Metal – can you kill it?

Sonisphere UK, located in the seat of the great festivals old, Knebworth, previously host to big names such as Metallica, Iron maiden, Rammenstein, Slipknot, Alice Cooper, the first UK performance of the Big Four on the same bill, Machine Head, The Mars Volta, (the list goes on), was cancelled “with heavy hearts and much regret” at the end of March this year.

But, no! I hear you cry, However shall I get my fix of deafening, violent, alcohol-addled, glorious Metal this summer? Well, that’s just the point: the headliners this year consisted of Kiss, Queen, and Faith No More. Yes, that’s correct. At a Metal festival. They most definitely are not Metal. Even the rest of the line-up is filled with bands such as Within Temptation, Incubus, and Wolfmother, all good, if not great bands, but simply not Metal. Sonisphere struggled to give a reason for the cancellation of the UK festival beyond vague allegations of financial difficulties and that it was “more difficult than [they] anticipated”, but the word on the internet is pretty clear: no-one wanted to buy a ticket.

But this raises the question – why? Over the past couple of years, Sonisphere has enjoyed a great deal of attention from the Metal community, emerging in 2009, offering a dedicated festival to those who thought Download could use a little more distortion, and that they might get sacrificed at Bloodstock. As a member of the Sonisphere Founders Members’ Club (nothing fancy, I was just one of the first to buy tickets back in 2009), I have been going to the festival for some years, and while I’ve had a great time every year, but I knew this was coming. Non-Metal had been creeping in, and the death toll had really sounded with the announcement that Biffy Clyro was to headline in 2011. However, as the festival became more accessible, it grew in size, making enough money to add a third day of music for minimal price rise in the ticket in 2011. They were following Download’s example: less Metal means more tickets – but they appear to have overstepped the line.

The fact is, Metal simply isn’t a profitable music genre. Although some of the big names like Metallica, Iron Maiden, the newly reformed Black Sabbath hold the popularity to pull a crowd, a festival entirely dedicated to the genre was always going to have a fairly niche crowd, and therefore make less money.  But that is not to say that it isn’t viable at all: Bloodstock, a three-day onslaught of the most brutal music played live at Catton Hall, has been running since 2005, providing for an even smaller crowd, and yet the ticket prices are consistently and significantly lower than any other metal-related festival.

It can, and has been done then. A Metal Festival is possible. But a Metal Festival profitable enough to challenge the reign of Download? Reading? Unlikely. But why should it try? If you ask the average long-haired, pierced, New-Rock booted festival goer, then I doubt they would care. “I don’t care”  is one of the basic epithets of the subculture, it positively thrives on being different, on being niche.

Perhaps the cancellation of Sonisphere will do the festival good. It seems to have been driven by pushing its name, establishing itself as a contender, and forgotten about the people to started off catering for, namely people don’t really care how big or popular it is, and just want to hear some good, horrible Metal. I raise my goblet, crafted from a skull and filled with mead, to the hope that it will find its way back into Hell.


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