At last year’s Bloodstock when camping with my friends, a recurring topic of conversation was the future of festivals. From speculating about possible headliners for Bloodstock to the future of festivals in general. They were insightful chats. It is a discussion confined not just to festival campsites, as it seems to be on everyone’s mind right now. With the news about the collapse of the Mayhem and Soundwave Festivals dominating the headlines recently and the constant discussion about the future headliners of big festivals a frequent talking point, it seems like everyone is worried about the hallowed metal tradition of the festival.
When I interviewed Yusuf from Slabdragger, he said regarding the matter, “The days of big festivals like Donnington are coming to an end, I feel. There are only a few of the big headlining bands left that can pull that kind of audience and sell tickets. You look at Download, Sonisphere, etc., it’s as if they rotate the same bands every other year. It’s always either Iron Maiden, Metallica, AC/DC, etc. simply because we are now in an era where there are so many bands and so much access to music that no one can really dominate a festival like that anymore. If Iron Maiden headline, you have guys taking their whole families. The wife, the kids, the fucking dog! That’s a lot of tickets because bands like that grew their legacy before the Information Age and before there were so many sub genres.”
Yusuf raises some very good points: the old guard of headliners are dying out. ‘Younger’ headliners like Slipknot, Muse, Rammstein, Linkin Park, The Prodigy, System of a Down and Avenged Sevenfold will probably be around for a long time, while there will still be life in the old guard such as Iron Maiden, Metallica, Def Leppard and Guns N Roses for a few more years. However, with the retirement of AC/DC, Black Sabbath imminent and the recent retirement of Mötley Crüe, new bands have to take their place. To me it’s pretty obvious which bands will take rise to the headline slots of the big festivals. Alter Bridge, Bring Me The Horizon, Disturbed, Enter Shikari, Five Finger Death Punch, Steel Panther and Bullet For My Valentine all seem to have a decent shot at headlining. With time, I believe Trivium, While She Sleeps, Skindred and Crossfaith will be headlining the big festivals too, while I wouldn’t rule out Lamb of God, Deftones, Ghost, Volbeat, Nightwish and Halestorm either.
Many would counter-argue that there aren’t enough bands with the ability to headline anymore and that new headliners don’t have the mass appeal or legend status needed to headline. When a new headliner steps into the ring there is always the obligatory rant by the online community that they aren’t big enough. Even though there is no doubt for the need to have new big headliners, the constant price rises for festivals are always off-putting to many fans (even if the new headliners are found). There are now hundreds of grassroots festivals across the UK which is great for the scene, but in someways has led to the over-saturation of the market. The same issue occurs with bands; thanks to the Internet there are thousands of bands fighting for attention with very few making it big.
Now let’s look at this years headliners. For Download there are Rammstein, Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath – all who have headlined the festival before. While their announcement met with cheers, it was also met with the usual chants of ‘same old same old‘. For Bloodstock the headliners were announced as Twisted Sister (performing their last ever UK show), Mastodon (making their long-awaited festival debut) and Slayer. Slayer’s announcement was met with happiness alongside a very vocal confusion to the lack of Judas Priest who had been heavily rumored. Some blasted the festival for being lazy (Slayer and co-headliner Anthrax played the Sunday of 2013). Nonetheless, Bloodstock has lasted three years without repeating headliners, a feat that some festivals don’t manage. Maybe some some fans want the same headliners. A recent poll by Ticketmaster showed the artists people wanted for Download 2016 were mainly the usual suspects. Iron Maiden, Rammstein and Black Sabbath were ranked 4th, 3rd and 2nd respectively with System of a Down winning the poll. So maybe people want these headliners as they are reliable in the sense that they end the day in style with a big chorus that can unite the entire crowd.
What we have seen in recent years though is an explosion of small indoor festivals across multiple venues. Temples, Desertfest, Damnation, Outbreak, Thrashosaurus and Ghostfest are just a few examples of the British indoor festivals that have been wildly successful and have already built up a strong reputation in just a few years, even attracting an international following. Maybe this is the future of festivals, a few genre-specific festivals across multiple venues/stages. Desertfest sold out this year proving there is a large market for stoner/sludge/doom bands while Temples united the entire underground in one festival, which also sold out. But there is still a market for outdoor festivals, smaller (and cheaper) outdoor festivals such as ArcTanGent and Hevy are gaining momentum proving there is still a demand for a weekend in a field watching some of the best bands touring today. Many British festival goers are starting to go abroad too, heading off to festivals such as Hellfest, Wacken, Graspop, Brutal Assault for their fix of outdoor festivals. While some are making pilgramages to other prestigous European festivals such as Roadburn, Incubate and the European Desertfests. Some fans even travel to the US to Maryland Deathfest for their fix of underground acts.
Ultimately, unless you are Wacken, Reading and Leeds or Glastonbury, very few festivals can survive on a brand name alone. The cancellation of Sonisphere for 2015 (after a redemption in 2014), Mayhem and Soundwave proved that festivals aren’t invincible. In conclusion, there will always be a demand for festivals and they will survive, but what shape they will take in the future is anyone’s guess. As Saxon once sang ‘the bands played on’, and the bands will always play on.