You may have heard that illegal downloading is killing the music industry, but the news is not all bad. With bands turning their focus to touring as a main revenue stream, and budget airlines making international travel more affordable, the past 10 years or so have seen the world’s festival calendar grow exponentially, with more events – and of a far greater variety – than ever before.
While the UAE’s festival season is drawing to a close – with Womad and the Abu Dhabi Festival now behind us, and the Abu Dhabi Classics season ending in less than a month – the global festival programme is just beginning. So for the benefit for everyone planning their summer holidays, here is a guide to some of the best popular-music festivals outside the UAE, and the bands you’ll want to catch along the way.
The United Kingdom’s Glastonbury Festival and America’s Coachella, which takes place this weekend, might have long since sold out, but there’s no shortage of events that combine strong bills with scenic and memorable locations. For starters, there are the other editions of Womad this summer, including Cacéres in Spain from May 12-15 and Charlton Park in England from July 29-31 (www.womad.com).
Denmark’s venerable Roskilde Festival (June 30 – July 3, roskilde-festival.dk) remains one of Europe’s biggest, with gates of more than 100,000. This year features headline sets from Iron Maiden and Kings of Leon, but the bill is a diverse one. Newcomers Anna Calvi, Janelle Monáe and the South African dance outfit Shangaan Electro are among the must-sees, while a dedicated Afrobeat day will see Fela Kuti’s two sons, Femi and Seun Kuti, sharing a stage for the first time, with Femi fronting his band Positive Force, and Seun playing with some of his father’s old bandmates.
Serbia’s Exit Festival (July 7-10, www.exitfest.org), meanwhile, has grown from its humble beginnings in 2000, founded by students opposed to the Miloševic regime.
Taking place in and around an 18th-century fort by the River Danube, this year’s event assembles an impressive bill of names, with Arcade Fire, Pulp, Portishead and Grinderman, plus a sizeable dance presence including Underworld, Deadmau5 and the dubstep supergroup Magnetic Man.
Fans of heavy metal and alternative rock, as well as indie, should keep an eye out for the line-up at Lollapalooza, in Chicago’s Grant Park, on August 5. The acts are expected to be announced on April 26, and we can expect them to be eclectic for Lollapalooza’s 20th anniversary edition: last year saw acts as varied as Lady Gaga, The Strokes and Gogol Bordello.
If an event that routinely draws more than 300,000 punters can be thought of as a hidden gem, Hungary’s Sziget (August 10-15, www.sziget.hu) is it. Founded in 1993, soon after the collapse of communism, this week-long festival – held on Óbudai-sziget, a leafy island in Budapest – combines big names (this year, Amy Winehouse, Dizzee Rascal, Kasabian and Pulp) with dedicated stages for metal (Deftones, Judas Priest, Lostprophets) and world music (AfroCubism, Bassekou Kouyaté).
For a rather more forward-thinking bill, meanwhile, Primavera (May 26-28, www.primaverasound.com) offers a line-up tilted towards the independent and cutting-edge. It takes place in Barcelona’s Parc del Fòrum on the coast of the Balearic sea, and this year Pulp, PJ Harvey and John Lydon’s PiL share stages with rising leftfield and indie names including dubstep-influenced singer James Blake, lo-fi psych-rockers Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti and Warp Records’ post-rock supergroup Battles.
Another highlight should come courtesy of the former Velvet Underground man John Cale, leading his band and Grup Instrumental BCN216 in a performance of his classic 1973 album Paris 1919.
There’s no shortage of dance-music events this summer, but kudos go to Sonar (June 16-18, 2011.sonar.es), Barcelona’s International Festival of Advanced Music and Multimedia Art, which returns with one of its best line-ups in years. Split between an artistic, leftfield daytime bill in the city centre and a late-night event held in the huge Fira Gran Via centre, this year’s bill brings together Underworld, The Human League, Die Antwoord, Aphex Twin, Janelle Monáe and an opening night featuring the minimalist composer Steve Reich, the instrumental group BCN216 and the English vocal group Synergy Vocals.
