The events at Latitude and T in the Park have given a sharp focus to the seemingly universal myopia which inflicts us when we think about festivals. I have been attending music festivals around the UK for almost 20 years and although I have never seen the kind of violence attributed to the aforementioned events, considering the factors involved in ‘enjoying’ the festival experience that is an absolute miracle. ‘What factors’ you may ask? Alcohol and drugs are the factors I am referring to. Alcohol related violent crimes can be as high as 46 for every 1000 drinkers in parts of the UK* so it is only for reasons unstated that violent crimes are not more prevalent at festivals, where sometimes hundreds of thousands of people get completely wasted using a variety of substances and don’t feel the need to fight, burn, rape or steal.   Now I am not going to cite anecdotal evidence to you, I can relate my experiences first hand, so I am well aware of the amounts and types of consumption involved in a weekend at a music festival. My friends and fellow festival travellers make up a wide demographic of people from all over the UK. I have been to festivals in a variety of locations across the country. The only thing that could possibly hamper any scientifically empirical conclusions I could reach would be the fact that I have spent a large proportion of my time at festivals impaired by a variety of chemical substances which I ingested as part of my (the?) festival norm. However, I feel the fact that I am now a confirmed drug-free and teetotal festival attendee gives me a unique insight into the (murky?) world of the great British music and arts festival.   So let’s start by saying why we should not be shocked that violent acts are committed at music festivals. I think back to a particularly wet Sunday at T in the Park during the late 90’s. My friends and their girlfriends had driven to a local village from the site to have a nice breakfast on the Sunday morning, taking both mine and my friends tents with them. We had been forced to sleep in the car park on the Saturday night so this was a gamble we knew we had to take but their was no room in the car for us so we had little choice. While they were all having a lovely hot breakfast the heavens opened above the site and Brian (the names have been changed) and I were stranded with no shelter and no wet weather clothing. All we had to protect us from the elements were 24 cans of Kronenberg, 2 bottles of cider and a bottle of amyl nitrate. We were not the only people who had no tent and were trapped outside the main festival site and as the downpour entered it’s second hour we hoped security may relent and let the thousands of wet, cold festival goers- all of us with access wrist bands- into one of the empty dance tents to shelter. Not a bit of it. So we shivered in the rain and got completely wasted. By the time my friends had driven back from breakfast Brian and I had only 10 cans of lager and half a bottle of cider remaining. We were freezing cold, completely pissed, mentally drained and the site wasn’t even opened yet. As you can imagine, what followed was a hedonistic rampage of epic proportions. I feel particularly sorry for anyone in our vicinity trying to enjoy Gene’s set on that fateful Sunday as a combination of amyl and Martin Rossiter’s resemblance to a lad from Essex we knew meant that the lyrics to ‘Fighting Fit’ and ‘Olympian’ were drowned out by cries of, ‘FUCKING HELL IT’S PHIL THE MOTOR!!! PHIL!! PHHIIIIIIIIILLLLLLLL’. Incidentally, nobody said a word to us. If you had seen the look in my eyes, you would know why too. On the point above where I mention how the organisers failed to help our situation I would say that by not helping people they were actually putting our health at risk. We could see from the entrance to the main festival site that the dance tent was empty. The stage was still being set up but no-one was using the space in front of the stage. In other words, the only activity going on in the tent at that time was the usual activity which takes place between performers set’s. There was an hour to go before the gates officially opened, someone should have opened the gates earlier to give punters access to shelter. By not taking any action I am pretty convinced the stewards and organisers were being criminally negligent. At least, that is what I was thinking at the time with my anger fuelled by an empty stomach, lack of sleep and high levels of alcohol. What a dangerous combination? I bet I wasn’t the only one standing in the rain thinking the exact same thing.   Another of these types of situation occurred at the Homelands festival I attended in 2001 (possibly?). I had attended with a large group of friends but travelled to the site in Ayrshire with my girlfriend at the time. It was on the 1st of June, a date forever etched in my memory because it snowed that night. In Scotland. In June. The snow didn’t last for long before turning to sleet then a bitingly cold downpour. We experienced all of this weather while standing in the queue for the busses leaving from the site in the early morning. Of course there shouldn’t have been a queue because the festival coaches were leaving the site at 15 minute intervals. It said so on the festival flyers and on the festival website. Only they weren’t. We could see all the coaches parked on a hill. They were NOT moving. We waited an hour and a half for the first coach to drive the 200 yards from where they were parked to where we were waiting. It appears the organisers had been caught unawares by the thousands of people who decided that being at an outdoor festival while it was snowing was NOT a good idea! Despite the fact all the festival literature had described coaches leaving the site at ‘15 minute intervals from 11:30pm’, the organisers clearly were only prepared for people leaving from much later. As you can imagine, thousands of chemically unbalanced party animals trapped in a field wearing too little clothing and being exposed to the elements was a recipe for disaster.   