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Europe Music Festivals
The European festival scene may not always be guaranteed as much sunshine or as much glamour as North America’s but it’s home to some of the most diverse, thrilling and unique live musical experiences in the world.
UK Music Festivals
Arguably the daddy of them all, the Glastonbury Festival is steeped in tradition, having been founded as far back as 1970 by Somerset farmer Michael Eavis, who alongside daughter Emily, continues to remain the pivotal figure in its organisation. Very much a hippie-focused affair in its early days, its initial rather modest 1500 crowd has remarkably been multiplied by over a hundred since the 90s thanks to a mixture of career-defining sets (Radiohead 1997, Jay-Z 2008) its almost sadistic mud-drenched surroundings, and a refreshing lack of commercial focus which is at complete odds with the corporate atmosphere of its big-name rivals.
Elsewhere in the UK, the Isle Of Wight boutique festival known as Bestival is renowned for combining its leftfield pop/electronica bill of artists with a series of innovative gimmicks, most notably its hugely popular fancy dress-themed days; Reading/Leeds has overcome its rather fearsome aggressive reputation (Meatloaf & 50 Cent are just some of the big names to be bottled off stage) to become one of the most vibrant mainstream rock festivals in Western Europe; while at the other end of the scale, Suffolk’s charming Latitude is the type of festival you could take your parents to with its unthreatening line-up, focus on literature, poetry and drama, and middle-class picnic vibes.
Other European Music Festivals
Held in the small seaside resort located between Barcelona and Valencia, Benicassim is fast becoming the festival of choice for the younger party-going crowd. With its much later than usual 5pm-8am schedule, the mid-July four-day event certainly caters for the more hedonistic end of the market, allowing revellers to spend the daytime on its plethora of nearby beaches before soundtracking both the sunset and the sunrise. Despite its sun-drenched Spanish location, the selection of artists is a lot more eclectic than its club-heavy Balearic counterparts, with recent headliners including such polar opposites as My Bloody Valentine and Gnarls Barkley.
One of the six biggest festivals in Europe with a regular attendance of over 80,000, Denmark’s Roskilde Festival has unfortunately become synonymous with tragedy, after nine people were crushed to death during Pearl Jam’s set there in 2000. However, with rules and regulations tightened up considerably since the incident, it is now widely regarded as one of the safest festivals in Scandinavia. The brainchild of two students and a promoter in 1971, but since taken over as a non-profit event staged to develop the culture in the area, Roskilde has built a reputation on providing a more organic alternative to its major name competitors, whether through its experimental art and design, occasional inclusion of classical and opera performers, or its annual Nude Run competition.
Those looking for something a little more head-banging would be best advised to seek out Germany’s Rock Am Ring/Rock Im Park. Held simultaneously at a Nurburgring racetrack and a Nuremberg football stadium, the three-day double-header has recovered from its rather fallow late 80s period to emerge as the premier destination for hardcore rock fans, with regular combined attendances of over 150,000 flocking to see major international acts like Marilyn Manson, Linkin Park and Metallica as well as homegrown metalheads such as Rammstein, Die Toten Hosen and Die Arzte.
Music Festivals beyond the Iron Curtain
Eastern Europe might not have been on most festival-goers’ radar ten years ago but has since built up an impressively thriving scene which can now compete with its more established Western counterpart.
Described as Europe’s answer to Burning Man thanks to its ‘warped’ amusement park and array of extra-curricular activities, Hungary’s Sziget Festival, situated on a 216 acre island along the Danube, is arguably one of the most intriguing on the calendar. Founded as a rather low-key student festival in 1993, it was initially a rather nostalgic affair, particularly its second year, which was dubbed ‘Eurowoodstock’ following the booking of several acts that had headlined the original iconic US event. But the week-long celebration has since come into its own thanks to an eclectic range of performers from the worlds of jazz, blues and world music as well as the usual suspects, and the recent addition of the ‘zeroeth day’ and the ‘minus first day,’ both of which feature just one major gig.
Staged in the 18th Century Petrovaradin Fortress in Novi Sad, Serbia’s nearby Exit is undeniably Europe’s most picturesque festival, although it arrived in 2000 as a student protest to Slobodan Milosevic’s right-wing regime. Named by both CNN and The New York Times as one of the Top 10 festivals in the world, the four-day event has prided itself on balancing a mixture of globally popular alternative rock and dance acts with lesser-known local bands and a mission to push political and social issues to the forefront.
With the likes of Croatia’s INmusic Festival, Poland’s Open’er and Ireland’s Oxegen continuing to grow in popularity, the European festival circuit seems destined to go from strength to strength.