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Are UK Music Festivals in Crisis?

21 UK music festivals have already been canceled or postponed in 2024, and the industry is worried.

splendour music festival uk cancellations
Source: MEGA

Nottingham's Splendour is just one of the popular music festivals that have been forced to take the year off.

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The UK has its own bustling ecosystem of smaller music festivals, but that ecosystem is now in serious trouble. Goliaths like Glastonbury may be charging full steam ahead, but according to the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), 21 festivals have already been canceled, postponed, or folded completely in 2024, and more could be soon to follow.

Organizers of Nozstock Hidden Valley in Herefordshire have stated that 2024 will be the festival's last due to "the cost-of-living crisis and the financial risk," and Nibley Festival in the Cotswolds is ending after this year too. NASS, a music and skating festival in Shepton Mallet, has canceled this year because an "increase in operational costs" made it "not economically feasible for us to continue." And Dumfries' Doonhame Festival, Nottingham's Splendour, Barn on the Farm, Bluedot, Standon Calling, and Bingley are also taking 2024 off.

So what's going on? Are festivals in crisis? Is the market saturated? Are people just not interested anymore, especially when lineups often seem like carbon copies of each other?

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AIF CEO John Rostron told NME that it's all about "economic and financial pressures. It comes from a mixture of rising supply chain costs, and if they weren't selling as many tickets – even by a small percentage – the difference on the increase in prices and difficulty in terms now in place meant they had to cancel."

"A number of festivals happened where everything looked good on the surface," he continued. "The customers came, had a good time, the bands played, but the festivals actually lost money. Some of them are in difficulty or might be in difficulty if there isn't a good wind. That's very worrying. These festivals are around and don't appear to be on fire, but maybe they are."

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splendour music festival uk cancellations
Source: MEGA

"Economic and financial pressures" have forced many smaller music festivals to shut down, according to AIF Ceo John Rostron.

Oscar Matthews, co-owner of Barn on the Farm festival, blamed the lingering aftereffects of the COVID-19 pandemic. "COVID had a severe impact on so many different sectors on so many different ways," he said. "The popularity of different genres of music changes all the time, but the two or three years where the young generation who grew up through COVID and weren’t able to access live music in the way that they were before has had this knock-on effect. For us who put on these events, it's very hard to suddenly adapt in the space of six months to a year to the way that they want to attend gigs and the music they want to see. We need more time to get us to that point."

"It's inevitable and it’s already started, but when you start to lose smaller festivals, events, gig spaces and venues, the opportunities disappear for new and emerging talent to get on stage and get their music heard. They'll suffer and that will inevitably have a knock-on effect further up the chain," he added. "You're very rarely going to have a new up and coming artist go straight to headlining Reading & Leeds. They're going to start in the smaller grassroots venues and festivals. The talent is there, but festivals need to be given the support to survive or the talent won’t have the opportunities that they need."

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Is there anything that can be done? Last month, the AIF launched the 5% for Festivals campaign urging the UK government to lower value-added tax (VAT) on ticket sales from 20% to 5% for the next three years.

"It's with grave concern that we again sound the alarm to Government upon passing this critical milestone. UK festivals are disappearing at a worrying rate, and we as a nation are witnessing the erosion of one of our most successful and unique cultural industry sectors," Rostron said.

"We have done the research: a reduction of VAT to 5% on festival tickets over the next three years is a conservative, targeted and temporary measure that would save almost all of the festival businesses that are likely to fall by the wayside this year and many more over the years to come," he concluded. "We need this intervention now."

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Source: MAR/Capital Pictures / MEGA

While bigger festival like Glastonbury and Reading & Leeds will survive, the future is less certain for smaller festivals.

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