6 bands poised to become festival headliners

Bored of Arctic Monkeys, Kasabian and The Killers every year? It definitely seems like it’s time for a change at the top. Now that we’re in the thick of festival season, Dan Jenko picks out six bands who deserve to graduate to headline stardom.

[Haim know how to work a festival crowd – picture: David P Scott]


Having propelled themselves into the public consciousness with ‘My Number’, and triumphantly topped the bill at Latitude, Foals seem like dead-certs to headline a major festival in the coming years. Learning their craft by rocking Oxford house parties with bouncy, dance-able math-pop tracks like ‘Cassius’ and ‘Olympic Airways’, Foals’ second record Total Life Forever proved vital in setting them on the path to becoming a bona fide headlining act.

The spacious, slow-building epic ‘Spanish Sahara’ provided the band with one of the most memorable singles in recent years, marking a stylistic change that has given their music a real sense of spectacle, comparable with the likes of Arcade Fire and Muse. It’s that sense of spectacle that so often transforms groups with strong pop sensibilities into acts capable of closing main stages.


For almost a decade France’s Phoenix were the play-thing of trendy music blogs, who frequently referred to them as one of the world’s most underrated bands. They were right too, but 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix changed the band’s career for the better. Propelled by US alternative-radio hit ‘1901’, the record out-performed anything the band had produced before and transformed Phoenix into a bona-fide big deal across the Atlantic.

Solid follow-up Bankrupt!, which arrived four years after Thomas Mars and co’s big breakthrough, capitalised on the band’s momentum – so much so in fact that they were rewarded with a headlining slot at Coachella. While us Brits have never matched the same level of adoration for Phoenix they enjoy on the other side of the pond, their experience in big slots – and their commitment to putting on a show with impressive lighting techniques – means they could just be one album away from a major British festival taking a chance on them.

• Phoenix interview: ‘If we know where we’re going, it’s already boring’

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Despite the commercial popularity of the genre, rap headliners at mainstream UK festivals are surprisingly hard to come by. Remember the backlash Glastonbury dealt with after booking Jay-Z in 2008? This is a dying tradition, though, and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ hugely successful collaboration – which spawned the massive hits ‘Can’t Hold Us’ and ‘Thrift Shop’ – hints at festival headlining potential.

There are question marks about the pair’s competency as live performers, but further collaboration should solidify their reputation as a live act. Another album as hit-packed as The Heist, and they’ll be well on their way.

Vampire Weekend

The chirpy, high-tempo indie-pop that Vampire Weekend are associated with is usually a good fit for sunny afternoon slots, when crowds are just starting to feel the effects of their cheap cider. But 2013’s Modern Vampires Of The City proved the New Yorkers are destined for greater things. Not only do the band have some nuggets of pop-rock gold among their discography (see ‘A-Punk’, ‘Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa’, ‘Oxford Comma’, ‘Cousins’ etc), but through the likes of ‘Unbelievers’, ‘Obvious Bicycle’ and ‘Diane Young’ they’ve also shown a real sense of artistic progression.

With the band taking on some huge American slots in the summer, such as a headline set at the Governor’s Ball, it shouldn’t be too long until British festival bookers catch on.


Days Are Gone, Haim’s sublime debut, proved to be one of the best pop albums of 2013. What’s fascinating about Haim as a live act, however, is the way they transform these songs. Combining the catchy and impactful beats of hip-hop with the fret-fiddling guitar solos of classic rock, the American trio place themselves in a league well above most.

Combine this with the vocal talents of Este, Alana and Danielle Haim (not to mention Este’s famous bass face) and you have one of the most compelling live acts to emerge in recent years. Having already delivered on the hype of early singles ‘Falling’, ‘Forever’ and ‘The Wire’, Haim have shown they can deliver on record as well. The combined evidence suggests that, even so early in their career, it’s pretty easy to justify suggesting that Haim are poised to top festival bills over the coming years.


Metronomy are perhaps the most deserving success story over the last few years in indie. While arty concept record Nights Out raised a few eyebrows in the music press, 2011’s sleeper hit The English Riviera ushered Joe Mount and co firmly into the mainstream. Inspired by Mount’s seaside hometown of Totnes, the record was ranked as one of the best of 2011 – earning a Mercury nomination and sales the likes of which the band surely never dreamt of experiencing. While this year’s follow-up Love Letters didn’t feel like a commercial move, it cemented them as a band who dare to take risks, and who could easily stumble upon another major hit in the near future.

Metronomy still have some way to go in terms of their mainstream popularity if they have ambitions to top festival bills, but Mount’s songwriting chops may just lead to them to really big things.

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