Sex and Drugs, Not Rock and Roll: Why Do We Go To Festivals?

Do we enjoy hovering in claustrophobic portaloos fearing drunkards insistent on re-enacting scenes from Jackass (you know the one) whilst singeing the inner recesses of our nasal passages by placing ourselves in close proximity to expelled waste of complete strangers who have eaten solely burgers and consumed warm beer for four days straight? I’d quite confidently say no on behalf of everyone. So who and why is paying anything from £100-200 for the privilege.

Year upon year I find myself resigning to lacklustre line-ups to embark on my summer of festivals in lieu of absent holidays; personally I don the wellies and backpack in search of escapism, the ability to walk around in a onesie unjudged and spending time with often neglected friends.

The atmosphere at festivals is undeniable – normal rules don’t apply. Expect to be ambushed by ‘free hug’-gers, witness close-ups of mankinis and their contents, complete widespread disregard of personal hygiene and carnivalesque subversion of most unspoken social precepts. But, it seems that the lure of undertaking what we would usually define as clandestine activities it what drives the crowds to the fields.

A recent survey by MSN for NME found that of the 2,000 polled, only 45% claimed that live music was the biggest reason for their attendance. Instead, a whopping 47% said they used the event as an opportunity to do things they would never otherwise consider outside of a festival environment; for 21% it was drugs (that’s why they’re wearing sunglasses in their Instagram pictures even though it’s raining), 25% had sex with strangers (hello herpes) and 13% found an excuse to fight.

Now, these sound like the perfect statistics to add to manifestos about depraved and misbehaving youth; but there’s something – quite unexpected – that is changing our experience of festivals. The demographic is shifting. A second survey by MSN discovered that 60% of 18-24 year olds can’t afford the price of UK festivals that typically skyrocket to £423 for a muddy week. Consequently. the average age of punters now lies at 36. We are partying alongside parents. And, they are doing the same things we are… apparently.

Nightmares have been confirmed, as 9% of middle aged (45-54) respondents admitted to taking drugs, 10% claimed to have participated in sexual encounters with new ‘friends’ and a 1/5 to heavy drinking.

It’s safe to say a chunk of these percentages are bravado and laddish bragging (c’mon, we all know the rule, double your number of conquests and add one), but organisers have stuck to adding classic rock-ers and golden oldies to line-ups across the country instead of risking new artists in the somewhat stale music industry. Of all major festivals this year, Mumford and Sons are the only band to have released a debut album in the last five years.

It would appear that the anonymity of crowds inspires changed behaviour in festival-goers – something we already knew – but has it become so ingrained in festival culture that it is now inseparable?

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