Festival season never really ends, but with the likes of autumn fests Bestival, Austin City Limits and Desert Trip behind us, now’s as good a time as any to take a look back on festival season 2016. What was great, what could have been better, and how will it all affect festival season 2017?
Alex Turner went a bit weird and we loved him for it
The Last Shadow Puppets‘ campaign for second album ‘Everything We’ve Come To Expect‘ took them to a huge number of summer festivals, and their performances were frequently coloured by Alex Turner acting… well, a bit strange. On stage, he busted out some odd dance moves, sometimes lying on the floor with legs flailing above him, sometimes looking like a vampiric matador stalking across the stage.
At Glastonbury, for no explicable reason, he legged it off one side of the stage, ran behind the big drape featuring their album cover image and appeared on the other side seconds later. At Open’er in Poland, he plodded down the stairs to the pit, got in between the barriers splitting the crowd in half and asked fans to hold him by each of his arms and legs while he swung from side to side. Then there’s the Vine of him dancing gloriously to Tame Impala at Glastonbury alongside his TLSP co-frontman Miles Kane.
Looking back on Turner’s hilariously off-kilter summer and trying to make sense of it, it’s worth looking at a noteworthy recent BBC Radio 4 he did, in which he said TLSP was a “vehicle for [him] to try new things”.
Tributes were common
This has been a year of big losses for the music world, and festival season was awash with tributes. Viola Beach were remembered at events across the country, with a special tribute on Reading & Leeds’ main stages. Coldplay used their Glastonbury headline set to pay their respects, doing a cover of the group’s track ‘Boys That Sing’, playing along to Viola Beach’s own version and video footage of them performing it in session for BBC Introducing. Former tourmates Blossoms, meanwhile, got fans to applaud the young Warrington band at secret set at Reading.
Even though he passed away in January, David Bowie‘s loss has cast a long shadow over the year. At Glastonbury, The Last Shadow Puppets covered his ‘Moonage Daydream’ during their Pyramid Stage set, and revisited it at other festivals in the months to follow. Madness put their own twist on one of the late star’s tracks, performing their own version of ‘Kooks’. There was also an orchestral tribute held at Glastonbury’s The Park, where composer Philip Glass’ 1996 classical work ‘Heroes Symphony’ was performed. The album was based on Bowie’s 1977 album ‘”Heroes”‘. Organised mass singalongs of Bowie’s hits took place at both Glastonbury and Isle Of Wight, and the latter involved stars such as Jack Whitehall, Spandau Ballet and The Corrs, as well as a huge crowd of festival-goers wearing Aladdin Sane masks.
Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered in her Yorkshire constituency while campaigning for Remain ahead of the EU referendum. A week later, Billy Bragg led a huge crowd at Glastonbury singing protest song ‘We Shall Overcome’ in her memory, while many attendees carried placards that read #moreincommon, referencing Cox’s first speech in Parliament.
There were also tributes to the late Prince. At Glastonbury, he was commemorated in the form of a statue almost four metres tall in the Park area of the festival, a giant glittery hand with a purple crown and a white dove. Elsewhere, Hot Chip frontman Alexis Taylor honoured the icon with a DJ set dedicated to him at the Block 9 stage on Friday night. At Boston Calling, Haim joined forces with Christine & The Queens to perform a cover of ‘I Would Die 4 U’ – something they repeated several other festivalswithout the French musician, including Austin City Limits Festival and New York’s Governors Ball Festival. Beck covered Prince’s ‘Raspberry Beret’, also at the latter festival.
Glastonbrexit was a bit of a bummer
Usually, Glastonbury is a sanctuary of positivity, able to resist the most miserable parts of life. When Michael Jackson died on the Thursday of the festival in 2008, the people responded by turning the event into a celebration of his music. Colossal amounts of rain and flooding are shrugged off, year after year. But this year, waking up to the news that the UK had voted to leave the EU overnight on Thursday was something that couldn’t be healed with the hippie spirit, a few drinks and the best efforts of some of the world’s greatest artists. Not even the collective despair of all at Glastonbury, knowing you were surrounded by like-minded people, could make things feel even marginally better.
There was a dark cloud looming over the weekend, and countless bands mentioned it on stage. Damon Albarn said “democracy has failed us“. Bastille changed the lyrics of ‘Pompeii’ to “And the pound kept tumbling down/On the weekend that we love“, while frontman Dan Smith told NME the referendum result was “the worst news you could imagine“. The 1975‘s Matt Healy called the move a “sentiment of anti-compassion” while Novelist encouraged fans to chant “Fuck David Cameron” during his set.
Jeremy Corbyn was due to make an appearance in the Leftfield area of the site, but cancelled it after the results were revealed, saying he needed to “focus on the much bigger issues facing the country”. His Labour party predecessor Ed Miliband turned up for a discussion on the issue and the future of the party a day after Corbyn was meant to appear. “I personally wish this hadn’t happened, but the task of my politics is to say, now that it has happened, how do we shape this in a progressive way?” he told the crowd. “How do we offer a progressive alternative to everyone who voted for Leave?”
