Music festivals are nothing new. In fact, they have been around for ages – Woodstock, anyone? But in recent years, there has been a definite increase in the number of electronic dance music acts – namely DJs – in the line-ups of these uber-popular events. Actually, electronic-music-only festivals are now officially a thing and happen everywhere from the UK to Croatia, Iceland to Miami. This rise of the DJ slot at festivals has provoked a shift in how the general public sees the dance music scene and its artists – and we can't really say they've been witnessing the real face of club culture.
First things first: Festival culture is very different from club culture
Music festivals take genres like techno and house (and, well, dubstep and so-called EDM) ouf of the club landscape and into parks and public spaces. They also shift the timing of the experience from night-time-into-the-break-of-dawn to the afternoon and a perhaps bit of the evening (some festivals do happen well into the am, but...not that many). And as much as music is what matters the most for us, with club culture the experience is heavily linked to an actual club setting, complete with a tight soundsystem, a great VJ or, even better, darkness, and that community vibe where we feel like we're all soldiers repping a (rather underground) cause.
With music festivals it's quite the opposite: the soundsystem may be super loud, but it's not exactly a quadriphonic Funktion One; the park, the giant LED screens, the cake in your face may be all fun and games, but ithey're far from a real club experience – ithey channel a stadium rock type of feeling rather than the intimate vibe you enjoy at a proper club night.
The truth is, the festival trend means that the majority of the new generation would rather shell out hundreds in going to festivals abroad than actually attending real, exciting club nights in their home city – and actually supporting local artists while actually having a taste of what the original club culture is all about.
Line-up quality: underground vs mainstream
We are all for people having a good time, dancing and doing whatever they want, but the trouble with festivals is – where do we draw the line when it comes to quality? For the most part, the DJs that are booked to play in big festivals are not the ones people like us, real lovers of the craft, would ever pick. They are rockstar Djs who top the charts and are a lot more worried about the stage props and laser projections than actually playing quality music using a respectable set of skills (yep, many of them play pre-recorded sets or dumb down their performace to the point of it being about “The drop”).
They are, in reality, bottom feeders of sorts, who thrive on getting people zoned out on wobblers and pitched-down vocals rather than emotion, substance and all those qualities that make music an amazing art form. The typical mainstream EDM stadium DJ does a disservice to club culture by wiping the possibilities for electronic music to be perceived as a thought-provoking genre with cultural relevance and depth. In essence, they contribute to making our culture less credible – and that's beyond frustrating, as DJing and electronic music, as fairly young art forms, have enough challenges to face as it is. Our thought? Bring more underground, respected names to these stages!
What also worries us about the festival craze is that it's breeding a generation of impatient, apathic, drop-thirsty kids instead of informed, passionate music lovers. Club culture is about the journey, about the hours of build-up and the ecstasy of the peak time, when everyone is going strong and the DJ is sweating it out to keep everyone dancing until sunrise. With festivals the DJ has one or two hours to make it all happen, creating a more-is-more atmosphere where bangers are played one after another, creating a rush described by Nina Kraviz on Groove magazine as a massive orgasm. By allowing this to happen again and again, these events are educating their public into thinking that “getting it on” and waving your glow stick is enjoying yourself – when really, what they should be doing if they wated to experience club culture is they should be dancing together to great, carefully selected music for hours and hours.
Another problem is that many of the festival-goers aren't really dance music lovers – they're people who want to go out, listen to super loud, banging tracks and let go of their worries. Which is fine. But what happens then is that they often disrespect real DJs that don't fit their hard-hitting standards, like what happened recently when Jeff Mills stopped playing after being hit by a botttle at a festival in Belgium. Festival promoters need to be careful and know their audience before they make their bookings. If your line-up features Nickelback, the public probably won't like Richie Hawtin, and vice-versa.
(Most) festivals aren't about the music
...They're about the money. There, we said it. Festivals have become a proverbial field day for marketing types, who fill them with brands and clichés about what it's like to have a good time. This means that, to maximise revenue, the promoters are forced to book super mainstream acts, and that extends to the DJ world. So instead of getting the pioneers and the innovators, you get the Steve Aokis and Skrillexes the Aviicis. And of course, your music enjoyment will be clouded by lots of advertising campaigns, and reminders to use X or Y app and update your Facebook status and scan that QR code – instead of just losing yourself in the moment. That is also the antithesis of music enjoyment.
Having said this, there are a good number of festivals that really do up the bar when it comes to bookings – like Sònar in Barcelona, or Movement in Detroit. But these are festivals created by dance music aficionados who know the importance of giving people a glimpse of the future, even if it means less profit. In these festivals, you can hear a whole lot of experimental sounds and ground-breaking new artists in well-curated settings and good sound systems. These are projects that elevate the club culture to new heights instead of appropriating it and making it look ridiculous and empty.
Last but not least: the hidden effect on the DJ Culture
The rise in popularity of these events has led to suggestions of an “over-saturation” of festivals, and that there are simply too many festivals for the market to sustain. This myriad of festivals has also driven up artist fees. In a global scene with numerous promoters fighting for the services of a handful of big-name international acts, these artists have been able to demand an increase in their fees, making it unsustainable and leaving out all the younger talent that doesn't drive as much profit.
But let's end on a positive note here - we don't want to sound like festival haters, we are not. We think festivals can be lots of fun but shouldn't be taken as a good example of how dance music works. In reality, we'd just like to start a conversation about our culture to hopefully make it evolve and be perceived by people in a fairer light.