Rain Stops Play: Is this the end for boutique festivals? – LTW debate

Kendal Calling 2014 by Mel Smith - boutique festivals

There seems to be more festivals in the calendar every year with many people now planning their summer around their go-to event. But after poor weather conditions were cited for the cancellation of the final day of last weekend’s Y-Not Festival, and criticism was levelled at Truck a few weeks back, we ask are the glory days of boutique festivals drawing to a close?

Louder Than War editor in chief John Robb and features editor Sarah Lay take up opposing sides of the debate – let us know what you think in the comments, on Facebook and on twitter.

The boutique festivals scene has hit its peak

Louder Than War Features Editor Sarah Lay argues the boutique festival market has peaked

Boutique or massive scale, urban and in the fields, newcomers and old-timers – the music festival scene which started before the Summer of Love may have now peaked, the market saturated (no weather pun intended). With the calendar getting more packed year-on-year it’s perhaps no bad thing if we lose a few, and build those left back toward having the focus on experiencing music rather than a corporate co-opting of culture.

Over the last decade particularly festivals have gone from musical moments where fans were prepared for it to perhaps be as much endurance against the elements as it was entertainment to it now being akin to a lifestyle accessory complete with glamping options, corporate sponsors and prices to match. Far from being the open-air arty party where outsiders could find their tribe weekend line-ups are now increasingly about major labels pushing acts who already dominate playlists and the music becoming a background noise rather than main event.

I’m far from curmudgeonly about festivals – despite how this piece may read. I’ve had wonderful times at many, enjoying those special moments that only seem to happen in these places. I’ve loved finding the personality of a place, and the extra touches scattered about to delight us whether we be waterproofed and wellied, or glittered and sun-streaked. I’ve chanced upon artists I’d otherwise not have discovered as often as I’ve hung out for a performance by a band I was desperate to see. And each year I’m thrilled by the magic of niche events like Indietracks – offering something truly different to other festivals, a part of the scene they represent and giving bands an opportunity to play a festival stage they won’t necessarily find elsewhere.

But I’m unconvinced we need as many festivals – as we now do, where despite the number of events there’s limited choice in terms of diverse line-ups and distinct identity. If you like your music mainstream, male and guitar based then you’ll be spoilt for choice – just pick where in the country you want to pitch up or claim a tee-pee as your own. While each festival does have its own vibe the race to grow, to sell more tickets, to grab the media attention can eat away at what you made you fall in love with the fields in their earlier, truly independent years.

This year marked the last for Secret Garden Party as they choose to bow out of the market while it remains to be seen whether Y-Not and Truck can survive the hits to their reputation. After the recent explosion of the boutique festival market could this a natural thinning out? How will the BBC Music announcement that they’ll use Glastonbury’s fallow year in 2018 to run their own The Biggest Weekend event across four UK cities, to take place on the May Bank Holiday weekend when Dot To Dot usually takes place impact on other festivals, if at all? A further corporate co-opt instead of support of what’s already around?

Time will tell whether the boutique festivals scene is headed for bust after the boom but it can probably only continue to thrive if events evolve and deliver the expected quality to punters on experience, and a more representative line-ups even at the most mainstream events.

The boutique festivals scene is still thriving

Louder Than War Editor in Chief John Robb says the end is not nigh and the boutique festival scene is thriving

The festival circuit has always fluctuated. I’m old enough to remember the pre acid house boom in outdoor gatherings when there was the occasional Glastonbury Festival or the hardy beer and burger perennial Reading Festival. After acid house there was a boom in festivals and with a boom comes chancers hoping for the best and figuring there was easy money to be made in the circuit and creating a series of busts with their incompetence.

In the 21st century a plethora of well run festivals has thrived and the variety of festival experiences is thrilling – of course this means chancers step in without the knowledge but when they fuck up it doesn’t mean the festival circuit will collapse.

This weekend saw the Y-Not Festival closed after two days with facebook full of complaints about the shoddy nature of the festival and the same with Truck – both taken over by the same company last year. Up to that point both festivals had been doing fine and the combination of the kind of post climate change mad weather we will have to put up with and, let’s say, organisational naivety caused big problems – does this mean it’s the end of the boutique festival?

Not at all – the festival scene is moving rapidly – from the big hitters like Glastonbury which I would say was the best one ever this year in terms of musical scope, variety and organisation and is already thinking of morphing into something very special in two years time, a true 21st century festival? – to the myriad of smaller events that are so varied now.

You have well run ambitious underground festivals now like Kendal Calling, Bearded Theory and Beautiful Days that thrive and are packing in thousands because they know who comes to their festival and care about what they want and are at the heart of their communities.

There are niche festivals like Rockaway Beach that has taken over the Butlins model from ATP but added a layer of organisation, there are smaller park festivals and local festivals all over the UK – I would say the scene is booming. There is a lot of skill in knowing how to run an event properly. You need to know who comes and what they want. It’s no coincidence that when I’m at Glastonbury running around watching bands the person I bump into all over the place is Nick Dewey who, along with Emily Eavis, pretty well runs the show these days.

As a promoter you have to be  on the site yourself to understand the treacherous mud, feel its clinging grime between your toes, let the toilet stench tickle your nostrils and be stuck in the congestion of a badly planned pathway or skid down a hill because there are no wood chippings. You have to feel the music and the reaction, speak to the people that go and know what they want from each unique event. You have to create an experience that can be joyful despite the conditions, create a festival that is unique and also to know your audience. Many festivals already do this year in and year out – these are the ones like Beautiful Days, they don’t seek headlines or media hugs, they just get on with creating popular, well run and well organised events beyond the chattering classes and they should be used as an example of not only how to do this right but also how to do it properly.

Whoever runs Y-Not and Truck could do no worse than popping down to the likes of Beautiful Days this year and seeing hows its done and then working out a plan to win back the fans confidence and relaunch next year with well run events as it would be tragic to lose two great festivals on the summer calendar.

Far from being over the festival circuit just has to keep adopting to the times and the ever changing music and, unfortunately, weather scene!

~

What do you think? Are there too many festivals and too little choice or are you a fan of a small, niche festival? Let us know in the comments, on Facebook or on twitter.

Image by Melanie Smith.

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