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The Indie Panel: Are Veteran Festival Headliners Ruining The Music Scene?

Is it time for veteran headliners at festivals to make way for new acts! We put the question to our indie panel. Have your say!


Yannis from Foals recently stated regarding festivals that “I’m bored of seeing some dude from the ’90s headline, it means nothing to me”. But how does our writing team feel about the idea of someone old enough to be your grandad/dad taking the top billing at music festivals? Is Yannis right? Is there anyone deserving of a headliner slot from the new crop? We put it to  our indie panel and here’s what they had to say.

StephenStephen Attridge (Indie Writer)

Other than in the case of one-genre festivals (Metal, Folk, Blues etc.), festival organisers usually have to tailor the choice of acts to the everyman. There are some exceptions: after a successful debut there in 1991, the act billing for Reading ’92 was wholly given over to Nirvana to select.

Sometimes a headliner so monumentally influential on the genre plays and is revered by all present. It was also almost impossible not to hear talk of the Rolling Stones’ 2 hr+ Glastonbury stint showing apparently why age is no barrier to rocking a large festival crowd. This year’s Download saw British metal behemoth Iron Maiden actually arrange a Spitfire flypast over Donnington Park, and it seems they had a place in the heart and musical development of pretty much every other heavy act there..

Last year, Hard Rock Calling got into a bit of hot water on a number of fronts. I was there for the first day, a Friday of showers and brief sunshine all topped off with a dark, appropriately rain-drenched Soundgarden performance. I can remember a slightly packed tube at Hyde Park Corner at the close of the evening.  But the next evening, Bruce Springsteen’s show made national news for being so lengthy that it was halted prematurely for ‘health and safety reasons’, to allow a safe return journey for the crowd. Springsteen being a firm favourite of that festival, nobody would question having chosen him, but evidently poor communication between the festival organisers and the great man ended in an embarrassing calamity. This was made all the more ironic by the fact that he was indulging the long-held dream of jamming with Sir Paul McCartney when the power was pulled from the stage. Perhaps the crew were too in awe of him to have pre-empted the difficulties by discussing the listed time-limit and council curfew? Anyhow, the festival has now upped sticks to the Olympic Park’s stadium in response to noise complaints from Hyde Park properties.

As to this year’s Glastonbury performance by the Rolling Stones, I know somebody who went to his first Glastonbury Festival this summer and was blown away by them, telling me that the general reaction of everyone was one of amazement in the quality of the performance.

I do not think anybody would want to prevent the founding fathers of rock and pop from playing festivals, but they don’t always expect to headline. Iggy and the Stooges warmed up the Friday night when I saw Soundgarden. As long as organisers manage time and balance programming, the stage should be set for the race of old and new talent alike to happily co-exist.

LiamLiam Trinh (Indie/Urban Writer)

It may occur to some that the presence of ‘veteran’ acts as headliners could be limiting the chances for up and coming/established and deserving bands to make the performance they well and truly deserve, in a place where they’re most likely to be appreciated. Who’s to say that Red Hot Chili Peppers would own the main stage better than Palma Violets on the last night of Reading Festival, theoretically speaking? It could easily be argued that some of the smaller, even solo acts on the lineup to any festival give that little extra to please the crowd.

On the other hand, who’s to say that the recurring performances in the spotlight for these headline artists aren’t the true highlights of their ‘dated’ careers, and are not the ones they will later be remembered for? For example, if any band were to be considered ‘veteran’ it would be The Rolling Stones, whose performance at this year’s Glastonbury Festival could be considered one of the best rock n’ roll shows of all time! Artists that have worked their way to the top of any lineup should enjoy playing their music for as long as they’re wanted there. At the end of the day, big names sell tickets.

MartinMartin-john McDonnell (Indie Editor)

Let’s be clear here, the argument that a band shouldn’t headline just because they are old is a tad fractured anyway. If a bonobo chimp in drag started writing the best Indie/Rock songs of a generation I’d likely try see said chimp play. The same goes with ageism, without coming across like some sort of BBC newsnight style debate, it really shouldn’t matter if you’re 65 or 12.5, if what you have to offer is amongst the best around, then you should be headlining.

I will however say that bands who headline festivals multiple times are the real issue behind this whole debate. No one really kicked up a fuss at all when the Rolling Stones took on Glastonbury. Why? Because it was widely acknowledged that they were long overdue their shot on the hallowed pyramid stage. But when you have the Foo Fighters or Muse headlining for the 19th time it gets a tad boring (which isn’t to criticise either of those two bands).

Glastonbury had the right approach (if executed badly). One veteran band, an established newer act and the big flavour of the moment. Between them there is something for everyone (although how Mumford and Sons appeal to anyone is beyond me).

On the flipside you could take the All Tommorow’s Parties stylistic approach and get the headline act to curate, this means that you get a selection of the headliners tastes, making it a more intimate insight into the world of the headliner, as well as meaning the bands are all within the ballpark of your tastes too.

I’ve been to see many headliners who could be considered veteran, do I give a flying bonobo what people think? Of course not!  A quick test to prove my point here… Who would you rather see headline a festival

  1. Paul McCartney or Jake Bugg?
  2. My Bloody Valentine or Silversun Pickups?
  3. Fleetwood Mac or Haim?
  4. Rolling Stones or Peace?
  5. Radiohead or Palma Violets?

If you answered more to the left than right, then you’ve proven how festivals need big names to survive, keeping them on rotation however is the bigger issue. Besides does Jake Bugg even have the 2/3 hours of material required to headline a festival?

So to conclude then, it seems that by and large our panel are in agreement that age is not an issue (well regarding festival headliners anyway). Are you in agreement or would you rather be devoured by Madonna than have to tolerate 5 minutes of The Rolling Stones? Let us know below!


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