From reading various discussions online, I’m getting the impression I’m far from the being the only one who is more than a little underwhelmed by this year’s Cambridge Rock Festival lineup as announced so far. A good acid test of a festival bill for me is “How many bands would I travel 40 miles into London to see?”. While I know there are still bands to be announced, currently the answer this year is “one”. Last year there were no fewer than five bands I travelled 200 miles to see in York.
Worse, I’m seeing people’s suggestions for the return of the likes of Stolen Earth, Panic Room, Chantel McGregor and Winter in Eden being shot down with patronising dismissals such as “You can’t have your own personal wishlists”, which makes it look increasingly clear that none of those bands are going to be on the bill. Maybe those of us who are big fans of those acts need to recognise we’ve been spoiled over the last couple of years, and this year it’s someone else’s turn. But I still think those of us who have expressed disappointment with the bill have some valid points, and the aggressive way the festival’s defenders try to shout down dissent feels like a subconscuous recognition of this.
For me, bands such as Panic Room, Winter in Eden and Kyrbgrinder were amongst the highlights of last year’s festival. What I love about them is that while they have nothing in common with mainstream indie-rock they all sound like something out of the 21st century rather than something from the 1970s, and having them play emphasised that the festival was about music with a future as well as celebrating music from the past. This was something I emphasised when I reviewed the festival for Trebuchet Magazine.
From what’s been announced so far the bill this year appears to have cut back significantly on both progressive rock and bands with female vocalists, leaving a festival with a far stronger emphasis on old-school four-chord 70s-style hard rock. It’s a lot more of a boy’s club, and it’s also far more backward-looking in musical style. It risks giving the impression the target audience is middle-aged rock fans who stopped listening to anything new somewhere around 1973, trying to re-live their youth.
I’ve attended the full weekend for four years now. It’s always been a great weekend with a fantastic atmosphere, great people and great beer. But a strong lineup has always been part of the deal as well. So for now I’m waiting until they announce the full bill before I’m willing to part with any of my money. It might be that the CRS stage on Friday comes up with a killer bill that transforms the festival.