The great debate

Everything’s changed in the last decade. Apart from the bands.

Studying the line-up for this year’s major festivals, it’s hard not to feel nostalgic. Look at this list: The Strokes, Pulp, Muse, Elbow, Eminem, The Streets, Mogwai, PJ Harvey, Offspring, Deftones, 2ManyDJs, Chemical Brothers, Primal Scream, Underworld, Flaming Lips, Moby, Feeder – all bands that are playing a major role in festivals in 2011, all bands that played a major role in festivals in or around 2001. Has nothing changed in ten years? Why are we still going to see the same major acts? Is the supposedly healthy festival scene actually a bit stagnant?

“People want to see acts of that age, over 10 years old, as headliners” says Scott Williams, Editor of website “The major festivals are probably going that way because the acts they’re booking are the acts that the people at Live Nation own. There are lots of other festivals that do have newer acts as headliners.”

Thinking back to the turn of the century, there didn’t seem to be that many options as to where to go. If you were 16 you went to Reading or Leeds. If you were a bit older you found your way to Glastonbury where you could still just about break in for free. If you were in Scotland you went to T in the Park. Those were pretty much the options. It’s not like that now.
A quick scan of the festivals listed on reveals a massive increase in the number of festivals listed on the site. In 2001 there are 62. By 2005 this number has risen to 309. By 2010 the number of festivals listed is a staggering 907.

But why have festivals become so popular in the last decade? Williams, who once got sacked from a job because he admitted he’d been to a festival at the weekend, thinks there’s a couple of factors at play. “Firstly they’ve become more family friendly and people can bring their kids along – it can become a family holiday. Worked into that, going abroad has become so expensive so instead of going abroad for a holiday you take them to a festival. Plus, they’ve become safer.”

They may have become safer, but ticket prices have rocketed. A comparison of the prices between 2001 and 2011 makes for startling reading. In 2001 you could buy a weekend ticket with camping for under £90 at Reading / Leeds, Glastonbury, T in the Park, The Big Chill and V festival. Now you won’t find the same standard ticket for any less than £165, with both Glastonbury and Reading edging ever closer to the £200 mark. In fact, a day ticket to Reading / Leeds in 2011 is more expensive than the cost of a full weekend ticket in 2001.

Surely the festival bubble will burst? Williams is sure the recession is already taking its toll. “Ticket sales are starting to show people have less money. The reason Reading and Leeds haven’t sold out is not just because of the headliners but because their demographic is school leavers and they’ve now got nine grand a year debt when they go to college.”

Which makes it all sound a bit gloomy really doesn’t it? To cheer up we recommend going to sit in a field with thousands of other people, drink some cider, buy a hat that makes you look like a tit and watch some bands you probably saw 10 years ago when you were sitting in a field with thousands of other people, drinking some cider and wearing a hat that makes you look like a tit.

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Words by Simon Cooper

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