There’s more straightforward clubland action to be found at Global Gathering (July 29-30, www.globalgathering.com) in Stratford-upon-Avon, UK. Tinie Tempah, Pendulum and Chase & Status bring a top-40 presence, while the DJs John Digweed, Ferry Corsten and Richie Hawtin are expected to keep the tents full and a FWD/Rinse stage brings grime and dubstep in the shape of Skream & Benga and Boy Better Know.
Those in search of a wild card, meanwhile, may want to look to the Bang Face Weekender (May 13-15, www.bangface.com), a reliably nutty two days of neo-rave, jungle, acid house and silly signs taking place at Pontins Holiday Camp in Camber Sands on the English south coast. Taking part this year are Leftfield, Jeff Mills, Gonjasufi, a reformed Atari Teenage Riot, and Bez of the Happy Mondays, playing some of his favourite acid house records.
It’s a good year for the metalheads, as the touring metal festival Sonisphere brings the so-called “big four” of 1980s thrash metal – Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer – to a UK stage for the first time. The Knebworth show (July 8-10, uk.sonispherefestivals.com) will also feature performances by Biffy Clyro, Slipknot and Weezer, and the festival also calls at another 11 sites throughout Europe through June and July (check www.sonispherefestivals.com for full line-ups).
For the sixth year in a row, Germany’s formidable Wacken Open Air takes place in Schleswig-Holstein (August 4-8, www.wacken.com). It is sold out, but the website has details of how to apply for possible returns. A feast for the true metaller, this year’s bill features Ozzy Osbourne, Cradle of Filth, Kreator, Judas Priest, Kyuss Lives and Motörhead.
For a similar experience on a smaller scale, there’s the UK festival Bloodstock (Aug 12-14, bloodstock.uk.com). Housed in the uncommonly scenic environment of Catton Hall, a stately home in the country of Derbyshire, it lines up acts including WASP, Immortal and Morbid Angel.
And if that’s all a little much for you, the Reading and Leeds Festivals (both August 26-28, readingfestival.com and leedsfestival.com) offer no-frills sites, but a reliably A-list line-up. My Chemical Romance, The Strokes and Muse headline, with Pulp, The National, Elbow and Liam Gallagher’s Beady Eye filling out a star-studded bill.
Karl Hyde and Rick Smith might have entered the fourth decade of their partnership, but the electronica duo still put on a full-tilt live show packed with spectacular visual content. Expect the likes of Born Slippy and Dark & Long.
Where: Sonar (Spain), Exit Festival (Serbia), Sputnik Spring Break Festival (Germany)
A protégée of Big Boi from Outkast, this singing, dancing R&B performer rose to fame last year with her debut LP, The ArchAndroid – a concept album steeped in Afrofuturism and science fiction. Monáe’s energy and showmanship should convert to something special in a festival environment.
Where: Sonar (Spain), Wireless (UK)
Forget Blur and Oasis – Pulp are now seen by many as the greatest band to emerge from the Britpop boom. These shows mark their first appearance on stage together in 15 years, and while Jarvis Cocker isn’t quite the stylish rake he once was, their sly working-class anthems should have lost none of their bite.
Where: Primavera (Spain), Wireless (UK), Exit (Serbia), T in the Park (UK), Dour (Belgium), Sziget Festival (Hungary)
It’s the farewell tour from these leather-clad founding fathers of heavy metal, and they’re certain to want to go out with a bang.
Where: Sauna Festival (Finland), Hellfest (France), Sonisphere Switzerland, High Voltage (UK), Wacken (Germany)
It was last year’s High Violet that finally saw the Ohio natives, the quiet men of indie-rock, attain star status. Live, their lugubrious, introspective songs get an anthemic lift.
Where: Primavera (Spain), Heineken Open’er (Poland), Latitude (UK), Oxegen (Ireland), Reading and Leeds Festival (United Kingdom)
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