Over the last few years there have been many discussions about who the next generation of music festival headliners will be – a conversation that has been reignited due to the cancellation of the UK Sonisphere festival, after organisers failed to secure an acceptable line up.
Looking back through the post-millennial history of the UK’s two biggest metal festivals (Download and Sonisphere) reveals that there really are only a handful of bands that organisers rotate through every year. Since Download started in 2003 and Sonisphere in 2009 (including cancellations), Metallica top the list with six headline appearances, followed by Linkin Park and Iron Maiden with five each and then Slipknot with four. In addition there have been repeat appearances from Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Def Leppard, Faith No More, Kiss, The Prodigy, Rammstein and System of a Down.
On top of this, the single headline appearances across these two festivals have generally not thrown up any surprises, as they have included the likes of AC/DC, Audioslave, Guns N’ Roses, Muse, Queen (with Adam Lambert), Rage Against the Machine, the Big Four of thrash (excluding Metallica) and emo bands My Chemical Romance and Lostprophets, appearing during the height of the genre’s popularity. In fact the only real surprises over the two festival’s combined eighteen year history have been Avenged Sevenfold, Biffy Clyro, Feeder, The Offspring and Tool.
The same problem plagues the festival bills further down too, with many acts having repeat appearances as second stage headliners, or supporting headliners, with bands like Judas Priest, Korn, Marilyn Manson, Velvet Revolver and Josh Homme in different guises, dominating the supporting festival cast.
The result of this problem is that UK festivals have lost their variety. For example, if I attended the second ever Download festival in 2004 and then decided to try Sonisphere when it debuted in 2009, I would have seen the exact same headliners: Linkin Park on the Saturday and Metallica on the Sunday. The subsequent year at Sonisphere then shared two out of the three headliners that would later appear at Download 2013, a trait that is also shared with Download 2012 and Sonisphere 2014.
In fact going to metal festivals in the UK has turned into a fruit machine that guarantees you will see either Iron Maiden, Linkin Park, Metallica or Slipknot, since only four out of the two festivals’ combined eighteen years have not featured one of the four aforementioned bands – a shocking statistic, especially when you consider that one of the four years was the cancelled 2012 Sonisphere festival!
The reason the same bands get recycled, is that organisers are afraid to say no to previous headliners and the bands are unwilling to move down the bill. Both of these factors are understandable; the festival is a business, so why alter a successful, tried and tested formula and a band like Metallica are never going to sign to play beneath a less experienced group, because they have too much pride and too bigger paychecks. Just look at how Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) reacted to finding out he was playing beneath Biffy Clyro at the 2013 Reading and Leeds festivals.
In Download’s thirteen year history only two headline bands have ever appeared lower down the running order in later years – The Offspring in 2014 and Faith No More in 2015, although both bands took a primary supporting role – either second stage or support main stage headliner. This means as the festivals have continued, the flow of new headliners has stagnated, because experienced bands have no where else to go – they are stuck at the top.
There is only really one solution to getting a wider variety of headline acts: for the organisers to stop booking up the same select few acts, and be brave enough to try out the bands that have been stuck at third down the bill, like Download did when booking Avenged Sevenfold in 2014. This doesn’t mean to stop securing the big names all together – by all means have one day when a Metallica or Kiss headline, but stop over-saturating the top of the bill with the same merry-go-round of road-worn rock stars and let some new blood try their luck. In addition to this, the second stage shouldn’t be used like the MLS (Major League Soccer) is for aging football greats, but instead for preparing a new generation of headliners for the main stage slot in few years time.
In Part 2 I will give examples of bands that I feel are ready to headline and make my predictions for the future of rock and metal music festivals.
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