After months of speculation and doubt, tonight the organisers of RockNess finally announced that there would be no event held in 2014. Although the response to the news has been mixed, it surely comes as a major blow to music in the Highlands and in the North of Scotland in general.
Although the official reasons for the sabbatical year is “due to events alongside the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games” it would be naïve to assume this is the sole factor at play. RockNess’ usual slot of the first weekend in June is more than six weeks before the start of the Commonwealth Games and a week before the start of the World Cup, where Scotland has no direct involvement. RockNess was held in 2010 and 2006 whilst the World Cup was actually being played, with big screens available for revellers to catch the action. This year’s RockNess cancellation is a business decision – pure and simple.
RockNess is/was the biggest festival in the North of Scotland and was only really beaten by T in the Park as a place to see electronic music north of Creamfields. Its capacity of 35,000 was sold out for many years since it increased to that size following its’ first successful trial year. It was the festival where Daft Punk, perhaps the most successful electronic act of a generation, were confined to the tent rather than the main stage. RockNess was a jewel in the crown of Scottish music and worth even more to the Highlands.
Last year saw the wheels begin to fall off. Things didn’t start well when they launched an overly complex pricing structure for the festival. Multiple ‘bands’ of tickets were made available at different prices on the same day; which meant that people who bought their tickets earlier received them for a cheaper price than those that came just a few hours later. This ludicrous idea seemed to backfire, as one of these bands did not sell out as expected. The more expensive ticket prices seemed to draw criticism as well and for the first time since 2008 the festival did not sell out – something that is seen as a given for festivals of this magnitude and in this part of the world.
The 2013 event saw perhaps the poorest line-up in mine and many others’ opinion for several years – with rapper Plan B headlining the final day, a strange and bewildering choice for an electronic festival. There were only three acts billed for the main stage on the Friday and second-fiddle on the Sunday were 80s ska band Madness. This wasn’t the line-up that fans had come to expect, and they voted with their wallets in advance of last year’s festival and this year too. RockNess couldn’t be held if there wasn’t enough people to go – so the organisers have shelved it for 2014.
Although I hadn’t planned on going this year, it is a shame that there is no RockNess this summer. I went in 2012 and had an amazing time. RockNess was almost the perfect sized festival, with a campsite that sprawled over the hills but where nothing ever felt too far away. The arena itself was jam-packed with stages, but getting to the main stage and the tent at the other end never felt like too much of a trek. The acts when I went were absolutely fantastic – with Deadmau5, Justice and Knife Party giving three exceptionally good performances that will live long in my memory. All of this takes place right on the doorstep of Loch Ness, a beautiful and dramatic location, and within easy reach of the city of Inverness (and my hometown Dingwall). All together RockNess is a brilliant festival from my experience.
There are many other reasons why losing out on a year of RockNess is not a good thing. The festival provides a big boost to the local economy, with many of the revellers making the journey up the A9 or A96 to the Highlands. It will also hurt the image of the festival in the long run, meaning that bargaining with acts to make the fairly long trip up in future might be that bit tougher – which would see the Highlands yet again lose out because of its’ isolation. RockNess has paved the way for many illustrious acts to visit the Highlands and play to crowds used to travelling hundreds of miles to see the bands they love. Losing RockNess would be a disaster for the thousands of people who live in the Highlands and have enjoyed their fix of live music on their own turf.
RockNess had become an institution of the Highland summer before tonight’s announcement. Although the circumstances around this year’s cancellation were not a shock and might not seem altogether promising for the future – I do believe the organisers when they say 2015’s festival will be “bigger and better”. I truly hope it is for them, for the fans and for the Highlands.