Roskilde vs Tinderbox Rd. 2

author PP date 05/02/15

A couple of months separated from our initial opinion piece revolving around Tinderbox Festival, the fiery new entrant making noise on the Danish festival scene, we're back for a second look now that we know a little bit more what the festival is all about. Much has changed in just a few short months, and it's safe to say that Tinderbox have successfully elevated their profile in the minds of the public and critics alike during that period with several high profile additions to their lineup.

Round 1 summary

At the time of our previous article, comparing Tinderbox to Roskilde Festival as serious competition seemed a little far-fetched given the relatively weak opening announcement by the former versus the relatively prominent response by the latter. We also focused on profiling Tinderbox via guesstimates, rumours, discussion in the mainstream media and by industry insiders, because their motives and goals were largely unknown at the time. The disappointing opening announcements fueled the fire for critics decrying a blatantly missed historic opportunity to shake the very foundations of the Danish festival scene by starting a festival distinctly focused on rock music in line with central European contemporaries. The massive drama between the various parties involved and the highly public war between booking agencies and festivals didn't make it any less dubious, despite Tinderbox making perfect sense in terms of geographical location and dates considering FKP Scorpio's portfolio of festivals across central and Northern Europe.

Image credit: Curt Franklin & Chris Haley - letsbefriendsagain.com

Fast-forward to today: the dust seems to have settled over the disputes and we're down to business of booking bands and healthy competition on the festival scene. Or so it seems on the surface, at least, indicating some sort of ceasefire appears to have taken place behind-the-scenes between Beatbox International and the consortium of Danish festivals with Roskilde and Smukfest at the forefront. And all of a sudden, the controversial #roskildekiller hashtag starts to sound like a battle chant to be taken seriously rather than a laughable PR stunt as it felt like in November.

Tinderbox musical profile - clear at last

Thanks to a shaky media strategy initially and an inexplicable failure to correct misunderstandings in the media, the whole debacle surrounding Tinderbox's musical profile vs what they were actually booking led into a mostly negative publicity spiral if you were to judge by commentary on social media and analysis by the more serious music magazines. That's now all but cleared with a series of bookings that make it crystal clear what kind of festival the organizers behind Tinderbox are going for overall. And it's not the Smukfest / Grøn Koncert type of 60 DKK-a-pint audience who mostly attend for the party rather than the actual lineup as we originally suspected.

Nope. Tinderbox are aiming for a big names only type of a festival, where smaller and lesser known artists are shunned in favour of a megalomaniac lineup of A-list performers ranging from Store Vega style club names through arena-filling spectacles and stadium-sized megastars for the most part. With the financial muscle of FKP Scorpio and seed capital by Odense municipality giving an unprecedented budget for the premiere year, Tinderbox has snatched Axwell ^ Ingrosso, Calvin Harris, Robbie Williams, The Prodigy, Faith No More, Ellie Goulding, Modest Mouse, Passenger, D-A-D, Kent, Hozier, , Carpark North, The Cardigans and The Gaslight Anthem among others to their lineup with plenty more remaining to be announced.

Mainstream profile - but so what?

Yes, it's true that many of these names don't say much to our readership or a rock fan per se, but it's difficult not to look at the sheer amount of true headliners revealed already at this stage and not be impressed at the same time. For the standard mainstream music fan, this lineup is all of a sudden starting to look stacked with high-profile names, and that's without mentioning excellent talent like Eagles Of Death Metal, All Time Low, Love Shop, Royal Blood or Echosmith that will further add to the festival's allure.

Yes, it's also true that these artists fall squarely within the mainstream realm even within those names more relevant to our interests (The Gaslight Anthem, All Time Low, Eagles Of Death Metal, etc), but that has clearly been the objective here. Metal is nowhere to be seen on the lineup, and Tinderbox has also publicly stated on social media that they are not going to book metal whereas big rock names are welcome to the festival. EDM and electronic music, in general, is prolifically on display right now; pop music is likewise prominently on a pedestal. Where Roskilde Festival has tended to book the experimental and unique names in the past five or six years, often to the detriment of the overall lineup quality when comparing with international counterparts, the folks behind Tinderbox are going for a polar opposite approach. This is not a nonprofit festival: the goal is to make money; to make money you have to sell a shitload of tickets.

