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UK festival joins ‘Drop a headliner’ campaign

Secret Garden Party (SGP) has announced it has signed up to independent collective Chai Wallahs’ Drop a Headliner campaign to focus on nurturing grassroots acts for its 2024 edition.

The UK festival, scheduled for Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, from 25-28 July, is foregoing big-name headliners in favour of allocating resources to supporting rising acts.

The move represents a call to action to save the indie scene, with 34 major events having already declared a postponement, cancellation or complete closure this year, and the Music Venues Trust reports that 16% of UK grassroots music venues have been lost in the last 12 months.

This year’s SGP lineup features more than 350 artists including Unkle, Crystal Fighters, Chinchilla, Franky Wah, Carly Wilford, Adelphi Music Factory, Jakkob, Omega Nebula, Technobrass and TC & The Groove. Chai Wallahs, The Living Room and Noiganica will also host dedicated venues to diverse, grassroots live music, while Save Our Scene, Parable Music, Dubtendo and Truth Tribe will provide stage takeovers.

“We believe in being a breeding ground for talent to grow,” says founder Freddie Fellowes. “Why allocate a massive budget to one or two headliners when it could fuel another 50 outstanding acts? This year’s focus is on providing grassroots artists the ability to shine, whilst actively redefining festival experiences for the future.”

“For the grassroots scene to survive and thrive, this talent needs platforms and opportunities to be able to develop, so we must address the disparity”

Launched in 2004, the 32,000-cap event has previously hosted performances by the likes of Lily Allen, Ed Sheeran, Dua Lipa, Florence & The Machine, The XX and Regina Spektor.

“Having been ardent supporters of the grassroots scene for over 20 years, we were chuffed when Secret Garden Party agreed to be the first independent festival to collaborate with us on the ‘Drop a Headliner’ campaign,” says Chai Wallahs’ founder Si Chai. “There is so much more enjoyment to be had in the discovery of new music, and please trust me when I say that there is a massive world of undiscovered talent. For the grassroots scene to survive and thrive, this talent needs platforms and opportunities to be able to develop, so we must address the disparity.”

The campaign notes that with headliners at that level commanding up to £150,000, SGP is taking the opportunity to re-allocate the figure to finance around 222 individual acts.

“This staggering number would create a marked upsurge in independent music and become a building block for its sustained growth,” it says.

Chai continues: “This campaign highlights not only the opportunities for programmers to be more creative with their million pound budgets, but also presents a chance to support a whole ecosystem of artists. It provides greater enjoyment to open minded music lovers, and a healthy alternative to playing the big name game.”


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Top promoters tackle the new headliner debate

Leading UK promoters have spoken out on the live industry’s success rate at developing fresh stadium and festival headliners.

The new headliner question has been a perennial debate in the touring business over the past decade, amid claims of an over-reliance on heritage artists. Yet despite legends including Elton John, KISS, Aerosmith, Ozzy Osbourne and the Eagles all retiring from the road, the pipeline appears to be as healthy as it has been in decades.

The summer of 2023 has witnessed open air spectaculars by an abundance of stars still in their 20s and early 30s such as Taylor Swift, Harry Styles, Ed Sheeran, Billie Eilish, Burna Boy, The 1975, Arctic Monkeys, Wizkid, The Weeknd, Blackpink, Sam Fender and Bad Bunny, and AEG’s European Festivals chief Jim King is buoyed by the state of play.

“It’s a very interesting question because it comes up a lot,” he tells IQ. “But as I remind everybody: some of the biggest shows this year have been with young, contemporary artists, or certainly will be in the next 12 months.”

Blockbuster tours by Taylor Swift ($300.8 million), Harry Styles ($124m) and Ed Sheeran ($105.3m) all hit the nine-figure mark in H1 2023, with Swift’s Eras Tour on target to become the first concert tour in history to net more than US$1 billion, and Styles recently wrapped Love On Tour generating close to $600m overall.

“Harry Styles could probably still be playing Wembley now if they had the availability”

Only this week, meanwhile, it was announced that The Weeknd pulled in over 1.6 million fans to the European leg of his After Hours Til Dawn Tour. The Canadian shattered Wembley Stadium’s record for sales with a traditional concert set up with the stage at one end with 87,000 tickets sold, having also set a new attendance record for London Stadium after drawing 160,000 fans over two nights in July.

In Milan, the 33-year-old sold over 159,000 tickets, making him the first artist to sell out two nights at Ippodromo La Maura, with his shows in Paris marking the biggest sales for Stade de France this year, totalling to 151,000 across the two dates. His shows in Nice, France sold 70,000 tickets across two shows – the highest in the city’s history.

