Strange Sightings At NOS Alive Festival

By Patrick Leigh Pemberton

A recent multimedia culture tour of Lisbon included, against my better judgement, a trip to a festival. Believe me when I say that on the other days wild horses couldn’t have dragged me away from all the museums and monasteries. This festival was a fascinating experience, not only because it was sponsored by a company called NOS, (which means ‘us’ in Portuguese) but because it was dominated by an unnerving corporate presence. 

In addition to a vast amount of advertising (which is fair enough I suppose), huge and bizarre private entertainment boxes were dotted around in a multitude of architectural forms, all looking like they’d been stolen from the Formula 1 client hospitality section circa 2009. This presence was intensely strange, not least because NOS advertised with enormous balloons emblazoned with the legend “NOS recharge Point”, but also because the boxes were full of adults trying to be simultaneously professional and at a festival. That’s not an easy feat, especially when just the other side of a picket fence (Lisbon’s dockyards have long been famous for their picket fencing haven’t they…) are loads of adults trying their hardest not to be professional or sober. Overall, I found myself confused by the seemingly improbable relationship between a festival and its sponsor. 

Damn you NOS, I thought upon awaking the morning after. Curses upon Heineken and their delicious hangover-inducing nectar, which forces  to quash the overwhelming desire to visit the Monastery of St Jerome (a Manueline masterpiece). Naturally, I was grateful to all of the brilliant performers I had seen, but for the organisers I felt nothing but distaste. Perhaps they aren’t entirely to blame for the dry mouth and pounding head, or indeed the interminable loo queues I experienced a day earlier, worsened by the fact that I didn't have a phone, let alone signal. A memory of looking up for salvation, beer going warm in my hands, only to be greeted by a sign which essentially says "this festival is brought to you by a bunch of scheming scoundrels in suits who want your young heart and your money”, confirms, for me, that they must carry some responsibility.

Fortunately, much of my festival was spent jumping up and down with delight, falling in love, and falling over. When I’m doing all that I’m not paying any attention to any looming advertisements. Instead, my eyes are trained on Bonobo or The xx (I’m hoping with these two names to get maximum ‘cool’ points, probably failing majorly. If only Taylor Swift had played…). Adverts for NOS and its effective phone signal, or Standard Bank and their acceptable rates of interest jar horribly with the shows put on by these titans of artistic creation. 

Whilst I am supremely grateful to these corporations for their money (NOS Alive Festival was cheap and hilarious, and I really did spend most of my time jumping up and down with joy, falling in love, and falling over) I just don’t understand what they’re doing there. At regular intervals I’d turn round to see members of the corporate team holding glasses of sparkling white wine, in sparkling white trousers, in their sparkling entertainment box. The only similarity between us that we are both bopping along to Alt-J (does one even bop to Alt-J and are they still cool enough to use as an example? I’ll leave it in brackets with this explanation to show that I, too, can irony). It would seem that even at an ostensibly independent and liberating event such as this, we cannot escape the overbearing presence of tools in white jeans. Stop vying for my attention, you can’t win, even if the artist is Alt-J (here then is irony mk II, where I suggest that I knew all along that their third album was rubbish and they aren’t cool anymore. Or did I?)

I suspect, however, that this isn’t their aim. I'm sure that the genius head of PR has told the board “young people love festivals, ergo they will love us for throwing one”, when what in fact she is actually saying is “I love festivals, I have a few artists in mind, give me all the money, and I’ll have a party”. It is for this reason that I’m currently looking for jobs in PR. Anyone got one they don’t want? I’ll swap.