Talking Points 2012 – Will Festivals Survive?

Last week’s magazine featured several pages of music predictions for 2012, as we spoke to bands, industry insiders and NME staffers to get their take on the year ahead (grab a back issue here if you missed it). Here we take an extended look at their soothsaying for the next twelve months.

Will UK festivals survive 2012 and another year of recession?

Melvin Benn, Managing Director, Festival Republic
“I think the whole of the UK will be disappointed that Glastonbury won’t be on, it’s the festival above all festivals. Other events will benefit because it’s not on, although I think Glastonbury is such a unique festival that people don’t necessarily think ‘I’m not going to Glastonbury, I’ll go somewhere else’.

“I’m not worried about Reading and Leeds. Yes, they did take longer to sell out last year, but they did eventually. The market that Reading and Leeds is aiming at is very much the market that has been hit by the government cuts on student loans, youth unemployment and so on, but we have a great little lineup and I’m confident that both of them will sell out.

“It would be lovely to make them cheaper if it was economically viable but it isn’t. The sad thing is that the cost of running a festival, from infrastructure to sound, lights and bands, has increased and it’s just not viable to reduce the prices. I wish it was. If it was, believe me, I would do it. There’s going to be a deposit sale introduced for the March main sale, which will be the first time we’ve done that properly.

“I’d love to tell you about the headliners but contractually we’re not allowed to talk about them until March. We’ve got two or three locked in. The Stone Roses? Oh crikey. Well, they’re one of the seminal bands for a whole generation, as important to people in the UK as Nirvana, and we considered having the band. It wouldn’t have been appropriate to have them back, you know, this year. It wasn’t even something they considered or we considered but of course we’d consider having them back in the future.”

Simon Taffe, Director, End Of The Road
“I think the festivals that really know their public will be fine. To be honest, I’m not sure how much of an effect the Olympics will ultimately have on the festivals as a whole. I’m sure it will slow things down to a degree but on the other hand I don’t personally know a single person actually who has tickets to the Olympics. I know our ticket sales are up by at least 25% on last year and our new festival No Direction Home, starting in June next year, has sold over a 1,000 tickets with not a single band announced.

“End of the Road has sold out every year since 2008 and in 2011 it was the first festival to sell out after Glastonbury. I think it’s because we know what our public want. We spend a lot of time improving the festival every year and due to our size we can really spend time focusing our attention on the fine details. We try and create as many surprises as possible each year.

“My advice for starting a new festival? Don’t do it unless you’re a) willing to lose some money, b) willing to sacrifice your soul, c) offering something new.”

Emily Mackay, NME writer
“What does 2012 hold in store? Well, it’s a confusing one. Glastonbury’s fallow year means that potentially there are 177,500 potential punters freed up for other festivals. But then there’s the Olympics. An event on a scale that makes Glasto look like a back-garden barbie, it will dominate the year. Over 3.5 million tickets have been sold, with over 850,000 succesful applicants. And they weren’t cheap. People will have to travel and buy accommodation in London, more outlay in a time when every new headline seems to scream, ‘The end is nigh! Stock up on tinned food and warm yourself by burning furniture’.

“With people having shelled out so much to see the stars of track and field, will they fork out another couple of hundred at least to go stand in a field themselves? It’s almost impossible to predict, but there’s one positive thing that could come out of it all. At many times last year, I found I was having trouble distinguishing between the line-ups of not just the bigger or medium festivals, but even the smaller ones. It began to feel like we were reaching saturation point, with every weekend stuffed with three-five smallish events, most of the bands at which would have played somewhere else the weekend before.

“There’s just, frankly, too many of the damn things. If festival goers keep their hands in their pockets next year, and people are less able to find the funds to put events on, it could thin the ground a little. Cruel, perhaps, but it will allow the best-organised and most unique events to thrive, while opportunist promoters looking to make some £££ might not bother.

“Equally, without Glastonbury, the big hitters like Isle Of Wight, T and Reading And Leeds will be able to spread the headliners and big-name bands out between themselves a bit more, perhaps picking up some of Glasto’s crowd along the way, and we won’t feel like we’re pretty much at the same event with slightly different coloured grass all summer. 2012 might be a tough time for festivals, but they might well be the better for it.

What do you think, will festivals survive? Are there too many of them? Which ones will you be splashing out on this year?

An edited version of this article appeared in the 31st December issue of NME magazine.