Primary Talent's Matt Bates on guitar music's resilience and nurturing future festival headliners

Primary Talent's Matt Bates on guitar music's resilience and nurturing future festival headliners

Primary Talent International managing partner and CEO Matt Bates has told Music Week that guitar music is in a healthy state – but that the industry needs more potential festival headliners to come through.

Amid a busy festival and summer touring season, rock acts are making their mark in the UK, including the likes of Sam Fender, Arctic Monkeys and Royal Blood, as well as Primary Talent clients such as Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Two Door Cinema Club, Alt-J, Lovejoy and The 1975, who headline Reading & Leeds Festival this month. 

With 7.5 million monthly Spotify listeners, Two Door Cinema Club are one of the contemporary guitar-based acts to crack streaming and live. Bates described the support for Two Door Cinema Club at a run of recent shows in Belfast, ahead of the festival season for the trio.

“The fanbase there at the front was still 16-year-old and 17-year-old boys and girls,” said Bates. “People still get into these bands 10 years or so after their debut albums, and it's still such an important genre. It's still growing.

“For years and years, I heard people saying ‘guitar music’s dead’ or ‘guitar music’s coming back’. I don't really listen to any of that because I don't think it ever went away. Yes, it may not be the flavour of the month, it may not be at Britpop levels, but you only have to go to a place like Reading and see the demand for it.”

The line-up for Reading & Leeds this month includes headliners The 1975, The Killers, Foals, Sam Fender and Imagine Dragons, with Billie Eilish as the only non-rock act topping the bill. Other guitar-based and indie acts playing the festival include Declan McKenna, Don Broco, Easy Life, Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls, Hot Milk, Inhaler, Jamie Webster, Muna, Nothing But Thieves, Sea Girls, The Murder Capital, The Snuts, Wet Leg and Yard Act.

Rising stars Lovejoy (pictured) can expect a huge crowd when they play Reading & Leeds. The band, who partner with AWAL on releases, have already amassed 2.4 million monthly Spotify listeners, as well as scoring six Top 75 singles, and two charting EPs – 2021’s Pebble Brain (No.12, 53,345 sales – Official Charts Company) and Wake Up & It’s Over, which peaked at No.5 (13,711 sales) earlier this year.

“I've probably never had a band that has started quite so fast in terms of ticket sales,” Matt Bates told Music Week. “Everything is sold out in seconds. For every show, we could probably do a venue that is 10 times bigger, every bit of merch sells out in seconds. So that just proves that there's an appetite for people going out and seeing guitar music again [following the pandemic shutdown], especially good quality guitar bands.”

Who are the next guitar bands coming through who can truly step up and be the next headliner at Reading or Glastonbury?

Matt Bates

However, Bates did sound a note of alarm about the need for the industry to support more developing acts within the genre who can go on to top the bill at festivals further down the line.

“I think having a band like Lovejoy come through now, it's also exciting because there maybe hasn't been too many to replace the old guard,” he said. “So we do need a few more of them to come through, a few more future headliners, because you do sometimes look at guitar bands especially and ask, ‘Who can headline festivals moving forward?’

“I’ve had The 1975 breaking and becoming global festival headliners, Wolf Alice will be a global festival headliner. But who are the next guitar bands coming through who can truly step up and be the next headliner at Reading or Glastonbury, or whatever it may be? So, yeah, we really need to cherish and nurture and support them to make sure that that continues.”

Bates noted the enduring appeal of acts on his roster, including Two Door Cinema Club, Circa Waves and chart-toppers The Wombats, who are able to replenish their followers.

“With The Wombats, they seem to get bigger with every album,” he said. “Again, they reinvent the fanbase and there seems to be a new bunch of teenage kids into them.”

Primary Talent, which went independent again earlier this year following a management buyout, has built up a long association with legendary acts in its 33 years in business. The roster includes The Cure, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and Patti Smith, as well as recent additions Kings Of Leon.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds have played multiple outdoor UK dates this summer, including Splendour Festival and Bingley Weekender.

“Noel’s ticket sales never diminish, he’s so strong and such an important British icon,” said Bates.

“Patti Smith is still one of the busiest artists we have, she’s still out there every year.”

Click here to read Primary Talent CEO Matt Bates on the agency’s return to independence following the buyout.

Subscribers can read our interview with Reading & Leeds boss Melvin Benn ahead of this month’s festival.

PHOTO: Alice Backham 

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