David and Goliath: Space2B Festival or F1?

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Words Mantis Kane

Image: Robert Scholten

Glastonbury Festival is one of the world’s most coveted events. It’s a great privilege to be part of, in any capacity, from steward to headliner.  There are several reasons it’s held in such high regard: its longevity (47 years), family run (Eavis’s), the diverse lineup (Radiohead to Rolf Harris), the performance artists (Rolf Harris), the spiritualism (healing field) or its three-day self-governed Neo-Pagan society, sanctioning anything from nakedness to drugs to Rolf Harris…

But something else lurks beneath the surface, something that defines it from other large festivals: The absence of corporate on-site sponsors.

At Glastonbury, you won’t see towering billboards and digitised placards promoting anything as incongruent as mobile phones to insurance policies. The Festival is an outlier in this world – a rare counterpoint, giving full attention to the performers. The only banner space is allocated to charities and worthwhile causes.

In spite of its success, Glastonbury Festival has maintained an underlying integrity. Since its inception over 47 years ago, they’ve shunned the nascent advertising model, avoiding the usual barrage of gratuitous ads that blare louder than the sound systems themselves. They do have some corporate sponsors, but keep them curtailed to strict criteria, preserving the Festival’s essence. Steering clear of the full-blown marketing onslaught distinguishes them from the shopping mall ambience of other, less scrupulous events. Even as a fledgeling festival in the 60’s, the Eavis’s had the bravery to call the shots; fervently aware of over-commercialising this sacred art form.

Unfortunately, this approach is uncommon. Where there are large gatherings, corporate vultures circle, smelling an opportunity to swoop and commodify. Be it sports, music, arts, education or even nature – if there’s enough heat, then it’s fair game for the merchandising juggernaut to roll in. The kind of money thrown on the table by corporate sponsors is irresistible for any organiser who isn’t a full-blown Marxist. The proposition of growing exponentially is too juicy – the compromise of authenticity for funding is sadly a no-brainer.

Take the Australian Open. Once a backwater tournament for tennis people, it has been steroidally optimised over the years to become the ‘highest attended Grand Slam’, resembling some strange amusement park. The bombardment of corporate activity has shifted priorities. Just listen to the excruciating final speeches to hear how deferential the players are to the backers. Everything’s orchestrated around the sponsor’s wishes – the Rolex watches being strapped on before post-match interviews, the Las Vegas-style 3D branded graphics, the maze of clever activations around the ground, the bands (paid for by a global drinks company). Sell, sell, sell. Full throttle consumerism in motion. They know our guards are down, primed for blind consumption. Nowadays the Australian Open is foremost an advertising platform, with a tennis sideshow, but ingeniously repackaged.

This month, the Grand Prix rolls into town. The ultimate endorsement platform – a marketers wet dream, representing the very apex of sporting commercialisation. Ostensibly a car race, the F1 is presented as the summit of engineering prowess and driving talent, but undulating just below the surface is a carpet bomb of luxury good adverts and frenzied sponsorship webs. A masterclass in sporting commodification – no bonnet, flyover or helmet spared the corporate war paint.

So what’s the problem – surely a massively branded event is worth the aesthetic trade-off to reap a wider audience? It’s bums on seats at the end of the day, right? Especially the F1, which creates a rich eco-system and annual payday for contractors, caterers and media to thrive upon. Why shoot the golden goose?   

But at what cost?

Should we be so passive, or take stock of the noise and look what we’re really supporting? A disruptive, loud, marketing volcano that epitomises the entwined and warped relationship between entertainment and commerce. This apparent synergy is so ingrained that we rarely question it. Do we really need events of this size and expense? We’re led to believe so. (The Melbourne Grand Prix reportedly costs the Victorian taxpayer a whopping $60million, with negligible economic benefits). But keeping up with our global Joneses has stung us with a size complex, instilled with bigger-is-better thinking, vanity statistics and turnstile records. Amidst the mass assault of the senses, our reason for attending gets obscured, as we morph from fans to consumers. How many people have visited the Melbourne Cup and never seen a horse… (me, for one). We invariably leave these events disorientated, drained, drunk, with a strange goodie bag of branded USB sticks, perfume, app tokens and miniature energy drinks. Yet, more damaging is the fact that we may have overlooked a smaller, more local grassroots event that falls on the same date.

It’s for this reason, that on 25th March we shall be attending the Space2B Laneway Festival in Balaclava.  An event designed to celebrate cultural diversity within new local migrant and refugee communities. It has received an allowance from the council and is purely run by volunteers. There’ll be no supersonic cars, corporate tents, A380 flyovers or mega bands – rather, ethnic food from Somalia, Iran and Afghanistan. African music, plus art and artefacts from many cultures, including Iraq, India and indigenous Australia.

In co-ordinator Vicki Premkumar’s own words, “I hope the Laneway Festival will encourage curiosity about ‘the other’ through conversations; acceptance that we are humanly all the same; and people showing respect to cultural uniqueness, which is what makes us proud to share our languages, food, music and art”.

We guarantee you’ll leave with a different feeling, not brain-thumped by some rolling corporate ticker-tape, but rather the sweet feeling of supporting a wholesome cause.

Chose karma over cars.

Festival info:

25th March

Laneway Festival

Further details: Space2B founder, Janine Lawrie –  0413678144

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