Another day, another slew of festival announcements. I've had three arrive in my inbox since 11am. At this point in time it feels like everyone in the world with access to a few speaker stacks, a crate of warm lager, and a couple of grand burning a hole in the back of their Levis can put one on.
Whether it's taking place in a field or on a far flung beach, in a provincial car park or at a mountaintop monastery, you can guarantee three things in any contemporary festival experience. The first is that you'll find yourself paying upwards of six quid for a burger at some point despite the fact you told yourself before you packed for the weekend that at no point would you hand over a tenner for a burger and chips and get 50p back. The second is that you'll spend more time about worrying about running out of battery or data or losing signal or your mates or your wallet or your new tote bag or your dropping your six quid burger or your five quid pint than actually enjoying any of the acts you paid through the nose to see. The third is that some point you'll see Four Tet, or Jackmaster, or Skream, or Four Tet going b2b with Caribou and you'll fall in an existential heap on the floor screaming "FESTIVAL BOOKERS, DIVERSIFY YOUR LINE UPS!" until you pass out and your friends find you, blue and foaming, and bundle you in the back of a taxi, only for you to wake up the next day clammy and ashamed.
These will all happen because this is what now happens at every festival across the globe. The same artisan cottage pie stalls rest next to the same Jamie Jones Presents Paradise tents which flop next to the same wheelie bins full of dry cider. The point is this: the rise of the festival as the primary means of exploring and understanding contemporary club culture leads to festival after festival that's pretty much identical to every other festival you've read about this year.
Put it this way, realistically this is the lineup at pretty much every festival you will go to this summer:
Ben Klock, Skream, Nina Kraviz, Carl Craig, Andy C, Adam Beyer, Dixon, B Traits, Ben UFO, Joy Orbison, Kerri Chandler, Rodhad, David Rodigan, Black Madonna, Eton Messy, Waze & Odyssey, Jackmaster, Arg from TOWIE, Heidi, Alan Fitzpatrick, Derrick Carter, Danny Howard, Hannah Wants, DJ Harvey, Gorgon City, Eats Everything, my uncle Simon, Lil Louis, Axel Boman, DJ EZ, Erol Alkan, Scuba, Green Velvet, Richy Ahmed, Hilary Benn, Seth Troxler
Of course it isn't you idiot! But it could be, couldn't it? It could be something taking place on a beach near you this summer. It could be something we're supposed to be really, really excited about. And that's a problem.
Before we look at exactly why that is a problem, and propose a few solutions, let's take a closer look at the data on offer. Let's actually determine if festival line ups are as rigidly derivative as they seem to be.
Scientists, look away now: my research involved be picking ten festivals that seemed broadly representative of the kind of event that the THUMP reader might either be interested in, or actually attend, and looking at how often the names of DJs playing those festivals popped up. The festivals in question were as follows: Annie Mac Presents Lost & Found, Dekmantel, Dimensions, Groovefest, Gottwood, Farr, Found, Parklife, We Are and Weather. That gives us a sample comprised of festivals both home and away, the boutique and the massive, the underground focused and the unabashedly populist. What we found was, well, sort of exactly what we thought we might: festival line ups are getting more anodyne than ever.
Of the ten we surveyed, the following DJs are playing at three or more of them:
Richy Ahmed, Artwork, Daniel Avery, Barely Legal, Julio Bashmore, Adam Beyer, Bicep, Black Madonna, Blawan, Marcel Dettmann, Dusky, DJ EZ, Heidi, Hunee, Jackmaster, Jasper James, Jamie Jones, Ben Klock, Nina Kraviz, Martinez Brothers, Midland, Monki, Motor City Drum Ensemble, Pender Street Steppers, Preditah, Rødhåd, David Rodigan, Steve Lawler, Special Request, Tama Sumo, B. Traits, Seth Troxler, Patrick Topping, Ricardo Villalobos, Joris Voorn, Ben UFO, Hannah Wants
Which, to us at leasts, suggests that, yep, there's a problem. In essence, go to any festival this summer and statistics say you're going to catch a few of these DJs. These are DJs, lest we forget, that on their own would headline pretty much any major club in any major city in the world. This doesn't happen in other spheres of popular music. Sure a band like, say, LCD Soundsystem might be playing a few festivals this summer, but they won't be turning up at every single one as if it was their duty to do so.
