If you know me, you know I love a good music festival. Back when I first started heading to Download in 2005 (crazy, right?), they were really only just beginning to come 'into fashion' - unless it was Glastonbury, V or Reading/Leeds, you'd be met with a bit of a blank look when you said you were heading off to what's now a household name as the premier UK rock and metal festival. The alternative music scene has certainly seen a boom in recent years - with the type of acts you'd catch at Download making it onto mainstream radio and scoring number 1 albums (Avenged Sevenfold's Hail To The King).
As festivals have become a huge part of the summer calendar, the amount of smaller festivals on offer have grown quite dramatically, with new festivals popping up every year. One of the 'big ones' of 2014 was AltFest - an idea that drummed up support on Kickstarter to offer an alternative to the bigger, profit-driven festivals and featuring a lineup of gothic, industrial and metal acts. With lots of hype and an impressive lineup without having major sponsors, it all seemed too good to be true. And unfortunately, it was. Around two weeks before the festival was due to kick off, bands on the lineup started spreading the news that the festival had been cancelled - with traders soon following suit. After days and days of silence, the AltFest team made an official statement, that due to problems with funding and the festival not selling as well as they'd anticipated, they had to cancel the event.
Also falling victim to cancellation was the London-based Jabberwocky, and although they made it back onto their feet in 2014 with a damn respectable lineup, even the large-scale Sonisphere festival saw the 2012 UK event being cancelled. British Summertime's 2014 lineup saw tons of punters getting hold of £2.50 tickets, and even Download saw smaller levels of attendance than the previous year. On a positive note, punk/hardcore festival Hevy made a welcome return, and although poor attendance for daytime bands seemed to be reported, the organisers appear certain that 2015 is a go, with early bird tickets still on sale. But with ever-increasing choice, where does the future of the UK music festival scene lie?
First off, lineups. They're THE biggest part of a music festival, and as the number of festivals increases, the
number of available headline-level bands will inevitably be split between the available events, with exclusivity contracts preventing other UK festivals from picking up some of the big draws. There's also the issue of more and more people heading to European festivals, some of which still cost less with travel included than the price of a UK festival ticket, where it seems the norm for the major players to be charging £200+ for a weekend camping ticket.
I think the long-running, more established festivals - Glastonbury (obviously), Reading & Leeds, V, Download etc - are pretty safe, as they've built a strong name for themselves. For some, there might be a decrease in ticket sales (I remember the days when it was a scramble on release day for Reading, now it's fine to wait months to pick up your ticket), but as long as they keep putting on the big draws, they'll pull in the punters and stay profitable. In terms of smaller and one/two-day festivals, the established names such as Slam Dunk and Hit The Deck are still doing well, and booking smaller but still popular bands in the right sized venues seems like the key to their success. Niche festivals are also in a pretty good place, with Bloodstock catering for those who crave a weekend of metal, and the one-day Leeds event Damnation offering the best in more specialist black/death/doom style genres.
On the subject of new festivals, I don't see many new ventures gaining much support or traction - in a market so busy, there's already plenty to cater for all tastes. The problem with AltFest is that it tried to do too much, too soon - and it's doomed failure will have certainly taken the wind out of those contemplating starting up new events any time soon. I think there WILL be new festivals that crop up, but they'll be smaller and more niche events, catering to smaller crowds rather than the masses. With the variety of festivals already on offer, it's going to be incredibly hard to make it to major player level, as the 'big ones' already have brand loyalty, financial security and a good hold on the market.
Where do you think the future of festivals lies?