OPINION - Whisper it, but are festivals kind of…over?

 (Ben Birchall/PA Archive/PA Images)
(Ben Birchall/PA Archive/PA Images)

I’m not being funny but … today I want to talk about the sorry state of festivals this summer. And I don’t mean that there are s*** festivals out there (even though there are plenty), I’m talking about the fact that they’re being cancelled left, right and centre. This summer so far more than 45 festivals have been cancelled or postponed. We’re talking festivals of all sizes: one-dayers, right the way through to four-day camping festivals like El Dorado.

The most hurt are independent festival owners. Festivals owned by large companies are seeing far fewer cancellations because of greater resources and purchasing power. This combined with a huge increase in production costs post-pandemic and Brexit makes it really hard for festivals to break even, much less make a profit.

We’re all feeling it, artists (including me) and punters. Because of the higher prices, fewer people are buying tickets. We all know what we’ve been dealing with this past year or two with the cost of living crisis. There’s a load of reasons why there’s such a struggle in the industry at the moment.

How can we forget the absence of festivals for a good couple of years due to Covid? So many teenagers who would normally start cutting their teeth in a field haven’t had that experience like a lot of us.

The big-scale shows that have been taking over dancefloors the past few years … the cracks are starting to show

And when festival schedules fully returned that definitely had an impact, with far fewer young people buying tickets today.

I’ve spoken here before about how everything in life goes in cycles, right? Something builds and builds, eventually it dies and makes way for something new. I’m not saying the concept is gonna die any time soon but the idea of big-scale shows that has been taking over dancefloors for the past few years — your Printworks, your Drumsheds, your festivals — well, the cracks are starting to show.

So many expensive shows haven’t been selling lately, and yet Stormzy’s House Party bar made all the papers the other week. I put on a “House Party” at The Little Violet Door last week. Within two days we had more than 600 people sign up and had to turn people away. This was for a Wednesday night!

Is there a chance this is signalling the return of midweek parties? The dirty underground raves maybe? I previously wrote that I called on DJs and performers to, every now and then, give up the big-paying gigs and go back to their roots. Do a one-off live jam in a basement. Do a midweek house party. I’m not saying people have listened to me specifically but something is happening here. There’s a shift and I’m really excited. With the direction we’re going, there’s an opportunity. Sure, your Glastonbury is always going to sell out months before the line-up is announced. Queer festival Mighty Hoopla had its biggest year yet. Lost Village is going to be at the forefront of booking electronic artists for years to come. There will still be so much choice for us in the UK. And it’s looking like that choice is going to include a hell of a lot more grassroots, intimate gigs. Places where you can interact with the artist, a stripped-back setting where the music is at the front. That’s what I’m talking about.

If you do want to go to one of the many incredible festivals in the UK this (or any) summer — buy your tickets in advance. I understand that a lot of us want to hold out to see what the weather is like, or who’s going etc. Promoters can’t rely on last-minute ticket sales. The overheads of running a festival are so huge that they need our commitment early, so if you had planned to, go online. Support your artists. See you next Wednesday.

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Fat Tony is a DJ and best-selling author