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Spoilin’ For a Fight: BST vs. Sonisphere

.@planetmosh discusses the impact of BST’s clash with Sonisphere and the impact on UK festivals it could have.


Black Sabbath on the Friday, Iron Maiden on the Saturday, Metallica on the Sunday.

To many fans of rock and metal music, this is a dream festival headliner set up. You begin with the band who spawned the genre, move onto the group that spearheaded the New Wave of British Heavy Metal in the early 80’s and finish with the biggest metal band on the planet right now. But to the British public who have such a passion for this particular style of music, this is a headache of colossal proportions – because there are two festivals involved.

When two tribes go to war...
When two tribes go to war…

On Monday it was announced that, on Friday 4th July, Black Sabbath will headline the BST (British Summer Time) festival in London’s Hyde Park with a stellar support bill including Soundgarden, Faith No More, Motorhead, Soulfly and many more. Thirty miles away, Iron Maiden and Metallica top the Saturday and Sunday bills at the UK leg of Sonisphere at Knebworth House in Hertfordshire. Whilst it is staggering to think that England will be housing three of the most legendary names in music at the same time, the loyal followers of all things hard and heavy let out a united ‘WTF’ at one of the worst clashes in a very long time. To make things a little more worrying, this may be a further sign that it is the beginning of the end for major rock festivals in the UK.

Let’s look at things from a different angle first, though. Given the trouble that Sonisphere has had over the last few years with their UK festivals (cancelled in 2012, no festival last year), the promoters have understandably played it fairly safe with the lineup this year. The Prodigy are the third headliners over the weekend, with other stalwarts like Alice in Chains, Slayer, Anthrax, and Limp Bizkit appearing as well. These are names that will draw in the punters and make the festival a success, but are very uninspiring bookings and, to an extent, boring – they’ve appeared at so many festivals over the last few years that it’s not giving us anything new. Heck, even Iron Maiden and Metallica are having that effect; since 2003, both have headlined at least one of the major UK alternative festivals every year:

2003 – Iron Maiden (Download), Metallica (Reading/Leeds)
2004 – Metallica (Download)
2005 – Iron Maiden (Reading/Leeds)
2006 – Metallica (Download)
2007 – Iron Maiden (Download)
2008 – Metallica (Reading/Leeds)
2009 – Metallica (Sonisphere)
2010 – Iron Maiden (Sonisphere)
2011 – Metallica (Sonisphere)
2012 – Metallica (Download)
2013 – Iron Maiden (Download)
2014 – Iron Maiden, Metallica (Sonisphere)

Black Sabbath, on the other hand, have appeared at just two events in that time: Download in 2005 and 2012. It’s something ­different­; it gives people who are disillusioned with Sonisphere’s safe bets an alternative for their July festival. It’s also going to be less of a hole in someone’s finances to pay out for one day than maybe three or four. Sabbath are also a band that, for various reasons, could stop for good at any moment, so their appearance on these shores is always welcome as it could be the last. The same holds true for BST’s special guests Faith No More, who seem to play a couple of dates and then disappear for at least 12 months, leaving everybody wondering if they are to return at some point. The on-going health problems with Lemmy would also mean Motorhead are a band with considerably less gas in the tank than before. In contrast, Iron Maiden look set to finish their Maiden England tour and commence writing a new album whilst Metallica are also putting together new material for a release next year, so it’s almost certain that they will appear again by 2016 at the very latest and have a set future, unlike the aforementioned names at BST.

But then, you have people like me, who have paid off their ticket for Sonisphere already and are rather cheesed off (to put it mildly) that they will be missing out on the band that created the music we all love today. Okay, so The Prodigy are a phenomenal live act and will bring a huge light show, but as somebody who has never seen Black Sabbath before, despite their recent UK shows, it’s another missed opportunity – and as I said above, when will be ‘the next time’? You also have to question the motives of the promoters involved in BST: why would you put on a heavy rock festival at the same time as another when you’re losing a good 50,000 fans, if not more? Of course it’s not as straightforward as that – a likely factor was Sabbath’s own touring schedule and when was best for them to perform in the UK – but the principle still stands that many punters will have committed themselves to Knebworth and will therefore be unable to acquire tickets. With that in mind, the timing of the announcement is also something to question – ironically, Sonisphere itself was cancelled in 2012 because of poor ticket sales, with a possible reason for this that people had already bought tickets for Download and either couldn’t afford to buy more or couldn’t get the time off work. Whilst there is very little chance of this particular day of BST being canned, it’s still a huge talking point. Furthermore, Black Sabbath are considered a spent force in many circles: their new album was not as well received as the reviews would suggest and the members aren’t getting any younger, so people will be further deterred from shelling out their hard earned cash for what could be a very hit-and-miss performance regardless of the undercard.

And that leads me on to a question that has been asked for years: where are the new headliners? Right now, to headline a UK festival you need to have produced a high-charting album and/or sold out arenas under your own steam, with Avenged Sevenfold the only successful new candidates as of writing this. Until then, we’re faced with the same old bands doing the bill-topping rounds in ever-decreasing circles, and there are two major points why:

1) Promoters are too afraid to give bands the chance to step up, because they do not want to back a potentially lame horse and make a financial loss. As a result, a lot of acts grow stagnant as they tour the same Academys with each album release and never catch a big enough break to take them to the next level, which could send them into the stratosphere.

2) The bands at the top are not willing to call it a day and let the curtain fall on their careers. They still feel they have something to offer the newer generations and whilst some of them definitely do, that’s not all of them. If we want to see the big names come through, we need more of the old guard to take a leaf out of Motley Crue’s book and give a definitive end date to their activities.

And if neither of these happen? Well then I foresee a future where Download and Sonisphere find themselves with a smaller audience and less bands on the posters because people will pick festivals that can offer a wider variety on the bill for the same amount of money. And let’s be honest here, that wouldn’t be too difficult. Bloodstock continues to grow from strength to strength each year, whilst Alt-Fest has exploded with Fields of the Nephilim, Marilyn Manson and The Cult as headliners and an undercard including Cradle of Filth, Arch Enemy, Combichrist and Killing Joke. In Wales, Hard Rock Hell and Hammerfest offer a different experience with the bonus of a nice warm bed and a shower to go back to every night when the music is over, whilst the Steelhouse Rock event has also grown in stature. Plus there’s Desertfest, Temples, Techfest and the hundreds of local one- and two-dayer events that occur throughout the country. If Download and Sonisphere aren’t careful, then by 2020 we could see them in a horrible downward spiral – possibly even no longer around.

For now though, we will just have to take a couple of Paracetamol, lie down in a nice quiet room and work out whether we fancy Ozzy Osbourne, Chris Cornell and Mike Patton or Keith Flint, Bruce Dickinson and James Hetfield this summer.

No repeat of 'Sharongate' this year...but who will end up with egg on their face this summer?
No repeat of ‘Sharongate’ this year…but who will end up with egg on their face this summer?


About Elliot Leaver

PlanetMosh's resident Iron Maiden fanboy and Mr. Babymetal. Also appreciates the music of Pink Floyd, Rammstein, Nightwish, Avenged Sevenfold, Slipknot and many others. Writing to continue to enjoy life away from the stresses of full-time employment.
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