Current Events

Sonisphere UK Cancelled: Are Music Festivals in Trouble?

News emerged late last month that the U.K. date of Sonishphere, the traveling European hard-rock festival, has been canceled. It's a pretty big blow for music fans across the pond -- the headliners scheduled for the event included Queen with Adam Lambert, KISS and Faith No More, and reunited Swedish post-hardcore outfit the Refused were supposed to make their only UK appearance in 2012 at the fest (they've since signed on for the competing Download Festival).

Sonisphere UK has been a major outpost on the European festival circuit since 2009, and its cancellation was disconcerting, to say the least. In a statement on the Sonisphere Web site, organizers released the following statement:

Putting the festival together in what is proving to be a very challenging year was more difficult than we anticipated and we have spent the last few months fighting hard to keep Sonisphere in the calendar. Unfortunately circumstances have dictated that we would be unable to run the festival to a standard that both the artists and that Sonisphere's audience would rightly expect.

That's a pretty vague explanation. Obviously, the festival wasn't selling enough tickets to appear financially feasible enough for the organizers to go through with, but why? And what are the implications of the cancelation for the music festival industry in Europe and around the world? With no concrete answers forthcoming, certain Houston music bloggers are left free to speculate.

Here are five reasons that probably contributed to Sonisphere getting the axe -- pitfalls that festival organizers closer to home, even Coachella, will have to be increasingly wary of moving forward.

5. Fuel Costs: U.K. fuel prices hit an all-time high of £1.40 ($2.20) a liter late last month -- that's over $8 a gallon. Clearly, transportation in Western Europe works a bit differently than it does in Houston, but that's pretty damn steep no matter how you slice it.

Sonisphere is a traveling festival, and Knebworth House doesn't host gigantic live-music events every day. That means many tons of stage equipment, vendor materials, portapotties, food and water, musical acts and everything else associated with putting on a massive three-day event has to be transported in. Thanks to sky-high fuel prices, that's more expensive this year than ever before.

With music festivals typically operating on razor-thin margins at the best of times, the added costs of transportation risen by soaring gas prices could have been a major contributor to putting Sonisphere U.K.'s outlook in the red for 2012.

4. Nostalgia Only Goes So Far: At big European festivals, a lot of the money comes from weekend and camping tickets, a pretty major commitment of time and cash from fans. Now let's revisit the Sonisphere: Queen with Adam Lambert, KISS and Faith No More. When was the last time any of them put out new music?

Though we here at Rocks Off would happily jump at the chance to see any of those bands, let's face facts: They're nostalgia acts, appealing more to older rock fans than the young whipper-snappers blasting dubstep in their dorm rooms .

Are the older fans that the fest was counting on to snap up camping tickets to see these bands really likely to be interested in hanging out for an entire weekend, sitting through Evanescence, Andrew W.K. and Kverlertak to see decrepit versions of '70s superstars? And how keen were the (slightly) younger fans psyched about the Refused reunion about shelling out $300 to see friggin' KISS?

Without strong ticket sales to folks looking to camp out for three days to see everything, one can see how Sonisphere might begin to resemble a massive money sink rather than a profitable endeavor.

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Nathan Smith
Contact: Nathan Smith