Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) has announced its annual event will return to Cardiff for its fourth year in October.
The Festival Congress will play host to an incredible ‘Pseudoscience’ theme, set to play homage to the nonsensical and weird experiments made by scientists and festival promoters alike.
The standout event will be led by a keynote by artistic director and CEO of Manchester International Festival, John McGrath, in addition to quick fire talks from renowned author Zoe Cormier about her book Sex, drugs and rock n roll: The science of hedonism and the hedonism of science, and John Kampfner, chief executive of the Creative Industries Federation, who will speak about creative industry ‘red lines’ on Brexit.
There will also be a ‘Question time’ style panel exploring political issues in relation to festivals and featuring some leading lights of the independent festival world, with other key topics at the conference including event security, welfare, booking processes, up scaling small festivals and creative production. Another headline panel discussion will explore the next steps of AIF’s ‘Safer spaces’ campaign, which reiterated the zero tolerance approach that festivals have to sexual assault with a 24 hour coordinated website ‘black out’ in May.
Held in Cardiff’s Wales Millennium Centre (WMC) on 30-31 October, the Festival Congress is a major fixture in the festival industry calendar.
“We’re back for a fourth year with Festival Congress, the ultimate conference and festival party for the independents,” said AIF co-founder, Rob da Bank. “We’re proud of how essential this event has become and all at AIF HQ are buzzing to be joining the dots between festival promotion and science this year, in what promises to be a packed and extremely fun couple of days in Cardiff.”
Attendees include notable festival organisers from the likes of Glastonbury, Bestival, Boomtown Fair, Kendal Calling, Shambala, End of the Road, Liverpool Sound City and many more. The event also invites speakers from every corner of the music sphere with a speaker alumni of Jude Kelly OBE (artistic Ddirector, Southbank Centre), Huw Stephens (Radio One and Swn Festival co-founder), Simon Parkes (founder, Brixton Academy), Professor Tim O’Brien (Jodrell Bank observatory), Robert Richards (commercial director, Glastonbury) and many more.
Access puts the world to rights with the independent festival go-to-guy, Paul Reed
When Access met up with Paul Reed, industry legend and general manager at the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), he was in a reflective mood. After 15 years of delighting audiences, Secret Garden Party had not long announced that 2017 would be its final outing. The Cornbury Music Festival had also revealed it’s bowing out this July.
“Both shows have been around since the early days of the AIF so it’s a great shame,” mourns Reed. “Although it will be interesting to see what form of phoenix rises from the ashes, especially from the talented people behind Secret Garden Party.”
T in the Park’s decision to take a year out has already opened the door for TRNSMT, a new Scottish festival to take place on Glasgow Green over the same July weekend. While after 15 years of an independent Isle of Wight Festival, the 2017 edition headlined by Rod Stewart, will be run under its new majority share owner, Live Nation.
All in all, the independent festival scene is undergoing huge change and disruption but it’s the demise of Secret Garden Party, which appears to have hit Reed the hardest.
“I was more surprised that the news didn’t leak and that everyone kept a lid on it, as I’m quite well connected to the event. I worked on its early years and I’ve got a personal connection to it because I met my wife there,” he says. “If you look back, in terms of when it started and as a boutique festival, I think it has really led the way. It has always stuck to its guns on things like sponsorship and, for me, it is one of those festivals that define the word independent, so it is a real shame.”
In March, when John Giddings’ Isle of Wight Festival became the latest addition to Live Nation’s growing global festival family, it was already its sixth acquisition of 2017.
At the time, Giddings said: “The partnership with Live Nation will give us the ability to access the company’s scale and talent pool, bringing more acts and a better experience to the UK.”
In reaction, Reed says: “Again, I had no insider knowledge on that deal but it was perhaps less surprising. I suppose it says a lot about changing audience expectations.”
“Take Garden Party for example — it now attracts a lot of experienced festivalgoers. Even Boomtown is up to 60,000 capacity, which is incredible growth.
