Based in Sheffield, Tramlines Festival kicked off in 2009 with an opening year of 35,000 people. 2010 saw that figure rise to 65,000 and in 2011, 80,000 people descended on Sheffield, earning Tramlines 'Metropolitan Festival Of The Year 2011' amongst stiff UK competition.

One week before Tramlines Festival 2012 kicks off, Music-News interviews head promoter Sarah to talk through the business of Festivals.

> Where did the idea for the Festival first originate?

Basically, Sheffield is very much a student populated city, so during the summer holidays it becomes a bit of a ghost town. So back in 2009 a group of us here were all venue owners and we wanted to find a way to keep people attracted to the city during the summer. So we started with an idea for a kind of mini dot-to-dot, club-crawl system, but when we approached local radio stations they really leapt on board and it just began to really grow from there into an all out festival.

> Music wise - there’s a mixture of up and coming and established names - do you have specific genres or themes in mind when you put Tramlines together?

I suppose. When we began, we envisaged a kind of cooler community festival, we wanted to communicate with different communities that lived in Sheffield. In year 1, we were working closely with a local radio station, so it was quite pop focussed at first, then we wanted to counter that with Indie bands so we put stages in place for that. Then as promoters got involved, we began to build out the music to fit with different people - so last year for example we had a folk stage, there was demand for one, so we got that together. Local name’s were involved from the start - Toddla T is a curator for the festival, so he ensures big electronic acts, whilst the Artic Monkeys weigh in and have their say on policy too.

> So a multi-club venture with separate stages too - How does it all work?

Sheffield City Council is our main sponsor, then the board of Tramlines consists of the Council, variety of different people from smaller festivals, and venue owners - there’s about 12 of us on the board and we discuss all policy from there.

> You’ve decided to make the entire festival free....

Yeah that was a big discussion point for us. In Year 1 - the radio station that we had partnered with wanted to do a free pop concert, and other sponsors wanted to play safe and to test it as a free concert. It ended up being a huge success, and that coupled with the fact that, domestic and foreign competition, growing overheads, unpredictable weather, its so tough for festivals right now, it ended up being a unanimous board decision to keep it free. Although this year we are selling our programme to help funding!

> You're running a series of talks out of Yellow Arch Studios - promoting the underground scene - tell us about that.

Yeah thats actually quite an autonomous function. A lot of local, smaller promoters, DJs, producers really wanted to have a forum to give talks, performances documenting the Sheffield scene, the wider scene, so they banded together and pitched to the Arts Council, and landed the studio space. Its a really good sign -that’s kind of the real spirit of the whole Tramlines idea - just local musicians taking the initiative to promote themselves and the city.

> It's a clever, organic way of building a festival then -

Absolutely - Its the same with the folk music stage. A separate company moved in and just pitched to be part of the Tramlines Franchise. So its entertaining our crowd but there’s no overheads for us - everyone benefits.

> You won best Metropolitan Festival 2011 - tell us how that came about.

It’s a strange one actually - Alan is the curator for the world music stage- so told us that he’d put us forward for consideration. We know they send scouts up to have a look around but we didnt see or hear anything. Then we got an email inviting us to the award ceremony, which we assumed was just a formality. They were persistent - kept emailing us, so Alan a couple of others went, not thinking of it, then it emerged we’d won! The rest of us were gutted we hadnt been down there!

> How do you feel the City Festivals compares to the traditional field Festival?

I think they’re entirely different in terms of organisation - the big Creamfields-like festivals, they have so many overheads - they've got this big space they need to fill with infrastructure - stages, sound systems, lights, facilities, but for city festivals, often venue-driven events, most of the infrastructure is already there. I think the fact that Tramlines is free and in a known city centre really helps. There are probably people going who wouldn’t normally go to a traditional festival - be it too expensive, too far away, but there are lot of people who would venture into a city centre! I think for some it’s a good gateway too - they experience the festival feel in a city at this kind of go-between event and then they’ll end up being future festival goers elsewhere too.

There seems to be a challenge in festivals for attracting the 'right' crowd. - Reading can be quite seen as young, people claim Glasto's become posh. How, as a promoter, do you monitor the crowd? I think it can be tough. Every festival as soon as it hits a certain size, certain popularity will induce moaning. As for the huge festivals, accusation’s they’ve become ‘posh’ is probably to do with the sky-high price of tickets now! Tramlines crowd is hard to describe because its so diverse, We attract every type of person owing to different genres and its locations. I think we’re therefore at an advantage crowd-wise.

> What do you think the cause has been for this explosion in festivals in recent years?

I dont know. Its a really fun thing to do! A lot of people - you go to a festival, you love it, you will go back and for some us, you love it so much you set up your own! Its been tough for the UK recently though - there's been the recession as a backdrop. Plus, I think festival promoters thought this would be a good year for festivals as there’s not a Glasto this time round but we’ve had appalling weather and just the sheer amount of competition now is really causing strife. I’d say for the UK we’re more or less at capacity now - I mean for the bulk of the summer now, there isnt a single weekend where there’s not at least one event on.

> We've seen a massive pick up in festivals abroad, its becoming increasingly normal to go abroad for festivals. How do you feel that will affect the home circuit?

I think it could definitely have a potentially negative effect. European festivals are cheaper, or amusingly even if they’re not, it’s still the perception that they’re always cheaper. Whatever the case, festivals anywhere now are expensive - its a good few hundred pounds once you’ve factored in tickets, travel, accommodation, for the UK or abroad. People don’t like the idea of choosing between a summer holiday or a festival, so they go abroad: they get the weather, they go to a festival then stay on a couple of days and hit the beach. That’s something we can’t really compete with here. BUT saying that, for the UK and Tramlines, we’re easy to get to, we’re free and we’re doing some really exciting stuff at the moment!

> Nokia are quite heavily involved in the event - tell us about the Nokia Lumia Live stage.

Nokia are our headline sponsors, they open the festival on the with the ‘Nokia Lumia Live’ stage on the Friday night - this year they've taken the main stage, they've also taken over 3 venues for the 3 nights. What’s really good though is that they’re this big corporate sponsor, but they’ve gotten in touch with the local promoters and let them pick and schedule the line-up, so it’s going to be a really great performance.

---- Tramlines Festival is free of charge. Featuring Toddla T, Roots Manuva, Benga & Youngman, Mr Scruff, We Are Scientists among others, it runs from Friday 20th - Sun 22nd July in Sheffield city centre.