Savages’ Jehnny Beth Rails Against Rock Festivals’ Class System

As maybe the most exciting new rock band to come along last year, Savages played a busy festival-based touring schedule last year. And since this is a committed and ideological band, and since the whole festival system has some seriously deep problems, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that frontwoman Jehnny Beth has some problems with festivals as they currently exist. Her big issue, it seems, is the tiered pricing system that exists at some festivals, wherein people have to pay more to get closer to the stage.

In a new post on her Tumblr, Beth writes about two recent experiences: Going to see Soundgarden opening for Black Sabbath in London and playing a Turkish festival with Portishead. At both shows, Beth saw security and pricing systems that severely fucked up the vibe of the shows. Here’s what she writes:

It’s been 20 years since the release of Soundgarden’s best album ‘Superunknown’, and I only discovered it this year! I recently revisited all the big ’90s records after I realised I sadly missed that step in my teenage years. Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Mad Seasons, Faith no More… I love it all. So in the course of a few months I went through the process of becoming a fan of Soundgarden and seeing them live in Hyde Park. Despite the amazing good-looking-health of Chris Cornell and the quality of the show (as well as my teenage excitement), something else caught my attention. As I ran through the park to get to the front as soon as I heard ‘Mailman’, I suddenly got stopped by a huge barrier and a line of security. The stage was still miles away and there was a big gap in front of us. What are these people doing here? I asked. “You need a VIP pass to be able to access the next area”. I had a VIP pass so I went through, but soon I got stopped by another barrier: “You need a press badge to access the front of the stage”. I was still rather close but as I looked behind me, the absurdity of the situation was suddenly clear to me: a system of class applied to a rock festival, a capitalist attitude when music should be for everyone. What a sick idea. Later I was told the people standing at the very back paid around £90 for their tickets and all they were able to see was Ozzy on a big screen. As I walk my way back later on, I see a few young men breaking through the first barrier, running towards the stage, while a man in his ’40s is neutralised on the floor by five security men. The crowd claps and cheers, the young men escaping. I start shouting encouragingly at people that they should do the same but they seem to prefer sticking to the rules.

Last week we played a show in Istanbul with Portishead for a festival called ‘Midtown’. As soon as we set up for soundcheck I realise we have to deal with the same problem. They segmented the crowd in 3 categories with metal barriers to sell more expensive premium tickets to the front rows. This policy resulted in all the Turkish support bands having no one to play to, because the cool kids who arrived early, with less money but lots of love for music, had to stand at the back. Later Geoff Barrow tells me he was very disappointed by this attitude. Him and his team tried all afternoon to have the barriers removed, with no success. The promoter, Live Nation, didn’t see fit to do anything about it. Of course, why would they…

I am deeply saddened and angry that we let these kind of things happen. Rock music is here to bring people together, rich and poor, young and old. Don’t let the fuckers make you pay more for a decent spot in the field.

So what do you think? Is it fair to charge more at a festival for a better spot on the field? And how awesome is it that Beth is only just discovering early-’90s alt-rock? Is the next Savages album going to sound like Mudhoney?