When acts and festivals clash
As LCD Soundsystem and John Grant discovered at T In the Park, some festivals just don’t suit certain acts
Where are your friends tonight? There’s a rash of photos out there showing that LCD Soundsystem’s performance at T In the Park in Scotland at the weekend was not a match made in heaven. The band, who are probably the hottest ticket of the year for those of a certain age, played to a crowd most diplomatically described as sparse. You could go right up to the front and gaze in wonder at James Murphy. They weren’t alone either, as John Grant’s photo from the stage also shows.
It’s no reflection on the acts’ performance, but more a reflection on the decision of their agents and advisors to choose money over the proper match between festival and act. The long-running T In the Park, a festival which had a lot of problems last year and featured in news reports this year because of deaths, robberies and rape allegations, is a big, rambunctious, boisterous, bold-as-brass, rite-of-passage event which attacts thousands of young Scots. It’s basically the Scottish Oxegen – it was the ill-fated Irish fest’s “sister” event for many years – and this Facebook page about the festival has a strong bang of Punchestown off it. The audience are young and are there to get off their tits to Calvin Harris and the like. They’re not the audience who are going to check out Grant. They’re too young to remember LCD Soundsysyem. They want something far more age-appropriate.
But money talks and the agents said yes to the booking when it came in on email. It might have suited the band’s tour schedule, it might have been a bigger bag of cash than appearing at another festival that weekend, it might have kept the promoter sweet. One thing the agent didn’t bother his (and agents are largely male) hoop doing is say ‘hey, I don’t think T In the Park will suit the band, our fanbase is older, we need something else’. The booking was taken, the deposit was paid and the announcements were made. The act probably walked onstage, looked at all that empty space, closed their eyes and clenched their jaws. It’s a festival, innit.
You have to wonder, though, what the act thinks deep down when they perform their 60 or 90 minute set and remember what it felt like to be an unloved and under-appreciated support act to something going on elsewhere in a big field. I wrote last week about the amount of shows which are not selling out at the moment and referenced the empty seats syndrome which Rihanna and Beyonce have experienced on their tours this year. In all cases, the acts got paid handsomely for their time and troubles, but surely the ego goes ‘where the hell are all my fans?’.
In the case of the acts at festivals, your fans are at home or at another festival. Festival bookers select acts based on their appeal. They hope that by booking a big-name act that their fans will come along. It’s not as simple as that. The band’s fans will look at the ticket price, the rest of the line-up and especially the festival’s reputation and go ‘nah, not for me’.
Again and again, you see this happening. Irish music fans will remember the handful of people who turned up to see The National at their infamous appearance at Oxegen in 2011 or the paltry turnout for headliners Arcade Fire at the same festival in 2010. In both cases, the bookers thought the band’s fans would come to a festival which, by that stage, had become a pop and dance wig-out. In both cases, the bookers got it horribly wrong.
As the turnouts show, the fans are not that easily fooled. Fans knew that the acts would be back again within 12 or 18 months or even sooner (as was the case in both instances above) and probably playing a better venue or bill (as was also the case). The days of acts who are only ever going to play one venue or festival which you must, must, must go to in order to see them are over. That day ended when the boffins invented the MP3 and upended traditional music business accounting. Time for the live business dudes to cop on that in this case of immovable objects and unstoppable forces, they’re just not going to win.