“We talk our supply chain of new headliners down so often, with other artists sadly no longer with us or retiring,” says King. “But if you look at this great run of stadium shows, there has been no bigger act in London this summer than The Weeknd, with two London Stadiums and a Wembley Stadium.

“Harry Styles could probably still be playing Wembley now if they had the availability. His quality as an artist is unquestionable, not just in terms of his music, but his live performances. Taylor Swift will set records next year, no doubt, as she continues to in North America, and Ed Sheeran continues to do so as well – and those are just the easy ones off the top of your head.”

King oversees the 65,000-cap BST Hyde Park in London, which this year featured seasoned headliners Guns N’ Roses, Take That, Billy Joel, Pink and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, plus contemporary superstars Blackpink and Lana Del Rey.

“Stadium business in the UK has never been stronger”

“The process of developing artists to that level has clearly changed since the 1970s, but most of the cultural industries have changed in some ways since then as well,” he adds. “I don’t feel any lack of optimism about the future – Lana Del Rey could have sold 100,000 tickets in London this summer if she’d have wanted to, such is the love and appreciation of where she is in her career. So I think the industry is in far better shape than people say.

“Stadium business in the UK has never been stronger. Trying to get avails for stadiums in the UK at the moment is beyond a challenge, and we know from The O2 and our other venues that live music is extremely strong – and that’s because of the quality of the artists. When quality sits in place, demand will follow.”

This weekend’s Reading & Leeds Festival (cap. 90,000 & 75,000, respectively) will be headlined by British artists Sam Fender, Foals and The 1975 (subbing for Lewis Capaldi), as well as Billie Eilish, The Killers and Imagine Dragons from the US, and Festival Republic boss Melvin Benn is confident the UK is still developing enough headline talent in relation to its American counterparts.

“Two out of the three Glastonbury headliners [Elton John/Arctic Monkeys] were UK acts, three out of six at Reading and Leeds are UK acts, three out of the three at Latitude [Pulp/Paolo Nutini/George Ezra] were UK acts, three out of the three at Wilderness [Chemical Brothers/Fatboy Slim] were UK acts, well one’s French albeit UK-based [Christine & The Queens],” Benn tells Music Week.

“If you look across festivals as a whole, there are more UK headliners than US headliners. Wireless [Playboy Carti/Travis Scott/D-Block Europe] has a greater propensity of US artists than UK artists because of the nature of the music. But if I was to look across all of the festival headline positions, the UK is very much the strongest generator of headliners.”

“There’s a fresh pipeline of talent coming through, which is needed”

Superstruct-backed UK festival promoter From the Fields booked Nile Rodgers & Chic, Kasabian, Blossoms and Royal Blood to headline its 40,000-cap Kendal Calling and Roisin Murphy, Pavement and Grace Jones for the 25,000-cap Bluedot.

“I’ve always struggled finding the headliners,” company MD and co-founder Andy Smith tells IQ. “I’ve always been the boy who cried wolf thinking that this is the year we won’t be able to find anyone. I remember back in 2011, the festival had completely sold out and we couldn’t find a Sunday night headliner. and that was two months of sheer panic, but eventually Alex Hardee came through and we got Calvin Harris so it worked out in the end. But it’s always difficult. If it wasn’t difficult, everyone would be doing it, but we always come through.

“I’d say it’s as difficult as it’s ever been. But this year, we had one of our strongest, most varied bills and it’s great to see newer acts taking our headline slot. Blossoms have played a number of times at the festival, but this was their first time on the main stage and they were headlining it and they did a great job. Royal Blood, again, had never played at Kendal before. So there’s a fresh pipeline of talent coming through, which is needed.”

Speaking earlier this year, Live Nation boss Michael Rapino praised the emergence of younger headliners such as Bad Bunny, Karol G, Rosalia, Blackpink, BTS and Billie Eilish.

“Six of the top 10 artists were younger artists,” he said. “There’s just a host of great new talent every year coming up, filling the pipe. We didn’t know Luke Combs was going to be selling stadiums out this year, two years ago. We had no idea Bad Bunny was going to be the largest selling artist last year.

“We’re also seeing this encouraging new supply strategy where for many years, it was all about US or UK-based artists that filled the charts and fill the stadium and most other talent was domestic… Now, you can see artists coming from Latin America and Korea and becoming global superstars.”

The debate will take centre stage at this year’s International Festival Forum (IFF) as part of the Headliners: The Winner Takes it All panel from 10am on Thursday 28 September, which will be chaired by WME agent Andy Duggan. Click here for more details.