“There are other huge shows out there, like Victorious, and they are still growing. It’s a lot more of a traditional festival in the way that it’s structured, but it has got a great site. There’ll continue to be new and innovative events, as long as people have ideas and can find good sites.
“You know, it does feel like a bit of a pivotable year for the independents I guess,” continues Reed. “On the one hand you have Live Nation in an increasingly monopolistic position. It’s now in control of 90 festivals worldwide and manages more than 500 artists. There’s nothing wrong with the majority of the market share itself. It’s just if there ever comes a point whereby it uses its dominance to the detriment of the industry as a whole.”
Reed’s concern focuses predominantly on how Live Nation will manage the touring schedules of its artists and what this could mean for the smaller festivals, which may struggle to attract the bigger names in the future.
“Exclusivity deals were always going to happen at that level of headline artists and you can understand it to a degree. I can understand radius deals as well. It makes sense if you’ve got a festival within a 60 mile radius, it is just sensible booking processes,” says Reed, referencing the radius clause used by tour promoters to keep artists gigging for a certain period of time prior to, or following a festival appearance.
Within the AIF, there is an alliance that allows members to discuss topics such as this.
“They have conversations around booking issues and efficiencies and how to work together more closely, but we just facilitate that. If the conversations become too commercially sensitive, they most likely continue outside of the alliance behind closed doors.”
When discussing how the AIF’s members feel about the announcement of the deal between the Isle of Wight and Live Nation, Reed explains to Access the exact stats the association uses, in order to classify a festival as independent.
“We’ve got one definition of independent which is about the ethos of an event. But we’ve also got another definition based on a festival’s market share. If you can’t claim five per cent or more market share or you’re not 50 per cent or more owned by bigger entity, then you can be classed as an independent. Isle of Wight therefore is no longer an independent.”
Media and entertainment group Global expanded its festival portfolio by significantly increasing its stake in Broadwick Live in October last year. As a result, the company has taken control of SouthWestFour, Field Day, Boardmasters and Rewind Festival, which were previously owned by Impressario, alongside Y Not and Truck, previously owned by Count of Ten.
“Obviously, some of those acquisitions included our members, but I feel personally that’s more of an opportunity than a threat,” says Reed.
“We still work together with these festivals and class them as independent according to our definition. But Broadwick Live is now the second largest festival operator in the UK.
“I don’t believe it’s concluded its acquisition strategy either. Perhaps it will start to buy abroad. Again that’s me speculating but people are asking me, ‘are you not concerned by this aggressive growth?’
“I actually believe that in a world where a multinational organisation such as Live Nation controls the majority market share, it’s good that there’s someone else fighting on behalf of the independents.
“One of Broadwick’s key working practices is that it has kept all of the promoters – most of whom have worked on their festivals since the beginning and helped to build them up. So it’s a partnership approach with a high level of individual expertise and knowledge.
“There is always concern from some members within the AIF but inevitably those festivals will be sitting down together and talking about talent. These are opportunities to work together.” The AIF and an organisation such as Live Nation may appear to be on either end of a very broad spectrum, but at least they are both on that same spectrum. And while this is still the case, Reed is keen that both should fight for common causes such the battle against secondary ticketing.
In November, Live Nation Italy was caught up in a secondary ticketing scandal after it emerged that the concert promoter had been giving tickets directly to the resale website Viagogo.
At the time, The FanFair Alliance, which lobbies on behalf of artists for stronger regulation of the market, urged politicians in the UK to take note of the stance that Italian politicians had taken, which included tabling an amendment to Italy’s budget law, which would curb the activities of these secondary ticketing websites.
“Way back when we were grappling with this issue, we published a fair ticketing charter. We set up a fan-to-fan exchange called the Ticket Trust, which became a bit out-dated so now we work with Twickets,” says Reed.
