Monday, 4 August 2014

The World After Alt-Fest

For those who don't know the crowd-funded, alternative music focused musical event, Alt-Fest, was cancelled on the 1st of August, two weeks before the event was scheduled to go ahead. In the run up to the announcement there were plenty of rumours as to the cause, and since the cancellation there have been plenty of theories as to what did or didn't cause it to go ahead. Fingers are being pointed, rumours are being circulated, lines in the sands are being drawn and tombs of truth are being written.

That is something I'm not really interested in, as however you cut it the official version of "not enough money was available for the event to go ahead" is (from all sources) the reason it got pulled. What I am interested in is what it holds for the future of the UK alternative scene and UK festivals, because that is going to be the more lasting legacy than 7,500 people having to find something else to do for a weekend.

There Will Problems With Funding
Whilst the Alt-Fest Kickstarter campaign was not the only source of funds for the event (it only raised 3.6% of the events estimated budget from 5.6% of the required audience) it was the first a lot of people heard about the event, and a key part of a lot of the 'a festival for the fans' promotion that followed it. Regardless of the validity of the campaign a lot of people are considering it a 'kickstarter event' and a 'crowdfunded festival', one of the first (and certainly the most high profile of its kind) in the UK. And it failed to provide the goods that were promised, which means that any future attempts to do something similar are now tainted with that failure. The collapse of Alt-Fest has reduced the viability of this funding method for a range of future events, Anyone now trying to go a similar path for the next couple of years is going to be meet with a cry of 'you mean like that event that got pulled a fortnight before it happened?' and a reduced willingness to put their hands in their pockets to get seed money.

It's also going to cause knock-on problems for people trying to arrange other events regardless of the funding sources. Venues, performers, and other suppliers are going to be harder to convince of the reliability of similar events, so you're looking at greater problems of putting a show together to promote as people are going to need bigger bonds (ie more costs) or just won't take the booking in the first place. This goes for the dull things as well: it is always possible to find an act to headline your show, but you try and put on a show without toilet facilities. And this is before a reduction in ticket sales from the lose in faith from the public of the show actually going ahead, especially if its on the scale of Alt-Fest.

Expect A Reduction In The Ambition Of Other Projects
One of the things that caused a buzz about Alt-Fest was it's pure audacity: a three day long event with multiple stages and headline bands that were internationally known, even by people outside of the core market. The schedule was spectacular and breath taking. It was the proverbial "too good to be true". And as that turned out to literally be the case there is going to be a decrease in people trusting in spectacular and breath taking lineups, outside of established events. I actually think you're going to see a toning down of bills at established events for a while, or at least a lack of anything outside of their established norm.

This is a shame as there was something admirable in the gutsyness of going for something so big, but at the same time it will have the benefit of encouraging people to start small and grow from there. It has, in a most brutal of fashions which I wish could have been avoided, shown that you need more than a great idea and a willingness to put in hard effort to do something like this. It has proven that you need to have multiple skills and knowledges and experiences to make these things happen, that there is a reason that many of the major festivals are run by people more worried about the money than the art. A number of people were speculating it would be the Alternative Scene's Reading, Glastonbury, or Download which was a nice idea but missed the fact that all of these started small and then got big over a number of years. It also possibly showed why people don't do such mixed up shows as Alt-Fest aimed for.

Event Bills Will Stick To Being Conservative
The principle of booking such widely divergent bands as The Dead Kennedys, Zeromancer, Arch Enemy,  Front 242, Amen and Petrol Bastard is a noble one, and reflects the variety of listening habits that a lot of people have (as well what people will put up with in a night club). However it doesn't reflect what people like when they put a lot of money into going to a music festival, as what it appears they want is a lot of variations on the same thing. When people go to events (which they do a lot, as the already quite full UK "alternative" festival calendar shows) they want to be in a more specific mind set and a more specific world, they don't want to be challenged outside of a certain safety zone. So whilst it is fair to say that Gary Numan, Arch Enemy, and Marilyn Manson can pull 5000 people each it is far harder to find 15,000 people that like all three and proven to be even harder to find that many that wanted to see them on the same bill.

This is why most major (and many, many, middle and minor) events tend to have a relatively similar band listing: it works and it gets people to turn up in the numbers needed. There are always going to be outliers (Status Quo at Download, Chas and Dave at Sonisphere, Metallica at Glastonbury), but even then there is tends to be a one-step logical link between them. "Its alternative" isn't that logical a leap, at least not in the numbers needed, as "Alternative" is a crap definition of music or scene as its what it's against rather than what its for. Additionally there isn't that much of an "alternative scene" in the UK, just a lot of smallish sized scenes that have a lot of people who are part of more than one. They are distinct tribes, they just share their population with a lot of people. That does not mean they are all going to join together under a vague banner.

With Alt-Fest having tried to put on such an eclectic spread and not getting the numbers other events are less likely to give things an honest go at a mix up. You will still have outliers, but they will be less obvious and less overt (NB Glastonbury may seem like an exception but its booking of outliers is part of its thing, mostly to give the BBC a story), and you are certainly not going to get anyone willing to put as much cash behind an event that isn't specifically targeting an identifiable and developed scene.


And thats the bad news, but there is also this:


People now know where things can go wrong
The collapse of Alt-Fest has, as said above, in a most brutal of fashions which I wish could have been avoided shown people what can go wrong with an event. But the collapse is going to be pulled apart from every direction, for every angle, and by far brighter and more informed minds than mine. Lessons will be learned, pitfalls will be highlighted, the same mistakes will not be made again, and new events will be forged from it.

It has proved that there is a taste for Alt-Fest
Selling 7500 tickets is no easy feat, and it cannot be done unless there is a demand for a new event on the UK festival calendar that fills some kind of gap that wasn't seen until now. That gap is now visible, and more importantly it's been proven that there is money around to fill that gap. Where there is money there is people who want to make money, and the Alternative scene has always proven itself to be very entrepreneurial because it's mostly founded by people going and doing things for themselves. There is no apathy in terms of festivals, things just didn't work with this one.

Which leads to this:
A different version of Alt-Fest will happen
I doubt it will start as big, or be marketed in the same way, or be as wide ranged as Alt-Fest wanted to be, but someone is going to look at everything that happened and go "I think I could make it work...". In fact I expect several someone's are going to give it a shot, regardless of the doom and gloom posted above. And it will be glorious, and people will have a great time, and it will be around for a while as these things tend to do so (or at least you don't really remember the ones that don't).

Not much solace to the organisers and ticket holders of this event, but still something positive to come out of it all.
Post a Comment