What is the future of music festivals? I'm not talking 2015, I'm talking more like 2025. Will Metallica still be headlining on a rota with Slipknot, Iron Maiden and Linkin Park? Unlikely. Classic rockers like Aerosmith, Def Leppard and Black Sabbath are approaching their sell-by-date. Are Avenged Sevenfold or Rammstein the answer? While they sell out some arenas, neither have ever had the impact as those first mentioned few and they likely never will.
The time of selling 20million albums is over. Metallica did it with the Black Album in 1991 and then in 2000, Linkin Park did that again with Hybrid Theory. That album is, of course, being celebrated in its entirety at Download Festival this June but rest assured they won't be returning to any festival to play Meteora or Living Things all the way through. No. No, they won't.
The fact of the matter is that since Linkin Park and Slipknot, no other viable festival headliners have emerged. Muse are too big a deal and they aren't "metal enough" for such events and the jury is currently out on Avenged Sevenfold. There is little to add to the 'there won't ever be another Metallica' argument (reasons: choice; ignored by radio; competing with video games) but we can speculate over the future.
While the big promoters are slurping up the very last dregs of our heavy metal heritage with their lineups, there are plenty of other UK festivals in rude health and this, I believe, is the real future of metal festivals. Without the likes of Metallica et al to shift thousands of tickets, they'll be smaller, but there will be more of them and they'll be more musically niche.
Look at Damnation Festival. They know exactly what their clientèle requires. It's the one-day festival's tenth edition and they've slowly but surely increased the number of bands. The key to their business model is getting those exclusive, flagship headliners. Carcass last year; The Dillinger Escape Plan in 2010; Bolt Thrower's only gig of 2014. That's what people will pay their money for and it's value for money too. £36 for a day of intense and intimate heavy metal while it's £205 for either of the big two festivals? Maths.
Due to its stature and reputation, it seems odd talking about Bloodstock Festival as a mid-sized, independent festival but it's a non-corporate event just far enough from the mainstream of multi-million selling bands. Yes, Megadeth, Down and Emperor are headlining this year but their days of selling millions are firmly in the past. These are not arena-level bands now. It's the same with previous headliners like Machine Head (who tried and failed) and Lamb of God. Bloodstock expanded to accommodate the level of those bands and they have a ceiling - a pretty high ceiling, but a ceiling none the less.
Temples Festival is a new festival in Bristol and with Electric Wizard, Neurosis and Clutch headlining, is aimed at anyone with a beard or appreciates beards and it's good to see a lineup curated so keenly. Another festival making its first appearance is Jabberwocky - a collaboration between ATP, Pitchfork and Primavera Sound. Between the three of them they've cornered every single hipster market around so hopefully they'll be able to sell enough tickets between them.
Two urban festivals making their returns are Supersonic and Desertfest. Again, they know exactly who their audience is (art rock aficionados and stoner longhairs respectively) and that's why they're flourishing independently. Instead of camping or the souped-up VIP packages being hawked around for a week's salary, you simply return to your own bed in the evening and you can go eat in Wagamama or Byron or whatever fancy fast food chain you fancy, rather than just eating another overpriced portion of noodles out a carton of contempt. It's a different kind of festival comfort.
People are never going to want to stop experiencing live music. For the teenagers of every generation, visiting a major music festival is a rite of passage. Maybe a huge cornucopia of mid-level, current rock bands without the megalithic metal heritage act at the top of the bill is what they'll experience in the future. Maybe they'll fork out to have their fill of bands for a few months as a reaction to the commoditisation of music into digital, away from the tangible.
The bottom line is that people still like getting out of the house and actually experiencing something live and in-the-moment. They will always pay for a destination and they will pay to be amongst those with similar interests. That's why the number of festivals are increasing, but it's the mid-sized contingent that is growing in confidence, and they have little chance of losing their talent to the perils of old age.
The original, un-shortened version of this blog post originally appeared on ThrashHits.com.