One of the results that caught the eye in our 2013 Festival Survey, was that 71 per cent of the NME readers who took part said they weren’t bored with reunited bands at festivals. That’s an overwhelming message of support for getting the guys back together and swanning about the summer circuit for a long-delayed payday.
But what’s driving this desire? What’s fuelling this insatiable appetite for reanimated corpses polishing off some unfinished business, healing wounds, doing it for the fans and all that? And aren’t they just clogging up the festival bills and taking up space that could be given over to the hungry new acts they once were or, perhaps more importantly, the bands ready to take the step up from the afternoon hours to the career-making evening slots.
This year’s festivals offered up reunited – or just reactivated – bands running the full gamut from Public Image Ltd to 5ive. There were bill-topping excursions for The Stone Roses at Coachella and Isle Of Wight, with not a single new note played, and equally prominent shows for Blur, who teeter perennially on the verge of calling time on this ‘brief’ reunion but still manage to hang about for one more gig. Blur have mitigating circumstances – they still sound good – but you can’t say that about everyone.
There’s an element of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out to those of you who’ve, er, missed out) to all this. The fact is, you have missed out – you’re never going to see Blondie in their ‘Parallel Lines’ heyday, or Television honing their proto-math guitar interplay for the first time – but you can still get one of these seminal acts under your belt, especially at a festival where the risk of wasted money is less significant. And the reason you want to, the reason you even know you want to, is you’re fed reams of archive info about these bands and have extraordinary access to all their music – via YouTube, Spotify, whatever – that didn’t exist 10 years ago. Back then, you’d have to really root about and even, yep, fork out cash to make proper discoveries.
And so much music journalism is referential – pinpointing influences, encouraging artists to namecheck their inspirations. It builds a canon, a pantheon of bands and singers that end up making some kind of bucket list. With the fad for reunions gathering mass, there’s always a chance of fulfilling that list, no matter how split-up your missing bands are. Even if they’re dead, you can check on the progress of hologram technology.
If you’re really lucky, the band can still cut it, but how many of this year’s crop succeeded? Look at the roll-call of reformed bands at 2013 festivals, from Rockness to Reading & Leeds: Madness, Jesus & Mary Chain, The Postal Service, Texas, Deacon Blue, yes Deacon Blue, Fall Out Boy, New Order, Dinosaur Jr, The Black Crowes, My Bloody Valentine, and many, many more, all available on Essential Sounds of the 80s/90s.
These reminiscences on wheels show no signs of abating. Just look at Michael Eavis revealing that next year’s headliners would be Glastonbury virgins. The first name churned out of the rumour mill was Fleetwood Mac. Even before the hints, the chatter (same as every other year) was about a reformed Smiths returning in triumph, or a re-reformed Pink Floyd, or a Led Zeppelin as long as they could secure DVD rights. Is this all people can get excited about, or can we only unite behind the tried and tested? Perhaps the current generation just doesn’t have that star quality, the presence to carry a festival bill all by themselves, or maybe promoters don’t have the faith required.
Yes, it’s conceivable that a few thousand punters in a field, six pints down, are here for the big singalong that only a stapled-together Libertines can provide, but what about a hoist up the bill for a Drenge or a Chvrches or a Haim? When will Blur cede their headline status to Vampire Weekend? Can’t we create new singalong moments? Let’s enjoy bands in their pomp and hope that trust will drive them onto bigger things. Festivals should be about discovery too, all that time and space to find something thrilling, new, challenging, not just confirm your preconceptions.
Still, Oasis doing ‘Definitely Maybe’ at Reading & Leeds 2014? See you down the front.