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Reading Festival poster 2015

Work / Art + Music

Rob Alderson on why festival posters fill him with dread

During an elongated period of singledom, I developed a fairly acute understanding of the kind of things that are not ok to say on dates. The admission that I don’t really like music is very near the top of that list. That’s actually not quite true; I don’t actively dislike music, it’s just a cultural form that I don’t really engage with in any way, like Flemish theatre or zorbing.

Anyway this being so, festivals have always baffled me. Friends and colleagues have done their best to convince me that I’m wrong, with excitable anecdotes about how Unplugged in the Woods 2012 actually changed their life but still the whole gruesome idea of tents and crowds and bands I’ve never heard of fails to excite even cursory interest. And most of the time that’s ok; despite the odd social media frenzy about getting tickets or an accidental jaunt over to BBC3 to see Lauren Laverne interviewing Lethal Bizzle in a meadow, festivals don’t really impinge on my life.

“The bottom few rungs resemble that last set of letters the optician chucks into the end of an the eye-sight test to remind you who’s boss.”

Rob Alderson

Except, that is, the posters. They start to appear in Tube stations in mid-March, urban harbingers of impending summer. Despite myself I am drawn to them, intrigued by the mysteries they hold like those first baffled scholars poring over the Rosetta Stone. They’re always super bright – retina scarring greens and yellows – and often adorned with the a confusing mishmash of illustrated totems (stags and headphones and will.i.am). The text is usually set in an inverted pyramid with the HEADLINERS in large block capitals taking up an entire line at the top and then more and more people/bands/things I have never heard of crammed onto each line as you read downwards. The bottom few rungs resemble that last set of letters the optician chucks into the end of an the eye-sight test to remind you who’s boss.

“I don’t actively dislike music it’s just a cultural form that I don’t really engage with in any way, like Flemish theatre or zorbing.”

Rob Alderson

I feel bad because I don’t know who the top ones in big letters are, and I feel bad for those shoved down the bottom, who agonised over the perfect band name for years and now find themselves jostling for space, sometimes in the undignified realm of the non musical attractions like the Alex James Curd Workshop. If reading the poster is so overwhelming, what must it actually be like to go there and find yourself having to make cut-throat decisions between stages and tents and chill-out zones and comedy and new talent and Alex sodding James and his sodding curd workshop?

There’s other perplexing subtleties too – the name of an artist with “DJ Set” in brackets afterwards, an oddly apologetic qualifier that suggests that this bloke/woman/band aren’t even going to play any music, just flick through their Spotify as it’s linked up to some speakers.

As we spool into spring the posters proliferate, and I feel dull and unadventurous because none of them even sound like fun. Assaulted by their gaudy provocations, I’m back to being 13 again, feigning interest in who did what to whom round the back of the tennis club when all I really want to do is go home and read. I am Mark in a Jez-dominated culture, and these posters speak very directly to my sense of mis-place. Still, Chance The Rapper is at Wireless this summer so maybe things aren’t all that bad…