The microcosm just outside a music festival

It was 5AM in my boyfriend’s car, and every last inch of its occupants was covered in dust, other people’s sweat, and wayward booze. The fourth and final day of the 2016 FIB music festival had come to a close.

In the witching hour car ride back, my battered eardrums still rang with Kendrick Lamar. But what stayed with me far afterwards isn’t how much a dollar cost.

Nope, the bit of the festival I keep thinking about is what goes on just outside its gates.

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Before the bracketed bracelets and handsy security guards, in the liminal space sandwiched between the campgrounds and the concerts, a miniature ecosystem flourishes.

The low buzz that escapes the actual concert grounds is little more than a thumping drone here, punctuated by festival-goer whoops. The industrial backsides of infrastructure towers over the security fencing, a jumble of gray piping and peek-a-boo glowing neon. From this side, the festival is eerily reminiscent of the evil circus chapter in that book of scary stories you had as a kid.

The colorful population of this dusty expanse ranges wildly. Each species observed here occupies a distinct place in a symbiotic food chain.

It heavily reminds me of those self-sustaining glass spheres with algae and shrimp inside.

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Everywhere you look, there are semicircle groups of 20-something Brits chugging last-minute intoxicants. Whether they are standing or seated indicates how seriously they are taking the task. These girls add a touch of class to their adulterated Coke bottles with tiaras.

No one seems surprised when we ask to take their photo. We say it’s for VICE.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetTie-dye types float around the periphery, cans in hand, swaying to a private rhythm. I find it impossible to say how much of the look is performative, how much is irony, and how much is letting one’s freak flag fly.

Should you run low on supplies, the whole area teems with vendors hawking alcohol and tchotchkes (and, very likely, substances of various sorts – I didn’t inquire). The party money flows as freely as the booze here. It’s a place where acquiring glow-in-the-dark leis and hats shaped like tits seems like a great idea.

Do these vendors live in town, or do they come out specifically for the once-a-year festival? How they choose what to shill? Do they observe best-sellers from the year prior and stock accordingly? How do trends ripple through the mini-economy? Are there turf wars?

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Scantily clad occasionally meets hoots and hollers… or more often goes totally unnoticed in the mish-mash. The wash of glitter, hawaiian shirts, kilts, and UK flag-covered bodysuits is so saturating that low-cut-whatever isn’t extraordinary. We almost miss the Mario-esque guy using a watermelon for a helmet.

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A batch of boys in wifebeaters steps on each other’s toes, resulting in much shouting and spitting. The commotion attracts mild interest from those nearby, but contained, low-level violence blends in as part of the pastiche.

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By the time we took our leave in the wee hours between Sunday and Monday, the inhabitants of this space-between had whittled themselves down to just a few stragglers, magically still enthusiastic four days into the bender.

It’s a pit stop, it’s a meetup point, it’s a top-up station, it’s a cruising zone. Huge stacks of euros change hands, and an unbelievable quantity of liquor is consumed. Entire dramas rise, climax, and fall here over the course of the extended weekend.

There must be thousands of these miniature, temporary ecosystems all over the place, whether event based or otherwise. Are you part of any?

All photographs taken by the utterly talented Marta Royo, a fashion/textile designer with a keen eye for unexpected beauty.


  1. A few years back I went to Boomtown. Upon leaving the site on Monday morning it took me an hour, bumbling around the car park, before I found both my car and an equally confused festival goer lost from his pack, trying to make his way back to my city. Taking pity on him I adopted him for the journey home. We queued pointlessly for over 3 hours to reach a messy bottleneck connecting us with the main road – clearly the other people in the queue were also more than a little confused after 4 days of partying – they had forgotten how to queue the British way. The long wait, though frustrating at times didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits and for me was the start of a friendship with a good mate who kept me going with pepperoni, peanut butter and trail mix. The race to inch forward became more competitive but never less friendly the closer we got to the exit. People were out of their cars. The dancing continued. Left over goods of all sorts were offered out in sing song over the din of cars blasting out tunes. The goodwill vibe of the festival kept going until finally everyone made their way back to the real world.

    • What a gorgeous picture you paint! Something about those spaces in-between lends itself to extra neat friendships (although I suspect the pepperoni helped things along significantly).

  2. Once I went to Primavera Sound with my parents when I was 10. I was really exited because Hot Chip were on at 3. My parents told me I probably wouldn’t be able to stay awake but I was determined. That night I saw Dexys, the Wu Tang Clan and a wee bit of Nick Cave before I fell asleep… No Hot Chip though.

    • This year I didn’t make it to Battles due to eyelids becoming eyeleads. But I caught Tame Impala earlier and got my face melted off anyway: tradeoffs.

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