Infest Festival – interview

 

Infest is an annual three-day music festival held at the University of Bradford in the United Kingdom. It was born in 1998 through the initiative of three students of the University of Bradford and the Students’ Union Entertainments manager. During the years, the festival changed its orientation from goth and darkwave style to electronic genres, such as synthpop, EBM, power noise, future pop, but it also kept its interest in the industrial music genre. This year’s edition will traditionally take place at the University of Bradford on 25-27 August. After visiting Infest last year, I returned home quite impressed by the whole experience. I asked Infest crew to answer a couple of questions for us.

1. How was the whole idea of organising a festival conceived? What inspired you to start a festival? What does the name Infest stand for?

Chris: The venue manager at the Bradford University Students’ Union in 1998 used to run a club in Leeds named Le Phono during the 1980s when the Sisters of Mercy were locals. He knew goths could drink a lot and needed to improve his bar takings at the student union during the summer months, so it was a simple leap of logic to get the local goth students to organise an event.

The name came from a friend of ours called Ross, or Sneaky Bat as he was known at the time. He mashed the words Industrial and Festival into a simple portmanteau.

2. You have always succeeded in booking well-known headliners right from the start. You had notable names such as Alien Sex Fiend the first year and Apoptygma Berzerk the year after. VNV Nation and In Strict Confidence followed in 2000. How did you manage to have such a good starting point?

edited__20160813_181825Chris: From day one we wanted more than we were given, budget-wise. So much so that we “broke the bank” within 2 years as a student event. Alien Sex Fiend were still active in 1998 so it wasn’t so hard to find them, but having them play at a show with only 400 ticket holders was pretty crazy, with hindsight. We also tried to get Rosetta Stone that year, but little did we know as fanboys they were in the process of breaking up…

As for Apoptygma Berzerk in 1999, well after we finally got Stefan Herwig’s phone number and called him up (we had been told he was their agent), we convinced the Entertainments Manager at Bradford University that APB were the next big thing in the goth world and encouraged him to spend far more than he should, but at least it made a name for us! Infest would have died after 1999 if it wasn’t for Mark and his experience. He had been telling us to book Project Pitchfork since day one (he eventually did) and of course VNV Nation were on everyone’s play lists in 2000. I hadn’t even heard of In Strict Confidence at the time, but Mark of course knew what he was doing.

3. The line ups that followed afterwards were also rather impressive. How have the visitors responded to that?

Chris: We have gained ourselves a reputation in the UK for booking acts that are UK exclusives and UK premier appearances. People trust us to show them something they don’t know or haven’t seen before in the UK. Of course as the internet has grown (how old do I sound saying that?!) everyone can see the acts on the line-ups at German, Belgian or Scandinavian festivals, but back in 2000 Mark’s life on tour meant he got to see lots of acts that most of us UK scene kids had never heard of…

4. Besides Whitby and Infest, I am not aware of any other festival in the UK which covers some of the music genres that you do. What do you think about the “alternative” and “underground” music scene in UK compared to the rest of the Europe?

Chris: The UK had a show in Sheffield called Resistanz. In their early years the line up was very similar to something we would book, in later editions they branched out a little but ultimately folded. Many people still miss ‘Tanz at Easter time!

We also remember a one-off show called Dark Jubilee, in the year of the Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee, 2002. They had an awesome lineup but it wasn’t sustainable with the size of the UK scene. I still have a t shirt tucked away somewhere.

Then there was Dark City in Edinburgh that started in 2004 but folded in 2007. Again, it’s a story of not enough people to support the shows that UK promoters want to book.

In short, it’s tough booking these acts in the UK! I don’t think the UK is that different from other countries other than Germany, that has the huge Schwarz Scene.

5. Chris, you are the only founding member of Infest still involved in the organisation. When and how did Mark join?

Chris: Mark essentially restarted the show in 2000 after we kids broke the bank at the university! He was already booking these kind of acts in Manchester and running the successful Underworld club night at the much missed Jilly’s Rockworld. Did I mention that we were already taking advice from him? It was an obvious move for him to take the helm.

6. How do the two of you divide the tasks of organising each edition? Are there any other members in the core organisation?

2016_before_lowresChris: We’ve been doing this in various incarnations of the same team for 20 years so we mostly know our roles and expertise. We have a lot of relevant skills in the team, some of which has been heavily informed by this over-gown hobby festival. Careers have been shaped by it.

Mark looks after the things that cost money, like booking the artists, organising hospitality, all of the international travel and the artist accommodation, as well as hired in equipment. He’s a musician and a music professional so he runs the budget! His day job is as a tour manager, mostly for heavy metal bands, so I like to think he can do this in his sleep.

I look after the customer enquiries and promotion side, as well as ticketing, the volunteer crew, plus booking in our market traders and the advertisers in our programme. If you chat to someone online it’s probably me. I’m a project manager for a ticketing company by trade.

