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Futurama Festivals

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The Futurama Festivals were a series of post punk and electronic music festivals that initially ran between 1979 and 1983 and were probably the first indoor alternative music festivals in the world. The Festivals were the idea of independent Leeds based promoter John Keenan and caught the explosion in youth subcultures, style, tribalism and outlandish clothes and haircuts that formed the cultural landscape in the wake of punk.

In 2020, John F Keenan and Liverpool based promoter Marc Jones announced that they would be restarting the Futurama Festivals, with the next being scheduled for Easter 2021 at Liverpool’s Invisible Wind Factory.


The first Futurama festival was held at Leeds Queens Hall in 1979, described as ‘The world’s first science fiction music festival’. Public Image Ltd were announced as headliners for the Saturday, with Hawkwind taking the honours on the Sunday, starting a habit of unusual or anachronistic headliners that would also include the Bay City Rollers and Gary Glitter.

The name Futurama came from the NYC World Fair of 1939 which had a Futurama Exhibition, complete with a smoking robot, One of John Keenan's favourite artists was Bill Nelson, who had a 1975 album called Futurama, but the festival was almost named after another of Bill Nelson's other albums a 'Northern Dream.

Adverts for the event promised that science fiction films would show all night, although this failed to happen due to broadcasting copyright laws.

Reviews for the festival focused as much on the venue as they did the bands, taking in the cavernous hall, overflowing toilets and the grey concrete floor, where the assembled audience were to sleep for the weekend. Somehow all of this seemed to chime with the then dour image of post punk.

Futurama became an annual event for the next few years. Futurama 2 again took place in Leeds Queens Hall, before going on the move to Stafford Bingley Hall for Futurama 3 and Deeside Leisure Center for Futurama 4 before heading back to the Queens hall for Futurama 5.

The line ups for the Futurama Festivals provide a comprehensive list of post punk bands, taking in performances from the likes of Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Public Image Ltd, Killing Joke, The FallSoft Cell, New Order, Psychedelic Furs, Bauhaus, Teardrop Explodes and U2.

Futurama 5 was the last festival for 6 years, until Futurama 6 was unexpectedly announced in 1989. The location was shifted to Bradford at the last minute and was the first not to allow punters to sleep overnight in the relative safety and warmth of the venue. It was also the first Futurama to run for three days, although it seemed to be a Futurama in name only, with the lineup looking considerably less impressive than previous festivals.

The festivals gave a lot of bands an opportunity to play to a huge audience, giving them much needed exposure at an early stage in their career. The venues used to host the festival were also used for the world’s biggest bands, such as Rush and AC/DC and, as such, were far bigger than any of the bands on the bill could hope to fill on their own.

Futurama saw early appearances from Soft Cell, who were third from the bottom of the bill in 1980, and Echo and the Bunnymen, who were still using a drum machine at the time.

The sides of the venues had a variety of stalls selling badges, t-shirts and the essential paraphernalia of the times.

The Futurama name was used for a number of gigs in Europe, although these bore no connection to the UK festivals. Also, this was obviously well before the futuristic cartoon series was made.

Futurama Festival, 1979[edit]

A festival for punk and post punk music was seen as anachronistic at the time. Punk had made the trappings of rock music deeply unfashionable and festivals were widely held to be part of this rejection of the past. By moving the festival indoors, promoter John F Keenan avoided a lot of the image of the 'hippy' festival.

Tickets for the weekend had a space on the back, for punters to put their photo so they could leave the venue and re-enter as they wished. This meant that people could go to eat and to visit the nearby pubs. This also meant that members of the post punk tribes headed into Leeds city centre on Saturday evening. In the conservative late 70s, this was something that was perhaps bound to cause tensions and there were many reports of locals reacting to this friendly invasion violently.

The Queens Hall in Leeds was an old taxi and bus shed that was cold, unforgiving concrete floors that smelt of oil and diesel. John Keenan had spent months planning the event, but Queens Hall let him down and no staging had been set up. Keenan, together with friends and members of Leeds' F Club had to build the stages the day before to get them ready for 10am Saturday morning

The stage was spilt into two halves, with a band performing on one side while the next set up on the other side. This was to be used throughout the first 5 Futuramas.

