Beans on Toast.
Beans on Toast.

Beans on Toast.Blissfields Festival

Winchester

2nd – 5th July 2015 

Blissfields festival is growing fast, however the direction it’s going in doesn’t bode well for dying festival culture.

I remember going to my first tiny little Blissfields. It was the same year as my first Shambala and I hoped we could have something as interesting as Shambala in the South. I thought Blissfields may be able to grow into that. Now, four years on, I see that the black death of the festival has spread, and Blissfields is not the cure.

Swarms of middle class musclebound macho men aggressively stampeded under the watchful eyes of their alpha male leaders. Girls, mostly around 14-16 years old, shoved their latest festival fashions in the alphas gaze. Of course, a few of us crusty punks lurked around, attracted to the word festival like moths to a flame, but we were in an isolated minority.

It’s hard to say whether Blissfields can be blamed for the levels of bland drudgery and sludge that was going on when they put Akala and Beans on Toast on stage. But Blissfields didn’t supply any concious thought or critical thinking to anything. Sure, there was an animal preservation stall, but remember when festivals meant anything? Remember when weirdos, anarchists, punks, hippies and all the other sub genres of morlocks converged and talked about climate change, state oppression and raised, if nothing else, some awareness? Remember when festivals were a safe haven for the kids who were marginalised by the norms?

Akala was a very friendly face in a crowd and was happy to say hello to anyone who wanted a chat before venturing out for vegan food. He gave a lot to his performance, but it was almost confusing to stand at the side and watch him rap songs like “Don’t piss me off” to rich kids, who he openly mocked in his famous Fire in the Booth session. This was because rich kids took the song as being about having a bad day, as opposed to being white washed as a working class black male. It was strange and curious, but the crowd loved it, and presumably that’s what counts here. Akala will be continuing to tour festivals around the UK promoting the stellar Knowledge is Power Vol. 2, as well as putting on his  The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company workshops.

Camping was pretty much as expected. Security were mostly focused on not allowing anyone to bring their own alcohol into the main site to the point of searching bags. Needless to say, what was gained in the saving on a ticket was lost when you’re buying booze at a festival bar. There’s much to say about the middle class dancing to KRS-One – ‘Sound of Da Police’ whilst hired security goons violate your space by searching your belongings for beer.

Grant Sharkey with a crowd member.
Grant Sharkey with a crowd member.

Comedy was the most dynamic part of the entire festival. Nabbing Southampton’s own Grant Sharkey was a dizzying peak for Blissfields, which was at this point clinging onto any remnant of soul. Sharp Sharkey performed with a hilarious and constantly provocative set of songs. Highlights include “I’m sorry to hear you’re a racist” and a deconstruction on our social system and economy via “Animal”. After hitting a stride, he dragged kids on comedowns who were probably just looking for a quiet tent to the field. Little did they know they’d be riled up with song as they picked up litter around the site in a feisty rabble. Sharkey was witty and he knew where he was, he knew his crowd, and most importantly, knew that he could and needed to impart something meaningful to them. Catching up, he told me “Art should say something. It’s really a fucking shame when it doesn’t.”

Spencer Jones.
The peculiar Spencer Jones.

Other comedians who managed to keep things interesting were the freaky Spencer Jones and the oh so charming Rosie Wilby. One of the most harrowing moments in the tent came in the tall white figure of Mathew Bayliss, a ‘comedian’ who made weird Lad bible style jokes about 18 year old daughters and encouraged rampant homophobia and sexism under a poorly held ‘it’s fine this is a middle class caricature’ banner. When the Beastie Boys were raising awareness of violence and sexual assault against women at festivals during something as ridiculous and apolitical as the MTV awards in ’99, how can we tolerate a male in a festival encouraging it now?

Far more positively, the Teen, Tween and kiddy area was terrific. Full of bubbles, workshops and crafts, these were well stocked, well thought out and packed. It was great to see that tweens and teens were considered so well, an often ignored demographic. Blissfields managed to continue to assert itself as a family festival really well.

Something else that Blissfields has been ace at is finding lesser known bands and giving time to some real gems, previously in the form of the fantastic Wave Pictures, for example. This year, we had We Have Band, a London based funky pop group who were visibly well rehearsed. Finally satiating the gaping need for something vaguely heavy, Blissfields offered up steam punk dudes The Men Who Will Not be Blamed for Nothing. A furious few even managed to get a lovely little mosh going and stragglers were beaming to hear something full of vibrancy and noise.

