As summer festival announcements roll around, it's easy to let your mind wander to the killer line-up you'd dream up if you had the chance to curate your own fest. But whether it'd be Slipknot playing every album back-to-back with appropriate mask delineation for each era, or hours of Sun Ra with full Arkestra, it's all just a pipe-dream, right? Well, maybe not. With the British alternative music scene in such rude health, independent organisers are creating their own small, sustainable festivals with increasing frequency across the UK.
One such event is Leicester's Handmade festival – which provides a stage to a pleasingly eclectic line-up across multiple venues in the midlands city. Now in its sixth year, the festival's line up is stronger and more diverse than ever. But how did a small festival dreamt up by a group of three friends grow into one of the UK alternative's must-attend events? We catch up with organisers John Helps, Matthew Kirk and Nik Sharpe to get their best tips on how to build from the ground up and make your own dream festival a reality.
Start small and grow steadily
"Although we’d been putting on shows for years before, it was important to take things slowly with the festival. The first Handmade was ambitious, but not too ambitious. We asked some of our favourite acts to play and about 500 people showed up. It was manageable. There is a critical mass you need to reach to make a festival sustainable, but if you don’t understand how to keep all the plates in the air at the same time it doesn’t really matter how many people come. We doubled in size each year for the first few years and now we’re the biggest music festival in our city, and we feel like we’ve got a long way we can go from here…"
Know your music
"The three of us promote shows all year round. We’re constantly interacting with new music and discovering new acts, and that’s an important part of what makes Handmade’s line-up something we’re so proud of. We don’t take submissions to play the festival, but we’re always checking out new stuff, so our wish list is as long as our arm when we start booking acts each year."
Make friends everywhere
"We’re supported by some really brilliant people – everyone from independent record labels like Big Scary Monsters and Alcopop, musical equipment companies like Leicester’s Premier Drums and Northampton’s Blackstar Amps, to music organisations like PPL… These partnerships have all happened organically over time and we genuinely call a lot of those people friends. They make the festival possible."
"Having someone on the team who has a really careful eye on the budget is essential. I know some of us have wanted to spend much more than we could really afford to at various points and having someone hold you back, while not the most fun at the time, is really important if you want to stay in business."
Learn to improvise
"Something you never anticipated always happens. Learning to deal with that is one of the most important skills. A band will show up late, or there will be a power cut or a million other possible things will occur all at once. Learning to roll with that, or having people who are great at dealing with those sorts of things in your corner, is essential."
Your friends are your best asset
"Our volunteers are incredible. Some of them have been coming back year after year since our first festival, bringing their own unique talents and learning how to run a festival alongside us. Our stage managers and artist liaison team have grown up with the festival and some of them have gone on to much bigger things over the years – that’s something we’re really proud of."
Handmade Festival is heading to The O2 Academy, Leicester, over the 5-6 May. Weekend and day tickets are available now.