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While Remain voters in London organised marches and protests, fans at the festival held a flash mob in The Park. The intention behind the event was to show “solidarity” in the aftermath of the results and saw a group of people attempting to form the shape of a heart with 12 stars around it to represent the EU flag. “The eyes of the world are on Glastonbury. Let’s use the opportunity to promote unity and peace,” read a poster for the flash mob.
After the results of the referendum had been announced, the internet was awash with strong opinion from those both at the festival and at home. A lot of the older generation bemoaned Glastonbury-goers for thinking the festival was more important and assumed they’d forsaken voting to spend the weekend getting wasted. Some fans questioned whether having a polling station on Worthy Farm would have helped change the result, but a survey conducted by the Times showed that 83 percent of attendees had voted Remain and that the average voting turnout of those partying in Somerset was higher than the national average, meaning it probably wouldn’t have made much difference.
A statement issued by festival organisers in the form of a poem aimed to bring fans together across the weekend, encouraging them to “embrace your fellow Glastonberry/As they are feeling just like you” and saying it was “a day none of us have felt less British”.
We were all still drinking Tuborg
But you never really see it outside of a field, do you?
Girls Against’s campaign reached a mainstream audience
The Girls Against campaign is just over a year old, but it’s grown substantially in that time. With bands including Wolf Alice, Slaves, The 1975, The Courteeners and more getting on board to spread the word against sexual assault at gigs, this summer saw the five teenagers behind the campaign taking their message to festivals.
The group had their logo and messages posted on the big screens at huge festivals including Reading & Leeds and V Festival. It was not only an important step for getting the word out about Girls Against, but a way of showing those who had been or may have gone on to be victims of sexual assault that they weren’t alone and there were people, probably of similar age to them, they could reach out to for support.
Sexual assault at gigs is a hugely important issue – in August this year at Stockholm festival We Are Sthlm, there were 38 reported cases of sexual assault. Meanwhile at Bravalla in July, five women were raped and 12 sexually assaulted across the weekend, prompting Zara Larsson to tweet in her native Swedish, “Fuck you who shamelessly raped a girl in the audience. You deserve to burn in hell. Fuck you for making girls feel insecure when they go to a festival. I hate guys. Hate hate hate.” Mumford & Sons vowed never to play the ‘hideous’ festival again.
Instances of sexual assault were less common at UK festivals, but Reading and T in the Park still both saw reports of rape. In this context it’s encouraging to see the Girls Against campaign continuing to go from strength to strength – and the group’s presence over festival season was just one part of that.
Grime rose to the top
Grime certainly made its mark over festival season this year. Skepta and Stormzy were ubiquitous across the UK scene, making appearances at Glastonbury, Wireless, and Parklife. Reading and Leeds pulled out all the stops with a lineup that saw Boy Better Know blow the roof off the main stage, and Giggs, Little Simz and Wiley performing on other stages.
Elsewhere, Lady Leshurr also appeared at Glastonbury, while Lethal Bizzle performed at Parklife and V, and Kano joined an eclectic set of acts at Lovebox. Grime’s already a long way from being a niche, underground thing, but its presence in the mainstream festival scene proves it’s finally getting the recognition it deserves as an explosive, bona fide subculture.
The Download downpour will live long in the memory
Rain is hardly a new occurrence at British festivals, but this year’s Download festival saw a shocker of a downpour. While the torrential rain did cause plenty of sogginess underfoot, leading damp festival-goers to dub it Drownload or Brownload, it wasn’t as bad as some people on social media would have you believe.
As people tweeted their disapproval at having to slosh around all weekend in wet wellies, a picture began circulating of a field of partially submerged tents. Everyone agreed it looked nothing short of horrendous, but Download attendees weren’t swimming their way to Black Sabbath’s headline slot, because the image was actually taken at Glastonbury 2005. So, Download was bad this year, but it wasn’t the worst festival weather Britain’s ever seen.
You could find out what’s actually in your drugs
For the first time at a festival, revellers could get their gear tested by forensic drug testing kits. At Secret Garden Party, where revellers are known for being partial to a little indulgence, festivalgoers could bring their drugs to a tent run by The Loop, a drug-testing organisation. We welcomed the news here at NME, especially because of The Loop’s involvement. They were the first to warn of the dangers of PMMA Superman pills, which went on to cause four deaths in the UK.
Previously, The Loop tested drugs that had been confiscated by police at festivals or left in amnesty bins, but this was the first time they’d dealt directly with festivalgoers. Steve Rolles, a senior policy analyst with Transform Drug Policy Foundation, said some of the people who’d volunteered their drugs to be tested had a bit of shock when they found out what was actually in them. “Around a quarter of people who brought in their drugs then asked us to dispose of them when they discovered that they had been mis-sold or were duds. We were taking dangerous substances out of circulation,” he told The Guardian at the time.
Festival crowds are getting broader
You might look think of your average Glasto-goer as a lithe young types with an H&M floral headband, but the truth is different – a recent survey by Staysure found that Glastonbury is the Number One festival of choice for those over 50 – with the BBC Proms at Number Two. This year, we took to the field and found Glasto’s grey warriors out in force, from the 57-year-old who’d been attending since 1978 to the 64-year-old having their first Glastonbury experience having won tickets in a newspaper. It’s true when they say you’re only as young as you feel, and if you feel like you want to go to Glasto, then you bloody well should.