“We support the work of the FanFair Alliance. I think it has been one of the most brilliant campaigns in the industry during the last few years. It has achieved phenomenal success and even UK politicians now understand the issues.”
On the future for independent festivals, Reed remains optimistic: “Something like Bluedot. I thought it was great to see it on the cover of Access (March 2017). I was there on-site, and it was really innovative. The site worked, the theme with all the science activities really worked and I thought it had the right musical line-up to accompany it.
“As long as people keep coming up with these type of unique ideas, I believe there are no shortage of amazing places in the UK to hold them so the scene will continue to thrive.”
Driven by passion
However, as anyone who has ever considered launching a festival from scratch will testify, the reasons not to do it are often overwhelming.
“If you just looked at the business plan on paper, you probably wouldn’t do it,” says Reed. “But staging a festival isn’t all about commercial success. Organisers are driven by a passion for the atmosphere and the buzz that it gives them to succeed. They’ve been bitten by the promoter bug. There’s no stopping them after that. I know people who have gambled their mortgages in order to stage their event, it’s quite crazy really.
“Maybe John Giddings is feeling a little less stressed these days”
– Paul Reed
“Samphire Festival in Exmoor National Park was successfully crowdfunded so that gave
it a financial buffer zone, but that’s quite an exceptional case. You’ve just got to be prepared to take the risk,” adds Reed.
John Giddings has previously said that he lost half a million pounds during the Isle of Wight’s first year. In its third year however, it booked David Bowie to perform and the rest is history. “It proves that although it is a lot of money to gamble, sometimes it pays off better than you’d ever expect, whether that be from the headliners or even the innovative qualities of the festivals,” says Reed.
“There’s an incredible amount of infrastructure on board with some festivals these days. Something like the Green field Festival in Switzerland involves building a small town in a field on the outskirts of Interlaken. That’s an insane thing to do. Thankfully some people are courageous enough to go through with things.
“John Giddings said recently that we must all just enjoy a bit of stress to know that we’re alive. Maybe he’s feeling a little less stressed these days. At the end of the day though, we’re all gamblers. You are always going to be at the mercy of whatever is going on in the outside world causing economic uncertainty.”
Reed continues, discussing the Shambala Festival in Northamptonshire and, in particular, its unique meat-free and fish free catering policy.
“It was a real eye-opener, and it’s interesting that it’s doing it to spark debate. Festivals can be a great platform for that,” he says.
“It gets the audience thinking about the supply chain. It’s important that the sustainability debate moves on from energy because it’s more than that.
“It’s perhaps more likely these days that people will go to an independent coffee shop rather than a Starbucks, so if you want to draw that parallel with festivals, I think it exists.”
So who is the Starbucks of the festival world then?
“I’m going to have Live Nation on the phone aren’t I? As long as we’re both looking after the customer and supporting emerging artists while being an incubator for new talent, then both the independents and the Starbucks of the festival world can pave the way for acts to play their first festival and progress to becoming headliners.”
To round off Reed’s time talking with Access, he tells of the time he heard somebody from Crate Brewery draw parallels between the craft brewing industry and the independent festivals scene.
“He said that the major breweries always had the capacity to innovate, they just never did because the business model was never considered to be broken enough. Entrepreneurs then came in and began brewing in their basements, distrupting the industry. It was only then did the majors start looking and buying them up because they wanted some of that innovation and creative thinking.
“Perhaps the major festivals have always had the capacity to experiment but it has taken the independents to come along and lead the way on that,” suggests Reed. “I probably sound old- fashioned here but I believe that people are so addicted to their digital devices that there will always be a strong appeal to step away and just hang-out with friends, dancing in a muddy field. I don’t see that ever declining.”
The Charlatans lead singer Tim Burgess and representatives from Secret Garden Party, Bluedot and The Eden Sessions will form the core programme at this year’s Festival Congress.
Organised by the Association of Independent Festivals, the Festival Congress will take place for the third year running at the Wales Mellennium Centre in Cardiff on 1-2 November. More than 400 delegates from the independent festival industry are expected to attend.
