ELAGA 2018: A Lesson for St Andrews

George Wilder passes his judgment on ELAGA 2018, with hope that the event will help break the mould of future St Andrean Events

Life is full of disappointments, something that I know all too well. From a young age I was led to believe that Bombay Sapphire, the renowned gin brand, was as rich a blue as the vessel that contained it. Years later I would hanker to the bar with my ‘driver’s license’, registered in a country I’d never been to, laying claim to a birthday that predated the fall of the Berlin Wall. I’ll never forget the moment, a brief second in which my childish innocence was smothered in the swirling bubbles of unbranded tonic water, the sense of disbelief, and the simple question that followed, ‘why?’ ‘why has this happened?’

No such problems at ELAGA 2018, which showed up critics despite numerous raised eyebrows ever since its conception after a zealous brainstorming session last Raisin Weekend. I had worried about the weather, everyone had, but I liked to think our easy-going attitude to a couple of inches of snow earlier this year renders St Andreans, and indeed all the denizens of Fife, capable of overcoming a few drops of rain. With this in mind I forged on to Younger Hall, where I waited for the bus, which in keeping with the creative nature of the event began to seem like it would be fashionably late.

But you know on second thought… I hate buses anyway, St Andrews is the supposedly the second most expensive place to go to university, so I may as well take a taxi. My thoughts seem to be shared by most of the crowd, who join me in my pilgrimage up to Craigtoun Park, where we stride through the walkway towards the venue. Once again I must admit I had my concerns. The food village with the footfall of a nuclear test site, the sad rotation of the wipeout game as it mirrored the cursory glances of the woman presiding over the ever hopeful inflatable side, and the smell of wet straw was more village fete than a redefinition of art. In fact, I half expected to turn a corner to find a group of four-year olds throwing sponges at their grumpy music teacher for 50p. Yet, never one to judge a book by its cover, I smiled at the tarot card reader and moved onto what mattered, the plethora of musical acts that had been assembled by the committee.

One of the great and surprising things about reviewing is the way in which events choose to hold their cards. Like so many individuals and occurrences throughout history the little details can cease to matter in the face of a single feature, an ace in the hole if you will. Real Madrid has Ronaldo, D-Day had the US Airforce, Lance Armstrong had EPO. When it came to ELAGA this overriding feature had been kept very much in the dark. I stood in the crowd, which struggled to contain the excitement felt for the later acts. This tension was constructed expertly by ELAGA by cultivating the atmosphere of a pres at the main stage, with the first few hours of acts perfectly emulating the Spotify playlist of a Tuesday evening houseparty. The performance went as far as to make sure the music even stopped briefly at one point, acting out the point of indecision where an aux cable is gingerly handed from friend to friend. People in the crowd could be forgiven for wondering why they had come all this way to revel in what could be achieved with a handful of UE BOOM Speakers, but they would be missing the point.

Indeed, just as these mischievous thoughts began to trouble my mind, just as I began to squint for the ace in the hole it hit me, quite literally. Imagine us, fools, standing below in our throng, thinking the only sensations we would experience would be the mud on our ankles and Sigala in our ears. As the giant confetti cannons exploded above my section of the crowd I suddenly entered a new frame of mind, I looked around, people were laughing, really laughing. By being covered in the brightly coloured pieces of tissue paper the royal flush had finally been played, my allegiance was sealed. The lack of promised hot-tubs and massages, the lacklustre set by Rudimental, the fact a friend of mine waited so long in the queue to leave he and his girlfriend actually walked back to St Andrews, all falls away like tutorial to strikes. I look out to the graffiti art exhibitions and pyramid of paint that rises rainbow-like from the ground, and feel a sense of sadness ripple through me as I look at the grinning guests. How will they go on knowing that this was it? For VIP guests this was the best £100 they will ever spend. Those poor poor people… where will they go for laser-tag now?

And so I sit here now, days later, playing over the memories again in my mind and asking for the second time in my life ‘why?’ ‘why has this happened?’. I suppose the answer is for the greater good. I respect anyone who is willing to break the St Andrews event culture. God knows, as the ELAGA promotional videos explained over and over, we are a town in need of something new. Yet, despite being interested by the concept, the execution of ELAGA has caused it to become the very thing it mocked for so long. A party with a massive price-tag. The timing in the Semester worked against them, and the sentiment of the student body didn’t help: it is difficult to throw an event when it seems everyone wants you to fail.

I’ll finish by saying, quite honestly, that I hope I live to eat my words. And that the 5th anniversary of ELAGA features live performances from ground-breaking artists in a glorious natural setting that leaves other events shaking in their high-heels and wellies. With that said it seems an opportune time to use that ever so deployed cliché. Perhaps we will come to see ELAGA 2018 was the event we needed, if only to highlight what we deserve.

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