People are getting sick of premium festival experiences
First class is an objectionable enough proposition on planes and trains, but at festivals – places that are meant to bring people together – it’s something else entirely. It’s annoying when you get to a festival and there’s a VIP area that blocks your view to the main stage, or a campsite that won’t let you through, so you have to walk the long way round. Festivalgoers at US festival Burning Man were fed up by the 1% bringing with them exclusive luxury campsites and using the festival as a networking event. They engaged in a rebellion, slashing the electricity supply of an exclusive area, gluing trailer doors shut and flooding the area with water. In a post on their Facebook page, White Ocean Camp said that the festival organisers had essentially told them they’d earned it. “We actually had someone from the organization tell us that in paraphrase ‘it makes sense that you have been sabotaged as you are a closed camp and not welcoming,'” they wrote.
In other Burning Man news, Matt Bellamy hung out with Paris Hilton there.
Desert Trip proved there’s a market for heritage festivals
In late summer, Indio, California hosted a festival called Desert Trip that a lot of people nicknamed ‘Oldchella’, because the lineup was made up of heritage acts whose average age was 72. This festival, on the same site as Coachella, was your chance to see The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Paul McCartney, The Who and Roger Waters and brought the older music fans out in force. Though it was crazily expensive at $400 a ticket (£326), it still sold out. When more tickets were released for a second weekend, though, it actually hurt the resale market, who were flogging them off at $149 in some cases. Could we see something similar in the UK anytime soon?
Bestival downsized – and drew criticism from fans
This year’s edition of Bestival drew criticism from fans on the festival’s Facebook page. Festivalgoers complained about very tight security, a smaller festival site, a lack of space and a significant number of perma-high crowd members being dicks. The festival landscape just isn’t the same as it used to be: there’s more of them, so it’s harder to have UK exclusives, and an excess of supply means less demand. Bestival didn’t sell out, and having less money impacted the fest. It wasn’t the only one.
In a statement, Bestival boss Rob da Bank responded to the fans’ reactions thus: “Bestival was obviously a slightly different beast this year. Festival land has changed a lot, more competition, a wobbly economy etc, and for whatever reason many festivals have not sold as well. We did 40,000 which resulted in a more compact boutique vibe and back to our roots, but by my own high standards sound and tent spec was not always what we would have wanted it to be – we can assure anyone coming back in 2017 that this will be rectified.”
Repetitive lineups made some festivals like Groundhog Day
If you went to a UK festival this summer, chances are you could have seen at least five of the following: The Last Shadow Puppets, Skepta, LCD Soundsystem, The 1975, Tame Impala, Foals, Years & Years, Catfish And The Bottlemen, Disclosure, CHVRCHES, Blossoms, Savages, Mura Masa, Slaves, Grimes, Rat Boy, Mø. It’s not that we didn’t love seeing them all – but as Bestival commented on publicly, with more and more festivals, lineups have fewer and fewer exclusive performers, and this year the pool was less varied than ever.
We got used to the idea of co-headliners
This year was the third time Reading & Leeds have had co-headliners, and for the first time, there were two sets: Biffy Clyro/Fall Out Boy, and Foals/Disclosure. The Red Hot Chili Peppers were the only solo headliners at the festival this year. You get more bang for your buck, sure, but if you go to a festival to see a co-headliner you probably won’t get as much time with them.
Dancing made people famous
We’re sure it’s happened before, but the two famous festival dancers this year included the Nightwish Download Dancer and the Chvrches Glasto Pals. Enjoy their beautiful, muddy dances of joy below.
The Biggest Nightwish Fan (12 JUN 2016 DONINGTON PARK, GB – Download Festival) Video by: XP QuickSave
Festival food is better than it used to be
Duck confit? Gourmet bubble and squeak? Truffle burgers? Lobster? Gourmet food truck culture has made its way into the festival market, meaning we’re not restricted to spending a fiver on crap noodles or oily burger van produce. There’s still a place for that, obviously, but it’s nice to have a choice.
It’s still too hard to get Glastonbury tickets
To be fair, a few million people going for 135,000 tickets is always going to be a scramble. But this year coach tickets sold out in 23 minutes, general tickets in 55, with the Glastonbury site crashing under demand.
When we spoke to Emily Eavis about how difficult getting tickets can be, she told us: “There’s some debate over what actually happened. People use multiple devices so quite often in each household there can be 10 devices open. We’re dealing with two million people applying for tickets and then they’re using in some cases multiple screens. It turns it into millions and millions of hits so that’s why it’s hard to not cave under that. Ultimately, it’s that many people trying to get tickets that causes problems, but we try and make it as quick as possible. There were very few issues this year.”
What it all means for 2017
That’s your lot: 2016 has seen more festivals than ever, stars rising, headliner status changing into something different, and the perfect festival experience continuing to be an elusive beast. What were your festival highlights and gripes of 2016? How are you feeling going into festival season 2017? Let us know in our polls, and in the comments below.