In the early stages of every January, the tendency with music is to reflect upon the highlights of the previous year. That’s all well and good, but winter’s kinda depressing and it’s important to shed some light on what you can get excited about later in the year. Albums, EPs and whatever else are one thing but the most assured, tantalizing aspect of the musical world at this time of the year for me is the festivals. Even if the lineups haven’t been announced, they put you in mind of warmer weather, time away from the urban sprawl and lengthy conversations with a man in a headdress who’s tripping on mushrooms. More to the point, the beginning of the year is an ideal time to really start planning your summer and pinning down exactly what part of the world you’re going to end up pitching your tent in. In this first part I’ll cover the UK-based festival I think have the most promise and in part 2 I’ll cover the rest of Europe.
* Reading & Leeds, V Festival and Glastonbury are absent from this list to spice things up a little.
Shambala – 21st to 24th of August
Location: Leicestershire (near Market Harborough)
Size: 15 – 20,000
Current ticket price: £140.99
Music: Reggae, Drum and Bass, Hip-Hop, Electro-swing, Dubstep, Dub, Funk
There might be an element of bias coming into play here because I went to Shambala last year, but I assure you that even if I hadn’t, the ever-so-slightly less enlightening version of me writing this would still be recommending it. Shambala is a gloriously friendly festival set in the shadow of a mansion and a lake and teeming with bright colours and beaming faces. You’d be hard-pressed to find anybody that wouldn’t feel welcome there and the music is a potent mix with one common denominator: sheer joy. Last year saw everything from the inspirational stylings of pioneering Malian exile Fatoumata Diwara to the time-tested, magical roots reggae of Groundation to the alarming, overwhelming and always entertaining drum and bass onslaught of Calyx & Teebee, to name but a precious few. The whole sit is rippling with craft tents, drum circles, painting, poetry, good food and ridiculous clothes that you’ll wear in a festival setting and nowhere else. With the just-below medium crowd size it’s big enough to electrify the air at night and small enough not to feel overbearing when you need some downtime and with decent showering facilities and so many stages that you’ll never run out of places to go, there’s no excuse.
Womad – 24th to 27th of July
Current ticket price: £160
Music: World Music
There are different iterations of Womad all over the world now and it’s been going for a very long time, operating under a basic and effective principle: bring as many weird and wonderful musicians from all over the world to one place and show people just how diverse an entity music really is. Literally anything goes at Womad and there are myriad workshops and special events intended to get the crowd more actively involved and help them learn more about the music they’re experiencing. Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and hip-hop legends Arrested Development were in amongst last year’s highlights. There aren’t many other festivals where you can access such a rich cultural intake (while still having plenty of scope for all the usual madness).
Latitude – 17th to 20th of July
Location: Suffolk (Southwold)
Size: 35 to 40,000
Current ticket price: £190.50
Music: Folk, Soul, Rock, Electronica, EDM, Reggae, Dub, Alt-Rock, Grunge, Indie, Art-Pop, IDM, House
Another festival that prides itself on a wide range of acts, Latitude is situated near the gorgeous coastal town of Southwold and has remained a shining example of a festival that’s increased in size year after year but never lost the magic. Magic might be the most appropriate term, Latitude is built like a fairy-tale kingdom with a lake stage, pine-forest, numerous evocative (and/or freaky) art installations and every colour you could possibly imagine. Some early line-up announcements have already dropped and legends like Booker T. Jones and Billy Bragg sit comfortably in the company of new blood like Son Lux and Two Door Cinema Club.
Bloodstock – 7th to 10th of August
Current ticket price: £137
Music: Heavy Metal, Death Metal, Mathcore, Power Metal… You get the idea, METAL
Now we’re breaking away into more genre-specific territory. Bloodstock prides itself in being a ‘by fans – for fans’ sort of festival, no punches are pulled and no concessions are made to cater to a wider audience, this festival is made for metal-heads from balls to bones. If you’ve ever been to a single metal gig you’ll know just how wonderous of a notion that really is, metal-heads are some of the nicest, friendliest people you’ll ever meet and nothing quite equals the exhilaration of plummeting into the midst of a wall of death. You’re more likely to get caught up in a fight at a Justin Bieber concert than you are at Bloodstock, everyone there embraces the sheer physicality of their passion and they approach it responsibly. This year’s line-up already includes the indisputable legends that are King Diamond, the ever-imposing Gojira and the utterly ridiculous Avantasia.
Boom Bap – 11th to 13th of July
Size: Hard to say, it gets bigger every year, last year it was around 1000
Current ticket price: £60
Like Bloodstock, Boom Bap is a distinctly genre-specific affair but if you’re after a festival that’s really starting to blossom into something amazing then look no further. Only approaching the third year, Boom Bap is now the prominent UK Hip-hop festival, teeming with talent from all facets of the genre. Last year boasted phenomenal emcees of a reggae persuasion like Rodney P, more esoteric players like Mystro, legendary beatboxers headed up by Reeps One and several seriously talented DJs, such as former DMC champion and all around lovely man Mr. Switch (formerly DJ Switch). With an almost limitless scope for potential and a cornered market in the wonderful diverse world that British Hip-hop is becoming and a ticket price that’s an absolute steal, I’d say this is a must for those of us who dine on rhymes and beats.
Current ticket price: Not yet on sale (it’ll be in the £120-£140 range)
Music: Folk, Indie, Psychadelica, Dance, Post-rock, Rock
Green Man is a real point of pride for Wales, nestled in the middle of the Brecon Beacons it’s easily one of the most picturesque music festivals you’ll ever see. Largely consisting of the kind of folk and rock oriented music that tends to appeal to people with beards, it’s been going from strength to strength since 2003. If you want to amble through a thrumming woodland dreamscape sitting in the midst of one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the world then Green Man is for you, especially if you’re keen on the proven swells of artists like The Pastels, The Horrors, Local Natives and Midlake; all of whom are on the bill this year then so much the better.
Swingamajig – 4th of May
Size: 3 – 4,000
Current ticket price: £15
Music: Electro-Swing, Swing, Dance
To round off the UK’s already imposing roster we have a few one-day festivals that merit serious consideration. Swingamajig is a festival organised and orchestrated by Birmingham’s prominent joy distributors: Electric Swing Circus. The festival debuted last year and proved to be a glorious fray of steam-punk, swinging, circus sensibilities headed up by The Correspondents and ESC themselves, flanked by numerous up and coming practitioners from across the country and a host of street performers. No acts (besides the curators) have been billed for this year’s one yet, but they have expanded to a bigger location and the Shambala management team are now involved too.
Tokyo Dub – September (presumably)
Current ticket price: No tickets available yet (or dates) but last year they were £20
If Swingamajig is the one-day festival to kick off the summer then Tokyo Dub will definitely be the one to close it. Bristol-based promoters Tokyo Dub have a pretty hefty rep in their local area and last year they amassed a whopping 68 acts across 7 stages in Bristol’s castle park for 12 solid hours of thumping dance music. The lineup was utterly mind-boggling and numerous sound system heavyweights got involved with the staging, such as RC1 and Irration Steppas. Dubstep legends like Loefah and DMZ’s Coki played monstrous sets while drum and bass luminaries like Icicle and SpectraSoul entered the mix as well. Each stage had a distinct flavor and sound bleeding was practically a non-issue. As you might have surmised I had the pleasure of attending this enormous event and the idea that it might be even bigger next year is very exciting. The details are pretty thin on the ground at the moment: no dates, no acts, no prices, just the assurance that it’s happening and a launch party in Motion on March the 8th. Keep an eye on this one, it’s got a bright, bass-blasting future ahead of it.
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