Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Hard Rock Calling at the Olympic Park, 29th July 2013

It's like being in a butcher's window.  The sun beats mercilessly down on the shadeless Olympic Park.  You lie on a sheet of bristly green plastic glass, baking slowly - sweating with nowhere to go.  The arena is essentially one gigantic, dusty car park covered in fake grass.  Surrounding it are stalls selling expensive junk food, enormous queues for both the toilet and beer snaking this way and that around the arena.  It was an hour and a half queue at one point for a £5 pint of warm Tuborg.  Glastonbury it ain't.

With a rather lacklustre line-up, the main attraction for me was finally getting a chance to see inside the Olympic Park.  This is supposed to be the big new public venue in London; and the authorities involved are desperate that it doesn't turn into a white elephant.   So, 'Hard Rock Calling' is the first large-scale event to take place here since the Olympics.  It's had a lot to prove.

First impressions aren't great.  There's a barren, sun-blasted death march from Westfield to get in.  It's maybe a mile all told, walking down sandy, dusty bleached out roadways, past building sites and snaking around the arena itself.  It's dispiriting to already be tired and sweaty, and then glimpse a sign off far away in the distance welcoming you to the festival.  But march it we must, and with any party spirit rapidly melting away we trudge onwards.

Inside it quickly becomes apparent that this festival just isn't going to work  This place is just too big.  There's too many people here, too much space and too few facilities.  Walking between the main stage and second largest 'Pepsi Max' stage involved a 10 minute walk down yet another long, dusty, wide open trail plastered with glossy pictures of The Killers.   Wandering around these vast, open spaces gets to you, making you feel more tired than you probably are, and even worse, you're not allowed into the pleasant-looking leafy areas to relax.   Eventually I just found a corner of the fake grass and sat there, happy enough to take in everything from where I was sitting.

So big.  So hot.  So flat.
As for the music? Well it's worth asking what the hell 'Hard Rock' is even supposed to be.   Seems like a pretty nebulous concept to me, though judging by the line-up it's apparently white men playing middle of the road guitar music.  While I don't think any artists were notably bad, the whole thing reeks of musical homogeneity.  Maybe I've reached a point in my life where the same old chord progressions and guitar riffs just aren't doing it for me any more.  Give me weird synths, angry lady rappers and warped samples.

So most of what was on ends up as the musical equivalent of gruel; low calorie, unnutritious cliched dreck - the kind of music you expect to hear on the soundtrack of Top Gear.  Any one of these bands might would have pushed my buttons if I'd seen them play a solo gig, but taken together it all melts into a sludgy, samey mess.  

Compounding this is that practically every performer here is a white male.  Working from the Saturday artist line-up photographs from the official site, I count 98 people.  Of these 98, there's but six women scattered across various bands (and not a single one on the main stage). Of these 98 musicians, there is one person of colour.  I'm not saying that this tells you anything about the quality of the bands, but perhaps it says something about the mindset of those organising this event, or the type of person they expect to attract.

Maybe I should give them the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe a festival organised around the concept of 'Hard Rock' will inevitably attract very similar musicians.  Maybe this crappy lineup is more the a symptom of a myopic music industry.  Maybe all the bands they would have liked to have booked were at Glastonbury?  Excuses excuses...

The upshot is that for the majority of the day I was bored by the music, bored by the endless queuing for beer, bored by queuing for the toilet and driven senseless by the omnipresent advertising.  To add insult to injury they even played trailers for the despicable The Internship in between sets.  At about 9pm I was a bit cheesed off and just wanted to get out of there.  I've never been a huge fan of Kasabian, and figured my time could be better spent catching a tube home.

Fortunately (and surprisingly considering how the rest of the day had gone) Kasabian were actually kind of great.  It was like they were playing through a different sound system to every other band - everything sounding crisper and most importantly, louder.  Kasabian probably never will be my kind of band, but they certainly know how to play to a big crowd.  They took full advantage of the enormous video screen behind them and had an excellent light show.  They closed the show with 'Fire', with the effect that I walked out of there in a relatively OK mood.  If it wasn't for them the day would have been a total wash.

But even with Kasabian being head and shoulders above everyone else, this was, quite simply, a pretty crappy music festival.  Rubbing salt into the wound was that a scant few hundred miles away, Glastonbury was in full swing.  Being here just made me wish I was there.

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