It's been a strange few years for Scotland's biggest festival. The seminal moment of last year's T in the Park came when Calvin Harris ended his headline set by dropping "Bits N Pieces", the 90s rave anthem by Dutch producer Artemesia that has attained cult status on Scottish commercial radio.
Little did anyone know at the time, but it may have been one of the final moments in T's history. Soon afterwards, the festival organisers announced they would be taking a "year off" in 2017, with the event's future uncertain. From the ashes, however, a brand new festival has emerged: TRNSMT, to be held in central Glasgow in July, with headline sets from Radiohead, Kasabian and Biffy Clyro. By all intents and purposes, it's a different festival entirely, except for a few things: it's run by the same group of promoters (DF Concerts), held on the same weekend, and targeted at pretty much the same audience.
Despite this, the organisers are keen to point out that it's not simply a case of T being relocated. For one thing, TRNSMT won't feature any camping, so there'll obviously be no more all night on-site partying, famous campsite roar, or crates of Tennents hauled several miles from the car park. Instead, like Parklife and Lovebox, it joins the growing trend of urban music festivals, offering a festival experience within the safe and accessible confines of a city park (and with the usual lip service paid to asking punters to avoid drugs without the police giving them the option to test any narcotics they'll take anyway).
The "safe and accessible" aspect is key when it comes to understanding this move from DF Concerts. In recent years, T in the Park has been plagued by an avalanche of negative publicity. While some of this has been down to "teething problems" related to a reluctant switch to a new festival site – forced on the organisers by health and safety officialdom – the past two festivals alone have seen 94 arrests, three deaths, and one serious case of sexual assault. These incidents have obviously been harder to shake off than, say, a couple of nesting ospreys or transport problems. Following this, last year's festival failed to sell out, even after slashing its capacity from previous years, which has likely also played a part in this decision.
TRNSMT represents a fresh start for DF Concerts. The site chosen, Glasgow Green, has a long history of hosting similar events – in 1992, it saw Michael Jackson's sole Scottish appearance, while more recently it's held huge gigs by Radiohead, the Stones Roses and, in 2014, Radio One's Big Weekend. In the early 2000s, it was also the home of Gig on the Green, a rock-focused festival that attracted some of the biggest acts of the time, including The Strokes, Slipknot and the White Stripes. It was such a big deal that angry Christians even protested outside it, unhappy at appearances by Eminem and Marilyn Manson.
But in an interesting twist, Gig on the Green folded after three years, with its organisers citing the difficulty they had competing with rival events that offered fans a "more traditional festival experience, with overnight partying and no parents nearby". That view was also shared at the time by DF Concerts' Geoff Ellis, who remains the public face of T to this day.
"People know what T in the Park is – it's a rite of passage for young people," Ellis told The Herald newspaper back in 2002. "Sometimes you want to go to a show and be home that night, but if you go to a festival in the true sense of the word, then part of the attraction is the escapism of being away for a full weekend. When you are a young kid, you don't necessarily want to go home after a music festival. You want to carry on and party."
So going by the wise words of DF's head honcho 14 years ago, what does this mean for TRNSMT? Can it replace T's much vaunted place in Scottish youth culture, the "rite of passage" that comes with being away from home and getting wasted with all your mates for the first time? Nothing quite beats stumbling back to your tent at 5AM, hand-in-hand with the "best mate" you made an hour ago, watching the sun peak it's head over the hills. To that end, three nights in a city centre Premier Inn seems pretty tame in comparison.
But then again, last year's T also saw a storm of bad publicity on social media, with videos and images from the Tinthepark Truth Facebook page seized on by the press. Whereas once the public image of music festivals could be carefully curated by promoters and broadcasters, they now have to compete with blurry mobile footage of festival-goers slinging punches at each other in the mud, setting tents on fire and frothing at the mouth from too much mephedrone – the sort of material that spreads easily online, and is quickly covered for clicks.
Not only can that warp public perceptions of a music festival enjoyed by 80,000 paying punters each year – and many more on TV and radio – but it can also make things difficult with the licensing authorities. Over the last couple of years, T came under sustained pressure from politicians, who've eagerly offered up soundbites about how the organisers should "stamp out crime" and sort out issues with drugs. For some reason, piloting a drugs testing scheme, in the style of Secret Garden Party, doesn't seem to have been considered. And with no quick fix to bad stories spreading on social media or dodgy drug batches potentially harming punters, DF have opted for a different festival entirely.
The new set-up will remove the festival from the after-hours equation, and should be far easier to police. With a reported capacity of 35,000, TRNSMT will be half the size of last year's T in the park. The festival's policing costs of up to £500,000 will, in turn, be significantly reduced at TRNSMT. But if there's anything to be learnt here, it's that trends in music often go in cycles. When Gig on the Green folded in the early 2000s, it came at a time when punters couldn't get enough of the heady escapism offered by huge festivals held in a muddy field the middle of nowhere, where the campsite party can be kept going all night. Now, it seems, the opposite is true.
"The festival market is always changing," DF's Geoff Ellis tells us in a statement, "as is the festival audience – some people enjoy camping in a field, while others prefer to sleep in their own beds at the end of the day. Last year, as well as T in the Park, we had three massive Summer Sessions shows in Glasgow, which saw tens of thousands of people enjoy some incredible acts. There is still a huge appetite for live music in Scotland and now that we've launched TRNSMT – a new festival, with a new audience, in a new location – we look forward to enjoying another great weekend of entertainment this summer."
It would be a shame if Scotland can't sustain a large camping festival, having already lost Rockness and Wickerman in recent years. While the smaller Belladrum festival, held near Inverness, goes from strength to strength, even the temporary loss of T leaves a big gap on Scotland's cultural calendar. The question is now whether TRNSMT can adequately replace that, and we'll have to wait until the summer to find out.
Liam protects his tweets but he's still on Twitter.
(Lead image by Craig Watson via)