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Meet the under 30s running some of the most exciting festivals around

It's a rocky time but the future of festivals is in good hands

  • Sean Griffiths
  • 14 May 2020

When we first considered a feature profiling under-30s either running their own festivals, or those already high up in the organisation of bigger events back in early March, festival season 2020 was the light at the end of another long and dreary winter. As things stand now, summer 2020 has been thrown on its head by the coronavirus outbreak with some of these events cancelled and others hanging in the balance. However, we still want to celebrate the blood, sweat and tears these young promoters have put into events, which have enriched an already flourishing festival landscape over the past few years. Meet the young organisers shaping festival culture.

WESTIVAL
Joe Worley, 25 and Jack Lear, 26

For a lot of people, an event that brings the likes of Marcellus Pitman, Peach and CC:DISCO! to a far westerly corner of Wales where usually you’d be looking at a 90-minute drive to catch a household name, can only be a good thing. But Pembrokeshire County Council didn’t initially see things that way.

“The person in charge of noise pollution at the council wanted us to finish at 10pm!” says Joe, founder and co-organiser of Westival. “We were pushing for 2am and they said ‘this is ridiculous, we seldom have an event in the area that goes beyond 10pm.”

“I remember about 20 people from the council coming down on the opening day last year and I was just ridiculously nervous watching them walk around inspecting it,” says 26-year-old Jack Lear, Joe’s partner in the Westival venture. “But luckily, they came over and said ‘well done, you’ve got everything right and by the book, we hope you enjoy it.”

He started the event as a private party for around 150 people in 2017, but in 2018, Joe decided to try and take Westival up a notch and partnered with childhood friend Jack to turn what began as a three-day carry on for mates into a fully-fledged festival. “I run a business exporting fancy dress costumes all around Europe,” says Jack. “So I had the business knowledge alongside a love of music, while Joe’s got a great music knowledge and vision for what Westival can be.”

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After attracting 500 people in 2018 with a line-up that boasted Lovebirds and Krywald and Farrer, in 2019 Westival brought close to a thousand people to the rolling hills of South Pembrokeshire for three days that featured Esa, Jamie Tiller and Orpheu The Wizard and a Welsh debut for Detroit icon Marcellus Pittman.

“I remember Saturday evening last year and there were loads of people in The Garden, the weather was banging and everyone was just having such a good time,” says Joe. “For me that was the standout. I just stood there thinking, ‘this is literally what we wanted the whole time.’”

The pair (who also chart DJing before the likes of Peach and Lovebirds as personal highlights of the festival’s short history) have already booked Eris Drew, Shanti Celeste, Dan Shake and Saoirse for this July’s event with the hope of seeing the festival grow while maintaining the community spirit they’ve managed to engender over the last three years, if the event is able to go ahead in July.

“For us, something like Gottwood is probably what we aspire to,” says Joe. “It’s about five thousand people but with a great music policy and great attention to detail and a loyal following. Numbers are important but what we really want is for people to enjoy it and come back next year with more of their friends and grow that sense of community we’ve already built.”

Glastonbury
Maya-Blue Gamble, 22

“Oh my God! When Nick and Emily told me they’d booked Kendrick I was over the moon,” says 22-year-old Maya-Blue Gamble. “I’ve been waiting for him to come for years. I’m definitely getting out of Silver Hayes for that.”

It says something about the remarkable pace of change over the last few weeks, but when this interview took place, just two days before Glastonbury 2020 was cancelled, everyone involved in the festival was ploughing ahead and hoping for the best.

“At the minute we’re going ahead all guns blazing,” says, 22-year-old Maya-Blue Gamble. “If it happens we’ll have to deal with it as best we can.”

But having been to Glastonbury every year of her life, it’s fair to say Maya’s probably seen a few ups and downs at the festival before. And while her excitement at the most exhilarating hip hop star on the planet’s ill-fated headline slot was probably a common reaction for any 20 something festival regular, her role at the event is not. For the last four years, she has been heavily involved with booking the Silver Hayes area. As the daughter of Malcolm Haynes, who launched Glastonbury’s Dance tent back in 1995 and then became area co-ordinator of The Dance Village (renamed Silver Hayes in 2013), it’s fair to say Glastonbury is in her blood.

