Monday, 13 December 2010

Festival headliners of the future

Ahhhhhh, festivals. Fabulous things, aren’t they? For three months of every year as the sun makes vague attempts to fry us all (quality of frying differs depending on location, of course) and ASDA continues its so far successful annual plot to turn Britain into a nation of raging alcoholics, we’re afforded hundreds of opportunities throughout Europe and the UK to live in our own filth for up to a week, all the while enjoying the company of the best and worst live acts music has to offer. They are truly the best thing live entertainment has ever conjured up in all of its glorious history and I am forever in debt to the peace dwelling hippies of yesteryear for kickstarting the entire tradition.

However, a thought occurred to me this past summer as I was watching AC/DC’s headline performance at the Download Festival. In that same weekend, I got to see Aerosmith, Motorhead and Billy Idol, as well as old reliable stalwarts Cinderella and Saxon, and the same thought crossed my mind as I watched each act: how long have these guys ACTUALLY got left? It goes without saying that each acts performance was absolutely phenomenal. Their longevity and the adoring throngs they each drew take care of that notion. But that’s not the point I’m raising – the point I’m raising is that, as I watched Angus Young strip down to his boxer shorts during ‘Hell’s Bells’ and Steven Tyler dancing around the stage in a coat that looked like it was made out of bacofoil, it suddenly dawned on me that these men and the rest of their respective band mates are all at the arse end of 60 years old. Granted, Angus’ screeching guitar solos were enough to frazzle even the most casual fans brain and Tyler’s inimitable shriek was note perfect throughout, but it’s not going to be that way forever. The human body is a bloody nuisance, really. Eventually, something has got to give, and these ordinary people who have for all intents and purposes become deities of rock n’ roll will have to hang up their boots. And herein lies our dilemma, or perhaps our long overdue future, depending on how you look at it. There is no torch passing going on here. This is going to be more of a case of holding the torch out in the dark and praying for dear life that someone swoops in and takes it.

Before we ponder over who could potentially take that coveted headliner crown, we must first face facts: the music industry is a ridiculously different beast than it was when the likes of Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne, KISS and even AC/DC and Aerosmith themselves rose to prominence. People aren’t buying records anymore. Only those bands previously mentioned and others of that prestigious calibre sell anywhere close to the million mark or more these days, and even then their worldwide sales are a mere fraction of what they could sell in the pre-file sharing era. A bands success is measured much more on their intake on the live and merchandise markets in this day and age – smaller bands almost solely. Sadly, it’s because of this change that many young and prospering potential headliners get forgotten about as the industry’s figureheads remain in this outdated and stagnating method of business. Let’s take a look at some of our contenders.

Bullet For My Valentine – Inarguably the biggest band this country has produced since Iron Maiden. Following the release of their third album Fever in April 2010, they were called upon to headline the second stage of the aforementioned Download Festival, and recently completed their first ever headline tour of UK arenas. Despite their seemingly unending success, Bullet For My Valentine have forever divided opinion among rock and metal fans, but their size is undeniable. Yes, their music is at times cloaked in wet, disingenuous mush. And in my unabashed opinion, they wouldn’t know metal if it sexually assaulted them at the back of a dingy night club in Manchester, but trust me: when our classic rock forefathers finally lay their legacies to rest, this Welsh quartet will be the first festival bookers run to to save their event from falling into obscurity.

Avenged Sevenfold – This five piece from Orange Country, California, have gone from strength to strength ever since their inception in 2001. The band have released five studio albums over that nine year period, all of which have received universal acclaim and even by today’s standards have been very commercially successful. On top of this, Avenged Sevenfold have perhaps one of the most loyal and devoted fanbases in the world, helped in no small part by their own image and the avant-garde and Tim Burton-esque imagery which dominates their artwork and elaborate stage shows, which have propelled their live performances to becoming some of the most acclaimed in the whole industry. Following the death of their original drummer Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan last winter, Avenged Sevenfold are arguably at the biggest point of their career, and their rise shows no signs of slowing down. If A7X are not headlining festivals by the year 2015, something is seriously amiss and we should probably consider fleeing the planet.

Stone Sour – Yes, they’re Corey Taylor’s other band. They’ll probably never reach the stratospheric heights of that other band. And right now, let’s be honest, they don’t have any stone cold classics, unlike that other band. But Stone Sour’s musical output has been gaining momentum with each release, each album more infectious and radio-friendly than the last, most recent album Audio Secrecy particularly overflowing with made-for-MTV singles. Though a small choice compared to the two acts previously mentioned, Stone Sour are on a constant upward trajectory, and when the moments right, they’d be a stunning festival headliner. Can you imagine a field full of people singing along to ‘Hesitate’?

