It’s time we stop slamming festivals and appreciate what they do for the industry.

I wanted to write an article to reset the balance. For too long certain sections of the media have fuelled an assault on festival promoters, calling them lazy or greedy because they book the same DJs or acts every year, because it rains or because someone cancels at the last minute. Promoting a festival is probably in the top 5 most risk adverse jobs in the world, ok, its not north sea oil rigging or cobra wrangling but ask any festival promoter if it can go wrong it will. The buck stops with them. We all know the saying “You’re only as good as your last party.” This is never truer than for the festival promoter…

I defy you to tell me theres anything better on a hot summers day, than dancing in the open air at a festival surrounded by all your best buddies and 20 thousand other strangers, all enjoying your favourite DJs or bands. And yet there’s a rumble in the underground that festivals are sucking the life out of clubland;  that they’ve reached a saturation point because everyone sees them as a way to make a quick buck, and that they’ve become stale by booking the same DJs year after year. Given that, the promoters who all spend up to a year organising them are business people who need a significant return on their investment, of course they’re going to book acts that will get people to buy tickets. Fact is, via RA, DJ Mag and other polls, you vote for who’s popular, and so they book them. Then you moan.

Three of the biggest, most established US festivals sell out early and make a small fortune in tickets –  Coachella ($47 million), Lollapalooza ($22.5 million), and Bonnaroo ($30 million) –  this of course pays for the artists, thier entourages, the stages, the lights, sound, security, toilets, licenses etc etc, so what they actually see as profit, is a lot less. I bet many of you never even considered those costs when you buy your ticket huh? “For a 10,000-capacity festival, your power will cost you between £60,000 and £100,000. We would spend up to £30,000 taking the waste away.” Gareth Cooper, co-founder of Festival No6 told Eamonn Forde in the Guardian.

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Unfortunately not all promoters factor these external costs into their break even. Last year, there was much furore over TomorrowWorld’s alleged poor planning and terrible weather, where non-camping revelers were stranded on boggy farmland 30 miles south west of Atlanta, Georgia with no means of transport home due to local taxis and buses getting stuck in the mud. EDM you may say, they deserve it for having rubbish taste in music. But they’re people too, with the same reasons and needs to attend a festival, and the same total disregard for preplanning as anyone else. And as far as the promoters are concerned, that PR disaster may cost them dearly this year, my point is this – how can you blame a promoter for days of rain and transportation malfunctions if you haven’t thought of it either?

The rise of Glamping – posh camping – has given festival promoters another angle to recoup funds. VIP tickets sell for roughly 30% more than general admission but include shower blocks, toilets and other mod cons. Essentially, in sales terms, these added extras are money on the bank for the promoter, and help to bank roll the event. However, the biggest bug bare (aside from same DJs every year) is the price of the ticket. Seems we all want our cake and eat it too much. Make your minds up, do you want an affordable weekend festival ticket and rough it a few days, or pay extra and get to have a shower and toilet roll?

Its ok though, there is hope. Its called sponsorship, and many promoters are wise on how to tap into it. Sponsorship is pretty much a no-brainer, look at it this way: drinks companies want to appear edgy and cool, they want you to see them as ‘one of the gang‘. They have ridiculous budgets in order to increase fan base, and one of the avenues to chooses time and again is social gatherings like festivals or motor sports.

“Music is a key part of who people are, it’s a powerful pathway to create a relationship with the consumer. When people think of great music, and the brands that enable it, we want them to think of Budweiser.”  –  Paul Chibe, Vice President of U.S Marketing at Anheuser Busch told Fortune Magazine in a feature about the business behind big festivals, and of course its a win win for the punters as the sponsorship and subliminal pull marketing that occurs comes with a cheaper ticket price. And that means more people want to attend.

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So why would anyone go to a music festival in the first place? Sociological research suggests its a way for young people to form a badge of identity, which tallies with our tribal past. Its a part of our consciousness; something passed down from eons ago. Packer & Ballantyne (2011) believe its a valid way for young people to gain group acceptance and self worth due to the modern worlds increasingly fragmented, de-traditionalised and individualised life pathways. Furthermore, Gibson and Connell (2012) remark “What makes festivals distinct is that they are usually held annually and generally have social rather than economic or political aims: getting people together for fun, entertainment and a shared sense of camaraderie.”