The programme, announced today (6 September), includes a ‘fireside chat’ with Burgess, as well as a panel discussion of the groundbreaking drugs testing service introduced at Secret Garden Party this year.
In-depth workshops have also been introduced this year, with topics ranging from virtual reality, YouTube, festival finance, legal advice for organisers and crime and security.
The Festival Congress Awards will take place on the first evening. Held at Cardiff venue DEPOT, the celebration will feature street food, Rob da Bank and Tayo 3000’s ‘Purple Rave’ Prince tribute and a DJ set from Burgess.
“Festival Congress is a fantastic forum to debate the issues and challenges facing the independent festival sector and to celebrate the continued successes of our members,” said Paul Reed, general manager of the AIF.
“There is a feeling within the AIF camp that this could be the best Congress yet. We are going from strength to strength with an amazing line-up of speakers this year, covering a huge range of topics. We’ve also got some great social events lined up so it won’t be all work.”
Tickets are on sale, and Access All Areas readers can enjoy an exclusive discount. Use the code AIFBUDDY16 when you purchase at ww2.theticketsellers.co.uk/tickets/festival-congress-2016/10041154.
AIF Festival Congress programme:
· A ‘fireside chat’ with Tim Burgess (The Charlatans) that will cover Tim’s experiences at festivals, the Tim Peaks venue that he has taken to many independent festivals and his second book, ‘Tim Book Two: Vinyl Adventures from Istanbul to San Francisco’.
· A headline panel discussion of the groundbreaking drugs testing service introduced at Secret Garden Party this summer. SGP founder Freddie Fellowes will be joined by Professor Fiona Measham (The Loop), Superintendent Justin Bibby (Northcumbria Police), Steve Rolles (Transform) and Jon Drape (Ground Control) for a discussion of the key issues, results and next steps.
· Quickfire Talking Heads sessions, including Emma Brunjes (director, EBP), who will discuss crafting immersive theatre experiences such as Alice’s Adventures Underground and The Game’s Afoot.
· A Festival Frontiers panel, featuring speakers including Ben Robinson (Kendal Calling/Bluedot/Off the Record) and John Empson (The Eden Sessions/Wilderness/Citadel), reflecting on the 2016 season and recent trends in an attempt to map out the future festival landscape.
· In-depth workshops on topics including virtual reality, YouTube, festival finance, legal advice for festivals and crime and security, including weather planning and terrorism.
· A breakout session catering specifically for multi-venue city-based festivals led by John Rostron (Sŵn Festival and AIF vice chair).
For more information and to buy tickets to the 2016 Festival Congress, go to festivalcongress.com.
The Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) and Secret Garden Party have released joint statements regarding attendees’ safety from sexual assault at festivals this summer.
The statements are in response to what both organisations feel to be ‘scaremongering’ from national media. Though neither statement mentions specific media, Access understands that a recent article in Cosmopolitan UK has raised concerns amongst AIF’s membership.
Paul Reed, general manager of the AIF, writes: “As a trade association representing the interests of over 60 festival organisers in the UK with a collective audience of over 600,000 people, we wish to respond and provide some clarity regarding recent articles in the media addressing sexual assaults at festivals in the UK. It is extremely disappointing that some sections of the media are engaging in scaremongering on what is obviously a very serious subject.”
Reed told Access that while his office is always open to requests from journalists, no one from the national print media had reached out to them on this particular subject.
Secret Garden Party, which is mentioned briefly by name in the Cosmopolitan article, released this statement: “There have been a number of articles in the press recently regarding sexual assaults at festivals. We don’t have a problem with considered and well-researched articles as this is an important issue, but there are some media outlets that have published articles recently filled with inaccuracies and false claims.
“This hurts, especially when we are striving to deal with this issue to the best of our ability. The care of our attendees is always our first priority. Festivals are generally safe and friendly environments.
