New book shines spotlight on the changing UK music festival scene
In ‘Music Festivals and the Politics of Participation’, Dr Roxy Robinson, Senior Lecturer in the UK Centre for Events Management, charts the history and ongoing development of the contemporary festival scene.
Dr Robinson explained: “The spread of UK music festivals has exploded since 2000. Gone are the days of a handful of formulaic, large events dominating the marketplace. Across the country, hundreds of ‘boutique’ gatherings have popped up, drawing hundreds of thousands of festival-goers into the fields. In my new book I address why this has happened and what has led to this change.
“The scene has changed in that the content at festivals has become much more diverse and the expectation of festivalgoers has changed too. This isn't all about expecting better food and cleaner toilets. It's about wanting opportunities to engage creatively, to make an imprint however big or small on the festival canvas. From costume to art to imaginative theming, festivals that have understood the need to innovate beyond the music - Secret Garden Party, Lost Village, BoomTown, Shambala, Kendal Calling - have cultivated loyal followings. This doesn't mean that the 'headliners model' of Leeds Festival or T in the Park is outdated: just that the festivals market has evolved to accommodate some very contrasting ideas about what a festival is, and indeed what it should be.
“There are many factors contributing to this; but the shift can also be viewed as a natural progression. Since the late 1960s the British countryside has been the ultimate petri dish for festival culture. The increase in the number of festivals has naturally prompted a kind of creative arms race, driving promoters to add values and think well beyond the format of bands on a stage.”
Dr Robinson examines key events and milestones in her book, such as the emergence of the boutique festival: “We have seen an increase of creative producers at boutique festivals. Boutique festivals are defined by the high proportion of co-producers, volunteers, designers and venue builders that each contribute their own energies to the shaping of the space. It represents democratisation: a shift from the idea of a festival being produced by the few, to the idea of a festival being produced by the many.
“Both models exist, and the best example at each end of the spectrum would be Leeds Festival versus BoomTown Fair in Hampshire. I talk a lot about BoomTown Fair in my book. This is because, not only is the event a brilliant example of democratisation, but it is also the fastest growing festival in the UK. This is interesting because it suggests that, at heart, many people want to play a part in creating their own festival or festival performance.”
Dr Roxy Robinson specialises in a range of subjects including marketing, creative event design and event law, providing consultancy services to private clients within the events industry in the areas of branding, strategic management and arts programming.