Over the years, we ran the Beat Hotel at Glastonbury. With no subsidised or brand-sponsored production budget, we had to keep build costs lean; begging, borrowing and bagging from eBay whatever we could to make it happen.
As we bolted bits on, the venue took on an identity of its own, with mid-century furniture, psychedelic knick-knacks and the odd mannequin torso being added to the production each year. What came to capture the essence of the place most, though, was its bright orange carpet.
Bringing some contrast to punters’ 50,000 steps on mostly green-to-brown surfaces over the weekend, and a free slice of decadence for all (relatively speaking), our hope was that the carpet might just take people somewhere else. Opening doors on Wednesday afternoon each year became a bit of a ceremony, with punters, unsure if it was for them, taking the first steps across the venue’s brand-new pile.
Offering a shady spot from the throng of the festival on sunny days, years when heavy rain was forecast had us asking whether the carpet was a dumb idea. Sited at the bottom of a valley, a couple of hours of rain could see our furry dancefloor dissolve into the landscape and become part of the muddy whole, not to be seen till next year.
Even though it didn’t always work on a rational level, the orange carpet became something that just needed to be there, and I’d argue some of the best festival ideas, from full-blown activations to production details, come from a similar feeling.
Having a vision, then realising it in spite of the elements, budget constraints or, say, a global pandemic, needs just the right levels of defiance and creativity. Usual rules rarely apply and, if you want to work with certainty, this (muddy) field probably isn’t for you.
Facing a festival-free summer, I hope everyone’s thinking about how to re-emerge; how ideas will translate to a different world with a new set of constraints to negotiate. The onus is on us as an industry, not just to just hurry back to business (though, of course, we want to), but to figure out new and creative ways bring out the magic. Whether that’s a carpet or not.