After the success of the Legitimate Peaky Blinders Festival, columnist Mark Beaumont wants more screen-themed weekenders
It takes an almost Brexit-ian level of masochism to watch the squalor, underworld savagery and hat-based violence of Peaky Blinders and decide you quite fancy spending a weekend in it. Yet there we were, several thousand of us, roaming the Victorian streets of Digbeth, Birmingham dressed like brutal factory owners and back-street crime lords for the Legitimate Peaky Blinders Festival, a weekend that couldn’t have felt more 1920s if they’d laced the Shelby Shandys with cholera. Although, to be honest, they could’ve decked out the resident tiki bars like illegal race-fixing dens and got them playing Nick Cave rather than “Song 2”.
You could argue that any festival is a failed attempt to get away from TV. You drive several hundred miles into the middle of nowhere until you start to feel like Somerset is Britain’s equivalent of the Vietnam jungle of Apocalypse Now and submit yourself to three days with no electricity and a phone that’s more likely to pick up an earpiece full of mushroom dust than anything approaching a streaming service.
Yet, still, you spend the entire time watching massive screens while your stoned mates talk through the best bits. The Peaky Blinders festival was following in the fine, immersive tradition of oh-shit-my-telly-is-coming-to-kill-me that was first kicked off when I was very nearly run over by a golf buggy full of blokes in blazers shouting out seemingly random numbers at the loosely The Prisoner-themed Festival No.6, but other festivals already feel like recreations of major TV and film series.
With all its gourmet banquets and embarrassing Tories, Wilderness Festival is basically Come Dine With Me in a field. Go to a Vans Warped Tour date in a US dustbowl full of grunting speed punk bands and it’s like a Fast And Furious film with more coherent dialogue. Head to Glastonbury‘s Shangri-La on any given night and you’re walking straight into Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, and Reading & Leeds is now just Dave Grohl making a surprise appearance on The Magaluf Weekender. Both Fyre Festival and Bloc 2012 were like living in the worst team’s attempt to stage a festival on The Apprentice.
But I did enjoy the fact that the Peaky Blinders festival seemed to be taking place in a period of history unbothered by the plague or ritual sacrifice for a change, so I’ve warmed to the idea that TV and film-themed festivals might be the saviour of an ailing summer scene. Why spend your festival downtime fishing the brewer’s foreskin out of your pint of Zeus’s Bellend in another bland real ale tent when you could be hanging out between bands in the Rover’s Return, Central Perk or The Dalek’s Horn (try the Exterminale)? What better way to enliven your post-Fontaines falafel than having it in the middle of a King’s Landing orgy, or while a hysterical actor claims they’re going to execute every motherfucking last one of you?
There are some TV shows no-one wants to spend a weekend in, of course. Sam Smith being probed about his pronouns for an hour at the Piers Morgan’s Life Stories Weekend. The knobbliest, worst-tattoo’d bands in rock playing Naked Attraction Fest. Mrs Brown’s Bank Holiday Bonanza. But some bands and shows seem made for each other. How many of the thousands upon thousands of ‘80s revival acts have been crying out for a Stranger Things festival curated by La Roux, or an It shindig held in an abandoned theme park and headlined by Slipknot and the band actually called Pennywise? And the time is definitely right for Slowthai, Idles, Nadine Shah, Muncie Girls and Enter Shikari to shut down Whitehall to stage Panorama-geddon.
In the meantime, I’m off to my last festival of the year – Rock In Rio. Or, as I’m calling it, A Place In The Sun Live. By the time I get back I hope one of you will have booked and organised a festival where punters are blindfolded and dropped in the middle of a forest somewhere in England to watch Slaves, called Where Do You Think You Are? Or set loose with just a rucksack full of drugs and the police on your tail, attempting to make it, undetected, to a festival called Munted.