We ran across this list of the best music festivals of 2009, and it got us thinking about this year. Where should we go? What are the festivals that we have to see? It seems too freaking early to start planning, but it’s something to look forward to now that the holidays are over, right?
If you’re the jet-setting type, we challenge you to go see them all. There are only so many times you can waste your dad’s money in some foam-filled techno/trance/house club in Ibiza. Leave that sh*t and go check out something interesting.
If, like the rest of us, you’re only able to visit another (distant) country because you:
1) have family living there
2) saved for years and plan on backpacking
3) don’t have much time and need to squeeze a lot into a weekend
then consider this a handy guide as you plan a trip this year. Our highly subjective list of the world’s top 10 music festivals is below, chosen with an eye to the freshness of the lineup, starpower, reliability (will it cancel at the last minute?), and location. It tilts toward indie rock, but other genres are also in the mix.
In strictly chronological order, here’s our top 10 music festivals to check out this year:
California, USA (late April)
Between SXSW, CMJ, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Warped, All Points West, and at least 50 other music festivals around the country, it should be hard to pick the best in the US. But time and again, Coachella wins, hands down. The weather is blistering hot in the daytime and unnervingly cold at night, but nevertheless, this three day event sells 50,000 tickets each day, and hosts over 20,000 people on a campground that includes a general store and shower trucks.
It’s the organization that makes the difference — from the attention paid to campers needs to the quality of the performers and the consistency of the acts booked from year to year. Especially since the organizers try to avoid repeat bookings to keep it fresh. In 2009 Airborne Toxic Event, TV on the Radio, Tinariwen, Buraka Som Sistema, The Killers, and Antony and the Johnsons played alongside rare-to-festival legends like Leonard Cohen, The Cure, and Paul McCartney.
Check out Italian electro-house duo The Bloody Beetroots as they start their set with Steve Aoki in 2009.
2. All Tomorrow’s Parties
Somerset, UK (May)
Intimate venues, sponsorship-free, artist and fans in the same sleeping accommodations…this is what the mud-splattered idealism of Glastonbury should be. Named after the Velvet Underground song, All Tomorrow’s Parties started in 1999 as an alternative to that sort of giant, corporate festival. And while loads of festivals throw in a film screening or two, or a ratty “arty” space or two (somehow these always involve paper-mache, stilts, fire, and dead-boring video/performance art), ATP manages to synthesize these media into a tightly cohesive event. More improbably, it manages to do so while giving up the reigns to a guest curator who picks the lineup. So instead of this year’s hipster faves or the money-machines on the festival circuit, you get an unpredictable and totally weird selection that can feel like you’re living in the guest curator’s iPod. What if the guest curator sucks? How do they get these bands to show up? How do they make every single event the best, like, ever? We don’t know the ATP secret, but we’re actively recruiting informants. Do they mist euphoria-inducing chemicals into the air? Call us!
Call us because this monster is growing fast — the ATP organization recently threw festivals in New York (curated by the The Flaming Lips) and Australia (curated by Nick Cave), and booked stages at the Primavera Festival in Spain and Pitchfork Festival in the US, among a raft of other concerts and projects. And yet it’s still somehow upending the conventional wisdom that growth = bloated mediocrity. This year’s UK curators will Matt Groening (creator of “The Simpsons” so a very, um, unconventional choice) and Pavement (excellent!).
Here’s Deerhoof’s cover of “All Tomorrow’s Parties” at last year’s “10 Years of ATP” Festival.
3. Primavera Sound Festival
Barcelona, Spain (May-June)
This three day festival by the sea has its share of detractors for a lack campground or very much in the way of amenities, but the consistently fantastic lineup always makes up for it. You never know if you’ll see a breakout band that’ll go on to be next year’s worldwide sensation, or if you’ll see a breakout band that’ll self-destruct as the Wavves did last year. Bon Iver, Dirty Projectors, Vampire Weekend, Carsick Cars, Bat for Lashes, and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart all performed in the past two years, and the already announced 2010 lineup includes The Antlers, The XX, The King Khan and BBQ Show, and Hope Sandoval and the Warm Invention. The MTV Iggy office soundtrack, basically.
Check out Phoenix performing at Primavera 2009.