Curxes from Brighton gave some hugely needed power to the women at the festival with their retro-esque, effortlessly interesting sound. Talent also came in the way of softly spoken Birmingham-based folk collective Boat to Roam, who were clean and sweet and your grandparents would adore them.

On the flipside of smaller finds was the man of the weekend, Grandmaster Flash. Once he used to breakdown the cycles and traps of forced poverty and crime. He would make trippy songs about cocaine. He made us think and dance. Now, he says “Everybody now”, “C’mon” and “Make some noise” whilst playing other peoples’ songs off a Mac. Obviously, the throngs of Cath Kidston loving punters were lapping it up, but it was actually an obscure thing to witness. Now, we all need to eat. I’m the most opposite thing to a capitalist as a human can be, but I don’t begrudge people needing to survive. This, however, was just abstract.

Maybe I didn’t have enough glitter on my face, and sure, I don’t have a grammar school education. No, this wasn’t Bloodstock, and yes, this was in Winchester. But I wasn’t expecting Rage Against the Machine mantras and radical action – I wanted any sense of meaning whatsoever, because it was a festival, and that’s what they’ve always conjured. I know Glastonbury is a thing and it’s horrible. I know Reading Fest costs about the same as a mortgage in Berkshire. I know that Q magazine recently referred to Kanye West as an activist and the whole world is in this Dr Seuss/George Orwell like state. But Blissfields was young. It had only two main organisers. I really thought it could’ve brought some balance to the force. Where will us weirdos thrive now the festival is dying?

~

All words by Leema Sadia. More writing by Halima on Louder Than War can be found at her author’s archive. You can find her on twitter as @MaceWindude.

11 COMMENTS

  1. I think someone’s been given a Sex Pistols bank card and been introduced to the greatest hits of The Ramones since Blissfields 2014.
    Or did Akala refuse an interview and make poor diddums a bit upset?
    Either way, please add a photo option to this website so i can add a picture of a massive cock.

    • Bit pathetic attacking the writer for giving an honest opinion. You have clearly missed the whole thrust of the points raised about Akala’s set.

      Presumably the picture you want to post is a self portrait?

      • A bit pathetic this writer mentioning that some of the blokes were middle class, or that having a private education is bad. The festival should be classist like the writer is, is what I get from this. Shame on this website.

      • If it was an honest opinion i would never have attacked it. I’m used to seeing criticism & I embrace it when it’s constructive but this is a load of bollocks.
        I did see Akala. And i listened. I also watched and listened to Rex Domino – what’s your point, Alan?
        I was there last year & read the review on this site. I was there this year & read the review from the same reviewer. It makes no sense, so you’ll have to excuse the way i laughed through the writing of my short review, but i felt it suited the piece.
        And i’m already fully aware that i’m a massive cock, but at least i’m one with an unbiased view

  2. What a crock of shit. We’ve been to both the 2011 and 2015 festivals then, so a good basis for comparison. The only way the festival has changed is a few more food stalls, a slightly bigger “other” stage, and more professional organisation. Your review stinks of attention seeking. Like I said, crock of shit.

  3. This is so weird I. Almost didn’t comment. But then I saw somebody’s comment about opinion. Why review a festival on the basis of a premade opinion as this obvs is. This reviewer doesn’t like southerners, sorry about that. Can’t throw your words a festival just because it’s in the south. Sorry blissfields isnt a punk festival, but did you look at the lineup before you went? What were you expecting? This reads like somebody who went to watch Katy Perry and gave a bad review because there wasn’t enough drum solos. Like going to Glastonbury and giving it 2/10 because the range of vintage cars being displayed was minimal. This is well confusing. Don’t listen bliss fields. We’ve been coming for 3 years and were blown away. Kids had such an amazing time meeting grandmaster flash!!! Been reading louder thanwar for about 2 years. I know which I’m cutting out my diet lol

