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Sonisphere UK is cancelled

By | Published on Thursday 29 March 2012


Bad news for any of you looking forward to watching a field full of metalheads throwing bottles of urine at a former ‘American Idol’ runner up (which was set to be one of the highlights of the summer, I think we can all agree), the British leg of rock festival Sonisphere is off.

The news was broken yesterday by headliners Queen, who told their fans “it is with very heavy hearts and much regret that we announce the cancellation of Sonisphere Knebworth 2012”.

Then this morning co-promoters Kilimanjaro confirmed the cancellation themselves, saying: “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 Sonisphere’s audience would rightly expect”.

They continued: “We want to express our deepest regrets to the artists and to thank all the staff, suppliers and contractors who worked so hard with us to try and pull off what has proven to be an impossible task and we know how much they share in our disappointment. We also want to send a huge thanks to the Sonisphere fans who stuck by us and we are so sorry that we can’t fulfil what we set out to do. Ticket holders will automatically receive a full refund direct from their ticket agents”.

Rumours of the cancellation began to circulate in the agent community earlier this week, with some artist reps mightily pissed off that – having agreed to exclusivity terms with Sonisphere – their clients are now without UK festival dates for 2012.

Meanwhile discussion is rampant as to what caused the presumably poor ticket sales that would lead to a festival of this size being canned. The line up may have been a factor. Having quickly established itself as a fairly credible pan-European heavy rock festival since launching in 2009, I think most people were surprised when it was announced the Saturday headliners at the UK edition this year would be Brian May and Roger Taylor doing Queen songs with former ‘Idol’ contender Adam Lambert. Kiss and The Darkness were also surprise bookings for a festival that last year boasted the ‘big four of metal’ on its bill.

Some ridiculed the line up, others criticised it, but some did wonder whether – in an increasingly saturated market for heavy rock events, and with the big metal acts having toured pretty prolifically in recent years – perhaps a more eclectic roster was a good strategy. Though, assuming poor ticket sales did play their part in this week’s decision to cancel, perhaps a more generic metal line up – which is what the other Sonisphere dates around Europe are offering this summer – would have been a safer bet.

There’ll also likely be some chatter about what this says about the British festival market in 2012, especially given Kilimanjaro’s reference to this being “a very challenging year”. While the UK live sector held up, in the main, in 2010 when the American live industry had a bad year, some British promoters are admitting that this year is proving particularly tricky, perhaps as the economic turmoil that has prevailed for a few years now really starts to take its toll on the average music fan’s bank account.

Kilimanjaro pulling Sonisphere UK follows Festival Republic’s decision earlier this year to cancel The Big Chill, and in Ireland MCD’s announcement that it was following Glastonbury’s lead with its Oxegen event and sitting 2012 out. These are all events led by pretty big players in the festival market (though Kilimanjaro bosses did recently announce they had bought AEG Live out of their business), leading some to worry that some smaller independent events may also hit the wall this summer as slow ticket sales and tight profit margins collide.

Though optimists might hope that the removal of some bigger names from the festival calendar, plus Glastonbury taking its traditional year off, might mean extra punters for the more innovative independent events. Let’s hope so.