Forget pancakes, forget Valentine’s: February is about festivals. Summer might seem worlds away, but the first onslaught of frenzied announcements have already arrived. From the shamelessly commercial to the smugly boutique, music festivals are now a quintessential part of British summertime, and with fresh lineups dropping on the daily, even the most avid fans will struggle to keep up. Here’s a brief summary of some of the best (and worst) of the UK’s lineups so far.
(NB: believe it or not, this list is far from exhaustive, so I’d recommend using an app like Songkick or DICE to track your favourite artists and thus avoid festival FOMO).
With Glastonbury taking a fallow year and the termination of heavyweights like T in the Park and Secret Garden Party (RIP), relative newbies to the UK festival scene are fighting for the spotlight. Perhaps the most ambitious of these is All Points East. Officially marketed as a ten day event, APE includes a 3-day music festival (25th – 27th May) followed by three consecutive headline shows. The main event presents a phenomenal indie electronic lineup (LCD Soundsystem, the XX, and Lorde) with support from new artists such as Rex Orange County and Stefflon Don; meanwhile the additional headline shows are a treat for rock fans, with Catfish and the Bottlemen, The National and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds offering something for all age groups. Other relative newcomers to the capital include Citadel, already looking promising with psychedelic darlings, Tame Impala, set to headline, and Community, an indie-rock paradise with its lineup of Two Door Cinema Club, The Vaccines and You Me At Six. Junction 2 is only entering its third year, but with a simple ethos of equality and unity in the rave, it’s sure to attract an audience with a genuine passion for electronic music, especially given its formidable six hour long Dixon B2B Âme headline set.
Obvious standouts for dance fans are Parklife in Manchester and, more locally, Bristol’s Love Saves the Day. The former, presented by Manchester’s acclaimed Warehouse Project (a Mecca for dedicated ravers), hosts a lineup brimming with contemporary talent. Although the majority of the acts are far from exclusive to this event (top of the billing are The XX, Liam Gallagher, Skepta, Lorde and Bonobo, all of whom are doing the rounds of the European festival scene), the sheer number of skilled artists they’ve managed to pack into a two day event is stunning. Clashes are inevitable, but fortunately LSTD welcomes many of the same rising DJs, including Bicep and Hot Since 82, so there’s ample opportunity to experience them live. And with headliners like festival veteran Fatboy Slim and Mercury Award winner Sampha, LSTD won’t disappoint.
Boomtown’s reputation for anarchy renders the lineup somewhat secondary
Despite the buzz surrounding Boomtown’s early headline announcement of Gorillaz, the rest of the lineup is disappointing. Whilst the irreverence of Die Antwoord and Limp Bizkit is clearly well suited to Boomtown’s distinctive form of scuzzy pandemonium, they feel like lacklustre headliners to me, particularly given the amount of publicity surrounding the festival, which has become (in)famous for its visual spectacles despite the bad press over drug abuse and poor management. Perhaps Boomtown’s reputation for anarchy renders the lineup somewhat secondary; the festival has a guaranteed market of hedonists who’ll turn up for the debauchery regardless of what mangled beats are thumping in the background. An enticing, although more homogenous, alternative is Lost Village, which sells itself as an intimate woodland rave hosting the best contemporary electronic acts, including Four Tet, Friendly Fires, Mount Kimbie and The Black Madonna. Music is clearly at the heart of this event, with the website promising a “carefully curated journey through sound”. Houghton and Gottwood festivals foster a similar image, targeting house and techno fans with lineups showcasing the finest underground talent.
But back to the commercial: Barclaycard’s British Summer Time Festival returns to Hyde Park, this year more than ever targeting a mature demographic with veteran headliners like Eric Clapton and The Cure. Meanwhile, Radio 1’s annual Big Weekend, which caters to their main demographic of chart listeners, has rebranded as – wait for it – the Biggest Weekend. The use of a superlative seems dangerous: whilst Bestival gets away with it through sheer punniness, I can’t help but wonder what Radio 1 will name their project next year; plus the arrogance of such a claim invites sneering at the painfully unimaginative lineup, which includes the likes of Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran and James Bay.