We also have Lee in the team who used to look after traders and crew as well as the box office. She has taken more of a back seat recently but we still have her running the box office on the event weekend. Music event ticketing is her day job for big outdoor festivals and a national promotion company, so she knows more than any of us about how to run a guest list and be efficient with wristbands and ticket sales!

Richard aka Ricardo is another long-time core member of the team. He is a graphic designer and is the one who makes us look so professional in print and online. The effort he puts in to our original artwork each year is amazing.

In the tech crew, we have a core group who have been with us for years, many of whom were at, or at least remember Infest ’98. Iain, Wayne and Pete in-particular. Pete had never heard of this type of Synthpop before running the lights at Infest. Now you’ll see him as a regular crew member at many Pluswelt Promotions shows in Germany and on the tour bus with Mesh as their in-house Lighting Director! Infest brings people together <3

There’s also an ever-evolving cast of weekend crew who make the show work and make the event very special. Props to Tim in Hospitality and Debs who is our recently conscripted Merchandise supervisor.

7. In 2014 you almost decided not to have Infest. What happened that year?

Chris: Two words “Alt-Fest”.

It was actually in 2013 that we announced that we didn’t think we’d be back in 2014.

A lot of people in the UK were sucked in by what some of us in the industry and “scene” could see was an unrealistic proposal scheduled for two weeks before Infest was due to take place. They ran a huge promotional campaign from 2012 right up to summer of 2014 when they ultimately cancelled the show and lost a lot of people a lot of money. It was very sad for the UK scene and really messed up bookings for at least a year because artists were not available due to a show they’d never get to perform at.

The summer of 2013 in-particular was very tough for us ticket sales-wise, as people put money aside and bought expensive Alt-Fest tickets with camping, on payment plans. At that point we announced that we probably wouldn’t be able to run a show in 2014 up against Alt-Fest, but encouraged by friends and fans we decided to go ahead and run infest 2014 anyway, even if it meant making a loss, just to keep our name and event in the annual diary.

After Alt-Fest was cancelled we had a massive up-swell of grassroots support that helped us realise we had to keep going! You can join the “Infest Army” unofficial fan club on Facebook.                                                                                                           3TEETH photo by Marek Isalski

3TEETH_2016_Photo_POSITIONAL_LOWRES8. You are personally rather supportive of other European festivals and you visit some of them. In your opinion, how much does the mutual support of the organisers of similar events help to keep up the interest of the audience in this particular scene?

Chris: This is a good question! I think there are two distinct categories of event in my opinion. I see Infest in the grass-roots “doing it for the scene” category. Certainly we run our show in order to showcase acts we love and bring them to our shores. With other shows like ours, including events like ElectriXmas in Malmo in Sweden, or BIMfest in Sint-Niklaas in Belgium, I think it matters hugely. We support each other and know the organisers, see them at events and promote each other.

In the other category are the big German events that are part of a self-sustaining music scene anyway and wouldn’t notice if we didn’t exist. Having said that, we love WGT, Amphi, M’era Luna and Out Of Line Weekender, to name but four. I personally organise friends and fans of Infest as much as I can, in order to help “our gang” visit these shows. People organise themselves when it comes to travel and hotels, but simple things like Facebook groups encouraging people to make friends and meet up when we get there really does help encourage people to try it and taste the big German events. It’s an attempt to help the Infest family go on holiday together.

9. What do you think are the differences between the festivals in UK and the rest of Europe?

Chris: I think it boils down to the size of the music scene in the UK compared to, most starkly Germany for example. The Schwarz Scene almost seems a rite of passage in Germany, and that equates to bigger festival budgets due to the sheer volume of attendees. Look what happens when people try to organise a show the size of M’era Luna in Northamptonshire. People lose their businesses and have to sell their houses.

10. You include a lot of the “first time in UK” bands in your line ups. How do you select the bands? What is the criteria?

Chris: It can be quite involved! There are a lot of bases for us to try and cover with a limited amount of time and budget. We do showcase a lot of bands that haven’t played the UK before, or at the very least we try to book bands who are exclusively playing for us this season. This can be very expensive, but that’s our USP (Unique Selling Point). Exclusivity is important when it comes to getting people to buy weekend festival tickets and accommodation. Hotels and travel plans are expensive. The show has got to be worthwhile.

But we also try to cover a lot of the different styles that make up the broad church that is alternative electronic or industrial music whilst working hard to avoid repeating artists too often. We really like to mix it up – a synth pop band followed by some power noise followed by some old school industrial followed by something unexpected. Every edition is different!

Mix that with a desire to showcase the best and brightest hopes in the UK scene and it becomes a tricky balancing act. It’s also tough when you’re booking acts a year in advance to predict which up and coming acts are going to be the next thing but we have had quite a few results in the past and we have an amazing audience who will check out every band so hopefully we are doing something right!

