But given the names listed I don’t think I’d want to hear ONE song, much less three.
In the past, what seemed like a nation of fans would tune into Radio 1 to hear festival lineups announced and there was a panicked scramble when tickets went on sale. Now with sets as short as 20 minutes, performers are asking themselves if it is worth the bother.
“Set times are getting shorter because festivals are trying to fit all the artists in,” said Greg Lowe, booking agent for acts including Underworld, Crystal Fighters and Glass Animals.
“With the exception of the headliners, 45 minutes is now normal. If they [the artists] get offered 40- or even 30-minute sets, they do question if it’s really worth it. There’s definitely a limit and we’re heading for an enormous backlash if it’s going to become just a two- or three-song live piece to camera. If it continues to shrink, I think some could refuse to play.”
Tom Paine, who directs Love Saves The Day in Bristol, and works on Glastonbury, Love International and Simple Things, said artists are already beginning to reject offers. “The pressure is on to have the biggest and best lineups, and to fit as many acts in as possible. With the artists we tend to book, if you offer them a short slot they will just turn it down,” he says.
Some think this more-bands-less-time approach is letting down the crowd. One artist who did not wish to be named says that shorter sets are increasingly unpopular with musicians because they do not let them showcase their work. “You get paid the same, yeah sure, but you just have to play the most simplified version of whatever it is you do. There’s no time for progression and you can’t give a more nuanced performance. In 20 minutes all you have time for is the hits.””
Festivals, the artist added, just book as many acts as possible to sell tickets, then have problems scheduling them all: “It’s a stack ’em high philosophy. Punters would probably rather buy a ticket to a festival where there are five acts that they like rather than to see two acts playing for three times as long. It’s hard to find festivals that will give artists the right setting to perform how they want.”
Others say the nature of audiences has changed and music has become an accompaniment to the general experience. Lowe said festivals were increasingly focusing on providing other things to hold people’s attention rather than just music.
“Bands need to have a kaleidoscope of sound, lights and colour in order to satisfy the audience,” he said. “They have to bring so much to their shows and make sure people are blown away and this involves equipment and rolling things on and off stage. This eats into actual show time.”
Paul Jack, co-founder and director at events company LWE, which hosts festivals including Junction 2 in London, said artists are increasingly hosting their own stages to retain some control. “Festivals are relying on the same artists to sell tickets and this means [festival organisers] need to increasingly put focus on the whole package, and this comes in the form of location, sound, food and alternative activities.”
The way people interact at some festivals is also changing, with many audience members busy posting on Instagram, Twitter and WhatsApp throughout a set. “Their attention span will pick up for the big anthem hits, but otherwise there’s not much participation,” said Lowe. “Not every festival can be like Worthy Farm [home of Glastonbury], where you look down from the top of the hill and see a seething mass of people all singing in unison.”
Paine points out that set times also vary according to the genre of music. “Grime and rap artists tend to play shorter sets – anywhere between 20 and 45 minutes. The rise in popularity of this genre means set times have got shorter.”
Unless a band is a headline act with six albums of material that people know, holding on to a fluid festival crowd can be a challenge. “At some festivals you don’t want to play for much longer because it’s difficult to hold people’s attention,” said the unnamed artist. “No one wants to be the one that clears the stage.”
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