Birth of a Subculture; Death of the Music Festival
In Birth of Tragedy, Friedriche Nietzsche characterizes ancient Greek Dionysian festivals to be “centered in extravagant licentiousness…[where] the most savage natural instincts were unleashed” (Nietzsche 39). Music, orgies, excess drinking, and indulgences thrived during these fests. Ancient Greek sects craved these festivals and counted down the days until they could partake in the debauchery (Nietzsche 39). We would like to believe that appalling acts such as those prevalent at Dionysian festivals are a thing of the past – that human kind has evolved beyond creating events to encourage submission to immoral desires. In reality these festivals not only still exist, but have been commercialized and accepted by society in the form of music festivals. Today’s music festival subculture share the Ancient Greek’s licentiousness, birthing a counterculture with a false sense of ideological solution forged by the zeal of big business. These modern festivals subsequently destroy the values in the music festival.
In a society dominated by commercialism and Social Darwinism, the desire by many to escape these ideologies is achieved through many different routes. However, the rise in music festival attendance suggests that music festivals are the most effective withdrawal. With the creation of Lollapalooza, Coachella, Sasquatch, Pitchfork, Bonnaroo, Wakarusa, South by Southwest, and thousands of local festivals, yearly music festivals are becoming bigger and more popular. These festivals promote a collective subculture that encourages free expression in art, music, drugs, clothing, dance, and in every daily activity; an almost dream-like environment is created where anything seems possible. People dress up as anything from mushrooms to gypsies, paint themselves with random lines and colors, or wear as little or as much clothes as possible. This random “uniform” adorned by music festival patrons is vital to understanding the core values of the festival subculture: freedom. Much like anarchist punk movement, they reject rules, social norms, and social standards. But, they are different in that they do not seek chaos and destruction. They instead desire to live in harmony. What these people are aspiring for is a world of absolute freedom; they want to live where anyone can do anything they desire without judgment, or consequence. This absolute freedom is what festival goers are searching for in their daily lives because it’s their basis for a desired equality among people. People go to these festivals to feel this equality in freedom and be surrounded by others who share their aspirations; “It thus becomes an ‘emotional framework’ within which people construct their ‘Identity’” (Packer and Ballentyne 169). This identity of the subculture is rooted in personal freedom. The expression of oneself without influence from others is what the subculture takes from the musical festival experience. As a subject of interview in a study done on the impact of music festival attendance on social well-being put it: “I go to these festivals I guess primarily for the atmosphere on top of the music” (Packer and Ballentyne 168). Although music is central in the creation of the festival, in reality the musical aspect of the music festival has become less and less important as more people subscribe to the subculture as their mode of liberation from society’s influence. This is even more evident with festivals like Burning Man which features no music at all. This “take it or leave it” attitude by the subculture towards music is what deceives the music festival of its founding values. The loss of music’s importance to the festival renders it pointless as its role in uniting people through the spiritual mystique of music. Music’s indefinable humanistic quality is vitally important to music festivals, and the loss of this active listening subconsciously employs...
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