The intellectual argument for breaking into Glastonbury

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Words: Meg Davies (she/ her)

Did you manage to get a ticket to Glastonbury this year? 

If you didn’t, fear not, as you can find everything on how to prepare for your big break-in online. Reddit is full of threads describing success stories and heartbreaking failures about climbing in. You can even find photos of last year’s gaps in the wall, coordinates of a stream you can scuba dive through, and details of the ‘‘Glasto prison’’, apparently, it’s a Scouse bloke fest. You will be an outsider if you’re not from the motherland (motherland of course being Merseyside).

My favourite read, Breaking into Heaven: Another Glastonbury Break-In Story, describes one man’s plight to the other side of the pearly white gates, also known as Glasto’s ‘‘14-foot super fence’’. In this nail-biting read, he’s tasked with – what can only be described as – a SAS-inspired assault course. He sneaks past lookout towers, burly security guards and ‘hostile farm animals’ (I’m still unclear on how he apprehended that cow). Spoiler alert: he makes it in and it’s the biggest cliche. He runs into two groups of Scousers, they haul a massive metal structure up against the fence and make a run for it. Luck was on his side and it was the right place at the right time for user TTFTW1992

Not only do people go to extraordinary lengths to infiltrate the festival grounds, but even acquiring Glastonbury’s notoriously coveted tickets demands a level of determination and courage. Groups of pals, who otherwise struggle in getting the holiday out of the group chat, project manage immaculately organised operations, creating Excel spreadsheets and downloading VPNs from the dark web. So what is it that really makes people go crazy for a chance to be there? What makes entry to Glasto’s Worthy Farm the golden ticket? 

I’d argue these tales of daring escapades and meticulously planned operations reflect a deeper desire for Glasto’s long serving offer of a communal experience and escapism. In Glastonbury The Movie, compiled of hazy footage of the festival in 1993, we see punters being asked what the festival means to them. While some simply pay homage to their ability to become a walking test tube for psychedelic substances throughout the weekend, others get a little more existential: ‘I got lost in the crowd. It was wonderful. People, bodies sort of slithering by, cutthroat and crusty’. Much like Acid house parties and the 90s rave scene, we witness the Glasto punters expressing a deeply felt desire for a communal experience, something which the mainstream political sentiment of the time raved against.

Michael Eavis organised the very first Glastonbury festival in 1970: 1,500 people attended, the Kinks headlined and tickets would have cost you a single British pound. Over the years the Somerset festival grew and by ‘93, 80,000 people were in attendance with tickets having increased to £58. That year Britain had been under Tory reign for almost two decades, with Margaret Thatcher’s lengthy rule barely a distant memory. She had brought libertarian capitalist doctrine to the British mainstream, alongside a shrinking welfare state and the privatisation of nationally owned industries: an emphasis had been placed on the individual and their labour. 

In another scene from the ‘93 film, a young guy, clutching a coin bucket labelled ‘‘The Free Land Fund’’, asks the cameraman if he’s got spare change for “the cause”. With authorities cracking down on the rave scene he asserts his mission to bring back the free party utopia by buying land through collective donations. He envisions a future where events alike can thrive without the burden of a 58 quid ticket. Unfortunately, he must’ve not been able to fill his bucket and Thatcherite entrepreneurial impulses, as with everything, seeped in. 

The introduction of more security onsite, a sturdier fence and ticket fees for traveller groups, who had always been allowed in for free, marked an interesting change in Glasto’s history in the early 90s. It arguably marked a shift away from hippy dippy free party traditions and one towards exclusivity and commercialisation. Glastonbury was also broadcast live on Channel 4 for the first time with Orbital’s ‘94 headline set being televised, streaming into millions of British homes. I recommend watching this footage, it comes with all the live mistakes and quirks of the 90s. With gurning musicians, slurred presenters, and production mess ups, it makes a big contrast to the BBC’s pristine and meticulous live coverage of previous years.  

Over the next decade, the free party spirit began to dissolve and people realised there was money to be made. Matthew Collin, author of Altered States: The Story of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House argues the party scene provided an outlet from capitalist doctrine. It enabled people to get involved and do something, from recording a ‘techno track in a bedroom, organising a warehouse party, or selling a bag of pills’. I wonder if festival dealers, who will now be gearing up for a summer spent across the UK at various festivals, have a picture of Thatcher over their beds. As they yell ‘mandy, ketamine, and charlie’ across campsites, will Thatcher be looking over and thinking this was the type of entrepreneurialism she had in mind?

This year, weekend tickets cost a whopping £360 and punters can even choose to upgrade (for a few thousand pounds) to deluxe yurts with lockable doors, ambient lighting, and raised beds. This all feels like a far cry from the ‘93 footage where we watch free-spirited ravers happy to catch a few hours’ kip at the stone circle or pile into the back of vans for a humble spoon on hard floors. Yet, amidst the nostalgia for the free-spirited ethos of yesteryears, we confront the reality of a festival landscape now shaped by commercial forces and financial exclusivity. While punters still look forward to finding a sense of overwhelming unity and positive connection, it now comes at a financial expense. Glastonbury has perhaps tamed the party, becoming increasingly more palatable and comfortable for the middle classes and as consequence its anarchic charm may no longer ring true. Alas, long live the culture of breaking in… whether you swim upstream or hide in a car boot. Whatever your preference, long live the break in massive. Take what was once yours, we can’t let Thatcher win! 

Eavis, himself, is rumoured to have said that if you can make it past security, the festival is for you to enjoy.,time%20to%20break%20into%20heaven.&text=It%20had%20been%20a%20long,of%20dawn%20was%20upon%20us.


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