Image credit: Tony Pham

Music festivals in the UK face an existential crisis, so what does this crisis mean for culture in the country and who will be the survivors?

The live music industry in the UK is suffering a crisis. 40 music festivals in the UK have already shut down so far this year. The forecast is looking grim for music events large- and small-scale, as it’s predicted that more than 100 festivals in the United Kingdom will close their doors in 2024.

In 2023, 36 festivals were cancelled before they were able to take place. Many festivals made a loss and forecast future losses, leading to termination of their ultimately inoperable events.

It’s indicative of an industry that is struggling. Earlier in the year, a report revealed that more than a third of independent venues in the UK are making a loss. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the music industry has struggled to recover in the face of a year or more’s losses and rising prices.

The UK live events industry must spend a reported 30% more than pre-pandemic costs to run a live music festival. This is due to rises in production costs and the effects of Brexit which sees added paperwork in bringing foreign artists in. Iconic sport and music festival NASS announced their cancellation this year, writing that “it’s just not economically feasible to continue”.

After festivals provided tickets priced at pre-pandemic levels to “honour” their cancelled events, many saw losses. Many festivals have increased their ticket prices to match rising energy costs, inflation, and other impacts. Unfortunately, in rising ticket prices there are now less willing punters purchasing tickets. Some festivals found that even with successful sales of higher priced tickets they were operating at a loss.

The Association of Independent Festivals, an advocacy group for live music events in the UK, said: “Festivals thought the right thing to do was deliver the events on the ticket that had been sold. So, many festivals – even thought they were completely sold out – took place and made a loss.”

The website Five Percent For Festivals lists the festivals lost this year, last year, and the events that were lost to the pandemic.

Festivals that are closing their doors this year include:

  • NASS Festival
  • Leopollooza
  • Long Division
  • Noztock: The Hidden Valley
  • Escape Into The Park
  • Detonate Festival
  • and many more

Five Percent For Festivals are supporting a campaign to reduce the VAT festivals to pay from 20% to 5%. They claim this “is all that’s needed to give them the space to recover and rebuild”. They want the reduction to last temporarily, returning after 3 years of recovery to normal rates. With a country struggling to finance its essential services as well as culture, it may sadly be too much to ask.

Which festivals will survive?

As festivals in the UK struggle, it raises the question of who will be able to survive. Whilst there are many more festivals continuing to take place in the UK than are shutting down, the effects are visible even in those that are taking place. Ticket prices are being raised affecting consumers’ ability to attend the events they love. This could lead to a shift in festival attendance, pricing out poorer people from culture.

Additionally, the festivals most affected by the present situation are smaller and independent. The slow death of smaller events takes vital entertainment away from smaller communities and takes spotlight away from smaller artists, leaving a priority for the biggest festivals catering to the world’s largest acts.

A world in which Glastonbury and Reading & Leeds are the only options is a death to culture and entertainment for music lovers, and the end of careers for thousands of smaller and independent artists. Not to mention the thousands of jobs being lost by festival organisers.