A known party-capital of Britain, Brighton mysteriously lacks a major music festival. Now, thanks to visionary promoters, that’s all changed. Following a 9,000 person attendance in 2011, Shakedown 2012 is situated in October - the official last festival of the season, and with names like Chase & Status, Knife Party and Dizzee Rascal on the bill, numbers this year are expected to hit 20,000. Music-News caught up with festival director, Steve Jones. Shakedown Festival began in 2011. Tell us how the festival formed.
I moved to Brighton 8 years ago, and while working for Juice 107.2 I came across a lot of other music festivals in Brighton and Sussex that failed and went under for various reasons. Beachdown being the best known example. Brighton seemed to have developed a reputation as a festival graveyard. I found it frustrating because I believed that the people of Brighton and the city itself wanted and deserved a really good music festival- it’s just the ones that had been put on weren’t quite right for whatever. I took a year to get the basics in place. I met Matt Priest, we formed the business and got funding from Ingenious. I guess it was motivated by that feeling that Brighton deserved a good music festival.
Last year we started big. We wanted 10,000 people, which was pretty ambitious. We ended up selling 9,000 tickets so it was a resounding success, which justifies the fact that this city should have a music festival! There’s been an explosion in festivals in recent years: that must affect you as promoters - do you think that benefits promoters because people are more open to the idea of attending a festival? Or do you feel the sheer level of competition outweighs that?
I think it’s a bit of both - more so now than ever. This country is very much a festival country (which is crazy when you think about the weather!). I think ultimately the public will sort out the good from the bad, those that have the details. The good organisations will continue and those that don’t will fade out. We set Shakedown up at a time when there were a lot of new festivals starting up. But, A) Not many of these festivals were happening in Brighton B) Lots of nearby scenes and cities, for example Portsmouth, didn’t have big music festivals either. C) We set up Shakedown on a path that we thought the industry was headed musically - that being the hybrid chart/dance crossover, like David Guetta and Calvin Harris. Whether that was good judgement or luck we’ve ended up mirroring where mainstream music has gone.
Similarly, since we started Shakedown, bass music – dubstep - has probably overtaken house on the mainstream, which we’d predicted on our line up. I guess it was also a case of we hit the right place at the right time. As long as festivals bring something new to the table, then I think there is room for new festivals. Unfortunately there are a lot of ‘bang out a few names“ style copycats hoping to make a quick buck too and that’s just not the way it goes anymore. As promoters of a relatively new festival, what’s been the main challenge of setting it up?
How long do you have?! Shakedown for us was very much a baptism of fire - anything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Because of that we learned so much - from how to effectively market the festival to how to communicate well with the police. I think because of the history of festivals in Brighton, the police and authorities were very careful and are very hands on. Because of that, we’ve got a huge understanding of every part of the business of a festival. We also know the event we’re putting on is completely safe and going to be an enjoyable experience from top to bottom. So the biggest hurdle has been not only putting on an event that appeals to the public but also ticks all of those boxes for the authorities. Last year you had quite a mainstream-electronic line-up on the mainstage (with the exception of Razorlight). This year there’s been an expansion - it looks like there’s more of an urban-bassy vibe to it. Talk us through how you assembled this years line up?
It was quite an organic process. We learned a lot last year from looking at who bought tickets and reaction that different acts got on the day. For us its a balance between big, known, heavy hitters like Dizzee Rascal that have got huge hits but also the emerging bass/ chart names like Knife Party; the new acts that everyone’s talking about who are still on the massive up. What we want to do is to appeal to both those groups of fans. We have got a bit of an urban edge on the main stage, but again that’s partly a result of urban music now being so different to what it was 10 years ago. Now the cross over between urban, hip hop and RnB often does fit within dance music, it fuses so well to the crowd. Most people coming to festival this year will be torn between Dizzee Rascal on the main stage and Chase & Status, there won’t be many people who hate one and love the other. Your second, ‘Supercharged’ arena is quite drum-and-bass heavy - interesting though that Chase and Status are on this arena given they were main stage last weekend at SW4? Talk us through how you built that stage
The second stage at a festival is tricky to build. Plus, its hard to say within dance music what’s going to be big and what’s not. Two years ago people said dubstep would be a fad and it would be gone soon, yet now we’re getting number 1’s in the chart that are dubstep’ We wanted to up the ante from last year. Last year we had a mixture of dance genres and this year we realised the crowd that want go to that tent are very much a Chase & Status crowd. Its that Drum & Bass and Dubstep sound, but equally, nothing too polarising. We wanted acts that everyone would enjoy. We didn’t want anything too underground or too hard.
Despite the fact that Knife Party is musically pretty brutal, its music that Radio 1 are play-listing and it’s very much the way dance music is going. Dance anthems 10 years ago would be considered lounge music now - dance has got louder and harder and we’ve tried here to recreate that really high energy, intense festival sound. When it comes to acts that sound good at festivals in that light, it doesn’t get much better than the line-up we’ve built here. You’ve brought in the Hed Kandi arena this year too - which in contrast to your second stage is very much a straight-up, almost ‘classical’ house sound. How did this come about?