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530k attend most headliner-focused Sziget yet

One of the biggest festivals in the world, 530,000 fans attended this year’s week-long Sziget festival, falling slightly shy of 2018’s record-breaking attendance.

The 27th edition of Providence Equity-backed Sziget took place from 7 to 13 August on Obuda island in Budapest, Hungary. Ed Sheeran, Foo Fighters, Post Malone, Florence and the Machine and Martin Garrix were among the more than 1,000 acts playing at the festival.

“The performances on Sziget’s main stage this year were outstanding in many ways,” says Sziget chief executive, Tamás Kádár. “We increased our funding for mainstream performers even more than last year as part of our ongoing growth strategy, bringing us nine headline acts for seven festival days.”

Hungary Today reported that organisers spent 500 million forints (US$1.7m) more this year on securing headliners, out of a total budget of more than 10 billion forints ($34m).

Two nights saw back-to-back headline performances, with Twenty One Pilots performing ahead of Foo Fighters on the closing day and a Saturday night combination of the National and Macklemore.

The first day of Sziget festival, headlined by Ed Sheeran, reportedly sold out with as many as 60,000 fans attending Sheeran’s show and 95,000 visitors on the festival site. Several fans complained about overcrowding and congestion on social media.

“The performances on Sziget’s main stage this year were outstanding in many ways”

Organisers told a Hungarian news outlet that “an unexpected, brief rainstorm” resulted in more fans leaving immediately after Sheeran’s performance than expected. “We decided to break up the crowd by only allowing visitors to leave intermittently from the festival area in order to avoid external congestion,” reads the statement.

Speaking of the extensive line-up of headliners, Kádár says that it was “a great pleasure for us to programme world stars who cover a wide, diverse fan base over different genres”, as well as “artists who fit in well with our [environmental] Love Revolution campaign messages, such as The 1975.”

Organisers celebrated Sziget festival’s most sustainable year to date, preventing the use of 1.5 million one-use plastic cups and 600,000 straws through a reusable cup system and “Don’t Suck” anti-straw campaign.

A new low-carbon dining block was introduced this year, providing attendees with sustainable food options.

Talks by Dr Jane Goodall of the United Nations (UN) peace envoy, the UN Refugee Agency’s Emitithal Mahmoud and former US vice president and climate change campaigner Al Gore also featured on the main stage.


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What to expect from Glastonbury Festival 2019

Glastonbury Festival returns tomorrow (Wednesday 26 June) following a year’s hiatus. As hundreds of thousands of fans prepare to descend on Worthy Farm, here’s what to look out for this year.

In a slow year elsewhere for UK festivals, enthusiasm for this Glastonbury remains high. Standard tickets for the 2019 event sold out in 36 minutes, compared to 50 minutes in pre-fallow year 2017.

Stormzy will become the first UK grime act to head up the Glastonbury Pyramid Stage on the Friday night, followed by the Killers and the Cure on the following evenings. Kylie Minogue will play the Sunday afternoon Legends Slot.

Festival organisers recently revealed dancehall star Sean Paul as a late addition to head up the John Peel stage on Saturday.

Elsewhere, European Talent Exchange Programme (Etep) leaders and May’s Radar Station runnersup, Fontaines D.C., will show why they’re one of Europe’s fastest emerging acts on the William’s Green stage.

Other popular Etep acts performing at the festival include Black Midi, Flohio, Pip Blom and Octavian.

Performing arts collective Arcadia will bring a brand-new installation to this year’s festival, in the form of Pangea. The new arena, Arcadia’s “most ambitious yet”, will see performances from the likes of the Black Madonna, Four Tet and Carl Cox.

Standard tickets for the 2019 event sold out in 36 minutes, compared to 50 minutes in pre-fallow year 2017

The weather, a major talking point of any UK festival, is looking to turn around in time for Glastonbury. Some forecasters are predicting the hottest Glastonbury Festival on record, with London’s Met Office indicating temperatures could hit 35°C.

According to Met Office forecaster Grahame Madge, “it will start out overcast and there could be the potential for some showers but going forward it’s going to be much dryer than in recent days.

“There may be some heavy showers in the south west of England, though these are likely to be further west than Glastonbury.”

The Greenpeace-partnered festival is striving to up its eco-friendly policies this year, banning single-use plastic bottles and encouraging attendees to leave no waste behind. National food retailer the Co-op will sell sandwiches in 100% compostable packaging at its pop-up shop at the festival.

A proposed Glastonbury spin-off festival, the Variety Bazaar, appears to be on hold. Organisers had previously claimed that the event would take place instead of Glastonbury Festival in 2021, on a different site.


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