20 reasons why T in the Park still rocks

WITH the growing number of smaller, boutique festivals sprouting up on Scotland’s musical map, T in the Park has come in for some critical bashing lately. Some say it’s outgrown its natural size, that it’s too expensive or too populist. And for once, it has yet to sell out in the last days before it begins.

The crowd at 2009's festival. Picture: Andy Buchanan

But it remains indisputably Scotland’s premier one-off cultural event, drawing eager youngsters and wizened veterans to Balado from across the country and beyond like a magnet. Ray Philp and Nick Mitchell offer 20 reasons why T in the Park is still worth the ticket price.

1. The journey to Balado

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First you notice the kinds of people who’d never be up this early. Little groups of teenagers and 20-somethings trudging, in wellies, through Scotland’s town centres towards waiting buses and trains. Then the M90 is always busier than it should be, and as you near Kinross you see signs of an entirely new and temporary conurbation looming in the distance. The colourful patchwork of tents covering the hills, the big wheel, the shiny blue canvas of the King Tuts Tent and the straggly flags blowing in the wind. Whether you’re a first-timer or a repeat visitor, the building anticipation of the trip to Balado is part of the experience. (NM)

Picture: Toby Williams

2. Fancy dress Friday

For those intrepid campers, dressing up on the Friday has become the norm at T. While the weather hasn’t always been conducive to elaborate costumes, that doesn’t put off the cowboys, nurses, wannabe rock stars and the odd gorilla. This time the theme is Heroes and Villains, so look out for sartorial tributes to anything from Iron Man to Heath Ledger’s Joker. (NM)

3. Kraftwerk

Though Kraftwerk are not, strictly speaking, among the T In The Park headliners (they are due to appear at the comparatively modest King Tut’s Wah Wah Tent), it would not be overstating things to say they are one of the most important acts appearing at Balado. Founded by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider in the late 60s, Kraftwerk have since made an indelible impression on contemporary pop culture, inspiring artists as diverse as Gary Numan, Aphex Twin and Bjork to become bonafide stars themselves. Moreover, the Slam Tent simply wouldn’t exist without Kraftwerk - they were a direct influence on a certain group of guys in Detroit that began making what we now call techno music, and what your parents call “that bloody racket”. (RP)

4. Slam Tent

It takes a degree of bravery to step out of the light into the gloomy cavern that is the aforementioned Slam Tent. The huge arena is like Scotland’s annual clubbing convention, without any lanyards or the requirement to network. After all, what are the chances of even the slightest bit of conversation while Laurent Garnier or Justice or Leftfield are shaking the ground beneath your feet with the kind of bass levels that would surely register on the Richter Scale? Even if you’re not a techno fan, the Slam Tent has to be tried at least once. (NM)

5. The campsite

Everyone has a story about the T in the Park campsite. Whether it’s the guy who turned up with a guitar in the middle of the night to entertain you with comedy songs made up on the spot, the time your mate had one trainer stolen and the other left, tauntingly, outside his tent, or others that can’t be published here, the campsite is a rite of passage for thousands of Scottish youngsters. It might not be for the faint-hearted, but it’s a generally friendly place with singalongs, parties and comedy moments around every guyrope. (NM)

6. T Break tent

Established with the aim of providing a platform for new, unsigned Scottish bands, the T Break tent reflects the festival’s inclusive, democratic spirit. It’s also where some of Scotland’s most popular acts have started out - The Twilight Sad, Frightened Rabbit and The View count among the stage’s most illustrious alumni. (RP)

7. Cuisine

Your beverage options, are for obvious reasons, rather limited (read: beer, or warm beer), but even the fussiest of eaters won’t have a problem ganneting down something from the festival’s numerous catering stalls. The traditional, artery endangering burger van options remain a Balado staple, but the eateries dotting the site tend to be more gourmet than greasy these days, with plenty of places offering fresh organic produce, vegan options and even seafood. Wouldn’t suggest slurping on mussels before a trip to the main stage, mind. (RP)

