Headline-less Reading & Leeds: A Stark Reminder of Grassroots Importance

Imagine a Reading & Leeds festival devoid of its usual star power. No Liam Gallagher anthems, no Lana Del Rey melancholia, not even the raucous energy of Catfish and the Bottlemen. This isn’t some dystopian future; it’s the harsh reality the Music Venue Trust (MVT) lays bare with a powerful concept poster.

The poster reimagines the 2024 Reading & Leeds lineup, stripping away the headliners and established artists who honed their craft in the very grassroots venues facing an uncertain future due to lack of government support. The message is clear: today’s festival giants wouldn’t exist without the nurturing grounds of smaller music scenes.

“Today’s festival headliners can only sell thousands of tickets because of the essential role played by these venues in their development,” the MVT emphasized on social media. From building a loyal fanbase to developing their sound, these early gigs are the foundation for future festival dominance.

The poster speaks volumes. Gone are the familiar names, replaced by a handful of artists like Renee Rapp (whose career began in theatre) and Digga D (who rose to prominence through freestyles). These exceptions only highlight the rule: grassroots venues are the lifeblood of the music industry.

This isn’t just a Reading & Leeds issue. The MVT previously exposed a similar scenario for Glastonbury, demonstrating the widespread dependence on these smaller stages. A report earlier this year painted a grim picture, calling the situation a “disaster” and warning of a lost generation of talent due to neglect.

The UK faces the potential loss of 10% of its grassroots venues in 2023, highlighting the urgent need for support. Meanwhile, another report underscores the fragility of these spaces. Only six of the venues that hosted Oasis’ debut UK tour three decades ago remain open today.

However, there’s a glimmer of hope. Festival Republic’s Melvin Benn recently spoke to NME about their “ReBalance” initiative, showcasing a commitment to uplifting emerging female and non-binary artists. “It has been a man’s world,” Benn acknowledged, “but change takes time.” His actions demonstrate a much-needed shift towards a more inclusive future.pen_spark

The Reading & Leeds poster serves as a stark reminder. Without the fertile ground of grassroots venues, the festival landscape would be barren. It’s a call to action for the industry and government to prioritize these vital platforms before the music scene loses its melodic heartbeat.