If you hadn’t noticed from our constant excited batshittery, we are SO PSYCHED for Download Festival this weekend. We caught up with booker and holder of the best job in the world Andy Copping to talk about what it’s like running UK’s biggest rock festival.
How do you choose which bands to book for Download?
“A lot of it is based upon who’s available, who’s big at the time, was their last tour really strong. You’ve just got to see who’s touring, have they had a successful album, and do they fit with the festival?”
What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken on a band?
“Every band you book is a risk, you just don’t know whether they’re going to resonate with the ticket buyer. You hope that all the research you’ve done on the market place is correct, but you just don’t know. There have been acts I booked that I knew were going to polarize people’s views – the first one was The Prodigy, the second was Pendulum and the third was Chase & Status. Musically they fit more with dance than rock, but I took a chance and thankfully all three came through with flying colours.”
Do you think there’s been a shift in rock fans being more accepting of dance acts?
“Certain dance acts, definitely. You have to be careful with who you’re booking, there are certain dance acts I wouldn’t want to take a risk on at Download, but there’s others I’m happy to.”
What’s the hardest part of your job?
“Just piecing the whole bill together. With 130-140 bands every year, it’s a massive jigsaw that you’ve got to put together and make sure the right bands fit in the right places. You get the 140 bands as you go along, I don’t have 140 bands and then put them in place, you build up to it and find your headliners and work out who’s going to work well where. That’s the hardest part.”
Who has been your best booking?
“It has to be AC/DC in 2010. No other festival in the world had managed to book them, I’d been chasing them for years, as had loads of other festivals, and finally we’d convinced them to play Download. It was fantastic, it was great for the festival, it was great for them, and really paid off.”
How much of a pain in the arse was it having two stages?
“It was really hard work. I wasn’t going to not do it, it was what they wanted, so I had to deliver, but it was really hard. There was a lot of demands and requests but it’s AC/DC so what they want they get, and I was happy to do so.”
Who do you want to book that hasn’t played so far?
“I’d happily have Muse, Green Day, Blink 182, Foo Fighters and Van Halen. I’d love to book Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, an original line-up Guns N’ Roses, they’re all bands that are more than worthy being headliners at Donington that haven’t been headliners yet.”
Some headliners you’ve booked in the past have received a backlash from not being ‘metal’ enough…
“I find it really bizarre and I correct them straight away, it’s a rock festival and it’s always been a rock festival. It’s a rock festival that puts metal bands on, puts glam-rock bands on, puts emo bands on… it’s a pretty broad church. The brand of rock music puts its foot in many different sub-genres. If we were a metal festival we wouldn’t do 100,000 people, that’s Bloodstock. Bloodstock do really well as a metal festival and does 15,000 people, Download isn’t that and never wanted to be that. You could never call us a metal festival when you’ve got bands like Slash, The Prodigy, Pendulum, The Gaslight Anthem, 30 Seconds To Mars, My Chemical Romance – these aren’t metal bands.”
Who do you see stepping up as the next headliner?
“Biffy Clyro have now shown their grit, we had them as special guests last year and they’re headlining Reading/Leeds this year. Avenged Sevenfold are a band that could come through. Of the new bands there’s two that you could take – 30 Seconds To Mars and Paramore are bands that have a real opportunity of being a headline act in future years.”
Have you ever booked a band just for you?
“I guess I have to say yes because I believe that my taste is reflected in what the ticket buyer wants. I’ve got to sell a festival out, it’s not the Andy Copping festival it’s Download festival, and I’m in the privileged position of booking bands on to it so there’s going to be a certain bias. But I’ve also booked a lot of bands on Download that I don’t like, but I know it’s good for the festival. The festival comes first, it’s bigger than me, it’s bigger than everybody, so I have to behave myself.”
Has there been a band that hasn’t drawn as well as you thought?
“There have been bands that could have done better when I booked them. I thought Biffy could have done better when they played last year, Marilyn Manson has been well-documented the past two appearances, The Offspring in 2008 was a lackluster performance. I’m not pointing fingers at these bands, it could be for any number of reasons – illness, tiredness – it just happens. We’ve all gone into a day at work and haven’t performed as well as the week before because we feel shit, got pissed last night, the girlfriend’s dumped you… and that happens to bands too. The bands I’ve named, and there’s a few others, I’ve seen perform better elsewhere but everybody’s entitled to an off-day – let’s just hope there’s not too many of them.”
Who was the most surprising booking in terms of performance?
“It has to be Limp Bizkit in 2009. I didn’t want to book that band, I thought they’d had their time, they’d been very vocal about not wanting to tour Europe, they’d cancelled a load of shows, I didn’t think anyone would be interested in them. I reluctantly booked them, almost immediately the messageboard and websites went crazy, everyone had forgotten everything negative to do with the band and totally bought into the fact they have some great songs and are a great band. And when they performed it blew me away.”
There’s a lot of nu-metal acts at Download this year, was that a conscious decision?
“No, not at all. Yes I’d booked Limp Bizkit again, Korn are in there, Papa Roach are in there, but these bands are out there doing their stuff. I think it’s worth mentioning Slash back in 2010 when he played half-way up on the main stage he was unbelievable, Myles Kennedy totally came of age and showed everyone he was a worthy frontman. I was at the side of the stage looking out and you couldn’t see a blade of grass, and to finish the set with Paradise City, what more can you say? Every band should close their set with that song.”
What is your advice to people looking to start their own festival?
“It’s a very tough market, the UK in particular is awash with festivals, I think anyone starting a festival in the current economic climate is very brave. I’d hold my ground and wait until the market became buoyant again. That’s not to say the live scene isn’t buoyant, but the more established festivals have managed to stand the test of time whereas new festivals disappeared when the recession hit.”
There’s a lot of one-dayers happening nowadays, is that the future of festivals?
“I think that appeals to some people, the UK seems to like camping festivals and make it a whole weekend. If someone were to start now because they’re bullish enough I would say start small and build it.”