Sunday, 5 June 2011

Future of Festivals - Is an overhaul needed?

In 6 days, my summer plans begin. A really long two days means I get to go to Download for the day and remove another band from my bucket list – System of a Down. I am so excited about this it is unreal. Especially considering what I’ve just seen on setlist.fm that they are mixing set lists up so to include some songs not on the first couple of reunion sets. I’m seeing Bounce and IEAIAIO on the setlist from Italy which would be amazing if one or both of these were played at Download. Thinking of other acts that I will be hoping to catch while I am there, there are 16 bands in total I hope to see. Considering one of the main selling points for me about this day was Evile, they are not one of the bands I intend to see. I am really gutted about missing them but I have seen them before and they clash with Bowling for Soup doing an acoustic set. I’ve not seen them and do want to so they are the clear winners. Other bands I hope to see include Twisted Sister, Cheap Trick, Sevendust, Down, Clutch, Hollywood Undead, Skindred, Sacred Mother Tongue and a few others. Considering the whole deal cost me about £120, I think I am getting really good value for my money. I will of course be posting a review blog about my day at Download and everything that goes with it. I will be armed with my camera as well so with any luck it’ll be accompanied with some photos of the day.

This getting close excites me as it means my summer plans are here. Once Download is done, it will soon be time to see Foo Fighters again (along with Biffy Clyro and Jimmy Eat World). Just a short 5 days after that and it will be time for Sonisphere. The amount of bands playing Sonisphere that I want to see is unreal, and helpfully they are spread out over all the stages so I am very fearful of the number of clashes I will have to deal with. I have already earmarked a number of bands that I am refusing to miss. I still am praying (not literally on my knees) that Volbeat and Fozzy do not clash. If they do, I do not know what I’ll do. Anyway, when that is done it is about 3 weeks to wait and then the bags are packed again and I’m off to Germany for Wacken. When getting back from that, it’s again about 3 weeks and then off to Reading festival. This has the potential to be a superb summer full of superb live bands. Excitement level for this weekend and indeed this summer is pretty high right now.

The reason why I started writing this blog though was not as a way to talk about how excited I am about summer. It was inspired by a post I made on a forum about the competition between Sonisphere and Download. The original post was arguing that Sonisphere should go away as it is stopping Download from becoming a “big awesome festival” and that repeat bookings were a nightmare. The original post also argued that headliners would become weaker if there are two festivals to choose between. I said that Download had the opportunity to become a super awesome big super amazing festival in the years 2003-2008 when it was the only rock/metal festival out there. I know Reading/Leeds caters for rock/metal fans but not exclusively. Download had that chance and missed it. I would go so far as to say that the reason there is a Sonisphere festival in this country is because the company that runs it saw a gap in the market that Download wasn’t filling and exploited it. As a result within 3 years, Sonisphere is considered a festival as big as Download. It is actually bigger considering the fact it is a touring festival around Europe but I’m not really considering that. I also argued that repeat bookings are bad but no festival is immune from it. In fact the two in question here, Download and Sonisphere, are guilty of booking a headliner they had headline in 2009. I’ve said a million times though if both want to keep booking Metallica that is a way to draw me to your festival. I can’t imagine I’ll ever tire of seeing them live. It would however be wrong of me to criticise Download for booking Def Leppard without doing the same for Sonisphere for booking Metallica. However, is it because the two festivals are competing with each other that his has happened or is it actually there are not a great deal of headline bands available?

People (myself included) have debated until they are blue in the face whether or not Biffy Clyro are a big enough band to headline a major festival, but I would much rather see a festival give a band like Biffy a chance than continue to book safe choices. I fully expect one or both of these festivals to continue doing this. I expect to see bands like BMFV, A7X + others headlining either Download or Sonisphere (or both). I think booking “weak” headliners has nothing to do with these festivals competing with each other. I think it is more to do with the fact that there are far fewer bands now reaching the size of Metallica and Iron Maiden and other “headline” bands. As for repeat bookings, I think that is inevitable due simply to the availability of bands and how many bands that festivals are trying to put on over a weekend. I do believe festivals are going overkill with the amount of stages they have. I think having 3 stages which are in full use over the whole weekend with one that has acts sporadically over the course of the weekend is fine. However both Download and Sonisphere have booked 5 stages full of bands. Even with the alternating system that Sonisphere has, that is too many stages. It is nice to have an alternative from the main band playing at any given time, but having that many stages I think runs the risk of going for quantity over quality. The original post argued that having two very similar festivals reduces the variety of bands that are on offer over the course of the weekend. I agree to extent. However, both festivals have something unique about them which are selling points. Download has SOADs first UK show since 2005, the return of The Darkness etc. Sonisphere has booked bands which have never made Download line-ups in its 8 years, and bucked the trend so to speak by booking Richard Cheese and Bill Bailey. I think the competition forces these festivals to book bands etc that really trumps the other’s lineup.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I think last year’s Sonisphere lineup was better than Downloads. I would say the same about this year as well. Yes I am going to a day of Download and if I was going for the weekend, I’m sure I would find enough to keep me entertained. However the undercard just is not as strong as far as I am concerned. There are a number of bands that are playing Download who I am gutted not to be seeing (Korn, Alter Bridge, Disturbed and Malefice to name a few). The reason though I am not seeing these bands is because there is another festival out there, with similar bands and a similar atmosphere, which is better. I like being able to make a choice. I can’t make a festival decision on atmosphere alone and have never understood why people do that. For me, I’m not spending £200 on a ticket to watch 6 bands but really enjoy the campsite.