And this, this is a bad thing for club culture. Or rather, it's a bad thing for the idea of 'club culture' because in 2016, the idea that 'club culture' is a real, living, breathing thing rather than a nostalgia industry predisposed to relieve you of as much cash as possible, is a bit of a fallacy.
The rise of the festival is, as promoters and DJs are happy to tell anyone who'll listen, one of the dominant factors for the sharp increase in club closures that have battered clubland in recent years. While licensing issues are still at the fore of the debate, the impact of the festival and the completely justified rise of punters preferring to pay two hundred quid to see 50 DJs playing on a beach somewhere rather than fifteen to see three in a dingy club, have to be taken into consideration. After all, for many of us, a festival counts as a holiday, and in this day and age, we'll take any holidays we can get. If we can get away from our desks, that is. It's fun being a millennial isn't it? We work all week and at the weekend we get to see the same 20 DJs playing the same sets in different parts of the country. If we're really lucky Mark Ronson might play back to back with Hudson Mohawke.
The two obvious takeaways are thus: firstly, there are too many festivals, and secondly, there aren't enough DJs on the circuit to cater for them in a way that creates a genuinely individual experience. Let's deal with the first problem first.
Asserting that there are too many festivals is like saying that bomber jackets are cool, or that Pizza Hut is better than Dominos or that landlords are subhuman scum: undeniably and unequivocally true. While we're not calling for some kind of utopian mega-festival that caters for everyone out there with even the vaguest interest in combining four to the floor kickdrums with getting very, very pissed and smoking cheap cigarettes, the fact that the same DJs end up on bill after bill suggests that, maybe, just maybe, we could live without another Exciting New One Day Festival Taking Over London For a Day Of House, Techno and Grime, or another Hot New Festival Hitting Croatia For a Weekend's Worth of House and Techno. We don't need the endless parade that we're forced to feign excitement over at present. What we need, and this is very easy for me to say as someone who's never run a club night let alone a festival, is a genuinely transformative experience. But, realistically, if we're honest, is that even possible? Can a bunch of DJs playing one after the other ever be anything other than a succession of DJs playing one after the other? Even if, as it is at Gottwood, the setting is really, really nice? Probably not, no.
And that leads us onto the possibly thorny issue of the DJs themselves. They aren't to blame. Everyone wants to get paid and if you've got someone offering X amount of cash for Y minutes of work in Z country, why would you turn it down? You'd be a fool to. So the DJ accepts the gig, knowing that they've got an hour in Italy followed by a flight back home for a set in Bournemouth and another in Portsmouth, knowing that their hourly earnings are in the realm of the absolutely-fucking-stratospheric. They zip from hotel to hotel, knowing that festival season is a way of soaking up cash to make sure they get through the leaner winter months. This is completely fair and understandable. Everyone needs cash, and most of us, given the chance, would fuck our jobs off in a heartbeat to live the life of the DJ.
So who is to blame then? Is it the promoters, willing to book any old fucker with a few hundred thousand followers on Twitter and a DJ Mag ranking, in an attempt to fill their coffers? Possibly. After all, without them, there wouldn't be a festival to make really fucking boring in the first place. Perhaps, though, we're to blame. Perhaps we want too much for too little. We expect more and more content for less and less money, and because of that, we want to see the DJs we know, the DJs we know we like, the ones who won't disappoint, the ones who wont send us running to the bar every five minutes, coughing up tenner after tenner on cans of lager. Which, again, seems sort of understandable. Don't we deserve more though? Don't we? Do we really have to watch the old boys club do their thing for the fifteenth time this summer?
It seems strange to say it, after 1500 words worth of making the opposite case, but maybe the real answer to this is more festivals, but festivals that feel vital and necessary and risk-taking. Festivals that aren't the result of a vodka company pouring money into a random line up generator. Festivals that people actually want to go to, not ones people end up going to because the mythical "everyone else" is heading there as well. Let's start again.
See you in Victoria Park though, yeah? Jackmaster's on at 9. Skream after. Should be sick, mate. UFO's on at the after party.
You'll find Josh watching Midland at every single festival this summer. He's on Twitter too.