As Cher Lloyd gets booed off stage and pelted with bottles of urine at V Festival, Henry Yates wonders if bottling artists is ever justified
I’m not a betting man. But still, every year, when the Reading/Leeds bill is unveiled, I find myself calculating odds on who will fall victim to The Great Bottling. Year after year they come: the US hip-hop star, the ex-boyband faux-punk, the stage-school poppet with the soon-to-be-fired management team. Onto the Main Stage they prance – so full of crossover dreams – only to retreat after one chorus, their hair slick and lips salty with piping hot urine, as Pepsi bottles batter their makeshift snare-drum shields. Now, I don’t want to make any open predictions about this weekend. I don’t want to put ideas in anyone’s head. All I’m saying is, I hope All Time Low have packed cagoules.
Mankind has always thrown shit. You can draw a line from the stonings of Ancient Greece, through the turnip pelted at the criminal in the stocks, to the rotten tomato lobbed at the wooden actor (be doubly afraid, Carl Barât…) to 50 Cent.
In a musical context, the mud-clod runs it close, but the plastic bottle is now firmly established as the ‘classic’ choice. Blame US inventor Nathaniel C. Wyeth, who was granted a patent for the world’s first polyethylene beverage container back in 1973. Alternatively, blame the uncredited pioneer who prophetically draped his genitals into the neck of a Panda Pop, found himself armed with a weighty-yet-aerodynamic object during a dull support band and joined the dots.
Whoever invented bottling, these days, it’s a festival mainstay. Even at last weekend’s V – an event so posh and pedestrian that bands expect nothing worse than a quail’s egg thrown underarm – Glasvegas were back in the Portakabin after four songs. But Reading remains the spiritual home of the piss-bottle (now there’s a slogan for the tourist board). The names of the fallen are etched into our guilty consciences. MeatLoaf (1988). Daphne and Celeste (2000). Good Charlotte (2003). 50 Cent (2004). My Chemical Romance and Panic At The Disco (both 2006, with Brendon Urie knocked out cold). The Plain White Ts (2008). All cut down in their prime in some foreign field. We shall remember them.
To be clear, I’ve never bottled a band. I’m not sure if this is a moral decision so much as a physical limitation; I’m an indie fan, and therefore can’t throw overarm. But I’ve stood by while others have done so, watching a thousand bottles darken the sky, like when the archers release their arrows in Braveheart, and wrestled with my conscience. My left side of my cortex tells me: ‘this is oafish, boorish and disgusting’. The right side usually replies, ‘oh, fuck off – it’s hilarious!’.
So is bottling acceptable? The principle argument of the yeasayers is simple: nobody gets (seriously) hurt. Fair point. Bottling is a cartoon version of an Iranian stoning. I briefly worked as a trainee teacher, and far worse things were thrown. Bottling, they’ll tell you, lets pampered rock stars know that duff songs and slack stagecraft won’t be tolerated, while reminding festival bosses of their demographic. It also encourages bands to be light on their feet. Hitting Paul Smith of Maxïmo Park is virtually impossible. Liam is a sitting duck. Mick Jagger has such a big mouth that getting a bottle in there is probably feasible, like some bizarre scatalogical fairground sideshow.
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But I’m not sure that argument holds water. To piss directly onto somebody is plainly outrageous, unless you literally are the Emperor Caligula. How does the middle-man of a plastic vessel makes this practice any more acceptable? Should you really be proud of pinging your effluent at teenage girls like Daphne and Celeste? What about the fans who saved up to see Good Charlotte? Plus, to me, there’s a sense of thuggish foregone conclusion about bottling. Somehow, it felt inevitable that 50 Cent would be pelted even if he’d played a firecracker set, in the same way that Oasis would never suffer this ignominy, even if they sleepwalked through the motions.
So what do you think? Is bottling just a bit of harmless fun, or the oafish action of the congenitally lobotomised? Over to you…