As the masses descended upon Glasgow Green last weekend for this year’s iteration of TRNSMT festival, The Student decided, in their infinite wisdom, to send this intrepid reporter down to see what all the fuss was about. Armed with a VIP wristband and a coupon for complimentary prosecco (plus a healthy lathering of sun cream), I joined the throngs of screaming teenage girls, eager to get a glimpse of heartthrob Sam Fender, as well as the more laidback dad rockers, happy to politely observe The Strokes and Jimmy Eat World from a safe distance. What occurred over the next three days was, indeed, a series of events that could certainly be appropriately described as a music festival, with all the excitement and pitfalls that such an occasion is typically expected to provide. A more in-depth analysis is below.
The proverbial elephant in the room (besides the glaring omission of proper vowels from the title of the festival, up there with my least favourite brand naming trends) is that simply put, TRNSMT doesn’t have a stellar reputation. When I informed an assortment of nearby Scottish locals that I would be attending I received more than a few confused looks and remarks (wit ye dain goan there pal? etc.), which to me signalled that the consensus was that TRNSMT probably wouldn’t be worth my time. You can forgive the Glaswegians for being sceptical: filling the shoes of the infamous T in the Park was always going to be a hefty task, and for the most part, the proceedings sadly don’t live up to their predecessor in any of the areas that count: atmosphere, star power and especially raucous crowds. T in the Park was such a rare encapsulation of wild youthfulness, one that only comes along once in a blue moon, and that can’t be replicated by a corporate carbon copy with Rylan Clark-Neil plastered all over the place – the two simply don’t compare in that regard. Moreover, in a similar fashion of replication, I definitely got the feeling that the Beeb bizarrely considered this Scotland’s answer to Glasto, with the broadcasting of the performances on their Scottish channel (on another note: I had no idea this service even existed until last year, sorry Nicky!), even though the scope and combined star appeal of the acts did not compare in the slightest. TRNSMT is neither of these aforementioned festivals: if anything, it is a watered-down combination of the two – but the question is, does it still manage to be a fun weekend out?
Before I answer that question, I’ll ask another: who exactly is TRNSMT for? This jumped-up journalist is by no means one foot in the grave, but the crowd at TRNSMT did make me feel approximately 80 years old – not least because none of them could inform me which specific vowels were missing from the festival’s name, or even what a vowel was. The target demographic for the proceedings seemed to primarily include topless 16-year-old lads with bum bags and cut-and-paste spice boy haircuts, who all congregated en masse at The Boogie Bar, gyrating wildly to overproduced tech house booming out of an old shipping container in the middle of the woods. The inane nature of human interaction has never been more clearly defined than when you have been subjected to a gruelling rotation of the same three club chants on loop for 3 days on the trot. You can’t help but wonder why we haven’t come up with anything better yet; If the sum of millions of years of evolution has peaked at ‘ooh there it is’ and ‘here we fucking go’, then we should just pack the whole thing in – humanity is a failed experiment. There was nobody of particular note playing here, except for perhaps rising FLY resident BETH and a few others who at least attempted to diversify their sets with breaks and nu-garage beats – but when you put your best DJ’s on at the same time as the headliners of the festival, then you’ve basically wasted them entirely.
Once I shook off my existential dread, I tottered over to the River Stage, which played host to an interesting range of smaller bands and artists, in an attempt to return to my original quest – determining whether one could have fun at TRNSMT. There was certainly a lot of fun to be had in the portaloos, as the teenagers seemingly willing to queue for hours to get inside, though for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why. On the stage, Liverpudlian Rockers STONE (bad name, good tunes) got a rather impressive mosh going despite their limited means, and they were certainly proof that there is still interest for new, exciting acts, even amongst the drudgery on display 100 metres across the field – a trick was missed by not including these performances in the recordings too. Just up the hill, past the congregations of gammon red partiers hiding from the uncharacteristic heat, was the King Tuts Stage, whose acts included, over the weekend: beebadoobee, Jimmy Eat World, Saint Phnx, Jimmy Webster and more. None of these acts drew a particularly big reaction, (Saint Phnx pumping out some of the most offensively twee pop rock I’ve ever endured), except for both of the Jimmy’s, who arguably could have each gone on the main stage, considering that smaller acts like Wet Leg and Wolf Alice ended up performing there to more lackluster reactions from the crowd. Once again, it does seem like TRNSMT are unaware of exactly who they are catering for, giving the spotlight to the wrong people, and shunning those who may be more deserving of it.
Speaking of the main stage, it was really nice to see evidence that rock music and bands in general are still able to garner a reaction from the general festival going public, Foals and The Strokes garnering lots of mosh pits and shoulder riding, chorus belting sessions. However, there was a sense that the TRNSMT folks would be quite happy to tear it up to anything and would be better served by some more chart toppers than any attempts at representing underappreciated deep cuts from Paolo Nutini’s discography. The billing of the main stage was, again, rather confusing – as I mentioned earlier, as much as Wolf Alice and Wet Leg are for all intents and purposes technically better than, say, Example or Ella Henderson, at the the end of the day the majority of people at TRNSMT were there for the former and not the latter – simply put these bands whilst impressive, and deserving of a big audience, weren’t the right pick for the prime time slots of this particular festival – TRNSMT either needs to rebrand for an older audience or embrace its public perception as the young teams first festival – trying to have it both ways leaves you with a bitter taste – a strange hybrid that doesn’t seem to excite anyone as much as it would like.
With the exception of Scottish national treasures Paolo Nutini and Lewis Capaldi (and at a push Sam Fender – he’s certainly not southern and that’s good enough), who all put in commendable if not safe setlists, I didn’t really get the feeling that any of the festival goers were here to see anyone in particular. The Strokes, Foals, Jimmy Eat World – all headliners in their own rights, and yet underappreciated here by the locals, who would only perk up at the odd recognisable banger. You could fall on either side of the issue here with equal measure – either the headline acts weren’t big enough for the ticket price, or they were simply the wrong pick for the crowd at hand. I’m inclined to think that if TRNSMT would ever want to compete with the big boys, it needs to bolster both its infrastructure and its headliners. The bare bones are all there, and I certainly will never forget quite a few moments I had over the weekend – moshing to Inhaler, up on my mate’s shoulders for Last Nite, and the jubilant, roaring singalong to Candy, but it could, and should, be so much more.
I guess the other pertinent question is then, is TRNSMT worth it? Worth it in both the sense of being worth the price of admission, as well as just even worth the effort of coming down.
It seemed as if many of the festival goers were only there because it was happening in Glasgow, and they wanted to go to a festival, not because of any burning passion for the acts or the organisers – the bus ride back to Edinburgh was fairly quiet, implying that this was mostly an event for the locals. If I hadn’t been so graciously comped for my attendance, I would have had to pay almost 200 pounds for a ticket, which, for many, simply wasn’t justified by the named acts on the roster. The prices for drinks were completely ridiculous, and the VIP ticket, with its separate food and drink section and swanky toilets, didn’t really get you enough on top of the regular price to justify it, except for perhaps the queue skip. Essentially, there’s fun to be had, and everyone there made the most of it, but there are probably better festivals to attend with a similar budget, as things stand right now. I think that about wraps things up, so without further ado, I’m off for a lie-down and a Lemsip – I don’t know how the kids can keep doing all this.
Images accessed via TRNSMT 2022 press. Images accredited to Rory Barnes, Michael C. Hunter and Rory Buchanan.