FEATURE: When will the next generation of festival headliners step up?

Festival headliners. For some, they are the most important part in choosing whether to attend or to sit at home complaining. For others, they are just another band on the lineup – either way you look at it, they play a large role in forming the public’s opinion on the weekend. In recent years, many rock/metal festivals have come under fire for choosing ‘easy’ headliners – ones that are guaranteed to draw a large crowd but may have performed in the past few years. It’s also true however, that when risks are taken on new options many are quick to draw criticism, citing a lack of experience. When then, is it acceptable for a band to pass through the curtain from being just another band on the lineup to being the main attraction?

You need look no further than the premier UK rock/metal festival for a perfect example of this problem. Download has been running for over 10 years now after taking over from the old Monsters of Rock concerts, and it draws in 100,000 people each year without any worries whatsoever. This year’s headliners were Slipknot, Iron Maiden, and Rammstein. On the surface, that looks like a fucking stellar lineup, but consider the fact that Slipknot only played four years ago and Maiden & Rammstein were the main event at Sonisphere 2010, a similar festival on UK shores.

Take a look back at the past few years’ Download headliners – its 11 years as a 3-day festival has only seen 21 different headliners. Add Sonisphere‘s three years into that bag and there are still only 22 unique bands. Metallica are one of the undisputed kings of metal, but they have played these two festivals 5 times. Linkin Park are of a similar stature and they have appeared 4 times. Iron Maiden 4, Slipknot 3, the list goes on. There was clearly a point however in these bands’ respective lives that it became universally accepted for them to be the headline band. Glancing at the list below will tell you how long it took in each bands’ career to headline a Donington or Knebworth gig:

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A few anomalies stand out, namely Audioslave (a supergroup featuring ex-Soundgarden members) and Def Leppard & Black Sabbath (clearly massive bands that have headlined other festivals). On average, a band has to be at least 17 years old before they headline Download Festival. Is that a fair assumption to make when selecting new headliners though? In recent times My Chemical Romance became huge within a few years before heading Download ’07, and Linkin Park were just 8 when they headed the second ever showing. Both of those bands came under heavy fire on their selection, but was that down to their age or the appeal of their music?

In the past couple of months Download and Sonisphere have both finalised their headliners for 2014. For Download, a risk has been taken with Avenged Sevenfold – a band that many deride but one that are called for repeatedly on the official Facebook page. At 14 years old they’re at the right sort of age to step up, but it remains to be seen how they will fair on the day. Linkin Park are an obvious choice, and Aerosmith are the usual classic rock Sunday closer. Sonisphere have chosen a lineup safer than a box riddled with padlocks in Metallica, Iron Maiden, and The Prodigy. The general consensus is that Download has a much weaker lineup than Sonisphere but ticket sales appear to be similar at this point in time.

It’s clear from the last few years of UK rock/metal festivals that Download has two options in the future: either stick with the tried and tested method of rotating the same few headliners until they die, or gamble on new bands.
So who are the most likely to step up? We’ve narrowed it down to four:

Bullet have been around for a fair while and are now widely regarded as one of the greatest young hopes for UK metal. Love them or loathe them, they have proven time and time again that they are comfortable on the big stage with an armada of hits to dive into and select. Newest offering ‘Temper Temper‘ however has been considered a step in the wrong direction for many… or is it exactly what they need to break out of the amniotic sac of also-rans into super stardom?

PARAMORE (9 years old)
For many, Paramore headlining Download would conjure a feeling of vomit at the back of their throats. There’s no ignoring Hayley and the lads though – they recently sold out Wembley Arena and had to add another date. That’s Muse levels of popularity. Their inoffensive rock will appeal to the new generation of rock fans that have turned to the dark side thanks to Radio 1‘s increasingly un-mainstream playlists.

Two magnificent sets at Download over the past few years are evidence enough that Five Finger have the spunk, gumption, and moxy to step up as one of the main draws. A bumper crowd watched them this year and any haters were slowly converted thanks to attacks of crowdsurfers, chants of “Five! Finger!”, and a bizarre game of ‘Simon Says’ with a group of ten year olds plucked out from the crowd. On showmanship alone, Five Finger have got what it takes. Maybe not just yet, but with guest appearances from none other than Rob Halford on the new album, it can only be so long.

BRING ME THE HORIZON (9 years old)
There’s no doubt about it – Bring Me are one of the classic Marmite bands. One side of the fence is sucking at Oli Sykes‘ sweaty teets whilst another is hurling obscenities at their every move. New album ‘Sempiternal‘ has propelled them into the limelight and it’s now unsurprising to hear them on the radio at 3pm. The question now is: are they too big for Download?

A quick glance at that list may sink your heart to the bottom of your chest, but just think about the reaction when bands like Linkin Park, My Chemical Romance, and even Slipknot headlined. They all attracted mass criticism, but the experience made them all stronger and on the day the haters were sat at home picking their noses whilst thousands were pumping their fists and screaming lyrics. Thirty years from now, people will be playing back ‘Tears Don’t Fall‘ and ‘Shadow Moses‘ and remembering the time that they were stood aside 100,000 people having the time of their lives. Avenged Sevenfold are 14 years old playing their first headline set. Who else was 14 when this happened? Oh, only Slipknot and Metallica. Welcome to the future of rock & metal.

by MG Savage (@MGsavagewriter)