Capturing love, drugs and debauchery at music festivals around the world
Photographer James Marcus Haney spent 10 years sneaking into shows and raves to document them. His new book, 'Fanatics', turns his lens on music fans.
Photography James Marcus Haney
A decade ago, James Marcus Haney snuck into his first music festival. All his favourite bands were playing Coachella, but there was no way he could afford the tickets. He didn’t even have enough money to fill his old Volvo station wagon with gas to get all the way to Indio. Undeterred, Marcus found a guy called Acid Chris on Craigslist to chip in for the ride, and arrived at the festival a day early. He jumped the fence into the artist area and slept under a production truck and in porta-potties until the gates opened, emerging the next morning with wristbands made from shoelaces coloured with Sharpies, and a hefty camera he’d borrowed from his film school to document the festival.
Since then, Marcus has snuck into more than 50 festivals and events in 35 different countries, including Glastonbury and the Grammys — the experiences immortalised in his documentary No Cameras Allowed and new photo book Fanatics. Though it hasn’t all been smooth sailing: he’s been handcuffed on more than one occasion and at a Bonnaroo in Tennessee, Marcus was driven six miles away from the festival by security, on the back of a hay mover, in hopes that it’d keep him from sneaking back in. But most of the time, Marcus succeeds, hopping over a barrier, sneaking in the back door or acting the part of a press photographer — armed with a professional camera and the quiet confidence of someone who believes they belong. Marcus is welcomed into photo pits and the backstage lives of famous musicians and celebrities without a real credential or a pass. To this day, he’s still never paid admission.
Along the way Marcus has befriended folk troubadours Mumford & Sons and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and been invited on tour as a professional photographer for Coldplay and Elton John. He’s now likely to drop into shows via private jet or helicopter, like the time he accompanied Elton to Bestival on the Isle of Wight, off the south coast of England. “I was on a walkie with the pilot,” Marcus says. “So I just had him keep doing circles lower and lower over the festival. I’d turn to him and say Elton wants to do another pass, just so I could take the photos. Elton finally figured out what was going on and was like, ‘Fuck Marcus, land this thing already.’”
From mega-concerts in Taiwan to DIY raves in crumbling castles in France, where 300 people spent five days sleeping in tents by the river, listening to music and poetry — Marcus has captured much of the dynamism and debauchery of the music festivals he enjoys on camera. In Fanatics, he hones in on the music fans he’s spent more than 10 years beside. He captures the young and old, sunburnt and tattooed. The men and women caked in equal parts mud and glitter that kiss, hug and dance in the fields in ecstasy.
Published in December, after a year without live performances and no return date for shows in sight, the book is a nostalgic depiction of a Covid-free world. Instead of the shaky live-streams and virtual concerts that have become our norm, his photographs depict crowds of people smashed together in euphoria — a snapshot of a life that feels too far away. While there’s nothing that can replace the thrill of a concert or festival where, as Marcus says, “you’re connected to thousands of other people in an intimate way, sharing and watching an artist pouring their heart out on stage,’’ Fanatics comes pretty close.
“I didn’t ever intend to make a book about [fans], but that’s what I was drawn to,” he says. “Where else do you see people in public completely with their guard down, completely not censoring themselves? When you’re on the front rail of a show or in the middle of the crowd and you look around there’s people acting — if you put them in any other context in public — like lunatics. If you put them on the tube or on the beach or anywhere else, you wouldn’t catch them dead doing that stuff and letting that amount of emotion come out.”
In the book, music fans, or, fanatics, come across green and excited, while others appear wildly unhinged. Edited like a 24-hour festival experience, the photographs move from the morning through to the middle of the day, with people waving cardboard signs scrawled with the name of the festival they hope to hitchhike to, then arriving bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. They slowly deteriorate into chaos as they enter a nighttime full of sweat, snogs and scrapes. With the hardcore ravers ultimately waking up in fields, entangled with strangers or covered in makeshift newspaper blankets.
Throughout, there’s “a juxtaposition of innocence and innocence lost,” Marcus says. A baby crying, wearing blue earmuffs that compliment the colour of the nos balloon a woman inhales next door, or a young boy of no more than 10-years-old standing beside a hut graffitied with “free ket sold here.” An image of a sign that reads “fence jumping and trespassing prohibited: violators subject to prosecution and removal from the park,” sits beside four frames of party-goers hopping over the gate, or handcuffed and being escorted by police.
The pages are fuelled by drugs and booze, but also humour, lust, love, the unorthodox and the eccentric. Punctuated with anecdotes from bands and singers about the fans that have inspired them, and the years before they were famous: Lars Ulrich from Metallica recalls lingering outside the back door after concerts, searching for a sense of belonging, and Maggie Rogers remembers admitting to one of her favourite singers, Leslie Feist, that she’d made her website just like hers.
A very powerful photograph in the book features Marcus’s friend Ryan Chen, being hoisted in his wheelchair above a sea of fans at Austin City Limits in Texas. At the same time, the crowd shouted the Young The Giant lyrics: “My body tells me no, but I won’t quit/ Cause I want more.” In the photo’s caption, the band’s lead singer Sameer Gadhia says that they wrote the song when they were just 18 years old, and never really knew what it meant until that moment. “[Ryan’s] love for life, his desire to grow and face each challenge with grace and determination, and his undying passion for all experiences have become sources of infinite inspiration for me.”
Elton John describes the fans at the first festival he ever performed at — the Krumlin Festival in Yorkshire — which, he says, “went down in the history books as an unmitigated disaster, the weather was so bad, people were literally treated for exposure”. But he adds, “Sometimes it’s better when the weather’s horrible — you see what dedicated music fans are prepared to put up with, just to hear live music, to have fun, to celebrate with their mates. It’s so worthwhile and so fulfilling.’’
Baking in the heat, grubby and sleep-deprived, but having the best time ever — Marcus captures the indomitable spirit of these fans in small, spontaneous moments. You can tell from the photographs that he’s in the dirt with them, enjoying every single minute of it. Because, he says, “Where else, in public, do you find such personal experiences all communally shared at the same time and people being so vulnerable?”
You can purchase Fanatics online at Stop + Fix.