“We have consistently shown a willingness to engage on this subject and added the issue to the agenda of the AIF in April this year. We have requested dialogue with women’s organisation Good Night Out, who so far has not responded. The London Feminist Network organisers of Reclaim The Night have never approached us. We would have been grateful for their advice and input. We have engaged with individuals who have concerns on this issue, offering an open and transparent forum for debate. We have regular meetings with the police, our security teams and other relevant organisations to ensure we have robust and responsive procedures in place for the provision of a safe party.
“We are doing everything that we can to make Secret Garden Party a safe, secure and happy environment.”
There was one reported case of rape during Secret Garden Party’s 2015 festival. Cambs Police Chief Inspector Laura Hunt said: “The police and event organisers were very open and transparent in our joint response to this serious crime because it was our firm view that this would better keep people safe and, of course, deliver a duty of care.”
AIF’s Reed added: “This is an issue that is taken very seriously by AIF festival organisers. AIF are planning a public facing awareness campaign addressing this issue, working with appropriate partner organisations to get clear safety messages out to audiences alongside producing a shared charter of best practice and vulnerability policies for members and the wider industry.”
Access also understands that the AIF is advising its members to look at their procedures in place for responding to media requests.
The Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) has announced the dates and first speakers of its 2016 Festival Congress.
The annual gathering of festival delegates, now in its third year, will take place at the Wales Millennium Centre on 1-2 November.
The Festival Congress Awards will take place at The Depot Warehouse on the first night of the Congress. Awards categories include New Festival on the Block, Mind Blowing Spectacle, Festival Live Act of the Year and Smart Marketing.
Speakers at the two-day conference include John Giddings (Isle of Wight Festival/Solo Agency), Lee Denny (LeeFest), Simon Parkes (Brixton Academy), Sammy Andrews (Entertainment Intelligence) and Zac Fox (Kilimanjaro Live/NOWIE).
Quick-fire ‘talking heads’ sessions return to the Congress for the second year, and a series of ‘Lucha Libre’ breakout sessions will take place, discussing topics ranging from city festivals to festival finance. A Recovery Brunch will also be held on the morning following the Festival Congress Awards.
“Festival Congress is the one time in the year when independent festival professionals and the wider industry can get together and share their experiences, so we have started putting together a fantastic programme of events to maximise our time together,” said Paul Reed, general manager, AIF.
“From our legendary Congress party and awards to a brilliant line-up of speakers, it’s going to be a really special, jam-packed couple of days.”
Tickets are on sale now through headline sponsor The TicketSellers. PlayPass is an official partner, providing RFID for the Congress, and BIMM returns as the event’s educational partner.
More events and speakers are expected to be announced in the coming months.
The Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) has spoken out against PRS for Music’s potential increase on fees paid by the association’s members.
PRS for Music currently charges 3 per cent under tariff LP to all concerts and festivals. The collection society recently launched a review of this tariff that could see the fee increase.
AIF believe any rise in fees would bankrupt and close grassroots festivals, and are calling instead for a separate festival tariff that will take into account the unique challenges, tight margins and high-risk nature of staging music festivals. The association points to the ‘multi-venue’ Tariff MS in Ireland as a model.
“It is remarkable and absurd that festivals and concerts sit under a single tariff,” said Paul Reed, general manager, AIF. “With the global recorded industry in transition, independent festival promoters are taking risks on breaking artists and staging high-risk events on incredibly tight margins. PRS for Music’s plans to increase this already inflexible and damaging tariff could mean the bankruptcy of many events that provide a valuable platform for both emerging and established artists.
“There is a clear, unarguable need for a separate festival tariff. This already exists for festivals in Ireland – a clear precedent and a workable model that PRS should consider and which would result in a solution that is fair, transparent and sustainable.”
AIF made its points in a consultation response to PRS for Music.
The Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) has released the full agenda for its Festival Futures conference, which is set to take place in Brighton and Manchester on 5 and 7 April respectively.