“I’m very aware I’ve come from a privileged position having my dad involved with the festival,” admits Maya. “I’ve been going since I was born but since my teens, my dad has taken myself and my sister Chloe under his wing and shown us what he does. I’ve never been afraid to get involved with things like artist liaison and helping with accreditation.”

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Working from the shed at the back of their garden, in her early teens Maya would highlight acts she was interested in on the huge sheets of agent’s rosters her dad had printed out, before helping curate a full grime line-up at Silver Hayes in 2016 when she was 18-years-old.

“We booked Kano, with Stormzy, J Hus and Nadia Rose below him,” says Maya. “And festival HQ, the BBC, they all just loved it.”

This year was meant to be something of a changing of the guard in Silver Hayes, with Maya’s dad Malcolm stepping down after 30 years service and long-term affiliates Team Love, (led by Tom Paine and Dave Harvey), taking over as area coordinators.

“Those boys are like family,” says Maya, who also works on Love International and Bristol’s Love Saves The Day alongside the pair. “It’s brilliant to be able to learn from them as well.”

Despite initial planning for the area beginning all the way back in September, Silver Hayes is ‘always the last area to finalise their line-up’ admits Maya, with a focus on leaving as much space for emerging talent as possible. I’m so passionate about the music we book here,” says Maya. “ I’m just happy to be in Silver Hayes the majority of time, getting stuck into whatever I can.”

Headroom
Jess Farley 29

Headroom, the 250-capacity ‘if you know, you know’ weekender held on an Abergavenny farm, is the brainchild of Jess Farley and Elliot Weston. You may be familiar with the couple turned co-founders through their individual projects, such as Jess’ involvement in DJ collective Rhythm Sister (which she also co-founded) as well as her long-standing role as part of Team Love and its festival Love International, or Elliot’s label Banoffee Pies, respectively. Their joint venture, which they launched last summer, however, may not be on your radar just yet thanks to its low-key, invite-only approach.

“Headroom was just a natural progression from everything that I was doing,” says Jess. “Ell and I had a lot of ideas and creative output and Ell’s friend had just bought a permaculture farm, so we had the site as well. Our early concept was to just book an equal and diverse line-up and do something quite positive.”

The pair’s commitment to cultivating a balanced dancefloor is implemented through weighted tickets, with invitations leaning more towards women, trans and non-binary attendees. Jess admits this was a bit of a risk, however seeing it in fruition last year turned out to be one of the most rewarding things she took away from the event. “It just felt really normal,” she recalls. “But normal is refreshing, because that’s what it should be like.”

Jess’s first taste of festivals came courtesy of Glastonbury. She grew up near the site, and when she was a child her dad, who ran a camping store at the festival, used to hide her under all the wellies and sneak her in. Later, aged 14, she had one of those pivotal and relatable formative experiences that go on to shape you later in life. For Jess, that was listening to Muse, her then-favourite band, perform on the Pyramid Stage. An ill-fated crowd-surf mid-set may not have been as successful as she hoped, but the gig is still one of her defining experiences and Glastonbury still one of her favourites. “There will always be the big festivals, because they serve a purpose and they are still fun,” she says. “Nothing can touch Glastonbury, but also nothing can touch being on a site where everything is a one-minute walk away.”

When it comes to her own festival Jess describes a flash of lucidity she experienced last year. “On the last night when everything is sorted out and you don’t have much more work to do, you can have fun and you look around and everyone is having a really good time. Then, until you have to pack down the next day, there’s a moment of bliss, of clarity, and it’s like, ‘this is what we’ve just stressed out for the last year for, this moment here”.

Interview: Jasmine Kent-Smith

STRAWBERRIES AND CREEM
Chris Jammer, 26

Cambridge University has been one of the world’s great academic centres for nigh on a millennium now. So it’s fair to say for most students who make the city their home, a thriving underground club scene isn’t necessarily top of their priorities when filing that application form. But former Cambridge students Chris Jammer and Preye Crooks felt differently. “We’d grown up in London so were used to going to a lot of urban music events,” says Chris. “With Cambridge it was a lot of cheesy student nights so we started our own party on the weekends called CREEM.”