The Saturday has become famous for Joy Division's appearance, giving a much bootlegged performance[1]. Guardian journalist Dave Simpson reported that this gig changed his life; 'I went a sham 69 fan and came out inspired by power and genius that was Joy Division'. [2]The first day also saw a rare live appearance from Public Image Ltd. John Lydon spent much of the gig with his back to the audience after someone threw a can at him and witnessed the first appearance of Jah Wobble’s dentist chair.

Saturday 08/09/1979: Headliner Public Image Ltd / Joy Division and the following acts A Certain Ratio / Cabaret Voltaire / OMD / Spizz Energi / Punishment of Luxury /Fischer Z /Stranger Than Fiction / The Chapter / Expelaires / The Edge ( not the guitarist out of U2)  / Tymon Dog Invaders / Pragvec  / The Tunes / The Void / Vincent Units and Tony Wilson compered the show.

Sunday 09/09/1979: Headliner Hawkwind with Robert Calvert / The Only Ones / The Fall / Scritti Politti  / Echo and the Bunnymen / Teardrop Explodes / Nightmares in Wax / Nik Turner's Inner City / Monochrome Set / Roger Ruskin Spear/ Manicured Noise / Agony Column / Screens / E2R / Teenage Werewolves / Revelations / Twist

Futurama 2, 1980[edit]

Futurama returned to Leeds Queens hall the following year[3]. This time a TV production company was booked to film the event. Some of the footage was subsequently broadcast on BBC 2, capturing performance by the likes of Siouxsie, Athletico Spizz Energi, Altered Images, Young Marble Giants and the Bunnymen. Most of this Futurama footage can still be found on YouTube.

The second festival was again at Leeds Queens Hall and featured the return of Echo and the Bunnymen (this time with a real drummer), The Psychedelic Furs and a Saturday headline slot from Siouxsie and the Banshees, who could be heard soundchecking Happy House as punters queued up outside the venue.

A young Leeds synth duo called Soft Cell played early in the day. 6 months later they would have a number 1 hit 'Tainted Love', which would go on to become the best-selling single of 1981.

The Sunday night headliner was Gary Glitter, who was enjoying something of a revival in his fortunes as he was adopted by the punk crowd, before his fall from grace when found guilty of under age sex offences as part of Operation Yewtree[4].

Saturday 13/09/1980: Headliner Siouxsie and the Banshees / Echo and the Bunnymen / U2 / Altered Images /Soft Cell / Modern English / Clock DVA / Mirror Boys / Blah Blah Blah / Robert Fripp's League of Gentlemen / Wasted Youth / Guy Jackson / I’m So Hollow / Music For Pleasure / Distributors

Sunday 14/09/1980 : Headliner Gary Glitter /Athletico Spizz 80 / Psychedelic Furs / Classix Nouveau / Artery Vice Versa / Young Marble Giants / Not Sensibles  / Durutti Column / Hazel O’Connor / The Soft Boys / The Flowers / Boots For Dancing / The Frantic Elevators / Brian Brain / Desperate Bicycles / Tribesman / Naked Lunch

Futurama 3, 1981[edit]

The third Futurama Festival located to Stafford’s enormous New Bingley Hall. The reason behind this was that a London promoter called Straight Music booked their own show at Leeds Queens Hall called 'Daze of Future Past' on 26th and 27th of September. In response, Keenan moved the Futurama to Bingley Hall earlier in the month.

For the first time, punters were not allowed to being their own drinks in, so for many the festival started by sitting on the grass outside the venue, enjoying some rare September sunshine and working through all the alcohol they had brought with them.

The emerging Goth scene was starting to show, with Futurama 3 featuring performances from UK Decay, Theatre of Hate, Bauhaus, Virgin Prunes, Crown of Thorns and a new Leeds band called the Sisters of Mercy.

Many leather jackets were painted with the Bauhaus face logo, showing the popularity they had at an early stage and again bringing them to a wider audience. Their show featured a spoken word section between singer Peter Murphy and guitarist Daniel Ash and Murphy wrapping his arms around his legs and scurrying around the stage like a spider, wearing nothing but grey briefs.

