Handmade Festival 2014 Playlist
John Helps is all things to all people: moving effortlessly between Maybeshewill guitarist, Her Name Is Calla bassist, promoter, producer, music lover and all-round nice guy, for the past two years he's also been heavily involved with Handmade Festival in Leicester. We caught up with him to find out a bit more about this year's event and what, exactly, an event curator actually does.
(((O))) This is Handmade's second year, is that correct? Tell us a bit about how the festival came about; what was the ethos behind it and how did you set it in motion?
That’s right. Last year we learnt that Leicester wouldn't have a large scale music festival anymore after Summer Sundae closed its doors - that was a really big part of the city’s musical calendar and one of the few things that lots of people would come out and get involved with. We didn't aspire to replicate or replace it, but we wanted there to be something to bring the city’s musical community together in some small way. The event came to fruition in a very short period of time really, with a lot of help from friends, other promoters, bands, artists… It was a very rewarding time. We’d been running an event called White Noise Festival before, curated exclusively by Maybeshewill and comprised only of Leicester based artists previously and it grew out of that but with added national acts and a bit more ambition.
The ethos is that it’s a ‘curated’ event put together by people that really give a fuck about what they’re doing. It’s not an event that can ever make a lot of money so we have to do it to make it the best event we can. That’s the impetus behind it, and the sole driving force I guess. Hopefully we go some way towards achieving that.
(((O))) How did last year's event go? What were the highlights? Was there anything you didn't feel went quite as well as you'd hoped?
Last year was surprisingly awesome. Surprising in that we genuinely didn't know what to expect and had put everything together in such a short time. It’s so hard to pick highlights, but the double whammy of Tall Ships and Dutch Uncles closing the festival in the downstairs bar at Firebug was totally magic. Rolo Tomassi headlining the Friday night was a personal favourite as well as Katie Malco playing in Bishop Street Church. So much so that we've asked her back to do the same again this year after she released one of my records of the year last year.
(((O))) What's your aim for this year in terms of the feel of the event? Are you going for 'Bigger Better Brighter' or 'Close-Knit Community’?
It’ll be similar to last year. It’s all very DIY and we have to beg borrow and steal various things to make the event happen so it will never be a corporate sponsored, pristine, shiny set up, but it’s got some real personality which I think comes across. We put pop-up stages in weird places like libraries and historic buildings so compromises have to be made, but all to make the festival as good as it can be and to make it as interesting as possible.
(((O))) What does the title of "event curator" actually mean? Are you involved in actually booking the bands, or do you just have to draw up a wishlist of people you'd like to play?!
Ha ha! I book the bands. I also pick 90% of them with help from our partner curators which this year include ArcTanGent and 2000 Trees, Alcopop and Big Scary Monsters. I pretty much start with a wish list and then work my way through it. It tends to be people I've met through Maybeshewill, bands I've been putting on for years and people I've always wanted to bring to Leicester. It works pretty well I think.
(((O))) There's been a bit of a rash of post-rock / math-rock / post-metal festivals springing up recently - Beyond The Redshift immediately springs to mind, and the most high-profile example is probably ArcTanGent, which also celebrated its inaugural year in 2013 (and which Maybeshewill performed at, of course). Do you think this is representative of a growing fan base for what is arguably less-accessible, more cerebral music? Is it simply a response to the growing number of bands within these genres? Or do you think the demand has always been there, and there simply haven't been events to cater for it in the past?
I don’t have a clue! We never really intended to be that kind of event - The majority of last years acts certainly wouldn't fall in to that category - but i suppose because of Maybeshewill’s involvement that was inevitable in some of the choices. There have always been smaller scale events like Off The Cuff going on and a large part of 2000 Trees was dedicated to that, so maybe people are just seeing that that audience really cares about it’s music and is willing to travel huge distances for the right bill? It’s not something I thought about - this is just the music I’m in to.
(((O))) What are the best and worst things about curating a festival?
The best thing is getting to enforce your music taste upon a city and then to stand there at the end of the weekend and watch the last act with a pint. The worst thing for me is that for about 4 months of the year I’m virtually impossible to talk to. There is so much information to be processed and so many decisions I have to make that I can’t really communicate properly about anything else. Jamie from Maybeshewill observed how much worse my memory gets in the run up to the event.
(((O))) What are you most looking forward to about Handmade Festival this year? Is there one band you're particularly excited about having on the line-up?
I love all of the line-up which is a brilliant position to be in. Finally getting And So I Watch You From Afar back to Leicester to headline Friday night is a bit of a personal goal achieved - having toured with them years ago and then watched them grow in to the monster they are today has been very pleasing. Haiku Salut and Katie Malco in Bishops Street Church will be MAGIC and some of the stuff I haven’t been able to announce yet is very exciting.
(((O))) Will you even be able to see any of the event?! Talk us through what the weekend will be like for you.
Last year I got to see a fair bit. I do have to prioritise and be on call for when something goes wrong, but usually I can relax a bit once every things have actually kicked off. I spent most of Saturday watching lovely music in Bishop Street Church and hopping between the pop-up venues making sure everything felt right. I organise a lot of the volunteers as well so I pop round and check everyone's okay. I do just look like I’m walking about talking to people not looking very busy while everyone else runs about looking worried though.
(((O))) I'm sure this year's festival is top of your mind at the moment, but have you started thinking at all about 2015?
I've never guaranteed that it’s an ongoing thing, so after this one's over I’ll start thinking about if it will happen again. I like to keep the city on its toes. It’s the biggest thing I do each year though, and I do love it to bits.
(((O))) If money, location and prior commitments were no object, what would your dream line-up be for Handmade Festival?
Between the last two years I’ve got pretty close to an achievable dream line up. I’d like to bring Blakfish, Oceansize, Colour and Reuben back from the dead as headliners though. Maybe get Biffy Clyro to do Vertigo of Bliss in full. Mogwai doing Hardcore Will Never Die in full?
Early Bird tickets for Handmade Festival 2014 are currently available at the absolute bargain price of £25 - get one before they all go!