4. INmusic Festival
Zagreb, Croatia (Late June)
Held on an island in the middle of Lake Jarun, Zagreb, this young festival (started in 2006) is rapidly becoming an European favorite for an intimate experience with both indie and arena stars, the relatively inexpensive tickets, and the sheer beauty of the location. Past acts have included the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Franz Ferdinand, Amadou and Mariam, Art Brut, Serj Tankian, and Hot Chip.
The Editors’ performing “Eat Raw Meat = Blood Drool” at INmusic 2009 is being called one the most passionate performances of the year.
5. Roskilde Festival
Roskilde, Denmark (June-July)
The granddaddy of European summer festivals, Roskilde’s been going strong every year since 1971. No small feat, especially since it was started back then by two Danish high school kids. Headliners last year included Kanye West, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Faith No More, The Mars Volta, Pet Shop Boys, and Nine Inch Nails. NIN’s two hour performance was, by all accounts, legendary.
6. Splendour in the Grass
New South Wales, Australia (July-August)
This two-day festival in Belongil Fields is so popular among discerning Australians, the demand for tickets to far outstrips supply. The 17,000+ tickets sell out within hours, so we suggest getting the Australian friend you plan on visiting to buy them instead of purchasing internationally. If you don’t have any Australian friends, it’s time to find one (try a cricket club) because 2010 will be Splendour in the Grass’ 10 year anniversary and it’s going to be huuuuge: A new location and an additional day have already been planned. Last year saw MGMT, Bloc Party, Friendly Fires and Australian breakouts like Architecture in Helsinki and Midnight Juggernauts perform.
Check out MGMT performing “Kids” at Splendour in the Grass, Australia, 2009.
7. Summer Sonic
Chiba & Osaka, Japan (Early August)
Summer Sonic kicked off in 2000 and continues to dazzle with a lineup of excellent rock, punk, hip hop, and more. The bands are uniformly great — a year or two after they achieved mainstream awareness but a year or two before they hit mainstream saturation — with a few pop sensations, evergreens, and head-scratchers thrown in. This means Grizzly Bear, The Flaming Lips, School of Seven Bells, Gogol Bordello, The Temper Trap, The Ting Tings and The Big Pink…and also Beyonce, Elvis Costello, Lady Gaga, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park…and War. All at the same two day festival, together. Only in Japan, kids. And, look, Daft Punk!
Saalburg, Germany (Early August)
The name is from a German nursery rhyme (Sonne = Sun, Mond = Moon, Sterne = Stars) and the location in rural southeastern Germany is about as pastoral and childlike as well, a nursery book. But this annual electronica festival is where the most celebrated DJs and performers in the electronic music community meet to mingle, relax, make music, and throw a huge party.
The festival is held directly at Bleilochtalsperre — a huge artificial lake in the Saale Valley. The centerstage and several big tops lead directly to the beach so dancing and swimming can become one seamless activity. So can lying around listening to Ricardo Villalobos, Mr. Oizo, Fatboy Slim, Timo Maas, Prodigy, Magda, Moby and more, smiling beatifically as the narcotic beats of machine music changes your brainwaves. And if you’re lucky, the godfathers of the genre, the notoriously reclusive Kraftwerk might make an appearance like they did in 2006. It was amazing.
9. Independence Rock
Mumbai, India (mid-August)
Called I-Rock within India and held annually at the Chitrakoot Grounds in Mumbai, this is heaven for die-hard guitar freaks. You’re not likely to see major international acts, but you will see the kind of guitar-god technical proficiency that turns most rock and metal-head obsessives into wild-eyed lunatics. Most Indians love Bollywood music, but those who don’t hate it with a passion that’s channeled into rock/metal/indie/experimental music with wild abandon. With over a billion people, India’s a huge audience waiting to be tapped into by the international music festival circuit and the bands there are ready to break out. In the meantime, you can check out our primer, India Rocks Out, and plan a trip to this “Woodstock of India” to see what the fuss is about for yourself.
Watch Metalcore band Pin Drop Violence performing at I-Rock in 2007. Check out the audience!
10. Quilmes Rock/Pepsi Music Festival
Buenos Aires, Argentina (April/ October-November)
When it comes to international music festivals in South America, Argentina is the place to be. Brazil’s Rock in Rio festival, said to be the largest in the world, isn’t actually in Brazil, nor is it every year. Having said that, Argentina’s festival circuit can also be a bit confusing. Bue Festival (in Club Ciudad de Buenos Aires) would, frankly, be the best pick for this list as it featured acts like M.I.A., MC Kahuna, Rinôçérôse, Massive Attack, etc…but it was canceled in 2007 and doesn’t appear to be back on its feet. Cosquin Rock is definitely the largest, with over 100,000+ attendees but it’s lineup is the least interesting, given the other options: Quilmes Rock and Pepsi Music.
