We need to talk about: cashless festivals, because they fucking suck

In 'We Need To Talk About...', the new weekly column from NME's Jordan Bassett, J-to-the-B vents his spleen on the topical issues that matter the most (or the least, if it happens to be a slow news day). First up: why 'cashless' festivals – newly championed by Bestival and Camp Bestival – are a bureaucratic hellscape that make bean counters of us all

Oh – the tyranny of the cashless festival. Your entire weekend dictated by a little plastic card or wristband. You’re not the boss of me, little shitty plastic card that I’ve pre-loaded with approximately enough money – but probably not – to fill my body with beers, good times and saturated fats. Festivals are meant to be about freedom. From your shitty job, from everyday life, from the basic societal contract that requires you to act like a decent human being at least 40 percent of the time (figure is negotiable). You know what they’re definitely not about? Fucking maths!

And yet, and yet. Bestival and Camp Bestival are the latest festivals flirt with cashlessness, offering an option to pay with a wristband instead of readies. In general, a cashless festival means you can’t use your own cash or bank cards on site, and must instead stick some money on the event’s own card or wristband. How much money, you ask? A question to which no-one in history has ever known the answer. Cashless systems have caught on across European festivals over the last couple of years and I can tell you from bitter, personal experience: they absolutely fucking suck.

“In general, a cashless festival means you can’t use your own cash or bank cards on site, and must instead stick some money on the event’s own wristbands. How much money, you ask? A question to which no-one in history has ever known the answer.”

Bestival boss Rob Da Bank unveiled the unwelcome arrival, which will become part of the Dorset-based shindigs for at least the next three years, with the sweetly optimistic words: “Bestival has always been about escapism, creating an otherworldly wonderland, where you can leave all the stresses of real life behind. We think [cashless] wristbands can be a big part of that, reducing queues and hassles and making things a bit more care-free for festival-goers.”


Reducing queues, eh? Let me tell you this, Señor Da Bank. Life within the confines of a cashless festival follows a cycle that comes in three tedious waves. First, you queue for an endless, incredibly boring age to load your money onto the hateful thing. A day later, when you’ve accidentally rinsed a couple of hundred quid on a pulled pork sandwich, three beers and packet of cigarettes, you must re-join the queue for many, many more hours in order to top up the wristband for a second miserable time. “I won’t repeat my foolish mistake,” you tell yourself. “I’m going to double the amount I’d normally load onto this evil electronic tag so I never have to watch my life ebb away like this again.” Oh, my friend – my defeated, naïve friend – you have walked, blindfolded, straight into a nightmarish purgatory of your own making.

Because the punchline to this long-winded joke is that, at the end of a weekend defined not by hedonism but by sums and admin, you are left with a choice: trudge from the site, leaving behind the £60 left over on the wristand, or join a final, snaking, beleaguered queue to have it returned.

The cashless festival is a joyless tundra. Why must they enter us into this grey, bureaucratic nightmare when all we wanted to do was dress up in penguin costumes and lose ourselves on pingers? Because your money is less likely to be stolen this way? Well, you’ll still have to take your bank card along, if you ever want to leave that single-file hellscape, so the wristband makes little difference. Perhaps the real motive lies in the Bestival boss’s further, chilling admission: “They also give us the sort of real-time data insights that can help us with a lot of things like crowd management.”

Kasabian were right: we’re being watched by Google. Señor Da Bank, I have committed no crime. I submit to no-one’s electronic tag. I reject your surveillance of my choice of refreshment. Join me, comrades, as we throw off the shackles of the cashless festival and embrace adulthood by spending our money in our own way.


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