‘UK’s position as leader in live music at stake’: nine festivals canceled due to rising costs | Music festivals

When Standon Calling – the summer music festival in which 17,000 people descend on the Hertfordshire countryside to see headliners such as Bloc Party and Wolf Alice – announced that this year would be its last, it became the ninth festival of 2024 to be canceled or permanently cancelled. .

Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) CEO John Rostron has called for “urgent government intervention” to help events hit by rising supply chain costs, debts incurred during the pandemic Covid and the slowdown in ticket sales, still hampered by the cost of living. crisis.

“We’ve been losing money and debt for three or four years,” says Rostron. “Some (events) failed last year; This year it’s only February and the festivals are falling. They can’t even come in the summer.

It’s a situation that some say could lead to the end of “Rite of passage» live music events, which have become the basis of the British summer cultural offering – leaving only the biggest festivals, such as Glastonbury, to survive.

The AIF says 36 festivals were completely closed or postponed last year, adding to the 100 missing events Since the peak in 2019while there were 600 live music festivals in the UK.

Many of the events that took place were small and still maturing, but this year more established festivals such as Standon Calling, Bluedot (which hosts a “fallow” year) and Nostock succumbed to rising costs.

Ella Nosworthy, who runs Nostock in Herefordshire, has seen the cost of hosting her 5,000-capacity event rise by 40% since the pandemic. Rostron claims that the price of building an event, i.e. assembling stages, bars etc., has increased from £400,000 in 2019 to £900,000 in 2023.

“Perfect storm,” Nosworthy said.

“We got to the point where we were looking at five years without any profit and what company can handle that? “, she said. “We could have continued, but we had to consider reducing our costs because the risk became too great. »

Jarvis Cocker at the Bluedot festival, which will not take place in 2024. Photography: Chris Lever/REX/Shutterstock

Simon Taffe, co-founder of the End of the Road festival, has been hit with a 30-40% increase in costs since 2019. He made the decision to increase ticket prices by 30% and, with his event, to attract an older and middle-aged clientele. Based on class demographics, this increase hasn’t put off punters, with 75% of tickets sold before the lineup was announced.

Taffe believes we could see a readjustment, in which it is not just the larger festivals that will remain standing, but also the small or medium-sized, bespoke and carefully curated events.

“If you just try to do what everyone else does later, you’re not going to survive,” he said. “It’s a very risky business to start in the first place and if you don’t have a vision or a unique selling point, I just don’t see how you can succeed.”

End of the Road features a film program curated by Martin McDonagh and Ben Wheatley, while Taffe tackles bands who don’t tour the festival circuit.

Other festivals are also thriving. Afro Nation, which is based in Portugal but is run by British promoters and has a majority British audience, has connected with the growing afrobeats scene and captured one of the most underserved festival audiences: Black Brits.

Live At Leeds is hosting its first ever outdoor event, Live in Leeds in the Park, in addition to the city’s annual showcase. We Out Here was a sell-out success demonstrating the drawing power of jazz, Houghton thrived as a dance music festival in the Norfolk countryside, and Glastonbury, once again, sold out in less than an hour.

But for Nosworthy, the speed with which festivals like his are disappearing has a long-term impact on British culture, particularly music.

“The UK’s position as a leader in live music is at stake,” she says. “It sounds dramatic to say, but that’s what happens if these small festivals and events aren’t protected.”

Rostron’s suggested solution to the problem is a reduction in VAT to 5% on festival tickets, a measure implemented during the Covid-19 pandemic but since abandoned when the rate returned to 20%.

“If we can have two or three years of relative stability, in theory the supply chain will grow again, skilled and trained workers will come into the sector, but they need stability,” he said . “We just need a few good summers.”

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