Quilmes Rock began in 2002 with a strong list of international acts, then Pepsi tried to take over sponsorship in 2005. We need an Argentinian to explain the ensuing drama to us, but it looks like 2009 saw both Quilmes Rock and Pepsi Music exist as two separate festivals, the former in April, and the latter in late October-early November. They are both held in the same venues however — Ferro Stadium and River Plate Stadium. Got all that? We can’t pick between the two — in 2009, Quilmes had Radiohead, Kraftwerk, and KISS, while Pepsi Music had The Prodigy, Living Color, Faith No More and Calle 13. Pepsi Music had a stronger lineup of South American bands, and more acts in general, but then again Quilmes had Radiohead. What. to. do.
Here’s Radiohead performing “2+2=5″ at Quilmes in 2009.
Windhoek Metal Fest
Windhoek, Namibia (Late June)
We have to say — this one might be a bit of a gamble. If you’re a huge metalhead, the Inferno Music Festival (Oslo, Norway) or the Wacken Open Air (Wacken, Germany) are already on your do-before-I-die list. Germany and Norway pretty much own the metal scene, though, so those are sort of predictable. For great metal in an unexpected location, India would be your best best. In fact, the Independence Rock Festival (Mumbai, India and already on this list) will definitely serve up more than a few technically jaw-dropping guitar solos with all the evil shredding your banging head desires.
So why Windhoek? Because there’s something insanely fascinating about sparsely populated Namibia (only Mongolia has fewer people per square meter!) being the gateway to metal in Africa. Since 2007, the organizers of the Windhoek Metal Fest (read an interview here with an organizer who’s also in the Namibian power metal band subMission) have invited an eclectic collection of African and international metal bands like Conquest for Death (US), Wrust (Botswana), Neblina (Angola) and Architecture of Aggresion, Mind Assault, Azrail, Lady Axe, Juggernaught and Tranquil (all from South Africa) to the perform every year. The scene is relatively small (and, frankly, quite white) but growing (and hopefully diversifying)…so pack your bags and go! What better way to prove that metal isn’t stale and stuck in rut?
Waga Hip Hop Festival
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso (Mid-October)
Once again a tiny African nation steps up, and this time it rules. There very few large international hip hop festivals — which is extremely weird since people are now rapping from Norway to Nigeria, in Norwegian and Yoruba. Non-English hip hop might not be anywhere near the global mainstream radar — hell, non-American rappers can’t even catch a break unless they speak fluent English and pretend to be convicts — but there’s a growing audience for it and we hope it’s just a matter of time.
The Waga Hip Hop Festival’s got a great website, so check it out if you speak French. Our friends over at Nomidic Wax are instrumental in raising awareness and making sure these artists catch a break, so check out their full review of the ninth annual Waga Hip Hop festival in 2009, complete with concerts, soundclashes, freestyle battles and more. Nomadic Wax is also the force behind the Trinity International Hip Hop Festival (Connecticut, US) now entering its fifth year.
Midi Modern Music Festival
Beijing(?), China (May or October)
Hosted by the Beijing Midi School of Music, the cradle of the Chinese underground rock scene, this rock festival has been growing since 1999 despite a lack of governmental support and occasional interference. In 2009 the festival location arbitrarily shifted from Beijing to Zhenjiang so the 2010 location and date are undetermined at this time. The festival was intended as a showcase for the school’s students, but as crowds swelled to 80,000 people (according to some accounts) international acts have begun to appear. As they should: Chinese rock as a sharp punk flavor to it. A look, a style, a sound that’s quite riveting. The scene is quite extraordinary and is only now becoming know internationally as Chinese bands like Carsick Cars hit the festival circuit abroad.
MTV Soundtrip created list of international festivals, most of which look pretty amazing too:
Bangkok 100 Rock Festival
MTV Australia Awards 2008
My Coke Fest 2008: Cape Town, South Africa
Cosquin Rock: Argentina
Lake of Stars: Malawi
Beijing Pop Festival: Beijing, China
Radar Live: Istanbul, Turkey
Splendour in the Grass: Byron Bay, Australia
Click the links or go here to check ‘em all out.