V Festival 2012 review from Weston Park

'A festival at the tipping point of a severe identity crisis'

V Festival 2012 review from Weston Park

Photographer:Mark Holloway

Will Saunders - 20 August 2012

Set in the rolling greenery of Weston Park, V Festival, now in its 17th year, is one of the staple signs of the end of summer, ensconced in the twilight of the festival season and snuggling up next to Reading/Leeds with loving doe-eyes and a sense of élan.

Nowadays, V finds itself curiously frozen out by bigger and better emerging festival behemoths, yet lacking the niche appeal or distinct identity to attract true music aficionados, AA list headline talent or the pinnacle of up and coming talent to perform.

V 2012's answer to this quandary seems to be a conscious drive towards a youthful hip-pop-inspired curation; out with the indie and in with the wannabe urban street cred. More Guetta than guitar, more Rizzle Kicks than killer licks, and more Tinie Tempah than Temper Trap.

It works to a point, and the likes of The Killers, Noel Gallagher and The Stone Roses attest that this is still a V with value for six-string connoisseurs, but the polarisation of the line-up, and subsequently the audience, bequeaths a strange atmosphere on V. There's a lack of cohesive soul, a missing commonality, a prevailing 'get wasted first, ask questions later' mentality, where queues for the bar are bigger than crowds for the likes of Noah and the Whale, and with no artist able to provide the requisite cross-genre cut-through to unite the cold warring factions. Most festivals are about a musical journey, about enhanced knowledge of a genre or a new favourite band. V 2012 is about sticking to what you know, seeing who you like, then getting the beers in pronto.

Away from the music, eternal cliché gripes endure: too many brands (Costa!), bars not accepting cash, an over-zealous kettling airport-search for every entry between the camping areas and stages, minimal discernible entertainment for the thousands who arrive on the Friday, far too few toilets (meaning every walk across the site sees legions of men relieving themselves with public abandon), and such a lack of maps, signs, information about stage times and directions from the massed ranks of G4S fluorescents, that festival-goers are compelled to splurge £10 on an official programme lest they dare to get lost or not have the weekend line-up committed to memory.

On the positive side, for anyone sporting festival L-plates, V predominantly represents an extraordinarily chaste environment, well-publicised extenuations notwithstanding. Security staff practically outweigh paying customers, and the sheer number of heavily patrolled fences and access restrictions completely eliminates any sense of viable risk, adventure or discovery. In other good news, V offers a broader range of gourmet grub stalls than many festivals, making it possible to both have your five a day and eat it should you be so healthily inclined.

For those of a conscientious disposition, the spectrum of organic gastronomy fails to compensate for the absolute horror of the on-site sanitation. The too few toilets are corroborated by a distressing lack of bins and non-existence of recycling options, leaving the end of day fields, well soaked by rain and re-watered by regurgitated Carling, clustered ankle-deep with litter. It's a shocking consequence of communal indifference, and the musk of the soiled mud, freshly baked come Sunday's sunny sundown, is a putrid stench that drifts and lingers across the entire site.

The proffered aprés-V entertainment consists of Propaganda DJs (ostensibly an iPod on student pop disco shuffle), eating candy floss and riding the dodgems at the funfair, or watching cutesy kitsch movies in the piss streaked late night cinema conversion of the Arena Tent. While this may be sufficient after-hours action for the Ed Sheeran set, for veterans there are no after-curfew shows, no secret parties and no Shangri-La style haven of dusk till dawn hedonistic delights.

Returning to the music for a whistle-stop snapshot:

Tulisa’s (2/10) shouty mélange of aggressively samey ‘FU to the haters’ chav-pop lacks any of the tangible qualities she feels compelled to judge others on every Saturday night. The Feeling (3/10) give an afternoon nap-inducingly dull performance, showing a band at the tail-end of an inexorable slide into oblivion.

Elsewhere Miles Kane (5/10) may boast a fine line in collar-up 'for the lads' mod rock, but his set lacks the whimsical charm of his better known co-conspirator's work; more sub-Beady Eye than Arctic Monkey-aping. Tom Jones (8/10) showcases his class, stature and timeless back-catalogue with an afternoon delight of singalong hits. Noah and the Whale (6/10) play a timid sundown set, failing to project the requisite character to back up their undoubted musical nous.

Snow Patrol’s (7/10) line in hands-aloft anthems is perfect one trick pony festival evening fodder before The Killers (9/10) have owned Saturday night, with a towering triumph of a headline set.

Wretch 32’s (5/10) generically indistinct hip-hop posturing features an ecstatic reception for Ed Sheeran's on-stage duet on ‘Hush Little Baby’. Likewise The Ting Tings (6/10) fail to convince despite a highly energetic set, with new tracks jarring against the well-aged hits.

Ben Howard (7/10) brilliantly plays his deft acoustic folk in the right place to wrong crowd and Noel Gallagher (8/10) steps up to prove that at least one of the twin pillars of 90s mop-tops and monobrows can still cut the proverbials, with an acoustic 'Supersonic' a particular highlight.

V then may once have been one of the Big Three, but this year's edition embodied an alarming fall from grace. It was complacent, bitter and expensive, with none of the vigour and charm of a smaller independent, and none of the 'must-see' experiential appeal of a true giant like Glastonbury. Throw together a patchily disparate line-up, season with an inclination to pander to the patronisingly childish and an alarming degree of almost encouraged fecal primacy, and you have a festival at the tipping point of a severe identity crisis.

V for very alarming: must do better.

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