The nights are drawing in and, after a summer of huge events, I spent last week at more minimalist affairs.
I saw out the festival season at Gunnersville, a new event in West London from Festival Republic. It had great weather, a lovely location, a cracking bill… And not much else.
A single stage and just seven well-curated bands, no literary tent or funfair or jugglers, and none the worse for it. Freed of FOMO about what was going on on other stages, the sold-out crowd came, ate some tasty street food, rocked out to You Me At Six, Jimmy Eat World and Deaf Havana, and went home every bit as happy as if they’d been surrounded by art installations and stilt-walkers.
I also travelled to Paris to see Taylor Swift’s live return, in which the stadium-conquering Reputation era was replaced with a more stripped-back approach, in keeping with Lover’s more intimate charms. Seeing Swift play her songs solo on acoustic guitar or piano, or with her band, put the focus on just what a brilliant songwriter she is. The crowd, meanwhile, went every bit as hysterical as they did when she was flying above them, pursued by a giant inflatable snake.
When I first starting going to festivals, they generally consisted of a single stage, a beer tent and a couple of burger vans. No one wants to go back to those days, and that now they come with bells, whistles and a poetry slam attached is certainly welcome in terms of consumer choice. But all that can also serve as a distraction from what should be the main event: the music, while the proliferation of stages and artists on the bill can make achieving cut-through harder than ever.
Even on the recorded side, albums have become ever-longer and littered with collaborations to the extent that the artist’s original vision is, at best, diluted and, at worst, lost. Longer records are also more effective for racking up the all-important streaming numbers, of course, but are albums with 20 or 24 tracks really better than those with 10 or 12? Or just bigger?
Of course, music has more to compete with these days and the urge to level the playing field with the occasionally flashier charms of film, TV, gaming and social media is understandable. But the reason music generally means more to people than those other entertainment sectors is because of the direct connection it offers to fans.
Lose that, and you risk losing everything. Because, as Gunnersville and Taylor Swift have shown us, sometimes a little less really can mean a lot more.
(PHOTO: Dave Hogan)