After building a following for their club events, at the end of their first term they decided to throw their own version of one of Cambridge’s famous garden parties.

“The uni has this thing called May Week at the end of term, where you pay £200 a ticket and go to a big ball and dress up in black tie,” begins Chris. “We decided to do something different, and try and throw our own.”

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After encouraging around 800 people to part with their cash before they’d even booked a line-up, the pair went away and locked in David Rodigan and Shy FX for the first ever Strawberries and CREEM in 2014.

“I was very much enjoying myself that first year,” remembers Chris. “We brought something completely different to Cambridge and even managed not to lose any money on it!”

The following year they more than doubled their capacity to 2,000 and managed to book Skepta, just before he went supernova with the release of ‘Shutdown’.

Since then the festival has outgrown its student origins and in 2020 was set to welcome 15,000 to a field in Cambridgeshire. In that time it’s become one of the UK’s most respected new music festivals and booked the likes of Kano, AJ Tracey and J Hus with Sean Paul and Koffee booked to top the bill this year before the Corona outbreak put the festival in jeopardy.

“Running a festival might seem glamorous from the outside but there’s a lot of trials and tribulations,” says Chris, when asked what advice he would have for young people looking to begin their own events. “Our biggest learning curve was last year when it rained for ten consecutive days before the festival. Every other year we’d basically had the hottest day of the year! We had to work out how to get everything on and off site with the rain being such a massive factor. It was the hardest week of my life.”

And on top of that, the pair - who cite Missy Elliot, 50 Cent and Usher as dream bookings - have started a second festival the day after Strawberries and Creem for a slightly different crowd. “We realised it would keep the costs down loads if we could use the site for something for two days,” says Chris.

MEET ME THERE WEEKENDER
Charlie French, 28

“I remember lying in bed and just hearing the rain lashing down,” says Charlie French, the co-founder of Meet Me There Weekender. “I was going in and out of sleep stressing about it and then we had to get up and found the roof of the main-stage sagging down it was filled with so much rain. It was almost touching the instruments on the stage!”

As you can imagine, putting on a festival in a remote and rural part of Ghana comes with its fair share of logistical challenges. But ultimately, there’s one universal truth to running festivals, wherever in the world you might be: Rain is a fucking nightmare. “We were trying to clear it up with buckets in the middle of the night and then luckily the sun came out in the morning. It was an hour before the gates opened and we were trying to dry equipment with a hairdryer.” Luckily, that’s as bad as things have got so far in the festival’s short history.

An embryonic version of Meet Me There Weekender launched in 2016 after Charlie stayed at an eco-lodge in Ghana run by a friend of a friend, Dougal Croudace, in 2015, and the two of them got on so well they started to discuss throwing an event there.

“Dougal’s been there for ten or eleven years,” Charlie tells us. “And he also works for an NGO that deals with things like bringing better sanitation to Ghana so we thought it could be good to do something to raise money for that.”

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After a small-scale event in 2016, the festival - which takes place in the Volta region of Ghana - launched fully in March 2018 with a capacity of 800 people and a line-up of largely Ghanaian artists with a smattering of international names.

“We structure the tickets so there’s four or five hundred for the local community and they all go for a pound,” explains Charlie. “And then there’s an allocation for people from other parts of Ghana for twenty-five pound a ticket and some for international guests at sixty pounds.”

With a line-up that focuses heavily on Afrobeats and Ghanaian Highlife, the festival has featured the likes of Ebo Taylor and Edem but also brought international acts like Tash LC and The Busy Twist to the beach-fringed site.

“Antal or someone like Gilles Peterson would be great to bring to the festival,” says Charlie. “But we’re also conscious of the fact Ghanaian and international crowds have different tastes and the fact a lot of our international guests have come to experience Ghanaian music. We’d love to collaborate with other events in Africa too, like Nyege Nyege Festival, and bring someone like Kampire here.”

Sean Griffiths is Mixmag's Deputy Editor, follow him on Twitter

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