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Editors’ Roundtable: Have we hit a breaking point with American festivals?

There is much to be said — and even more to be questioned —  about American festivals moving into 2013. Have you been waiting to attend Sensation since their after movies went viral? Are you on the fritz about which weekend to attend Ultra? Would you like to avoid the underage crowd? How will you spend your hard earned cash with so many options? Does it take mind-blowing production to get into your pockets? Or are you looking for a talent lineup that ranges from Tiesto to Kanye West?

With extreme feelings ranging across all possibilities, Dancing Astronaut tackles the many facets of the American festival climate at our Editors’ Roundtable. Five editors take on five critical questions surrounding the issue, nailing down all of the open-ended concerns that have rattled the EDM world.

Are there too many festivals in the US right now?

Dylan: Yes. While each major city should own a premiere music festival, some promoters are forcing their way into the festival scene without the proper credibility or magnitude. Ultra, EDC, Coachella, and Electric Zoo are yearly staples, but the other large, individual shows that have been labeled as ‘festivals’ for the sake of ticket sales are doing a disservice to the industry.

Jesse: I think that the festival experience is slightly tainted. With two major festivals in the NY area this year alone and Identity Festival at Jones Beach, it was interesting to compare them all. The fans make or break the experience and most production companies forget about them.

Amanda: It’s not there are “too many” festivals, but rather that there are too many uninspired festivals. Lights, lasers, and other similar visual effects are fun but they don’t allow for too much variance. Insomniac events seem to be the most creative with the various running themes on their events. A DJ’s set should tell a story and festivals should make attendees feel like they’re a part of the story.

Cara: I’m going to say no on this one, because it should be the question of “how many is too many for me?” Even if there are too many festivals in the market right now, they will eventually either disappear or diversify in some way.

Festivals have turned into a production arms race between event companies, but is that the most important factor when selecting shows?

Dylan: The most important factor are the lineups that occupy the supporting tents. While the mainstage normally features popular artists, the tents provide a niche for all fans. For example, Carl Cox hosting his own tent with techno artists, Steve Angello controlling a stage with his Size Matters movement for progressive house, Armin and his ASOT offering for trance fans, and even Afrojack’s Jacked tent for electro heads.

Nikoleta: While a ferris wheel is standard for any and all festivals these days, attending a show is still about the music and the artists. The best part is hearing your favorite producer live and picking up new music in the process. One of my personal favorite experiences has been seeing Deadmau5 “unhooked” — no frills (ok, maybe just a few!), but mainly just the music.

Amanda: If it came down to choosing between better production or a better lineup, the lineup will always win. Stripped down shows have an allure to them because they bring the focus back  to where it belongs — the music.

Cara: Can I say the food stalls? Kidding. It’s always about the lineup and secondarily location for me. You know what’s really cool? The lineup for this year’s BPM Festival. You know what makes it cooler? That it’s on the beach in Mexico.

Is festival access for all ages ruining the experience?

Dylan: For festivals? Not so much. The empowering feeling about attending a festival is uniting with thousands upon thousands of dance music fans of all sorts. For individual concerts and club appearances, age requirements always determine the overall experience.

Jesse: Definitely. It might be cute to see a 3 year old on someones shoulders but it is not the right place for it. And until younger teens understand that they don’t need to be completely wasted, they shouldn’t be allowed in either. It is truly about responsibility and if people can’t be responsible then they shouldn’t be allowed to attend.

Amanda: People who don’t know their limits are ruining the experience. Being young increases the chance of irresponsible behavior but adolescents aren’t the only ones who don’t know when to stop. Access to, and responsibility at shows for young people should fall on parents and the attendee.

Cara: I agree with Dylan that club nights should probably stick to 21 and up — most teenagers are there just to find a place to party outside of their parents’ basements and likely have limited interest in the music anyway.  For festivals, it would only ruin my experience in extreme cases (i.e., literally forcing the cancellation of an event). It feels like much less of an issue to me in that context.

Coachella and Ultra have already divided their annual festivals into multiple weekends. Does this take away from the overall experience?

Dylan: Absolutely. One of the great emotions provoked while attending these major festivals is the feeling of being a part of something that only occurs once a year. If you’re at the first weekend of a festival, it feels less personal and monumental that the festival will repeat itself the following weekend.

Jesse: Having a festival stretched over two weekends is greedy and hurts the scene. Festivals should grow and expand, not segment themselves into 2 weekends. Double the footprint of the festival and charge the same price, its a money grab otherwise.

Amanda: Two weekend festivals come with the added stress of trying to decide which weekend will be the best. I imagine that no matter which weekend you choose there will be some level of fear of missing out and even regret about the decision.

Cara: The upside to two weekends? More people can go without sacrificing the per-weekend capacity and if you’re awesome enough, you can go both weekends and see more of everything you’d wished you caught the first time around.

Does the price point make or break the decision to attend a festival?

Dylan: No. Festival experiences are priceless, and the original prices offered are usually fair considering the costs of talent booking and production that most people ignore when they are forced to cough up big bucks. Naturally, attendees love to complain. Just make the most of your money and avoid scalpers.

Jesse: Depends. Some festivals are truly priceless while others just remain boring cash-ins. iIt won’t be long before festivals with production like Tomorrowland make there way to the US, hopefully ticket prices won’t skyrocket as well.

Amanda: If you were to see all of the artists you saw during a festival on separate days, the final cost would likely be much higher than that of a festival ticket. Part of the appeal of festivals is that you can see several artists for a wholesale price.

Cara: This totally depends on the individual. I’ve been known to spend all of my disposable income on festivals throughout the year, but have a lot of friends for whom a $50 increase ticket price makes all the difference. I’ll go to EDC whether or not Insomniac ups the stakes, but it’s just the reality that this is not going to be the case for everyone attending and promoters must be sensitive to that.

Has the festival market peaked or plateaued? Or does it remain on the rise?

Dylan: According to the facts, demand seems to be on the rise. However, the over saturation on all ends of American festivals is due to create a plateau over the next year or two.

Jesse: I think it has plateaued, however it will rise again. Currently there are so many festivals on the US market, but once the promoters realize the people want something more, it will rise again.

Nikoleta: It has yet to peak. We’re seeing a rise in interest and demand from people who previously didn’t know who Kaskade was. While those attendees might not be the same ones seeking out a Sensation type experience, the volume of festivals is likely to increase to meet the growing demand.

Amanda: The festival market seems to be at an in-between stage. There are new festivals being announced all the time but the great majority of them lack any real innovation. It seems organizers think all you need to put on a good festival is some lights and decent talent, but to build a brand for yourself there has to be something more. Dance music was able to capture so many new fans because it was offering something new and exciting. If it doesn’t continue to deliver on that people will likely begin to lose interest. Sensation coming to NY is evidence that change is possible but only if organizers challenge themselves and fans don’t settle.

Cara: Definitely still on the rise (I hear about new festivals all the time!), but along with the trend of corporate entities gobbling up smaller players in the industry will come fewer, larger festivals.  That is, unless corporations stop taking such a vested interest in the market.

We want your take: Head to the comments section to make your opinions heard too!

By: Dylan FarellaJesse GrushackAmanda ClaudioCara DaleyNikoleta Panteva

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