Potential cash cow - Tinderbox 2016 appears scary

What's the best way to do that within tough competition? Out-book everyone else in terms of huge crowd pleasers. With ticket prices set to 1495 DKK and band budget into 30 million kroner, the festival stands to make breakeven on band budget alone with just 25.000 tickets sold, a feat no doubt achievable given the sheer number of headliner-type names in the lineup. Add on top of that the expectation of high food/drinks prices and visible commercial branding, as well as sponsorship deals, and all of a sudden you're getting huge bang for your buck. God forbid they sold all of the 50.000 tickets on sale? That would give the festival a ridiculously good standing going forward after just year one.

Public perception shifts to positive

As a result of the recent series of high profile bookings, damage control seems no longer necessary after the negative publicity that the festival was faced with initially. The mood amongst commenters to Tinderbox lineup updates has visibly improved with most people appearing if not ecstatic (primarily the mainstream fans), then at least nodding their heads with approval, and with good reason. There's no longer an expectation of the festival being the saving grace for rock music fans in Denmark because of the clarified musical profile, so the public perception has shifted from healthy skepticism to more of a celebratory mood of just how many Roskilde headliners can fit onto one lineup?. Besides, the majority of rock bands are being slotted for a Sunday performance, which seems to be gearing for one day ticket sales for rock music fans on purpose. This is fantastic news for us who don't really care much for the rest of the names but want to catch Faith No More, The Gaslight Anthem, All Time Low, D-A-D, Eagles of Death Metal, Royal Blood, Spids Nøgenhat, The Cardigans and perhaps some Robbie Williams as well.

What does it mean for Roskilde Festival?

In the meantime, Roskilde Festival have been busy presenting their counterproposal to Tinderbox via additions such as Florence + The Machine, Disclosure, Enslaved, Every Time I Die, alongside a 20+ names that most of us have never heard of. That's not to say these aren't good bookings - yours truly is ecstatic about Yung and especially Every Time I Die finally representing some of the oft-overlooked genres at the festival - but looking through the eyes of a regular music listener who doesn't quite connect music on the same enthusiast level as the majority of you reading this article, there are legitimate grounds for some serious consideration over where to shell out your hard-earned festival ticket savings this summer.

Granted, the mainstream profile of Tinderbox attracts a different type of audience than Roskilde does, so the core Roskilde audience is probably not going to change. However, there's no doubt the humongous headliners will be eating up a significant chunk of the non-core audience from the festival. And here's where the difference between being a non-profit and a for-profit festival will be most clear in the future. Where a sold out Roskilde with a 46 million kroner band budget and a profit of 30 million does not mean next year's budget will be 66 or even 56 million, it means exactly that for a sold out Tinderbox. Although much of the money will go towards covering initial capital injection and into the pockets of the organizers (and ultimately to the owners FKP Scorpio), a significant chunk of the proceeds can be used to bolster the lineup even more for the years to come. With 35% of all hotel rooms booked in Odense already today, four months prior to the festival, we're already predicting a highly successful year one for the upstarts.

Should Roskilde feel nervous?

Is Roskilde feeling nervous? Based on limited public statements and the overall perception revealing a lack of urgency in their booking announcements, that doesn't appear to be the case. After all, Tinderbox are new entrants to the festival circuit so there's no reason for Roskilde to change strategy at this point in time. Don't fix what ain't broken, as they say.

But perhaps they should be, at least long term.

It takes some time for perception to shift, but as we saw in Sweden with Bråvalla, it took but two years for the upstarts to become the largest festival in the country that resulted into at least one bankruptcy of another in the process. How many years forward can Tinderbox book a lineup stacked with gigantic headliners with far less of a production cost (no camping area + additional capital from commercial sponsors) before audience will shift en masse? After all, with highly specialized music tastes becoming ever more commonplace as music continues to become more and more accessible, isn't lineup - especially within one specific profile - absolutely the most important thing about any festival?

Food for thought.

We'll return with a round three once lineups have been finalized for both festivals.

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