TRNSMT is hosting a popular, if somewhat bland, rock lineup
Speaking of Bestival, this year sees the festival undergo yet another change after last year’s relocation to Dorset. The event, which traditionally closed the festival season, this year takes place at the beginning of August – perhaps due to the chaos wreaked last year by the accumulation of a whole English summer of rain (the main stage was closed for an afternoon, sending unhappy campers back to their tents to listen to Loyle Carner through tinny phone speakers rather than, y’know, live, like they paid for). I have my doubts about the Castle Stage lineup this year – London Grammar seem like a low-energy choice for a circus themed year – but the other stages host a promisingly eclectic mix of DJs and upcoming artists, from Jorja Smith to Camelphat.
The Isle of Wight festival is staying firmly in its lane for its 50th Anniversary with a typically rock-based lineup consisting of popular acts like The Killers, Kasabian and Liam Gallagher. It’s a trusty selection, guaranteed to attract loyal fans and accessible enough for the casual listener; but, dare I say, a bit boring for a half centenary?
Other notable events for indie rock fans are Kendal Calling (Catfish and the Bottlemen, The Libertines) and Truck, which this year has served up a strong side of D’n’B (Redlight, Darkzy, Skepsis) to go with their indie folk staples (George Ezra, Jake Bugg). TRNSMT is hosting a popular, if somewhat bland, rock lineup over several days, the pinnacle of which will undoubtedly be the Arctic Monkeys’ set.
The fact that Wireless festival has already sold out is proof enough of the calibre of its urban music lineup, with massive headline acts (J.Cole, Stormzy, DJ Khaled) supported by an equally impressive selection of up and coming rap artists. However the lack of female artists is appalling: although Sunday at least offers Cardi B, the Saturday currently hosts no female acts. Download is similarly failing to dent the glass ceiling in the music industry, with a male dominated lineup that reduces Babymetal to a mere gimmick, blatantly overshadowed by metal legends like Avenged Sevenfold, Guns n Roses, and Ozzy Osbourne. Reading & Leeds have once again disappointed their original demographic with a multi-genre lineup that consequently sidelines rock music, producing the same annual barrage of incensed tweets from old school attendees. Although I sympathise with those nostalgic for the R&L they used to know, surely it’s time to admit defeat and relinquish the festival to its primary audience of post-GCSE teens experiencing their first taste of substance-fuelled freedom.
For those seeking something more off-piste, Green Man has come through once again with a lineup chock full of brilliant alternative talent, including The War on Drugs and Fleet Foxes, perfect matches for the festival’s bucolic aesthetic. End of the Road festival has also produced a (thankfully) progressive lineup fitting its nature, foregrounding quirky female and/or queer artists such as St.Vincent, Feist and Ezra Furman. Similarly, Field Day’s billing offers a refreshing assortment of culturally diverse acts, from homegrown Loyle Carner to Ethiopia’s prestigious Hailu Mergia. For those who consider themselves superior to the gaudy commercialism of the biggest festivals but not quite kooky enough for the aforementioned independent events, Latitude’s first announcement presents an idyllic middleground, with acts like Solange and alt-J (alongside The Killers, who surely won’t have any vocal chords left by the end of summer) offering a sprinkle of idiosyncrasy to go with their more digestible hits.
If all this is just too overwhelming, allow me to finally plug something a little more manageable and a lot closer to home. Poltimore is a student-run independent festival taking place just outside of Exeter at the beautiful semi-ruined Poltimore house, a location that imbues the event with an almost magical atmosphere. It takes place on May 27th, making it the perfect end of exams celebration, and promises to present the very best in cutting-edge music, theatre and arts, with special emphasis on undiscovered local acts. Plus, with students as its target audience, it’s guaranteed to be significantly cheaper than all of the festivals above, so do your bank account a favour and check it out.