'The V You Don't See' - Part One:
Not Crazy In Love - Just Plain Crazy
Charles Thomson lifts the lid on the lesser-publicised aspects of the Virgin Media V Festival. After getting caught in a dangerous crush and narrowly avoiding a shower of urine, he is underwhelmed by headliner Beyonce Knowles.
Sat 17th Aug 2013, Yellow Advertiser
Beyonce has banned all photographers from taking pictures in front of the stage. She is the only artist at the whole of V Festival to have made this demand.
In order to shoot the megastar – from a platform out in the middle of the crowd, by the lighting tower – snappers must also sign away all rights to their own pictures. The demands are apparently thanks to the ‘unflattering’ pictures published in the US of her Superbowl performance, unwittingly pulling funny faces as she sang.
Reporters, conversely, have not been forced to sign away their rights to anything. There is also nothing, in theory, to stop them from heading down to the front of the crowd and taking pictures from far closer than the professional snappers are permitted to get.
So roughly two hours before Beyonce is due to appear, I have been dispatched into the crowd, to embed myself close to the front and attempt to get some decent shots.
The arena has changed in the half-hour since I was last here. I watched some of Jessie J’s set – one song was quite enough for me – then headed to the press centre for some rest and a cool drink.
During Jessie J’s performance, the mood was upbeat. People were smiling and dancing. Now she has exited the stage and just one more act stands between Beyonce and her adoring fans; The Script.
The crowd is dense and there is an uneasy atmosphere as I get closer to the stage. The outer edges are easily permeable – people are spread out, many of them sat down – but the semi-circle around the stage itself is impenetrable. I can get close to the front, but only off to the left hand side. It would be a miracle to get a decent picture from here.
I plan to hang around and edge my way closer as the crowd shrinks when people decide they want to go to the toilet or buy a burger or have a rest. As it turns out, that won’t be necessary.
The trouble begins shortly before The Script appear onstage. Violent shoving. The crowd surges towards the stage at regular intervals – the force coming both from the side and from the back. I find myself being pushed closer and closer to centre stage – but growing more and more concerned, not only for my own safety but that of those in front of me.
When I first joined the crowd, I had room to move about – shift weight from one foot to the other, stretch out a little. Now I am pressed up against other concert-goers from every angle. At one point I feel something brush against my back pocket and check on my wallet, then find my arm trapped behind me in the crush.
Halfway through The Script’s hour-long set, the crowd’s unease has intensified. People are becoming aggressive. The pushing is increasingly forceful; it is a constant battle to stay still. I have to dig my heels into the ground and lean backwards.
When people eventually lose traction and are pushed forwards a little, the people they crash into shout at them to stop pushing. This is happening all the way back; everybody thinks the person behind is responsible. In fact, it’s more like toppling dominoes – each row is shoved into the one in front. The pushing is all emanating from somewhere far behind us.
People are collapsing. Girls are being pulled from the crowd in floods of tears, unable to cope with the intense squeeze. Dozens of them – some becoming woozy, some having already fainted, some just pleading to be pulled out of the painful crush – are having to be rescued from what is fast becoming an incredibly dangerous situation.
I have to remove my camera from its shoulder bag as the crush is pushing it hard into my side. Some terrified girls in front of me are searching frantically for an escape route, but the pushing is so severe that you can’t even get out. You’re just stuck in a constant, unstoppable forward motion.
Security guards are pleading with the crowd to move back. They are being ignored. Every time somebody has to be pulled to safety, those at the back see nothing but a new space they can push everyone else forward to fill up. Rather than seeing the shaking, hysterical festival-goers being yanked from the crush as a sign that they should stop their thuggish antics, they see an end goal being realised; every victim pulled from the squeeze shifts their aggressors that little bit closer to the stage.
Beyonce is late. She was due on at 9.15pm. It is almost 9.45pm. It is now raining, which is actually a relief in the hot crush. I have been waiting for over two-and-a-half hours.
Fans are wincing with pain. Some cannot breathe properly. Shoulders and elbows are digging into ribcages. A girl in front of me is pushed so tightly against the girl in front of her, that the former’s face is pressed into the latter’s ponytail. There is no room to the left or right, even for a tiny sidestep, to avoid this problem. All she can do is turn her head.
Guards are handing out hundreds of paper cups, half-filled with water, in a bid to keep the crowd – who cannot escape to buy drinks – hydrated. Many of the cups never make it to those further back who are suffering and who desperately need them. Instead, yobs take to intercepting and throwing them back into the crowd, soaking innocent bystanders as they wait for their heroine to appear. But the water is at least preferable to the bottles of urine which are also being pelted over the audience from behind.
When Beyonce does eventually hit the stage, the crowd surges forward yet again. Arms fly in every direction as mobile phones are hoisted into the air.
Once the arms go up, there is no room to put them down. As I lift my camera, my elbows are forced into my ribs. I pop off a couple of shots during the first few songs. Most come out blurred by the motion of being shoved in every direction.
The performance itself is perfunctory. For all her talent – Beyonce is unarguably the best female vocalist in the current pop sphere – her performances are incredibly clinical. She exudes detachment. Everything is rehearsed to the millisecond. Every song is punctuated with high-pitched stabs, at which Beyonce swings her hair in the air or does something else that makes all my photos come out blurry. But there is no spontaneity; not even any real indication that Beyonce is particularly enjoying what she’s doing.
Watching this gig is a little like watching a skilled but ultimately boring street dance crew on Britain’s Got Talent; you know it's probably very technically impressive, but it’s just not moving you in any way.
A short while into her set there is a costume change. Beyonce comes out dressed in a sparkly hat and jacket and performs some percussive cacophony or another.
I can’t stand anymore. I’ve been here for three hours, I ache and I feel smothered. I take a few final pictures, then turn and begin to fight my way out. The nearest walkway is about 50 metres away, close to the beer tents. It takes me 15 minutes to reach them. My legs cramp after hours of digging my heels into the mud.
I convince some guards to open a locked gate so I can escape to the backstage area. As I emerge, my news editor – being whizzed away from the chaos on an airport buggy – spots me, screeches to a halt and rescues me. The relief is immense. The cool breeze and the rain are bliss.
We sit quietly for a while, each somewhat haunted by the nightmare we have just witnessed.
“I am never coming here again,” says my news editor.
“That makes two of us,” I reply.
Beyonce Knowles at V Festival. (C) Charles Thomson
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