In-depth: The emergence of new superstars at 2016’s festivals

This year’s festival circuit saw a flurry of established bands take it up a level, powered by their newly invigorated vocalists.

Where are all the future headliners? It’s the consistent cry coming from festival bookers and music fans alike, non-stop for the last five years or so.

When we spoke to the bookers of Latitude, Bestival and more earlier this year, there was a consideration on the bookers’ behalf that fans like seeing bands return to the same festivals, higher up the bill each time, until they finally crack the headline slot. Summer 2016 saw two of these feats achieved, with The Maccabees topping Latitude, and Foals playing the show the whole world knew was coming since about 2010, on the Friday night of Reading 2016.

Despite this insistence on festivals helping out bands, bringing them up through the ranks, the biggest factor that’s driven bands to a fantastic, revolutionary summer is the bands themselves. In particular, a series of individuals have shone the brightest, stepping up their game immeasurably over twelve weekends of festival after festival, pushing their bands closer and closer to that final headline status.

Out Of The Shadows: the emergence of new superstars at 2016’s festivals

Since 2010’s ‘Total Life Forever’, Yannis Philippakis has been a first-rate frontman. With last year’s ‘What Went Down’ though, he became a complete hellraiser. The album’s title track in particular - sandwiched in the middle of the band’s encore - saw the vocalist launch himself into crowds all around the world, garnering a reputation as leader of one of the world’s fieriest live bands as he went.

Foals topping Reading’s bill was always on the cards, but it felt all the more special coming at the end of a summer that saw Yannis take his band up to a whole different league. Formalities are out of the way now; if Foals return and take Glastonbury, they have their blistering vocalist to thank.

When Savages took to the stage at last month’s Reading Festival, there can’t have been more than 200 faces in front of Jehnny Beth and co. From a band who released a stunning second album earlier in the year - ‘Adore Life’ - and still gathering pace and momentum, it would’ve been a deflating moment for most bands. But Jehn saw a challenge, and spent almost half the set inches away from the eyeballs of the front row, ignoring vast swathes of empty, muddy space that filled the tent. Instead, she honed in on the Barfly-sized throng facing her, and how to best enthrall them.

On the day, we said: “It takes Jehnny Beth approximately 5 seconds to eyeball the tent, before she sizes up her strategy, trading in her usual strides into the centre of rammed venues to something far more intense still,” and the vocalist’s ability to turn a potential disastrous performance into a completely memorable one is what made Savages one of the bands of the summer. It’s also what will take them further and further.

Similarly, Warpaint’s penultimate set in the soggy Brecon Beacons for Green Man 2016 was made, and taken to another level, by the emergence of Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman as performers than can conjure up a whole lot more than first thought. “The last year has seen Emily Kokal transform into a beast of a band leader, scaling the edge of the stage, scanning her prey,” we said, at the time. It’s an especially vital step-up considering the band were notoriously on-and-off during on past festival appearances in the UK.

Out Of The Shadows: the emergence of new superstars at 2016’s festivals

“The last year has seen Emily Kokal transform into a beast of a band leader, scaling the edge of the stage, scanning her prey.”

Despite later revealing that he’d been on a bloody mad one all weekend at this year’s Glastonbury, Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker seemed to find his (bare) feet as a frontman that evening on the Pyramid Stage, more than ever before. “Boogieing away barefoot, while standing on a really rather tasteful rug, Kevin Parker’s come out of his shell as a frontman and then some,” we said, and it truly is a revelation to see how far he’s come in even three years. On the ‘Lonerism’ tour, the band still remained inward-looking psych dwellers. ’Currents,’ meanwhile, saw Parker parading around festival main stages after dark, feeling completely at home, egging the crowd on to sing and clap along to the band’s increasingly universal output.

When the band took to Open’er Festival in Poland’s main stage, around midnight - and after a headline set from Florence + The Machine - the night felt like it belonged to the Aussies, even if our Kev’s hangover from Glastonbury was still in full swing (with the frontman being given oxygen only hours before their set). That night, we said: “The set is peppered with “how are you doing? how are you DOING?”, requests to sing along - stage banter 101 basically - but one of the reasons Tame Impala look terrifyingly close to reaching the very top.” Alongside Lady Gaga production credits, Kevin Parker’s emergence as a real, electrifying frontman is a big reason for the band’s ‘Current’ (ahem) peak.

Out Of The Shadows: the emergence of new superstars at 2016’s festivals

“Boogieing away barefoot, while standing on a really rather tasteful rug, Kevin Parker’s come out of his shell as a frontman and then some.”

Out Of The Shadows: the emergence of new superstars at 2016’s festivals

“Lauren Mayberry’s transition to an all-out pop star seems complete - she relentlessly thrashes around the stage for the whole hour, and commands the crowd impeccably.”

Maybe the revelation of the summer, though, is the exhilarating performances of Lauren Mayberry. Chvrches played everywhere - really, everywhere - this summer, and not a single one of the shows was anything less than blistering. On tours surrounding the trio’s debut album ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’, the promise was definitely there, but since ‘Every Open Eye’ was released, her live performances have carried the band into a completely different league.

In our review of the band’s Glastonbury set, we said: “Lauren Mayberry’s transition to an all-out pop star seems complete - she relentlessly thrashes around the stage for the whole hour, and commands the crowd impeccably,” and alongside her contemporaries, Mayberry ruled this summer. Her continued progression and vital energy is one of the main reasons why when Chvrches return with album three, it’ll be headline slots all around.

Revisit all of the action from this year’s festivals at DIY’s festival hub.

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