They know how to put on a show - The pop stars curating music festivals
Festivals curated by artists such as Metallica and Jay-Z are becoming increasingly popular with fans, says Elisa Bray
He already boasts his own record label (Roc Nation) and urban clothing line (Rocawear), and now Jay-Z is launching a music festival. When the MC's Made in America takes over Philadelphia this September with 30 acts headlined by the king of hip-hop himself, he will be the latest in a long line of pop stars curating a festival. And he is not the only one this year to be launching one. Metallica bring their Orion Music + More to New Jersey later this month.
Judging by those before them, both festivals should be a roaring success. Bands curating their own festival is a winning formula: it's all about the music and unites like-minded fans, creating an instant festival identity.
One of the first band-led festivals on the calendar was Lollapalooza, an alternative rock and heavy metal event in Chicago launched by Jane's Addiction's singer Perry Farrell in 1991. It's not as much of a mainstay as Cropredy, Fairport Convention's three-day folk fest that's been going since the 1970s. With the audience including the children – and grandchildren – of festival-goers who have been attending since the festival's earliest days, there's a strong sense of tradition. For all these festivals, even if there's a varied musical bill, there's one uniting factor – the festival-goers' love for the band that launched the event. After all, the curators always headline their own event. Metallica will headline both nights of Orion Music + More, playing The Black Album in its entirety one night, and Ride The Lightning the other, while at indie icon The Wedding Present's festival this August you can hear singer-songwriter David Gedge perform not just in that band, but in his other incarnation as Cinerama. Gedge launched his first mini-festival in 2009, At the Edge of the Sea, in Brighton, adding a northern edition, At the Edge of the Peaks, in Holmfirth, Yorkshire, a couple of years later and its indie performers have included Darren Hayman and Badly Drawn Boy.
Bands are well placed to provide a music festival – after years of experience performing at festivals and learning what makes them successful, it's a natural progression. They're also musicians above being businessmen (although Jay-Z has proven himself to be a dab hand at both), so there's less (or none) of the corporate sponsorship that we've come to expect at so many events. The Levellers put their experience to practice, and their corporate sponsorship and branding-free festival Beautiful Days this year celebrates its 10th year. It's been a hit, has sold out since day one and is now a 15,000-capacity event. This year's edition in the heart of Devon, with a folk-heavy line-up including Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson, Midlake, Richard Thompson, The Waterboys, Public Image Limited and the Levellers themselves, was the fastest to sell out. When the band launched their first event, attended by 4,000 people over two days, they were keen to overturn the changing state of affairs in the festival scene and bring things back to the original events.
"Festivals at the end of the 1990s were largely far removed from the original free-festival ideals", says singer Mark Chadwick. "Things had changed, but we thought we could bring the atmosphere up to date, using our experience, connections and friends to create a non commercial, person-friendly event. People really noticed that what we were doing was appreciably better than what your run-of- the-mill 'festival organisers' would come up with."
Although the Levellers aim for a line-up spanning a cross section of music to please as many people as possible, a band's festival can shed light on their musical tastes and influences. When announcing his plans from Philadelphia last month, Jay-Z said: "[My] iPod playlist [is] gonna play for two days live," before stating his wishlist: British soul star Michael Kiwanuka and The Roots, and Barack Obama playing a cover of Al Green. Fans were told to expect hip-hop, rock 'n' roll, Latin and dance music. Jay-Z's taste proves to be eclectic: the line-up for Made in America Festival on 1 and 2 September includes rock band Pearl Jam, while indie dance fans will enjoy Miike Snow, Passion Pit and Dirty Projectors, Odd Future and Rick Ross will appeal to hip-hop fans, and Santigold and Janelle Monae are offering youthful soul. Calvin Harris, D'Angelo and Skrillex are also on the bill.
Metallica's inaugural festival of music, arts, and lifestyle (more on that later), reveals its members' varied musical tastes. The band shared the choice of the bill; across the several live-music stages are 20 acts, spanning heavy metal to indie-rock include Arctic Monkeys, Avenged Sevenfold, Modest Mouse, Best Coast and Roky Erickson.
But it's the intriguing lifestyle element of the festival that will enlighten fans about the band members' personal interests. Each has chosen a lifestyle theme: singer James Hetfield's passion for hot rods, muscle cars and custom motorcycles is displayed in an exhibition; guitarist Kirk Hammett's obsession with collecting horror memorabilia is explored in Kirk's Crypt; Hetfield, Hammett, and bassist Robert Trujillo's shared passion for surfing sees talks from top surfers; artist Lars Ulrich offers art exhibitions and a cinema showing the documentary, Mission to Lars.
Ulrich explained what made them launch their event via their website: "After many years of playing at legendary festivals around the world including Reading, Roskilde, ...Lollapalooza and countless others, we're hoping to spread the good times and diverse musical feel here in the States. We've had the idea of doing our own lifestyle festival with lots of diverse music, and fun and games for years."
The Southbank Centre has been successfully inviting musicians to curate Meltdown since 1993, with the intention of reflecting the "interests, influences and passions" of the artist. Ray Davies, Patti Smith and Nick Cave have all taken part, and this year Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons takes up the mantle. The line-up, including the Cocteau Twins' Liz Fraser, throws some insight on his inspirations and influences. Likewise All Tomorrow's Parties have been enlisting musicians to curate a festival since Mogwai headed the first of their artist-curated festivals in 2000, establishing a reliable event for indie-rock lovers.
Band-curated festivals always have a strong identity, bringing the band's most devoted fans together and allowing them to discover music recommended by their favourite band. And above all, you know it's going to be all about the music.
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