Friday, April 10, 2009

A summer of rage

There are many times when we've felt like Stewart Lee feels in our life, but when the dread spectre of festivals is raised we feel like attempting to approach festival goers with that same query as he had for his viewers: "what do you want?"

Now, we've been around the internet for long enough to know that message board users rank just above the Metropolitan Police in terms of people who can be trusted without careful supervision. We've already dealt with the Isle Of Wight fallout in which the organisers made a move which finally got people to acknowledge it as something other than a corporate meat feast and the regulars promptly started stamping their feet ("It would be an embarrassment to Neil Young if he was booed off the stage", you may recall), but the same sort of thing is breaking out all over, from the Reading backlash after the rock day was dropped for this year to the Latitude followers kicking up a stink when Grace Jones and the Pet Shop Boys were named as headliners - more than one onlooker claims they'd attract "the wrong sort", whatever can they mean by that? - to even Bestival getting it in the neck for not being dancier. Plenty of people, presented with their cake, want to devour it immediately.

Now, clearly most of this is the work of idiot shortsighted fools who'd prefer Pendulum and can be discounted, but the widespread nature of discontent says a lot about the way we look at festivals now, and we suspect the way festivals look at their own headliners. For starters, in among what you may have noticed are straitened times financially, ticket prices are still climbing, put down to the pound's weakness against the dollar set aside opposite the cost of getting American bands in. Reading and Glastonbury are both £175 for the weekend, £20 on last year. Latitude, like Reading a Melvin Benn production, is also a score heavier at £160, the same price as Download, but that's only putting camping weekend prices up by a tenner. Isle Of Wight is £140, up £10. So is Bestival. T In The Park is £170 for three days, up £10 from last year. V is £152.50, up £7.50. For his part Melvin Benn says "compared to many of our competitors who offer two-day festivals or a lesser depth in line ups and less stages, Reading & Leeds Festivals still represent incredible value." Really? We've just gone through all the others and set against what's offered you appear to be clear of all of them. Take out the specialist, the unique and the inner London and what else is there?

The festival's even dumped its USP, the fabled Sunday Rock Day, supposedly as AC/DC weren't available, because as we know there is only one rock band. What their choice instead illustrates is the spectacular paucity of the pool the four major festivals - Glastonbury, Reading, T and V - draw their headliners from. Oasis will do one every couple of years, Radiohead ditto, Muse ditto, and then you're into the carousel of Arctics, Killers, KoL, Razorlight and whenever they're ready a huge American rock band every third year or so (Foos, White Stripes, RHCP, REM every blue moon) From there, there is no more. Franz and Kaisers aren't the draws they once were. Arcade Fire and Bjork will be seen as too left field. Lily Allen, much as she loves festivals, won't sell tickets as she's "pop". MGMT and Klaxons, the sort of bands people who go to massive festivals fall for, have one album. After the Jay-Z rumpus, which lest we forget the Beeb didn't even show the set by in full, nobody will be thinking outside the box for a while yet. That's why you get the reformations and heritage acts, your Verves and Rage Against The Machines and, yes, Neil Youngs.

Given 2008 was the year the festival boom was supposed to have abated it doesn't look like there's too few less events this year, even a few new startups - Vince Power has turned last year's Young/Boosh double header into Hop Farm Festival, Sonisphere is attempting to offset Download - and with that the usual roundel of bands who seem to be everywhere. The Zutons look like this year's Seasick Steve, Dan Black the new Lightspeed Champion. We'd contend that this point of the year, where all the announcements are coming in, is almost as entertaining as when they're all taking place, checking through everything, finding odd new names - what else was on your list, Ou Est Le Swimming Pool? - and being intrigued by booking decisions and directions being taken. All we're saying is Green Man had better not slack up next year, as we're going to have to come that way at some point. Indeed, we've taken on curation of TLOBF's at a glance festival guide for the year. Only thing is, you wonder if some of the organisation is working out as well as it should for potential consumers.


Jim W said...

What about the uncomfortable truth that festivals just aren't very good places to watch/listen to bands?

The correlation between increased price and number of people in the crowd always bothers me...if I was paying almost £200 for a ticket (so, what, best part of £400 by the time transport/food/pisspoor lager have been factored in) at Leeds then I'd want to be able to walk straight to the front of the crowd, not stuck at the back playing 'spot the band' and indulging in some very expensive kareoke.

Oh, and Mr. Benn, any chance the your customers could avoid a profit-protecting frisking for drink every time they want to walk into the fenced-off arena?

The real rip-off is the day tickets. Seven years ago a few of us barely teenage boys begged/borrowed the seemingly enormous sum of £35 for a Leeds day ticket to see our first live music. Totally ace, man...there was Sleepy Jackson AND Stellastarr* like within the first hour... Now they're £70 bloody quid. For twelve hours? You what? Another £10 if you want to sit in the field a day early and spend money at their burger stands?

Still, even Truck has more than doubled to £70 in four years. Not that I begrudge them a penny.*

*Quickly checked their website and found they've started announcing headliners: Ash and Supergrass, surely the exemplary "why are they here, have they released anything in years?" mid-afternoon Main Stage bookings of early 2000s festivals.

Oh and since I've ranted on a bit, how about a further tangent: about time that Johnny Boy re-released their only single of note? Or at least appointed them as head of the government's fiscal policy.

Simon said...

I didn't really cover the small festivals because I don't know enough about them, but Truck is a case in point - three years ago when I first went it was £40 for a bill headlined by the Futureheads just after News And Tributes, so at the height of what they could pull in, and also featuring Regina Spektor, Battles, Chicks On Speed, Hundred Reasons, Seth Lakeman and The Organ. Over that same period some quick eFestivals research reveals Green Man has gone up £17, and the quality of this year's bill in comparisons more than bears that out. Secret Garden Party has gone up £47 in three years! That's more than Reading/Leeds or Glastonbury!

And yet R&L weekend tickets sold out in two days. If you bill it they will come.