Disclaimer: Most, if not all of what I am about to write is based almost entirely on my opinion and observations on this topic. I advise that anyone reading this takes it with an ocean’s worth of salt.
So, summer is long gone, and with it, festival season has followed, along with all the straw hats, dodgy shorts, and premature kidney failure. This post wasn’t inspired by the changing of the seasons, but rather, the news that Virgin are no longer sponsoring V festival. I’ve never given a shit about this event (aside from being mystified by how consistently average the line up has been), and somehow, I care even less about its future. My apathy towards this particular situation didn’t really surprise me, as I could think of at least seven thousand better things to do with a weekend – none of which involve going to a field to take obscene amounts of narcotics and dance like I’m fighting invisible demons. What did surprise me, however, was the realisation that I’m kind of over larger festivals on the whole, and am not sure if I was ever on board with them in the first place.
It would be easy to blame it on age (27 might as well be one foot in the grave compared to the average festival goer), but bitching about getting older doesn’t stop it from happening – even if growing up means making compromises, and learning to hate fun. I believe there’s a little more to it than that though, as some folks religiously attend certain festivals well into middle age and beyond, and while it would be easy to assume that they are going through some sort of mid-life crisis, I have respect for their vitality.
The main issue with big festivals, is that the line ups have become increasingly “safe”, and in trying to please as many people as possible, they become unremarkable. When festivals were fairly new to me, part of the mystique was the idea of seeing five or six of my favourite bands in one day, getting shitfaced with my mates and passing out somewhere, then waking up the next day and doing it all over again. The “not give a fuck” attitude does still seem appealing, and while I can get behind the prospect of taking the opportunity to exist in a separate reality for a few days, it becomes difficult to ignore the negative aspects when the main attraction (i.e. the music) is totally mediocre.
This may sound like me being overly nostalgic, but for the past three years running, half of the main stage lineup from Reading and Leeds festivals have consisted of bands that were in their prime when I was a teenager. It’s kind of hard not to feel like festivals have stagnated when a line up is almost identical to something from ten years ago.
While the bands are good in their own right, it’s pretty big ask to fork out upwards of £200 to see one band that I love, after enduring three bands that I pretend to sing along to during a majority of their set.
To me, it seems that Download festival would be the one of the offenders for this. Sure, there have been some decent bands playing over the years, but seeing Iron Maiden headline for what seems like the seventh year in a row would make it easy to jump to the (inaccurate) conclusion that rock and metal are dying genres.
Of course, it would be impossible to talk about UK music festivals without mentioning Glastonbury, and I admit, it escapes the trap of having a mediocre lineup. Kind of. There’s no denying that every year, the lineup is absolutely huge, and while I still think there have been some fairly bland choices for headliners (see a pattern forming here?), it’s pretty unlikely that you would run out of things to do. I am not speaking from experience, however, as I have never been, and part of the reason for that is because of the tickets being released before the line up has been announced. While this is clearly an effective way of getting punters, I find it ridiculous that your enjoyment of Glastonbury is basically a gamble.
So all this probably makes me sound like a cynical asshole, and while that is a pretty fair assessment of who I am as a person, there’s another article here that goes into more detail on exactly why UK festivals are in decline. It’s worded far better than this post, but that’s because whoever wrote it is getting paid by the financial times, and I’m not. As I said at the beginning of this, all of this is pretty much just my opinion, and not an in-depth analysis.
With all this said and done, I’m not going to say that I’ll never go to another festival, and I don’t begrudge anyone who plans to do so. There are smaller festivals that tend to cater more towards specific genres (ArcTanGent, Slam Dunk, and to an extent, Secret Garden Party), some of which are shorter, cheaper, and/or easier the get to. While the article above suggests that these are causing the festival scene to become over-saturated, I believe that this is the way forward, from a personal perspective, at least. The alternative would be to see bands at an actual venue, and for me, this trumps a festival in almost every way. Sure, it’s a different atmosphere, but you get to enjoy a longer set, better sound quality, and the comfort of knowing that you probably won’t get hit in the face with a pint of piss when that big chorus comes in.
P.S. -After posting this, I realised that the link to the article I mentioned doesn’t work. If you really want to read it, type “UK music festivals in decline”, into google, and that should be one of the first results. It’s a pretty interesting read.