Confirmed speakers for Brighton include Wilderness, Citadel and Eden Sessions promoter John Empson, Mark Davyd of the Music Venue Trust, Metal Culture’s Sean McLoughlin and Production Services Association general manager Andy Lenthall.
The Manchester event has confirmed Wild Rumpus director Sarah Bird, promoter, author and festival consultant Dr Roxy Robinson and safety advisor Mike Atkinson.
Among the topics up for discussion at the conferences are the importance of multi-arts events and family content, the ‘food revolution’ at festivals, connections between streaming platform and ticketing and the importance of grassroots venues.
AIF has announced a new series of conferences in conjunction with The British and Irish Modern Music Institute (BIMM).
The series, entitled Festival Futures, will take place on 5th and 7th April in Brighton and Manchester respectively. The events are presented in association with ticketing partner Skiddle.
Topics for discussion will include the importance of multi-arts events and family content, the food revolution at festivals, connections between streaming platforms and ticketing, the importance of grassroots venues and connections to festivals and what the impact of virtual reality and other new tech on the marketplace could be. Event safety, festival finance, drugs awareness and the politics of participation are also on the agenda.
“We’re very excited to announce Festival Futures in partnership with BIMM and Skiddle,” said Paul Reed, general manager of AIF. “These conferences will have an extremely forward-thinking agenda, exploring the future of the industry from various angles at the tip of the 2016 season.
“From quick fire Talking Heads sessions to more in-depth fireside chats, we’re looking forward to an action-packed and informative couple of days in Brighton and Manchester this April.”
Confirmed speakers include Sammy Andrews (founder, Sabotage Media), Sarah Bird (director, Wild Rumpus, Just So Festival), Mark Laurie (director, NCASS), Mark Davyd (founder and CEO, Music Venues Trust), Nick Lawrence (CEO, NWN Blue Squared Ltd) and Andy Lenthall (general manager, Production Services Association).
Ben Robinson (director, Kendal Calling, Forgotten Fields, Blue Dot) and John Empson (promoter, The Eden Sessions, Wilderness, Citadel) will make the keynote speeches.
The Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) and the Musicians’ Union (MU) have announced an agreement that will formalise the existing relationship between emerging artists and independent festivals represented by AIF.
Both organisations define an emerging artist as one not represented by an agent or management, as well as those with representation but at the outset of their careers.
Details of the agreement were unveiled by the AIF’s Paul Reed and the MU’s Kelly Wood at the second annual AIF Festival Congress in Cardiff.
The agreement, which is an extension of the MU’s existing ‘Fair Play’ initiative, aims to provide practical guidance for musicians and festivals. It outlines key conditions for emerging artists and independent festival operators in areas such as remuneration, promotion, logistics and advance information required from artists and festivals alongside performance details.
The MU has 30,000 members – many of whom play live either as part of a portfolio career or as their mainstay. The AIF represents 55 festivals with a collective audience of over 600,000.
Paul Reed, General Manager of AIF said: “We are delighted to launch this project at the Festival Congress,” Reed said. “This agreement covers a lot of ground and, in many cases, the festivals will already be fulfilling such conditions for emerging artists.
“The idea is to provide practicable and realistic guidance and, crucially, a balanced agreement that will work for promoters and artists alike. UK festivals are one of the main incubators for emerging talent in the UK and this agreement acknowledges the importance of such artists to our member.”
Wood added: “Our ‘Fair Play’ initiative encourages good, clear relationships between artists and employers based around fair deals and it is exciting to be taking this into the festival sector.
“Festival slots are invaluable for emerging artists looking to reach new audiences and we therefore embraced the opportunity to work with the AIF in order to create a mutually beneficial agreement. With the input of our members we’ve been able to achieve an agreement whereby the terms are relevant, realistic and will encourage a good working relationship between artists and festival organisers.”
Details of the agreement can be found at www.aiforg.com/fairplay.