2015 update: Below is an article that was written back in 2012. Since then, honestly, not much has changed. Fair enough we have had the likes of Avenged Sevenfold finally being lofted to headliner status, and fairly successfully as well, but with the recent announcement that Iron Maiden will be yet again headlining Download Festival, it is a sad state of affairs when this same feature, that is now coming up to 4 years old hasn’t seen much in the way of change. What I want you to do, is read below and visualise how little has changed in these last 4 years and how relevant these words still are in 2015. Notes will be added below to show any sort of updates since.
Before I start, let me just say that I enjoy listening to both of these bands, Iron Maiden are one of the bands that got me into rock and metal music. Metallica as well, even though I’m not the biggest fan, I can listen to them happily and I respect the work they’ve done for the genre. They’re not the only offenders for this mistake that has happened to the festival market, but they’re the two glaringly obvious contenders in the eyes of both me, and a number of other people that I have spoken to.
Metallica this year are headlining Download festival, for their 10th anniversary, they’re mixing it up a bit by playing The Black Album in full, and this isn’t the problem I have with them, the problem I have is that this will be their 4th festival in the country in 5 years. Playing Reading Festival in 2008, which I, to this day, regard as one of the single greatest line-ups to have ever graced the festival scene; then moving onto 2009 where they played Sonisphere Festival in its inaugural year. 2010 was their year off, but since then they’ve played Sonisphere festival again, and then to this year are playing Download. If this isn’t over saturation of a band then I don’t know what is. To Iron Maiden, again a great band, but they’ve been to too many festivals in the latest years, and with the rumour of them being signed to Sonisphere Festival already for 2013 they’re going to be here yet again. (Note: Since this feature was written in 2012, Metallica have also headlined Sonisphere 2014, with Iron Maiden, Glastonbury Festival and Reading and Leeds Festival)
It’s not the bands themselves that are destroying festivals, it is the fans, they are beginning to expect a band like Metallica or Iron Maiden to be at their chosen festival year on year, and even though they’re always going to bring in the diehard fans, they’re just being used as a safe bet by festival organisers. Sonisphere this year mixed it up a bit, creating a bit of a different festival, with bands that don’t necessarily play the festival scene too much, with bands like Kiss, who haven’t played in the UK since 2008, (Note: Download had Kiss headlining Download 2015 and although it came with some criticism, mainly because of Gene Simmons, it was a resounding success), Incubus, who rarely play festivals, and Refused, who are one of the big reformers this year. Unfortunately people didn’t give this line-up a chance, mainly due to the fact that the usual festival fodder weren’t there. I will be one of the first to say, maybe Sonisphere were trying to be overly different with their approach this year, and shouldn’t have been quite as quirky as they were, and this may well have been it’s ultimate downfall, but at least they were trying something new. What scares me though is that this may force them to gun for the safer option next year in order to build up their reputation again. The safe route is not always the best route and in the future could create problems from themselves for having a bland and samey line-up. (Note: Oh how right I was with Sonisphere 2014, 2013 didn’t even make a single announcement)
I have seen people already saying that Sonisphere should bring Metallica back again for 2013 in order to bring in the diehard fans. I don’t think this should be the way festivals move forwards. Festivals need to be allowed to take risks; they need to be allowed to bring new bands into the headline slots. Sonisphere last year took that risk with Biffy Clyro, and in my opinion put on the best headline performance of the weekend. In the years to come the likes of Metallica and Iron Maiden are going to want to step back a bit, there will be only so much that they’re going to be able to do, and when that comes there won’t be anyone to fill in their boots. Fans won’t give new headliners a chance, and ultimately it will destroy major Rock/Metal festivals in the UK.
I’m not slating Download in the slightest; in fact I believe they’ve been very smart in a time of financial crisis, giving the metal fans something to get excited about, and yet are also bringing in the likes of The Prodigy for their first ever Download headline slot, Black Sabbath reunion, and Soundgarden’s first UK festival appearance, since reforming. Yet, there is one glaring black spot on their great line-up, and that is the appearance of Metallica yet again. I want to see younger bands getting the nudge up to headline status, and not just because a certain band has reformed and then be dropped back again. The likes of Bullet for my Valentine, Avenged Sevenfold (Note: as was previously mentioned headlined Download 2014), Queens of the Stone Age, and begrudgingly Paramore (Note: Both co-headlined Reading and Leeds 2014), need to get that foot up to the higher spots. I can see the likes of Nine Inch Nails, 30 Seconds to Mars and the likes getting the hoist up when they reform, but what will happen to them after that? Will they just be dropped back to sub or 2nd stage headliner positions again? The best year Download has ever had was in 2009, the headliners didn’t include Metallica, it didn’t include Iron Maiden, in fact there was two that had never headlined festivals before, Slipknot, who you expect will never play any lower than headline status and Faith No More who had reformed. The classic appeal that year were Def Leppard, and although not everyone’s cup of tea were something different for that year. The fact of the matter was, in a year of fresh faced headliners Download sold out, and this was also in the year that Sonisphere started up, and quite frankly didn’t sell too badly for its first year.
So I’m urging both festival organisers and fans of both Download and Sonisphere to give bands a chance to show what they can do, otherwise we’re not going to have any more festivals to see. Don’t expect the likes of Metallica and Iron Maiden to be wheeled out again and again because you don’t want to see any other band take their place. Variety is the spice of life as they say, and variety is what will keep the festival scene afloat and fresh and new each year. The death of Sonisphere this year, may be a lesson to the organisers that the world isn’t ready for such a different line-up, but due to that it was one of the more exciting ones. They were prepared to take the risks, and fans should give them the chance to take these risks, otherwise the likes of Metallica and Iron Maiden are going to leave festivals with a giant hole to fill when they leave, and a hole that the fans won’t give up easily. If we carry on the way we are, Download Festival mainly, will be the first to die.