We wanted to do something different with the VIP arena tent this year. Hed Kandi just seems to work very well with the VIP theme. It ticks all the boxes. They’ve opened a bar in Brighton which is proving very popular. They’re still very much at the forefront of people’s minds when it comes to house music generally. We just wanted to give people a bit of a lavish experience and when it comes to all the bells and whistles and the kind of music you expect in the VIP we knew that Hed Kandi would deliver. Their residents are brilliant with all their live percussion. We’ve brought the likes of Freemasons and Seamus Haji on board who are very much in-fitting with the brand. We’ve expanded out to 20,000 people this year and with a big group we felt house music would fit best in the VIP. Next year in fact we wouldn’t rule out having a house music stage in the main area as well - house music still retains that crossover appeal - especially now people are increasingly less snobby with their music tastes. You’ve covered a lot of bases with this years line up and stages, but there’s less of a indie/rock sound being represented -
Five years ago arguably rock/indie music was the ‘music of the moment’. Now you’re hard pressed to find a big indie band that hasn’t been around for the last 7 or 8 years. When you start looking at headliners of festivals like Leeds, Reading, the Isle of Wight, they’re all acts that have headlined festivals before, usually those same festivals. There isn’t the same demand for indie music as there was before in the mainstream.
Additionally, bands in that space that are popular are beginning to have that dance music edge to them anyeay. Last year we experimented a bit more. We had some acoustic acts (Razorlight, Ed Sheeran) and whilst they were very good they didn’t seem to have the same pull or fit the rest of the line-up. From that we figured that rather than spread our eggs across multiple baskets, we now know what our brand is. We wouldn’t rule out a more ‘bandsy, dancey’ act, but we’re constantly thinking about our audience and what would our audience pay to see. As nice as it would be to get Kasabian there, you’re going to get a completely different crowd wanting to see them. Everyone else would be likely to head off and see Chase & Status so it wouldn’t be worthwhile. You’re holding the festival in October - very much the end of festival season - what’s the motivation behind that?
There were a couple of main reasons. Firstly like a lot of UK events we had to work around the Olympics. Other big events in Brighton normally held in July / August were rescheduled too - for example Pride, a well known Brighton event. The local authorities and council want big events spread out. In the first year we were originally scheduled for July but we ended up having to push back to September but actually we found it worked quite well: We’re the last festival of the season, there’s not a lot else going on, we’re something for people to look forward too.
Another motivation for us was to make sure we were tying in to the freshers coming to Brighton. Freshers come in middle to end of September, we’re by the campuses, we can’t run it during September as there’s a stream of traffic from 8,000 people arriving in cars with their mums and dads. What we’ve got this year is a huge number of students - we’re the official Freshers festival. We’re working with Brighton and Sussex student unions and all the students turning up to Brighton are going to know about Shakedown. It’s going to be a bit of an induction to going out in Brighton, so for us in the end it was a no-brainer. Whether we stick with that next year or not, I think there are arguments for both.
Finally, I think everyone - promoter and punter, has realised this year that there’s no weekend that guarantees good weather. You can get heatwaves in April and drowned out in June, so really we don’t need to bank on that so much. This year October works for us, it works for the students, but who knows? Perhaps next year will be different. To first-timers, talk us through what kind of ‘crowd’ attended 2011 and what you expect for 2012?
It wasn’t exactly the crowd I expected - it was very mixed. People from Brighton, at least from an outside point of view, have got a reputation for being a bit hippy-ish, a bit free love, ‘lets go hug a tree’. Whilst there was some of that crowd their, it was nice as it was genuinely a mixed crowd, everything from Drum and Bass ravers to charty, Dizzee Rascal lovers. The atmosphere really makes a festival, and I feel we really drew a good crowd - there was minimal trouble and just a generally good atmosphere. I think what really helped was that Brighton was desperate for a festival. We don’t have a lot else in what should be one of the party capitals of the UK, so I think everyone embraced it. You're running a DJ/ Band competition. To up and coming artists - what advice would you give to catch promoters attention?
For DJs, I’d say its amazing how many DJs who, though albeit are very good, come up to the judging panel with half an hour to impress and proceed to play 4 7 minute songs. They are very well technically mixed but bore the judges to tears. It might as well be lounge music. Play a lot of songs, really understand the theme of the festival: as judges we’re interested in what will work on our stage. They can come in and play the best acid-bhangra set of all time but if it doesn’t fit, it’s not going to work. Be creative - use samples, be memorable and original.
Bands wise, it’s tricky - you’ve either got it or you don’t. Have a new sound. It’s about energy and charisma. To any new DJs and bands in general: enter competitions at any opportunity. To get to play on the same stage as an act like Professor Green, even if that’s not your genre of music, is massive exposure and is going to put you above a lot of others when you’re trying to build a name. Our DJ winner last year, SideCheck, played an awesome set, and one of the judges was James from the Freemasons. He was so impressed he got the guy’s number and ended up inviting him into the studio to produce some tracks. It just shows it’s always worth going for it. What’s the plan for after parties?
The event ends around 11pm and we’ve got free buses going every few minutes from the festival straight into the centre of Brighton. We’ve got an after party at Coalition - who’re hosting our main stage and we’ve also got one with Skream at Concord 2, run by the Supercharged stage. There will also be after parties at almost every bar in town. There’ll be close to 20,000 people descending on the city so it’s going to get crazy!Shakedown Festival, 6-8th September, Brighton, features Dizzee Rascal, Katy B, Knife Party, Chase & Status and others. For tickets and more info visit Shakedown Festival Homepage