"it's too easy to hate you, and hard to love."
Rock Sound editor Ben Patashnik on why Sonisphere is such a crucial festival.
It’s official: Sonisphere 2012 won’t happen. The news filtered out around the industry on Wednesday and has just been confirmed publicly. We understand all ticket-holders will be refunded but at time of writing Rock Sound isn’t sure whether replacement events will take place, or if the festival will return in 2013.
Sonisphere’s cancellation is a total disaster for everyone involved with rock music, as well as anyone who identifies as a rock fan. Since its inception in 2009 its very existence provided real drama to festival season in the UK, challenging the established rock weekender Download for supremacy and indulging in what amounted to an escalating arms race for headliners. Last year was its peak, and anyone who went to Knebworth that weekend will attest to it being one of the most fun festivals in a very long time; I have hugely fond memories of bellowing along to Metallica while skullfucked on warm beer. It was what the BBC would call a ‘festival moment’, but what the rest of us call a ‘really good time’.
Anyone who went over the past three years will have their own memories of it, though, so feel free to substitute me talking about almost exploding when ‘Creeping Death’ happened for any number of instances. Booking a bunch of bands and putting them on in a field is one thing, creating a festival – with an atmosphere, a crowd, a vibe – is something else entirely. And Sonisphere is a great, great festival.
It’s worth noting that while this is a big deal, it’s not unprecedented for a festival to recover from a setback like this. In September last year Soundwave Revolution in Australia was cancelled and the replacement event was subsequently downgraded from 15/20,000 capacity amphitheatres to 800-1,200 capacity venues. Reports of how much money was lost are, quite frankly, eye-watering – but Soundwave’s February 2012 event – headlined by Slipknot and System Of A Down among others – was the biggest touring concert series ever. On the planet.
It’s entirely possible to bounce back from this sort of thing, and I hope – and predict – Sonisphere will do just that.
Everyone I’ve met who was involved with the running of the event, from the promoters Kilimanjaro to the publicity team at The Noise Cartel to the staffers onsite, were exactly the same sort of people as the ones who buy tickets to the event. And that’s not something you can say about a lot of industry people, but Kilimanjaro, who’ll probably take the biggest hit on this, is a company staffed almost exclusively by music fans who’ve somehow managed to build careers out of what they no doubt saw as a rewarding hobby. Sonisphere’s collapse isn’t the result of some faceless organisation wanting to make some money so they decided to make a festival; chances are, if you’ve met someone from Kili they’re the dude coming out of a Cancer Bats pit with his shirt around his head. I'm not naive enough to think that the festival was done purely for the love of music - of course there was a hugely significant business side to things, which is why the decision was made to cancel - but in general, the organisation is a good one.
Download, which on paper looks like the festival with the most to ‘gain’ from this whole sorry mess, needs Sonisphere. The excitement stoked up by the whole Download vs Sonisphere argument which is played out every year is beneficial to both festivals and raises awareness of rock music as a whole among a wider audience than ever before. For those of us who remember the pre-Download days, ‘big summer festival’ meant ‘Reading & Leeds’; when Sonisphere got involved suddenly Download had to raise its game. It had become a weird tribal thing, with people identifying as ‘fans’ of one or the other while disregarding the lineup, and I’m almost certain there’ll be a sector of keyboard warriors who derive some nasty sense of glee from this noise.
For everyone ‘pleased’ about Sonisphere’s cancellation: fuck you. You’re an idiot.
For rock music as a whole, an event such as this being struck out will make the national news. And that shines a whole load of negative publicity on a subculture that’s not taken seriously by the mainstream at the best of times; after that whole ‘rock is dead’ bollocks that surfaced a few months ago, this just looks bad for all of us. There isn’t anyone involved with rock who doesn’t suffer from a festival of this magnitude being cancelled – fans, bands, booking agents, promoters, temporary staff, journalists, photographers, caterers, managers, crew… the number of people affected by this is in the tens of thousands. And no one gets into rock music for the cash, so this is just a bunch of guys and girls who have spent their lives working in AC/DC t-shirts who’ve lost out in a big time.
Yeah, that’s scant consolation. If you’re sitting reading this with time booked off work and uncancellable travel booked (maybe take a long weekend in Stevenage instead? It’s near, and there’s a really nice All Bar One) and you really wanted to see Queen or Faith No More or Kiss or Mastodon or Glassjaw or Refused or Evanescence or Hundred Reasons or The Blackout or Andrew WK or Incubus… this news fucking sucks. If you’re sitting there with Download tickets and are about to post something along the lines of ‘LOLOLOLOLOL’, get fucked. If you think you know more than the organisers and could have done it better, please be our guest.
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"I was thinking of all the ways that we could make it work if my voice wasn’t going to cooperate again, and we wanted to keep doing music.” - Lynn Gunn.