Why failed FYRE music festival is must-see TV

Publish Date
Thursday, 24 January 2019, 7:41AM

By: Chris Schulz

There were few toilets, just a handful of food trucks, and one stage plonked in the middle of a field.

Once you'd queued for your beer tokens, you queued for entry into the bar area, then queued again to get a drink.

To make matters worse, while you sipped on your drink you couldn't see the stage.

But that wasn't the worst thing about the Whitianga New Year's music festival that, in my mind, stands out as one of the worst musical events I've attended.

It was this: because of the lack of toilets, everyone just did their business into a river bordering the festival site.

When it started raining, and it got dark, and punters had had a few drinks, the riverbanks turned into urine-soaked slides - an adventure ride that many accidentally took a turn riding.

The pleas for help from those who'd slid down the smelly mud bank and couldn't clamber back up still haunt me when I sleep.

So does the anguished scream from the security guard who'd snapped his ankle in a pothole.

That's how that particular festival ended: with us waiting in the rain for an ambulance to ferry the guy to safety.

As bad as that experience was, it's nothing compared to Fyre Festival, an event that was a river of shit all of its own. In August, 2017, it promised punters an isolated Bahamas island paradise full of celebrity chefs, supermodel influencers, exclusive accommodation and performances by Kanye West, Blink-182 and Migos.

Instead, thanks to Netflix's incredible new documentary Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, we can all watch what happens when it turn into something much more, a burning effigy that signifies one of the defining failures of the influencer generation.

The film, released in New Zealand overnight, plays out like a horror film, one that spirals into some very unexpected places. You'll know it when you see it, but there's one point, about two-thirds into the film, involving some water tanks being held by border guards, where you'll have your hands over you eyes in disbelief.

At the centre of all this is Billy McFarland, the festival's inexperienced but well connected promoter who used celebrities like Kendall Jenner and supermodels like Emily Ratajkowski to sell - in his words - "a pipe dream to your average loser".

Despite every signpost - the lack of tents, the lack of chefs, the lack of water, and, at one point, the lack of an actual island - telling him to flee, McFarland continued to push Fyre forward to the debacle it became, one that earned him a six-year jail sentence.

Chris Smith's documentary includes incredible footage, from interviews with members of McFarland's team who were there on the island watching as it fell apart, to riveting behind-the-scenes footage of McFarland's inner circle showing us exactly how the man operates. Then there are heartbreaking moments with island residents who are still struggling since its collapse.

One thing Netflix's Fyre is lacking, which Hulu's counterpart doco Fyre Fraud has been quick to point out, is an interview with McFarland itself. That's been controversial, as Hulu reportedly paid the fraudster for the sit-down chat, but didn't donate any of the proceeds to those still hurting from the failed fest.

It doesn't matter. Smith lets the influencers, the social media stars and celebrities that everyone worships these days, do all the talking, and, alongside McFarland, they become the film's real villains. If you haven't already lost faith in the influencer industry, you will after watching this.

One of the most telling chats is with one of the few artists booked to play Fyre Festival who agreed to be interviewed for the film. That would be Jillionaire, the Major Lazer party starter who stares the camera dead down the lens and says: "Fyre was basically like Instagram came to life."

If that's true, maybe we should all be reassessing our addiction to social media. It's hard not to after spending two hours watching Fyre burn to the ground.

• Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened is available for screening on Netflix.

This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission.

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