Studies into the different aspects of the festival experience have been ongoing since the 1980s, but more recently these studies have focused on the impact of festivals. Getz (2010) conducting a literature review highlighted a new trend in which he believed festivals were “conceived instrumentally as social marketing tools”. Interestingly, it appears the type of music at the festival is of less importance, as the majority of festival goers judge atmosphere and opportunity in engage socially more highly. Basically, many festival goers don’t care about the music, so much as the experience of being at the event and all the instagrams and tweets that goes hand in hand.

Festivals offer a unique and exciting opportunity to see many musical acts over a short period of time with the benefit of increased social acceptance and self worth. Clubs on the other hand, offer something completely different. Theirs is more of a weekly or monthly gathering, offering less choice due to financial constraints, but with a similar social component. And because of this, many argue they offer less for the punter and become stagnant or irrelevant.

“I think the club’s have suffered mostly because the focus is more on big events and warehouse parties at the moment, rather than regular club nights. People still went to their chosen 2 or 3 festivals, and managed to go to clubs in the past. However it’s possible that the appeal of affordable overseas festivals has had some impact.” said Cream resident DJ Rob Harnetty

I think he’s right in some respects. Music tourism is a massive source of income in many countries. In fact current figures for the UK sees £3.1 Billion generated by festival goers traveling to Britain for entertainment, some 39% increase since 2011. This means more jobs, and thats reflected in a 57% increase in full time employment to over 38 thousand full time workers. In Holland, figures for 2012 showed inbound tourism generates around 60,000 jobs and €2.9 Million for the economy.

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Times are tight, and everyone wants the best value from their disposable income as they can. The rise in attending foreign festivals has increased year on year – it marries a tradition holiday abroad with going to a festival – two birds with one stone, and generally, they are catered as package deals, saving even more money. Why wouldn’t you go to a castle in Serbia to hear all your favourite bands and DJs, when the alternative is a soggy weekend in Bognor Regis for the same price? And frankly, travel is addictive, once you’ve been away from your normal life and experienced different cultures and ways of doing things, it changes you and makes you a more rounded person, so you look to do it more frequently.

“Festivals are about LIVE music, most raves have very little going on live. Nowadays even the DJs are faking it, no wonder people would rather go to a festival! Going to Glasto probably costs about the same as going to Ibiza for a weekend, if you can get a ticket that is! Every rave in the world seems to have David Guetta headlining now. How tedious! Its the rave scene that is homogeneous and the festival scene that is diverse…” – Mixmaster Morris

Morris is a globally renound chill out DJ, and resident for Glastonbury’s dance village Shambala. We spent several hours recently discussing festivals, one topic which came up was that festivals are allowed more musical diversity. Glastonbury in particular boasts a smorgasbord of aural delights from an ever growing range of musicians, DJs, live acts, comedians and performance artists. Its a cultural extravaganza and feeds the local economy. In fact, unbeknown to the majority of festival goers, Glastonbury organisers raise millions for charities like Greenpeace, Oxfam and Water Aid, and also donated all the forgotten wellies and camping gear to the displaced migrants in Calais this year.

Festivals come in many forms and provide many different functions for the patrons that use them, but in terms of dance music, they provided a place to hear exciting new music you couldn’t find anywhere else, unless you wanted to find an illegal rave…

“They were exciting because there was a paradigm shift. You didn’t need a venue, you just made a party in a field, and you didn’t need superstars cos all the DJs were Herbert’s! The connection between raves and festivals goes back to the beginning. Megatripolis, which I helped create in early 90s was a deliberate attempt to create a festival in a club. [co promoter] Fraser originally wanted to call it Glastonbury! People who went to MegaT and Megadog would also go to Stonehenge, Glasto and other festivals in summer.” – Mixmaster Morris

There’s some strong evidence to suggest going to a festival is culturally programmed into us, and that clubs, despite their best efforts will always play second fiddle. And its not like clubland hasn’t cottoned on to the appeal of festivals with the likes of Cream, Gatecrasher and Godskitchen in the UK all throwing caution to the wind with massive weekend long gatherings over the years, but we don’t seem to moan as much about the same line ups in clubs, because clubs have branding where as festivals just host great music.

Its a condition of the British to bemoan everything. But one thing we should reconsider is the role of the festival promoter, and the fact that as you perch beside a drinks tent, blurry eyed, trying to read who is playing next on a muddied lanyard as the rain torrents down, that the festival your standing in is one of the most high risk, low reward businesses on the planet, and the fact that the whole thing is not a complete and utter fuck up, is that the team behind it care deeply about your experience. So lets cut them some slack.


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