Saturday 05/09/ 1981: headliner:  Gang of Four with Bauhaus / Theatre of Hate / Simple Minds / Sisters of Mercy / 23 Skidoo / The Passions / The Human Condition (Jah Wobble/Jim Walker)  / A Flock of Seagulls / Crown of Thorns / OK Jive / Felt / Ponderosa Glee Boys / My Silent War

Sunday 06/09/1981: Headliner Simple Minds with Bow Wow Wow / B-Movie / Modern Eon / Blue Orchids / Virgin Prunes / UK Decay / Eyeless In Gaza / The Higsons / Section 25 / The Tea Set / Diagram Brothers / Ice House / Vena Vena  / Ludus / Doll by Doll / Richard Strange

Futurama 4, 1982[edit]

The next stop for Futurama was Deeside Leisure Centre, another huge venue, this time in North Wales. Deeside’s proximity to Liverpool meant that the city provided a good many of the bands on the bill, including China Crisis, Dead or Alive, Black and Dalek I Love You, who turned down the chance to play before a huge audience on the main stage and instead opted to play behind a net camouflage curtain in the venues foyer.

The Goth scene was again well represented at Futurama, with Southern Death Cult, Sex Gang Children, Danse Society, Gene Loves Jezebel and March Violets all appearing on the Sunday.

The headliners for the two days were as far apart from each other as they could be, with New Order playing on Saturday and The Damned taking the Sunday night headline slot.

Saturday 11/09/1982: Headliner New Order with Blancmange / China Crisis / Dalek I Love You / Dislocation Dance / The Alarm / Durutti Column / The Icicle Works / Brilliant / Naafi Sandwich / Three Courgettes / Blue Poland / Cook Da Books / The Wake / Cherry Boys / 3D: Fish In a Sea

Sunday 12/09/1982: The Damned with Dead or Alive / Southern Death Cult / Gene Loves Jezebel / Nico / Sex Gang Children / Stockholm Monsters / The Danse Society / The March Violets / The Membranes / The Room / Decorators / Orchestra Jazira / Vending Pact / Discobolisk / Zanti Misfits / Punching Holes

Futurama 5, 1983[edit]

For Futurama 5, the festival returned to its original home at Leeds Queens Hall.

The Bay City Rollers headlined the Saturday night, with Killing Joke leading the Sunday lineup.

Other notable performances included Death Cult, Howard Devoto and Richard Jobson & John McGeoch’s Armoury Show. The Smiths were due to appear, but pulled out at short notice in protest to the headline slot given to the Bay City Rollers. At this point, the Rollers career was all but over and they lacked the nostalgic pull that Glitter had managed to generate over the new audience. By this point there were only a couple original members left in band.

Saturday 17/09/1983:  Headliners Bay City Rollers with Howard Devoto / Comsat Angels / The Smiths ( Didn't play ) / Chameleons / Popular History of Signs / Billy Bragg / Mekons / Danielle Dax / Gina X / Edwards Voice / Masque of Bizarro / John Cooper Clarke / Silent Running / Colonso Parade / Red Guitars / Red Lorry Yellow Lorry / Sex Beat / Curia Veritas / Real Foo Foo / Lost Boys

Sunday 18/09/1983: Headliners Killing Joke with Death Cult /  Armoury Show / Bryan Gregory (Ex-Cramps) / New Model Army /Action Pact / Play Dead / Bone Orchard / Poison Girls / Flesh 4 Lulu / The Box / Holy Toy (Norway) / Mekons Jayne County / The Three Johns / Under Two Flags / Lavolta Lakota / Ligotage / Mark Miwurdz and Joolz  

Futurama 6, 1989[edit]

Following a 6 year gap, the next Futurama festival took place in 1989. The lineup was less impressive and the venue was switched to the much smaller Alhambra in Bradford.

Futurama 6 started on Friday with a rock night, headlined by 70s glam act The Sweet, but this was really a prelude to the main festival, which was split into two days, with the Sunday being officially described as Indie Pop and Scally Rock.

Headliners for the Saturday were The Men They Couldn’t Hang, while James took the honours on the Sunday. Other acts included Primal Scream, The Fall and Rose of Avalanche.

File:Futurama Festival
Futurama Festival, 1979


  1. "Joy Division - Futurama 79". Discogs. Retrieved 2020-09-05.
  2. Simpson, Dave (2006-10-25). "Back to Futurama: the gig that changed my life". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2020-09-05.
  3. "Futurama 2 Festival, Queens Hall, Leeds. Saturday 13th September 1980". 2017-04-08. Retrieved 2020-09-05.
  4. "Operation Yewtree: The successes and failures". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2020-09-05.

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