The rise (and need) for City and urban music festivals

Another new one-day urban festival was announced today. BY THE SEA is a new partnership between independent London promoters Rockfeedback and the record label / management team Moshi Moshi. Taking place in the (working) Dreamland amusement park, it’s headlined by FOALS (a band the Rockfeedback team were instrumental in supporting and developing in their early years through their Transgressive record label), with a line up of emerging artists due to be announced in support.

This joins some other upcoming new city/urban festivals in 2015. The one day DIALS FESTIVAL (http://kingsportsmouth.co.uk/whats-on/events/dials-festival/) takes place across five venues in Portsmouth; the announced (though nothing revealed yet) three day Festival Republic owned COMMUNITY FESTIVAL in East London (http://www.gigwise.com/news/100497/community-festival-2015-announced) this November and a new DHP run one-dayer MIRRORS in three Hackney venues this October (http://crackmagazine.net/events/news-posts/new-multi-venue-event-mirrors-coming-to-hackney/).

DHP, of course, already run the multi-venue DOT TO DOT FESTIVALS (Nottingham, Bristol and Manchester) which celebrated their 10th anniversary this year. Manchester also houses A CAREFULLY PLANNED FESTIVAL (https://acpfestival.wordpress.com/). In November, my own Sŵn Festival takes over Cardiff venues for a weekend for its 9th edition. (http://www.swnfest.com)

All this is great. It’s no surprise to me that city/urban (let’s call them urban) festivals are finally on the rise. We have an increased number of small music venues struggling to make ends meet (for all kinds of reasons, too many to discuss here, I’ll save it for another post), but we have more, and more, emerging, brilliant bands. Those bands (probably) have jobs or studies in the week, so their weekends are the best time to play, and from a promoters perspective, the weekend is always going to help produce a stronger audience when people don’t have to think about going to work the next morning. Add to that you can open doors early, make it an all-dayer, split production costs and therefore offer incredible value (Sŵn is £42 for a weekend ticket, and there’ll be around 120 bands playing). As a result, urban festivals, if run well, can probably deliver bands a much bigger audience than a midweek show could offer and deliver the audience a far better experience —making it all a lot more fun for everyone.

What’s more, in the main, these events are run by local, independent, music entrepreneurs. [The only exception I can see is the Live Nation owned COMMUNITY — but as I said, that’s not revealed a line up, or tickets, yet] That’s terrific for the local economy and culture — any money bought in is circulating around the local economy. The best of these festivals tend to build a mix of incoming bands and the best of local talent — showcasing local emerging artists and building audiences for other UK or international acts. They tend to help fill local venues and spaces with much needed footfall and income too — I recall how one Cardiff venue manager told me how in three days of Sŵn his takings eclipsed what he’d usually take in 12 weeks.

In these tough times of budget cuts, City Councils and the like would be wise to look to their local music entrepreneurs to create new events such as these, or support their exisiting events and work with them on new initiatives. Too often they are dazzled by bright shiny things from afar, when a moderate investment into local talent could yield brilliant results for everyone — supporting local businesses; bringing in visitors and showcasing their City at its best.