I realise it may seem from these examples that I blame the recent violence at festivals squarely with the organisers but this is not the case. I am merely highlighting how dangerous external factors can influence the collective thinking where groups of mentally and physically vulnerable people are involved. Festival attendees drink and drug consumption is far and away the most dangerous factor when trying to figure out why violence can flare up at otherwise peaceful events.   I used to have a fairly consistent festival carry out which consisted 1x bottle Rum, 1x bottle Gin, 1x 1.5 Litre Vodka, 24 lagers and various uppers. Sometimes I would also take some psychedelics (either mushrooms or LSD). Some people reading this will think it is an outrageous amount of chemicals to be taking at a festival, other people will probably think I am as rock n roll as the tooth fairy, and no I am not talking about Alan Carr.   I know festival goers who usually take a lot less than I used to and I also know people who take a lot more. I took this amount because it was light enough to carry and would guarantee I was wasted for the entire 4 days with enough vodka left over to get me home on the Monday. I know people who go to festival’s with almost no alcohol at all but will think nothing of taking ten ecstasy tablets per day along with a couple of grams of cocaine and an ounce of grass. I know people who only ingest herbal or naturally occurring chemicals so they will smoke strong weed and ingest mushrooms or peyote. I know people who don’t take anything to festivals in order to just see what happens when they get there! This mainly involves looking for the most wasted people at the festival and attempting to buy some of whatever they are taking, a lucky dip approach if you will! The long and the short of it is I know a lot of people who go to festivals and I know a lot of what they take. It occurs to me that I am the only person I know who now goes to festivals and doesn’t use some form of mind altering substance. Obviously I am not the only person in the UK who is straight at festivals, I am just the only straight one from my extended group of friends.     I made the choice a couple of years ago to stop taking drugs and to quit drinking and as anyone who knows me will testify, it was a very good decision. However, I accept that I am in the minority, particularly in the west of Scotland. Being teetotal is highly unusual and at times it seems that not drinking to incredible excess is rarer than a premiership footballer driving under 70mph. So this being the case look at our streets every night of the week? And if the tabloids are correct then we are suffering from an unholy, yob-led, crime wave driven by drink and drug fuelled binges. Surely that is what a festival is? A communal drink and drug-fuelled binge with a wicked soundtrack and, for the most part, rather lousy weather?   Compare the crime figures I mentioned earlier to the amount of people attending a festival and it should mean that at T in the Park there will be an average of 2760 violent crimes committed per day. That rises to 4140 for the larger Glastonbury festival! Those types of figures are enough to make your average Daily Mail reader march on Westminster with pitchforks and torches at the ready. Yet look at the actual crime figures? Lothian and borders police received less than 50 complaints from festival goers for the whole weekend. On the Friday there were 26 arrests in total, mainly because the police adopted a ‘zero-tolerance approach’ to drug taking. None of the arrests related to violent behaviour. *   For Glastonbury the figures are even more astonishing with a total number of 393 complaints and the vast majority of these relating to theft.*   Now none of this makes sense. How can hundreds of thousands of people congregate in close proximity to each other in various states of mental and psychological imbalance and NOT go on a violent rampage when the crime statistics indicate that they should?   Well, maybe people are just a lot nicer than we all sometimes believe. I know that there are many reasons for people attending festivals- some for the music, some for the banter with friends, some just to get completely wasted. The fact it is almost impossible to get into festivals without a rather expensive ticket these days means that the amount of people who are willing to go to a festival in order to cause trouble must be very small indeed.   So this brings us to Latitude and T in the Park. Two rapes, sexual assaults, attempted murder. I admit it doesn’t look good, but these appear to have been crimes of opportunity. Crimes fuelled in part by sickening mob-mentality and no doubt lots and lots of chemicals. They are as heartbreaking for the victims as they are inevitable in a society where such crimes take place on an almost daily basis. But, and here’s the kicker, statistically these crimes are anomalous for being so rare at festivals, not for occurring in the first place. Now the worry is that rape in particular may actually be more commonplace but has went unreported in the past, however the fact the crimes took place highlights for me not the fact that festivals are unsafe, but rather they seem miraculously safe when compared to your average Saturday night out in town centres up and down the UK. According to Home Office figures * reported rape figures can be as high as 1 for every 5000 people in England and Wales. In light of this it seems there is an inevitability about what happened. As a society we need to look at why rape occurs and what can be done to help prevent these disgusting crimes from repeating themselves. We must not focus on what happens at festivals while doing nothing about the wider implications of our collective behaviour.         Written by Sean McCann
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Institute of Alcohol Studies (http://www.ias.org.uk/resources/factsheets/crime_disorder.pdf ) T In The Park Reported Crimes (http://news.stv.tv/scotland/186313-t-in-the-park-revellers-weather-out-music-festival/) Glastonbury Crime Figures (http://www.gigwise.com/news/57112/Glastonbury-2010-Crime-Levels-Drop-For-The-Second-Year-Running Home Office Rape Figures (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/cumbria/4789919.stm )