  4. Wow. Having re-read this a few times, I still can’t work out whether this is a bad attempt at a balanced article, or just a bad ‘NME-esque’ article. Reading your previous years review on Blissfields, it’s clear that you have an understanding of what it was going to be like, and yet you’ve made a judgement that Blissfields is ‘not the cure’ based on assumptions that this festival didn’t meet your expectations of what a ‘festival’ should be.
    So a couple of general points, before we get into some of the specifics.
    Firstly, with the ‘black death’ of festivals spreading, Blissfields does not need to be a cure. Now in it’s 15th year, it’s survived and thrived through many cycles of bad times for festivals generally, with many coming and going in that time. Festival evolution at it’s best
    Your opening paragraph made your disappointment clear that it hasn’t turned into Shambala. Ah well, sorry about that, but again, Blissfields has it’s own identity and there are many other festivals that will have a Shambala personality, if you want that vibe.
    Onto the paragraph harking back to the good ol’ days of ‘…when festivals meant anything…’. Again, there are festivals out there that raise awareness, set up large tents for political/social/alternative discussions and workshops. This isn’t Blissfields main personality, albeit there was a protest (in the kiddies area!) and plenty of workshops, crafts etc but the main point is that festivals do NOT have to mean anything. Some festivals have this as their main selling point, others just want you to turn up, have a great time with friends and family and tidy up as you leave. Again there is a choice, and if you stopped searching for a Greenpeace tent, WaterAid banner atop the main stage or Oxfam volunteers wandering the site at any point over the weekend, you would have seen 5,000 happy campers enjoying themselves and not bemoaning the fact that Blissfields doesn’t mean anything. (your subconscious clearly got it and tried to send you a signal at the Akala set, when you wrote ‘…but the crowd loved it, and presumably that’s what counts here.’)
    On the topic of Akala, I’m sorry to hear that you were ‘confused’ by the sight of him rap songs like “Don’t piss me off” to rich kids. Let me help you out there; it’s called ‘irony’. Hard to miss if you’re not paying attention (again you were probably waiting for a more overtly political or social message), but I clearly saw the wry smile on his face (I had to pay attention as one of the photographers of this set) when he realised the irony.
    On the topic of Curxes giving ‘… some hugely needed power to the women at the festival..’ – did you not see Ibibio Sound Machine? Or Missill absolutely owning the Hidden Hedge. Or Mini Da Minx and Mairy miss Fairy closing the Hidden Hedge? Maybe the two Flo’s (Flo Morrisey on main stage, Floella Grace at the Larch) performing?
    Could there have been more women performers this year? maybe, but my feeling is that, unless it was someone like Skin, from Skunk Anansie, with a political message (you know, to give the festival some meaning), you still would not have been happy.
    There are other points in this article I’d love to pick up on, but this is supposed to be a ‘response’ and not an article in it’s own right, so I’ll just follow my grannys advice; (she used to say that if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all). I liked the ‘honesty’ in your article, and if you go next year, I’d be happy to walk around with you, re-applying much needed glitter when necessary, reminding you which festival you are at (so that your comments relate to the festival you’re attending, not the festival you clearly wished you were at), and providing a counter-point to your thoughts.

  5. I had been to Blissfields 3 years in a row n didn’t attend this year . I must mention I went three years in a row against my will . The reason I went is because my ex bought me a ticket!
    It’s not a totally bad festival but it is a bit wet , full of plastic ppl and does lack any real direction .Some of the bookings are pretty lame ,to be honest and I even vomited in my own mouth the other year when I watched some synthy teens who’d had a record in the hit parade.Theres loads of festivals out there and I’m sure there’s one for everybody.I WILL NEVER RETURN TO BLISSFIELDS…

  6. It’s crazy how offended people are in the comment section, a review is an opinion and people here getting personal is a validation of the author’s review. I don’t agree with all the points made by the author but the more I read your comments, the more I see her points.

    • Maybe we’re offended because we the audience are being reviewed here as well as the fest. I didnt sign up to be reviewed and don’t like certain assumptions being made as to who I am or what i stand for. this isnt a constructive review it’s an attack on a small event and the people that play there and go there. ANd that doesnt seem okay. Its like reviewing a foo fighters album and saying they’re shit cuz their fans are of a certain demographic and then wondering why their fans might be offended by that when reading it. This isnt a review of a festival it’s a cultural statement piece which has used Blissfields to prove a point at the expense of us lot in the crowd.

  7. The sad and disappointing thing here is the contrast between 2014’s review and 2015. I’ve been going and involved for four years and it hasn’t changed much! Clearly Blissfields isn’t your thing anymore thats fair enough, people and tastes change I suppose.

    There are festivals I wouldn’t want to go to because it’s not my crowd, style of music or generally my cup of tea. To those I would politely decline my press pass knowing that I wouldn’t enjoy it.

    To attack the class of the crowd seems wrong and shows a lack of class from the author. Especially when I see a diverse crowd that were having fun. I have no interest in rave and most of the dance music going on after midnight however I can still appreciate the atmosphere and enjoy seeing other people having fun.

    Genuinely all the best in your hunt for the cure to the black death. This festival clearly isn’t your cup of tea any more. Lee’s got the right idea, if it aint for you save your time and your money and spend it elsewhere.

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