I went to Nottingham's Riverside Festival today, and it was astounding. Not just from the number of individuals present — from all walks of life — but from the talent that it demonstrated.
To put things into context, the Riverside Festival is a free, city council-run event that shows up every year along the riverbank at the start of August, featuring the standard funfair pieces, introducing slick, well-run and reasonably-priced licensed waterside bars (and that's hard to find at big events) and, above all, entertaining with some pretty quality music.
It's a multi-day event but, for the first time since setting foot in town six years ago, I decided to show my face on Saturday afternoon. My main target was the Monument Stage for an hour-long set by Maniere Des Bohemiens, a hauntingly talented group who will prance around on stage and fill your soul with Gypsy Jazz by means of several guitars, a clarinet, a violin and some brilliant percussion. This evening they also brought on stage a rather sensual Russian vocalist who served to complement the line-up and make the entire experience even more special.
I've wanted to see them live for years.
Then, having failed to find anything else to do with my Saturday evening (woah betide me, et cetera), I decided to stick around and give a chance to the next group to grace the Memorial Stage. That was Fat Digester who, for the ensuing hour or so, transformed my week completely with just the most amazing wall of sound I've ever heard. Blending soul and rock, this group had several hundred people swaying from side to side by the River Trent as a triple rainbow hung ominously overhead.
Do I mean Fat Digester? Do I frak. I'm talking about the tracks that we hear in the official Top 40 charts every single week. Popular rubbish like Cher Lloyd's "Swagger Jagger" — near-universally loathed — and Rebecca Black's "Friday" — globally considered "the worst song ever" — take millions of pounds in sales every single week in the UK.
Now, Black's success is purely a function of fame, and of humanity's natural predisposition to following the crowd (see: Justin Bieber). And, in Cher's defence, she did not write that song.
But isn't that the problem? The vast majority of "popular" music today is a product of the Simon Cowells and the Jay-Zs, millionaire producers throwing re-used trash at money-hungry, semi-talented youngsters, eager for a piece of the limelight.
And what happens to the Maniere Des Bohemiens and the Fat Digesters of the world? Those groups who create their own brilliant sound and who are, regardless of your personal tastes, 100% talent? They are relegated to — amazing though the event is — a local festival of .. maybe .. a hundred thousand.
As I sit here, now back home, listening to the fantastic Ladytron at 1am on a Saturday night, it almost makes me physically ill to imagine how many genuinely talented groups and individuals are out there, struggling to be heard and to make a living, fighting against an established commercial industry whose primary motive is to put people on TV and bribe the lowest common denominator into buying their "music" week after week. It's hard to imagine that even a quarter of the population of the UK is even aware that there is more out there than Lady Gaga and Katy Perry.
And this is deeply, deeply distressing… made better only by the knowledge that real music does still exist. If you want to hear some, attend your local festivals. It'll be worth it; I promise.
Nottingham's Riverside Festival continues Sunday until 6.30pm.
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