle of 16 year olds all furiously vomiting into bushes. (On a side note regarding toilets at festival: isn’t it strange that you always seem to meet about four different people who swear on their life, their mum’s life, or their great-aunt Deirdre’s daisy strewn grave that they, personally, know some poor sod who fell into that ditch of treacled human faeces, wasn’t recued for at least half a day and ultimately sustained a bizarre range of injuries including third degree burns?)
3. (Yes, this list is still going). You get to see your favourite bands. For free. And all you need to do is stand in a field looking like a nonce for a few hours. It’s easy. Get off yer arse. In my mind, just that third perk outweighs all the negatives, but for the sake of fairness, I ought to mention them. The primary problem with working at a festival is this: when you are working, everyone else is having fun and they don’t care about you. All volunteering companies really ought to have a label on their contracts which read: Caution, not suitable for those suffering from severe FOMO.
[divider] The Bad [/divider]
To balance out the previous list of positives, I will now include a non-exhaustive list of times when people are having fun and you are not.
1. When you are glumly trying to catch a quick bit of shut-eye at 10pm because your eight hour shift starts at 1am.
2. When you are glumly staring at mud in the dark whilst lots of people skip and weave happily by, casually mocking your high-vis. jacket which, in the end, you were wearing only because they made you and even then, you thought you were rocking that undone, slung off the shoulder look anyhow (all this, midway through your eight hour shift which started at 1am).
3. When you are walking back to your campsite at 9am (after, you guessed it, a shift that started at 1am) whilst the sun, which has risen after a real good night’s sleep, gleefully warms your tent to the point that lava has been known to bubble up beneath your roll mat and that blow up pillow you got for £2 at Tesco (honest to God, two hobbits thought they could drop in a ring in my tent and have done with the whole bloody quest).
As with every job, there are bits you don’t want to do, but if you’re really into music and don’t have much money then it’s worth it. It’s also worth it if you do have money, or if you’re not really into music. It’s just a good bit of clean fun, as they say. Back to the main point in hand, and the question all readers must now be asking: did I see Portishead? Well, despite the rumour that you miss your favourite acts when volunteering because Murphy’s law strikes again, I managed to see a helluva lot: Caribou, Alt-J, Savages, Timber Timbre, James Blake, Laura Marling, Thom Yorke and a plethora of others (the list, the abstract concept of which I am clearly far too fond, could go on).
I also managed to see Portishead. It was a ceremonious affair, and a set I will not forget. That night I ascended to the sky. But for one thing: I ended up watching only half the Portishead set. The Vaccines were also playing and my girlfriend wanted to see them instead. Ah, the things we do for love (sorry Dad).