See? Those are just three of our options for the future. But maybe even I’m looking at this the wrong way. Pretty soon, CD’s just aren’t going to exist. Either that, or they’re going to be absolutely redundant. All music is going to be acquired entirely digitally. So maybe, when that time comes, we should change our ethos on what makes a headliner? Is it so necessary to have a headliner that’s commercially viable if they have a strong and loyal following? And is it so necessary to have a headliner that’s commercially viable if their live shows are out of this world? I would argue yes, but in some very select instances, I’d argue against those movements too. Examples? You betcha.

Machine Head – If Machine Head weren’t the first band that came to mind for you, then there’s something seriously wrong. It’s easy to underestimate the size of Machine Head’s following. Seriously, the amount of love people have for this band is paralleled perhaps only by Metallica and Iron Maiden. And obviously, that’s saying something. When the two biggest heavy metal bands in the world are your company, that’s some serious shit, yo. Make no mistake about it, fan or not, Machine Head would make an absolutely stunning festival headliner. Their back catalogue is caked with that most of rarest of things: modern metal classics. Do the list. ‘Davidian’. ‘The Blood, The Sweat, The Tears’. ‘Old’. ‘Take My Scars’. ‘Imperium’. ‘Ten Ton Hammer’. ‘Descend The Shades Of Night’. ‘Aestheti...fuck it, ALL of “The Blackening”’ (Disclaimer: That’s not a song title. But I’m right, you know I am). The sheer chaos this band would invoke if given that one headliner slot could only be rivalled by Slipknot’s headline show at Download 2009. And it’d give it a fucking good run for its money too.

Lamb Of God – I don’t care what anybody says – the hole that Pantera left in metal when they dissipated 10 years ago, Lamb Of God eventually and rightfully filled. For the record, there aren’t many bands who are as uncompromisingly heavy as Lamb Of God who’ve had even a smidgen of the success they’ve had. 5 years ago it would’ve been unthinkable for a band that heavy to get Grammy nominations and perform on national million-viewing TV shows, as well as earning much sought after support slots on tours with the likes of Heaven & Hell and Metallica. Lamb Of God are one of those bands whose success has been gradual but never slipping, perpetually moving forward into the echelons of heavy metal legend. Like Stone Sour, Lamb Of God are a VERY small choice of headliner, but remember, we’re not talking about commercial weight here. We’re talking about respect. Devotion. Loyalty. And akin to Machine Head, Lamb Of God’s fanbase are one of the most die-hard in the world. Turning out to be a pretty good weekend so far, eh? Machine Fucking Head and Lamb Of God are two of your headliners. And there’s one more to come...

Korn – Korn are in the same boat as Machine Head. Decades in the business. Their fanbase undying. And while their mainstream popularity may have dwindled in recent years, there’s no doubting Korn’s influence on metal as a whole, effectively kicking off the equal amounts adored and maligned nu-metal revolution of the 90’s. The thing about Korn is that people, myself included, never actually realise just how much they love them. It’s easy to underestimate them as of late, but Korn are one of very few bands who survived the death of nu-metal who not only came out virtually unscathed, but brought back with them a back catalogue brimming with some of the biggest party anthems ever to grace our beloved, closed-minded hub. Ever bounced up and down in a crowd of 40,000 people when ‘Got The Life’ kicks in? Ever screamed every last morsel of air out of your lungs to the chorus of ‘Freak On A Leash’? Ever completely lost your shit when they drop the colossal main riff from ‘Blind’? Then you’ll know what I’m talking about. It has to be said, Korn should be a hell of a lot bigger than they are, and it’s a damn shame that they never reached their true potential, thanks in no small part to a series of questionable albums (you know which ones I’m talking about. But even then, each record produced their own bangers. ‘Falling Away From Me’? ‘Right Now’? ‘Twisted Transistor’? Anybody?). But there’s still time for them. And I still have faith that their moment is coming, even if it is going to be in a drastically altered musical world than the one we know now.

I could go on for days about who could claim the headliner torch for the forthcoming future. And pretty soon, festival organisers are going to have to start looking at these and their contemporaries to headline their events. Sooner than you think. Gene Simmons is on his last legs. David Coverdale’s voice sounds like frogs being put through a shredder. And Ozzy is just plain batshit crazy now. And it’s not even hilarious anymore. It’s time to give the young guns a chance. Linkin Park proved you could do it in 2004. Slipknot proved you could do it in 2009. Rammstein proved you could do it in 2010 (okay they’re not young, but they’re a band made up of crazy German bastards who release singles with a porno as an accompanying music video which they star in themselves. And they play arenas. Bonkers). Sonisphere are already ahead of the pack, giving Biffy Clyro their first festival headline spot at next year’s Knebworth bash. Festival organisers of the future, it’s time to start thinking outside the box. Make it happen. For the sake of music, make it happen.

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