Blog: Sonisphere and faltering festivals

By thetinyempire on 30 March 2012

The Olympic year has seen two of its largest festivals falter already. The Big Chill, according to organiser Melvin Benn is on hold for a year and will return in 2013 but Sonisphere has pulled the plug on a scheduled event, with no cries of ‘we’ll be back!’ Is the first ‘giant’ to fall since Phoenix?  Alex Fahey weighs up its hopes.
 
As festivals go Sonisphere is still in its infancy. Thanks to the internet the cries could be heard loud across the world but for the organisers there’s still the hope that there won’t be long-lasting damage.  The festival will be hoping that 2012’s cancellation is just its toddler taking a tumble while it’s still learning to walk. 
 
Despite the outlook for the UK festival, the Sonisphere brand still has a lot to remain positive about. The manner in which the heavy-hearted decision was propagated demonstrates both a concern for the fans and a hope that they will return, “unfortunately circumstances have dictated that we would be unable to run the festival to a standard that both the artists and that Sonisphere’s audience would rightly expect.” 
 
It has been reported that Sonisphere will be issuing automatic refunds, the move means that no matter how disgruntled the fan base feel they won’t be out of pocket, the decision to announce the cancellation has been well calculated too. If it was made due to poor ticket sales, which has been suggested but not officially confirmed, then it was wise to axe the event three months before the show was due to start instead of holding out until the 11th hour for a flurry of sales.
 
Wise decisions have given rise to the hope that any grazes will heal; a festival is nothing after all without attendees.
 
Unlike other festivals that have for various reasons failed to deliver an event, Sonisphere extends beyond its UK market. With 2 million tickets sold in the last three years, it now has a large global footprint and proposes to expand the brand even further. To the outsider it appears to be in a very strong position but as the banks can attest: the big can go bust.  A close eye will be cast on its European events, if they follow the UK’s lead, then alarm bells will sound for a 2013 return.
 
Download’s Andy Copping has said that he won’t be celebrating the demise of his closest rival, an honourable reaction to a man who understands the pressures and difficulties of organising a successful event.  He’s also sensitive to the needs or his audience and doesn’t wish to profit from Sonisphere’s misfortune, “Download will be remaining a three day, five day camping festival...no additional days are being added.”
 
Download, like Sonisphere, caters to the heavier crowd, this year sees Black Sabbath, Metallica and The Prodigy headline but their paths have been forged in very different ways. Download has grown larger and longer since 2003, from a two-day, two-stage event to today’s incarnation of five stages and three days of music.
 
Sonisphere in comparison set their stall out differently. They marketed the festival as a global tour, with 2009 seeing it stop at six venues, which by 2013 had almost doubled. Did it perhaps appear too much too soon?  The partnership contained big names such as AEG (owner of London’s O2 arena) seemed to suggest that it wasn’t beyond their reach financially, so what went wrong?
 
The billing argument always rages when an announcement is made for any festival. Do you make the announcement to sell the tickets or do you play your cards close to your chest and release the tickets before the headliners?  The latter works for Glastonbury, we’re all well aware of the Jay-Z furore but metal festivals, by the nature of expectation have to release their headliners.
 
Sonisphere have to put their hat in the ring to compete with Download. Bands that are heavy enough and of headline standard are few and far between and a ‘Glastonbury gamble’ of say, Jay-Z will not sit well with potential ticket buyers.  Metallica is one of those bands, hence why Download have had them at the event four times and Sonisphere at their debut festival.
 
This year Sonisphere this year announced Queen with Adam Lambert playing the role of Freddie. Opinion was divided.
 
Melvin Benn cited the Olympics as one of the factors for cancelling this year’s Big Chill. It’s true that the nation will be looking towards London as the Olympics come to Britain but to this scribe at least it doesn’t seem to tally.  At the risk of stereotyping here, music-lovers and sport don’t make the most comfortable of bed-fellows. 
 
As a result of the Olympics, the BBC’s One Big Weekend will be in Hackney.  A large, free, music event akin to a festival may be touted as a rival to festivals but that idea is flawed when we look at Sonisphere.  Firstly, although diverse in the terms of line-up, it’s not a true alternative to a metal festival, couple it with the fact the majority of tickets go to residents of Hackney, it’s not a faultless argument.
 
Money is almost certainly a contributing factor; Britain is in a recession, unemployment is on the rise and purse strings are being tightened. A few years ago festival-goers may have taken in two or three events over the summer but such is the rise in ticket prices, travel and on-site refreshments that they may be holding back. If they are, as a result of financial constraints, going to scale down their festival attendances then they’d choose one which suits their want and this year it doesn’t appear to be Sonisphere.
 
To end on a cheery note, it’s not the end for Sonisphere. Perhaps the lack of a 2012 event might work in their favour; they may use the year out to re-group, re-think and perhaps as it tours, make it a bi-annual event. 
 
Their time away will whet the appetite of their fans, the year off will give the organisers the chance to create a wholly satisfying event and when it returns it’s with a bang! Here’s hoping...
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