Future of UK Music Festivals

It’s 1970 and The Kinks play to a crowd of 1500 people at “Pop Folk & Blues Festival” at Worthy Farm, where tickets are a mere £1. One year later and the event changes it’s name to ‘Glastonbury Fair’ and the rest is history.

Rewind That Track investigates the future of UK music festivals.

Skip ahead 45 years and The Chemical Brothers have just finished their two hour set at Bestival, armed with enough LED lights and lasers to give most NASA missions a run for their money. Not to mention the fact that tickets to Bestival now cost 220% more than the very first Glastonbury entrance fee. Alongside this, you have to fight your way through a crowd of 80,000 people, a third of which were not even in nappies by the time The Chemical Brothers had released their debut album in 1995.

Then if you fancy a drink you hand over a small fortune and pay through the nose for a pint that costs the same as the mortgage on your house. All this time you’re trying to avoid a hurtling cup of god knows what travelling above the crowd, past the flags, the selfie sticks, the girl on the shoulders that has blocked your view for the past 45 minutes because she is flailing her arms about and having the best time of her life even though she doesn’t know her Fatboy Slim from her Faithless. So what happens once all this is over? You pack up your tent, get home and sleep for 14 hours before preparing for your next pilgrimage to whatever new day festival is happening in 5 days time at a field in Dorset.

What happened in those 35 years? How did we go from £1 for a ticket and as much free milk as you can drink, to running around fields wearing indian head dresses and paying £8 for a Jagerbomb?

During this article, I’ll be sharing my discussions with a variety of people who have experiences both in front and behind the barriers. Those who spend 6 months crafting the most enjoyable and entertaining shows on the planet for thousands of music fans and those who spend a small fortune on travelling 150 miles across country to listen to the latest B2B set in a field in Essex.

2 million pints of larger are drunk at Reading & Leeds festival every year
2 million pints of larger are drunk at Reading & Leeds festival every year

Cara Kane, the creative producer for Bestival, has worked on the festival for eight and a half years. During this time she has watched as Bestival has taken shape and grown into the multi award – winning, diverse, encompassing jewel that sits on The Isle of Wight every September. Having won  ‘Best Major Festival’ at the 2015 UK Festival Awards, Bestival brings together every genre of band, act and DJ in one last summer blow out that truly captures the original essence of what festivals were once recognised as. One of the biggest changes Cara has seen at the festival over the last few years is the music.

“Electronic music is a lot more popular nowadays . The general masses listen to dance music more than anything. The lineup used to be a lot more band based, now people are more excited to see someone behind a pair of decks.”

“The idea of a festival has also changed from what it was 50 years ago. As more and more festivals crop up, organisers are having to go the extra mile to grab peoples attention.”

Cara believes that people’s expectations of ‘what a festival is’ has changed.

“People expect a lot more from their festivals these days. There was a time where festivals were all about going to a field, going to see a band or act that you liked and then going to sleep in a tent afterwards and now there’s just so much more to it and so much more going on in those fields. People expect a much bigger experience for their money and it’s all about captivating the audience.”

1981 and Glastonbury introduces the famous ‘Pyramid Stage’ to the festival.
1981 and Glastonbury introduces the famous ‘Pyramid Stage’ to the festival.

But whilst Bestival may have grown in size and success in the last 11 years, many other festivals are taking their first steps in the entertainment business. Somerley Tea Party is located down on the South coast, nestled between Bournemouth and Southampton in Ringwood. Lloyd Miles, director of Tea Party Matter Limited, the holding company for Somerley, started the day festival back in 2014. Catering to a wide range of House, Techno and Drum and Bass fans, the festival quickly escalated from a day festival to a weekend event with camping for 2016. Speaking to Lloyd about the cost of putting on such an event he told us about the money that goes into capturing such a big line up. “The way that the worldwide dance music scene is going, fees are going through the roof. We sometimes sit there and look at what we’re paying for the STP line up which is a six figure number and think ‘how do they warrant that type of money’, but if you’re not willing to compete you might as well give up.”

And it seems that money is something that a lot of people get into the festival business for.

“Unfortunately now I feel that people with high revenue streams have just come in and really diluted the live music scene and are doing it for all the wrong reasons.”

Not all festivals are thriving in the UK however. Summer 2015 saw the likes of Global Gathering, Sonisphere, RockNess, Oxegen and Wildwood all absent from the festival lineups. As new names seem to thrive, some strongly established names seem to have disappeared for a number of reasons.

GlobalGathering was crowned Best Dance Festival at the 2013 Best of British DJ Mag Awards – it’s third consecutive win.
GlobalGathering was crowned Best Dance Festival at the 2013 Best of British DJ Mag Awards – it’s third consecutive win.

Global Gathering had been going strong for 14 years in the UK and had all the components of a successful dance music festival. A variety of genres. Check. Weekend camping. Check. UK exclusive headline acts. Check. So how can something so right on paper disappear altogether? Lloyd thinks that the organisers have a good motive.

“I think sometimes it’s sensible decisions. I think Global have been doing it for long enough to know what the markets doing and so I think they just thought “right if we give it a break, the new ones might die off and it might give us a better chance.”

“It’s not just the festival game that effects everything, it’s the club nights as well. There’s so many big events now that essentially you’re spending the same sort of money. So it’s not viable for people to go to two or three festivals anymore they’re having to go to one and then club nights in major cities and that’s sort of their summer done.”

Ben Read is a suffolk based house DJ, who has been attending and playing festivals for the last 2 years. Speaking to Ben about the kind of crowds different festivals draw in, you can tell that as festivals choose to accommodate more tastes, the identity of the crowd is scattered.

“The famous thing I hear which really irritates me is ‘I’m just going because he’s going or because she’s going.’ If you ever find yourself at a festival standing at a stage that you don’t really want to be at just because your mates are there, then I think that completely loses the whole notion of being at a festival. I mean I know it’s cliche but it should be that you’re there for the music and to enjoy yourself.”

And this is true. As more and more festivals fight for a big share in the general public’s attention, they are having to go above and beyond to distance themselves from similar events. Introducing new stages, new sponsors and new locations does increase popularity, but how far can they go before they’ve lost their original identity or sold themselves out?

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