Festivals without cash? Are we all bound for hell in a handcart? Keith Goldhanger reports for Louder Than War.

Last weekend we stood, danced and laughed our way through another Standon Calling festival. A festival that you can read our review of here.

However this was a different experience for a lot of us as this was a “cashless” festival. A system that we’ve read about before where you don’t buy food or beer with cash but with credits (Sterling credits so no mathematics involved thankfully). These are topped up on site and are added to a chip onto the individual,s entry wristband.

It works like this….

You queue up at a portacabin, hand over some money (any amount) and bleep ! ..you’re told that this is the amount you have available to spend until you run out and have to revisit the same spot to top up. When you purchase something you wave the wristband in front of a small electronic device , it bleeps and the stallholder says “thank you” and goes on to serve the next person. If you ask politely at they’ll tell you how much you still have available on the chip to spend before needing to top up.

Welcome to the world of cashless festivals.

It’s very unnerving to begin with.

“How am I to know that I hadn’t just paid thirty quid for bottle of water?”

I screamed out loud and “What’s wrong with the Queens’ pound that we’ve used before without problems?”

“It sucks!” We cried,

“We’ll get ripped off”.

We moaned that “we’ll end up probably purchasing twice as many beers even though we haven’t drunk the amount we’ve actually paid for but not checked because we’re all too pissed at two o’clock in the morning to notice”.

We spoke about this with unease over the weekend.

We tried to work out the pros against the cons and the advantages of this always seemed to be about equal to the disadvantages (so why the change?).

 

On the whole it worked quite well however, there was one time over the weekend when, after queuing up to 20 minutes for some food the machine broke down. It needed rebooting (I didn’t hang around) and I paid by cash (luckily had a fiver in my pocket still) just to get away.

We then worried about this happening more.

Which it didn’t.

We worried that if it did all keep breaking down (which it didn’t) what would happen next?

What if all our credits disappeared (that didn’t happen either) and who do we argue this out with once we believed this has happened (and had no proof that we were in the right)?.

It was an uneasy experience for some.

Mothers couldn’t just throw little Billy a fiver to go and get some ice cream. They had to go themselves unless little Billy had credit on this wrist too. You couldn’t just ask a mate to grab a bottle of water whilst they were off to the bar without working out how to pay them back.

One or two people queued for 20 minutes for food only to have the embarrassment of not having enough credit on their chip to pay for their dinner. Stall holders wouldn’t know whether they were having a roaring weekend because they didn’t know what their takings were and everything was based on trust, as well as a computer print out that someone somewhere would read and tell the stall holders how it all went at a later date.

OK, so there was no one having a sleepless night knowing that they had thirty grand stuffed in the glove compartment of their vans and bar staff had less walking backwards and forwards to do as no one received any change. Punters didn’t have to worry about losing their wallets in a puddle and any staff behind the stalls with light fingers had nothing to pocket.

But was this necessary and is this the future of UK festivals ?

If this system was being used as an experiment then it’s hats off to Standon Calling for being the perfect festival to give it a go. It’s the people that make a festival work and it’s a good place to begin. If this is how we see Glastonbury in five years time then a few questions still need answering. How much does this software cost? How much does the hardware cost? Who forked out for all of this? What happens when it stops working?

Where do we go to complain that the ice cream we bought four hours earlier cost thirty five quid and what happens to those people at the end of the weekend who suddenly got offered a lift home and woke up in their own beds the following morning with a wrist band that they can’t use again that has fifty quid worth of credit still on it?

 

We’ve seen systems at other festivals where you queue up to buy a beer token before buying a beer but this weekend we had no hard currency at all, just a bleep and a nod and complete trust in what was happening.
Which is fine at a five thousand capacity Standon Calling but will it be fine with ten times that amount of people or even fifty times that amount of people? Are we seeing problems being cultivated that didn’t previously exist or are we seeing solutions to problems that us punters are unaware of?

We’re you at the festival this weekend? How did you find it?

Was it a terrible idea that was thrust upon you without much warning or is this a simple receipt on a piece of paper (every time you buy something) away from a perfect , easy way to conduct transactions at festivals in the middle of nowhere ?

And who’s in charge of all this ?

We need answers.

 

Details of Standon Calling 2014 can be found at the website and at the festival is on Facebook and Twitter.

All words by Keith Goldhanger. More work by Keith on Louder Than War can be found here.

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Keith Goldhanger
Keith Goldhanger -- Spent the 90's as a frontman with London noisemerchants HEADBUTT - spent the 80's in "Peel favourites" BASTARD KESTREL. Spent a few years mashing up tunes and remixing bands as HIDEOUS WHEEL INVENTION. Is often out and about getting in the way of things and bumping his head on low ceilings - drinks real ale, takes photo's has made a few short films. Will give your band the time of day but will dislike any band that balances full pints of alcohol on the top of guitar amps (Not keen on lead singers that wear hats either).

5 COMMENTS

  1. I was definitely sceptical of the cashless system ahead of Standon Calling, and worried with friends, “why are they doing this?” and “they must accept legal cash tender”. I had a privileged viewpoint at the festival as I worked on two bars, and then enjoyed the festival around my shifts. From both perspectives I think the system was a resounding success – no working out change, no drunk people claiming the dirty fiver shoved in your hand was actually a crisp twenty, no hands in the till and overall very few complaints. I experienced the system melt-down only twice – and it was a shambles, but resolved within 10 minutes each time. I’m not sure this system would work at a larger festival where the top-up cabins would need to be dotted around the site, and the IT team fixing problems would need to be available immediately – but at a smaller festival it worked well and I disagree that a few cashless tablets speeding up the system amounts to ‘the man’, a view expressed by a couple of technophobes on site.

  2. These ‘wristbands’ will also monitor your movement within the Festival site. Collect information regarding where you went, how much you spent. It’s another case of data collection – that is quickly controlling everything we do. Beware.

  3. Festivals are actually following the lead of other businesses, including the airline industry in going cashless. Remember the days when you would hand the flight attendant a fiver for a drink or a bag of Pringles? Flight attendants were converted into mini-banks running back and forth making change, which was accurate..or maybe not. Once the flight attendant forgot to give me my change and the last thing I wanted to do was raise an issue about it rather than get off that plane. Anyway, I think festivals going cashless is a great idea for a myriad of reasons.

  4. “These ‘wristbands’ will also monitor your movement within the Festival site.”

    …. a good point.
    Why where security insisting on scanning everyone in and out of the site? (the campervan field was outside the site) but not bothering after 11pm? I’m not trying to criticise this system but to learn and discuss what was gained by using this system which by a lot of peoples feedback has actually been rather positive so far. But what are the disadvantages and what are the advantages. If we can debate this as punters and organisers we can all learn something now before it get’s used on a much larger scale (if indeed this is the long term plan)

    K x

  5. Hi, I work on the selling side of things and think it is a system to benefit the organisers…they can then see what the traders are taking and gleen a percentage. This could help traders though, if they don’t have a good weekend they haven’t lost a huge pitch fee…
    On the big brother side of things it will end the days of working “cash in hand”. .. the wages will have to be paid electronically!

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