Going back to an earlier point about festival headliners – who are going to be future headliners? I think the two I mentioned above, A7X and BFMV will be festival headliners by 2013 and I reckon the first year they headline a festival – the one that takes the plunge and books them will get shit on. It is quite funny really that internet communities and when you speak to people, they will shit on a festival for booking a safe, old favourite like Metallica as a headliner, but then they also get shit on for trying to book a new headliner like Biffy Clyro. I’m looking back at Download’s of years gone passed, trying to see if there are any other headline quality bands out there. This is a list of bands that I will not be surprised to see called upon to either headline or play a major slot at a festival.

Bullet For My Valentine
Avenged Sevenfold
Trivium
Deftones
Korn
Stone Sour
30 Seconds To Mars.

I don’t really like a lot from that list if I am brutally honest, but I honestly don’t see many new headliners out there. There is of course scope to use previous 1 time headliners (Lostprophets, MCR and Tool spring instantly to mind) but who knows. These bands I have listed are either on the cusp of headlining already, or with another well received album will be there. Most of these bands play fairly big gigs already (Deftones, Trivium and Korn possibly the exception). The second a festival books someone from this list to headline, they will be shit on. I know I have said that already but I am stressing that point as it is the main point of this part of the blog. How can this be avoided? I have a suggestion which is based on how festivals like Wacken work. Sonisphere have already adapted one of the main ways in which Wacken runs by having alternating main stages (they have the stages next to each other at Wacken though, rather than facing each other). Sonisphere have also adapted the idea of the first day being a shorter day that Wacken do. Thursday is the main day for Wacken though with the Night to Remember slot. I’m not focusing on this day though. I will look at what Wacken does when it comes to headliners though, and how this could easily be adapted into a UK festival. For this, I’ll be using the running times of Wacken 2006-2008 for the two main stages. I can’t find them for 2009/10 unfortunately.

2006:
Friday – Carnivore, Children of Bodom, Celtic Frost, Ministry. (All 4 bands have 1hr 15min sets. One band on main stages after headliners, playing a 1 hour set).
Saturday – Soulfly, Whitesnake, Emperor, Motorhead, (All 4 bands have 1hr 15min sets. Two bands on main stages after headliners, playing 1 hour sets).

2007:
Friday – Blind Guardian, Dimmu Borgir, Iced Earth (BG have 1.5hr set, other two have 1hr 15mins. One band after headliners have 1 hour set).
Saturday – Rage, Destruction, Type O Negative, Immortal, In Flames (All 5 bands have 1hr 15min sets. Two bands after headliners have 1 hour sets).

2008:
Friday – Children of Bodom, Corvus Corax, Avantasia (CoB have 1.5hr set. Other two bands have 1hr 15mins. One band after headliners playing 1 hour set).
Saturday – Carcass, Killswitch Engage, At The Gates, Nightwish, Kreator (Nightwish have 1.5hr set, Other 4 bands have 1hr 15min sets. One band after headliners playing 1 hour set).


So, 8 headliners in all 3 years and the main headliner, if there is one, not playing last. These are all things that could be adopted to a UK festival. Have 3 headliners on your main stages playing equal sets or very similar sets and that way having “weak” headliners might not be a problem as such. This works so well for Wacken as the music continues until 3am which might provide a major issue for a UK festival – but everything else could happen. The festival that adopts this plan will be doing something different. I am going to do a hypothetical Sonisphere lineup for 2012 just headliners with the way their stages work. One major thing to remember is this is hypothetical, but it is just to show how this system could work.

Friday – Aerosmith (1.5hrs) All other bands (1hr)
Saturday – Muse, Korn, Tool, Bullet for My Valentine, (Muse 1.5hrs, all other bands 1hr 15mins)
Sunday – Stone Sour, Trivium, Deftones, MCR (all bands 1hr 15mins).

Like I said, this is completely hypothetical but could easily work at Sonisphere and at Download. It would stop people whining about “weak” headliners. It would allow bands to step up and fill the headliner spot comfortably and confidently. It would make UK festivals stronger to adopt this system. The current system is relying too heavily on bands like Metallica, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard and Linkin Park. Feelings towards these bands aside, they are reliable headliners because they will shift tickets. But when they are gone, there are very few bands that festival organisers can turn to in the rock/metal world. Changing the system now could lead to the festival in question getting a new lease of life – and staying on the calendar for years after Metallica and Maiden have retired.

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