11. Last year I received the list of the bands that the visitors would like to see in the future. We could vote for our favourite bands. How much do you take into account your visitors’ interest in some acts when you decide about the next Infest line up?

Grausame Töchter phto by Sean Gummer

Chris: The SunIMG_3710_tag_lowresday Questionnaire at Infest is something of an institution. Some may laugh that we hand out pens and paper, but our charity raffle (with prizes gifted by bands, traders and sponsors) really does make for a fun afternoon!

We ALWAYS read the answers and I can’t tell you how painful it is manually recording the scores, but we do!

We obviously have to limit things by availability of the acts and the budget for the show, so we can’t just book the top 16 acts voted for. We do sometimes include acts that we know we can’t afford, but it helps to understand our fans want. Feel free to vote for Nine Inch Nails all week long…

We make a huge effort to include new acts in that list, not least to see if our fans have actually heard of them. We sometimes see acts we are already planning to book get very few votes because they’re relatively unknown. Thankfully our fans trust us to book artists they don’t know, so you see the questionnaire isn’t just a popularity contest. It is however very valuable research for us.

12. What is your criteria for choosing the DJ’s?

Chris: We try to ensure that local scenes in the UK are supported. We want local DJs to come to Infest and bring their own gangs and crews with them. We don’t have enough slots to book DJs from all of the club nights we enjoy attending, but we try to rotate the familiar names and bring in new blood too.

We also try to get some DJs that have impressed us from overseas too, as well as artists who are willing to take to the decks. We are unashamed fans of the Belgian scene and having Dirk Ivens (aka DJ Skullscraper) and Peter Mastbooms (aka DJ Borg) play for us is an absolute honour this coming August.

Next year is our 20th show and no matter how hard we try we know we can’t bring back all of the amazing acts who have appeared for us in those 21 years (230+ bands and counting!) but we WILL be having some superstar DJs behind the decks…

13. What does Infest provide besides great bands and DJ’s? What can be found at the premises?

Chris: Infest has always been about creating a safe space for fans of our lifestyle. It’s about more than the music, but it is that which underpins Infest and is that which has brought us all together.                                                                                                    Pop Will Eat Itself photo by Sean Gummer

IMG_3364_tag_lowresAgain, harking back to the days before you could buy latex and PVC online so easily, we wanted to offer market traders who made and sold the clothes we wanted to wear. Today you can buy off the peg clothing online, but will it fit? Many of our customers deliberately bring hard cash to Infest because they know the shopping is so good! Where else can you get tailor made clothing from punk, goth, fetish and alternative fashion designer Jed Phoenix of London and actually have Jed herself measure you up?! We also have boutique sellers who scour the scenes in Germany, Canada and the USA for fashions you can’t buy in the UK. These are the traders we offer.

In addition, we’ve always tried to facilitate people buying the music we love. Back in 1998 and 1999 I was buying music from Infrarot and having it imported from Germany. Mark was buying CDs on tour and selling them at his club nights, because there were so few outlets for our kind of music in the UK. Playing a new track in the club, filling the dancefloor, then selling the CD was a genius move quite frankly! When Music Non Stop came along it was an obvious tie-up for many good years, especially when our friend Richard D took over the brand. Now MNS are gone we have teamed up with Jacek at Storming the Base and we are pleased to say that he more than shares our grass roots attitude and professional, audiophile outlook!

14. This year Infest lost one of the crew members, Tails. I have seen Tails during the Infest 2016 while he made the announcements on stage in a very humorous manner and I instantly fell in love with his memorable performance. Tails has been part of the crew since the early days and Infest will surely miss him. Will there be a special celebration in his honour at this year’s Infest?

Chris: We were all very shocked and saddened by Tails’ passing. At his family’s request we will be supporting Mind the mental health charity at this year’s event in his honour, and we will be ensuring that mental health is something that people can talk about. We’re planning a tea party with home-made cakes and treats, with proceeds going to the charity. Tails loved tea!

Tails used to love dressing up too, so we’ll be maintaining the tradition of “Team Wrong” and their guerilla parties. There is talk of a micro-rave!

We think Tails would want us to not make a fuss, and to keep calm and carry on, so we’re going to do just that.

infest_2017_1920x80015. Do you have some special surprises for us this year, obviously, besides the great line up?

Chris: As well as the tea party and the micro-rave, you can expect to see our very own Doctor Tixylix in attendance as usual. We’re hoping to organise a few teams at the local Laser Quest, because who doesn’t love running around in the dark with laser guns, right? There will no doubt be much, much more, unplanned and unscripted entertainment…

16. Where can people interested in attending this year’s edition get the most information about Infest and follow upcoming announcements?

Chris: The best thing to do is Like and Follow us on Facebook, and Follow us on Twitter. We’ll be resurrecting an old-fashioned Email mailing list soon, we promise! Our online headquarters can be found at www.infestuk.com

Mind.In.A.Box featured photo by Marek Isalski

 

 

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