8. A-list stars

That T In The Park has consistently managed to punch above its weight by hauling in genuine, world class pop stars to Balado is a remarkable achievement. It is hard to imagine many festivals convincing artists of the magnitude of Eminem, Beyoncé and Rihanna to perform in a rain-sodden field in Fife, so that alone deserves a bit of credit. (RP)

9. Local talent

That being said, T In The Park has always been a vigorous champion of home-grown bands and singer-songwriters. Up-and-coming bands hoping to get their big chance at the T Break tent are given pride of place amid the festival’s more established acts, who are loved as much as the overseas talent. Gigs from Primal Scream, Simple Minds and The Proclaimers have all gone down in festival legend. (RP)

10. The weather (no, really)

Because this time, miraculously, the festival is expected to be bathed in sunshine for most of the weekend. Mud-soaked revellers at last year’s T In The Park could have passed off for Apocalypse Now extras at times, so the arrival of some proper, skin-blistering UV rays is welcome. But wear suncream, put on a hat, protect your skin, etc etc. (RP)

11. The big wheel

Even if you’re not one of those who queue for a spin on the Ferris wheel and a great view of the festival and hills beyond, the structure itself has become part of T’s identity. Can you imagine a headline set as darkness falls without its twinkling lights as a backdrop to the huge crowd? (NM)

12. Sing-a-longs

It would take a very hard heart indeed to deny the awe-inspiring sight of thousands of festival-goers singing along to Balado anthems such as The Proclaimers’ 500 Miles (or, as seen in 2010, several thousand rapping along to Eminem’s Stan in 2010). To put it another way, it’s about the closest you can get to the atmosphere of a football match, but with much less of the nonsense. (RP)

13. The Proclaimers

Actually, since the Reid twins have become the go-to guys when Geoff Ellis wants to get his party started on the Main Stage in recent years, The Proclaimers are deserving of their own entry. Even if Balado doesn’t exactly rhyme with Leith, with sunshine forecast for T this year any Hibees in attendance will surely get a chance to belt their lungs out to their team’s song, along with other anthems like ‘(I’m Gonna Be) 500 Miles’ and ‘Letter from America’. (NM)

14. Hidden gems

“T in The Park is too commercial,” is not an uncommon complaint heard from people put off by the festival’s unstintingly populist approach to selecting its headliners. But, meat-and-tatties indie and gyrating boy bands aside, such complaints don’t stack up after further investigation - the aforementioned T Break tent and King Tut’s Wah Wah tent, as well as the BBC Introducing... stage, have proved to be fruitful areas for discovering great bands tucked away in the corners of the festival. (RP)

15. People watching

Even with hundreds of bands and DJs to choose from, there are always pockets of the weekend when your personal itinerary affords some free time. Use this to have a seat somewhere with a good view of the passing crowds. You won’t be short of impromptu entertainment and bizarre sights. (NM)

16. King Tut’s Tent

Festival tents always serve up an alternative, clubbier atmosphere to the big stages. But at T in the Park the King Tuts tent is hardly a two-man, pop-up affair. Its vast, dark interior often plays host to some of the most memorable sets in T history, from James Brown to Primal Scream to Vampire Weekend. (NM)

17. Variety

The phrase “something for everyone” immediately comes to mind where T in The Park is concerned. Reality TV acts have been a late addition to an ensemble cast of underground DJs, girl groups, local legends, world-class rock bands, singer-songwriters, pop stars and rappers. It’s hard to think of a festival in Scotland that can claim to be as diverse. (RP)

18. The Main Stage crowd

While some intrepid explorers go in search of the more unusual, obscure or cutting edge sounds amidst the fields of Balado, there are others who rock up to the Main Stage with their camping chairs at 11.30 in the morning and only leave when nature calls or their glass is empty. We salute their single-mindedness. (NM)

19. The Balado sunset

Both the Main Stage and the Radio 1 / NME Stage have the beautiful backdrop of the hills around Loch Leven. On a fine summer’s evening, sunset usually coincides with the headline set, and the changing light around the rural setting only adds to the atmosphere. (NM)

20. The portaloos

Only kidding. This is one call of nature that you’d rather not answer. (RP)