Friday, August 30, 2013

The Middle Class Have Ruined Festivals

Leeds Festival
Leeds Festival (Photo credit: Effervescing Elephant)
So another weekend of Leeds/Reading Festival has come and gone, tens of thousands of kids are shell-shocked and stinking by Monday morning and are crawling home. Later they'll be out and about telling everyone about how their first festival experience was amazing and that Leeds Fest 2013 was the best thing ever.

Well it wasn't, Leeds/Reading has become a bit shit.

The first problem with these new breed of mega-fests is the line-up. It does not matter that the organisers have grabbed every indie rock band in the UK and shoved them into a tent, you're still only going to see 10 bands' worth of full sets in a day.

Look at this line-up from a festival I once went to. It was called Monsters Of Rock....

Iron Maiden
David Lee Roth
Guns N' Roses

I know that most middle class kids festival goers won't understand this as a festival bill, so let me explain. Monsters Of Rock did what it said on the tin, it presented 6 really big bands, all on the same stage on the same day. Look at the that line-up! Guns N' Roses are fifth on the bill, and they were already shifting millions of albums, the album Appetite For Destruction #1 in the US charts, #15 in the UK charts and would stay in the charts eventually rising to the #5 position in the weeks after their Donington appearance. The bottom placed band on the bill, Helloween, were at the time at their most popular following the release of their Keeper Of The Seven Keys album pair.

Who were positioned 5 and 6 on this years Leeds bill ? Editors and Don Broco, Bring Me The Horizon and New Found Glory, and for Sunday, Twin Atlantic and Earlwolf. I think perhaps there are two bands from that six who might fill the O2 Leeds, and two or three who would might well be regarded as pub bands. We got Guns N' Roses fifth on the bill, you got Don Broco, guess it sucks to be you.

The best festival idea was Reading 1987 where there were two main stages side by side but in front of the main audience, thus allowing bands to play in quick rotation without the half wait for monitor testing and guitar tuning. Although as I remember, there was a delay to clear bottles of piss from the stage after Bad News played.

The main problem with the modern festival though is that all my whining about crap line-ups does not matter. Kids don't go to festivals for the music, they go because all their mates are going, they go because Leeds Fest has become the middle-class rite of passage, the thing you do at the end of the summer. I know of kids who have gone to Leeds and have only seen a single band over the whole weekend, honestly, I'm not making this up. You go now to the festival because it's the scene thing to do.

Everybody buys their tickets early and it doesn't matter who is on the bill, you're still going to buy them. This faux popularity is commercially spot on, I can't argue with that, but it has packed the festivals with hundreds of bands that you wouldn't go and see for free if they they played in the pub down your road, so don't kid me that seeing half of these bands is the "most amazing thing ever."  The main stage line-up is weak, and most of the satellite tents feature bands who normally play in front of their girlfriends and parents.

This early must-buy mentality has even affected the over festival I go to these days, Hard Rock Hell.  HRH is a niche festival, indoors and in the winter in a holiday park in North Wales. It caters to an older classic rock audience and features mostly older or well established bands alongside a small host of small acts. A few years ago I could afford to wait until the bill was announced before buying tickets, now it's become so popular that 75% of next years gig + accommodation tickets will sell out during this year's festival. Would I have bought festival tickets for this year knowing that Black Star Riders (a 'supergroup' featuring mostly ex Thin Lizzy musicians) were headlining ? Possibly not. If I don't buy next year's tickets this year, and then they announce Coheed & Cambria and The Dropkick Murphys as headliners, then I'll be kicking myself for not buying in.

The other reason that the middle-class have ruined festivals is this. We took tents to festivals, and then we packed them up and brought them home. We also tidied up what rubbish we could and left it bagged up. Apart from plastic bottles of course, we threw those at other audience members all weekend.

Gund N' Roses versus Don Broco ? Perhaps I'm wearing my rose tinted specs, or perhaps festivals just did use to be a whole lot better.
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