Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Gig Review: Wakefield Rock Festival 2010

From the sweaty, metrosexual paradise of Camden to the glamorous, tropical utopia that is Wakefield. Well, Ossett to be precise. Ossett football grounds to be specific, for the inaugural Wakefield Rock festival which was bizarrely headlined by Pitchshifter and InMe, also containing Senser on the lineup. The rest of the bands were taken up with local acts and some bands from further afield that seem to have been picked purely from the festival organiser's personal music taste.

I'll be honest, I feel churlish criticising this festival. The whole thing was a fundraiser for a local hospice, so it was all for a good cause and the intentions were both well-formed and noble. However, I'd also feel like a fraud if I claimed I had a good time. Constructive criticism ahoy, then.

The subtle art of choosing your battles.
If your aim is to put on a local fundraising gig, be aware of your catchment area. If you are staging in Ossett (a relatively small Yorkshire village with less-than-ideal transport access), you probably shouldn't book a venue with a thousands-strong capacity. Because when around 100 people show up, both you and they will be disappointed. Especially when they start heading home - the smaller the audience, the quicker they leave. Equally, charity aside, £35 per ticket for a lineup this obscure was presumably a consequence of the venue booked. I pay that much for Infest, which has a vastly superior attendance, band booking and organisational setup. I know a couple of people who didn't go purely because they didn't feel it was value for money. I myself didn't even know it was for charity until I arrived.

The moderately subtle art of booking the right bands.
Again, for a local fundraising gig you don't want to expend resources and precious cash on drawing in bands from around the country unless they're a draw. There were a couple of bands from Wales and London playing, and I can guarantee they brought precisely zero fans with them apart from the odd girlfriend. Only bands with buzz (former or current) are any kind of a draw, unless they're local. If you're looking for bill filler, don't be afraid to completely exhaust local talent. I can guarantee if these acts had been replaced with more acts from Sheffield/Leeds there would have been more tickets sold. Also, these bands all sounded the bloody same. Nu-grunge drone. It's probably what the organisers like to listen to, which is fine for a personal event but not so much if your main objective is to make money or achieve sustainability year-on-year.

The almost completely unsubtle art of realising what year it is.
Pitchshifter. Senser. InMe. I'm certainly a big fan of the first two, so no personal objections here. And all three acts were certainly more of a draw than anything else on the lineup. And I realise that when you're throwing a fundraiser, you're more concerned with who is cheap or generous than who is on the front cover of Kerrang! this week. But I am absolutely sure that there are plenty of up-and-coming young bands who would have played this for gratis or petrol money. 30-40 Pitchshifter fans in their thirties versus 90-100 teenagers. The math does itself. Seriously, these three bands are all well past their sell-by date. That's no reflection on quality, purely marketability. If you want to book these bands, great. Fantastic! I hate lineups that are all magazine cover fodder and no substance, and there are plenty of amazing British bands sidelined over the years who deserve to still be playing big gigs and headlining them. But you better pad them out with whatever is 'in', or your event will suffer.

The completely bloody obvious art of tea-and-toilets promotion skills.

You haven't sold many tickets? Don't spend money on massive food and drink vans when there is an onsite café and bar available. You want a compere between acts? Get someone with stage presence, charisma and an idea of what to say. The organiser's mawkish and heartfelt enthusiasm will only go so far spread over an entire weekend. You want a sodding audience? Advertise. Advertise. Advertise. The one and only way I knew of this event was from my friend asking me if I wanted to go. The one and only way he knew was through the Pitchshifter mailing list. The foremost chunk of the budget for any low-level event should be advertising and direct promotion. If no one knows, no one turns up. I have mentioned this festival to several people since who would have attended for Pitchshifter and Senser alone if they had actually heard of it.

So. How was it? Not great, is the answer. I'll pick out a few bands. Evil Scarecrow were playing when we arrived, and to be fair they were an accomplished and amusing comedy metal act with songs about killer robots (and accompanying robot guitar dancing). The 9Plan were possibly the worst band I have ever seen. I think they were a tongue-in-cheek Primus/pub rock crossover act, but to be honest I don't want to think too hard about it in case they materialise in front of me and only I can see them and OH GOD THEY CAN'T DIE. One chorus refrain was a repeated mindless bleating of "fifteen double vodkas" over and over and over again, which managed to be even worse than it sounds. Pitchshifter headlined the first day and put in a fair amount of enthusiasm for the limited crowd on display, with the likes of "Genius", "Virus" and "Microwaved" developing a mini-pit.

The second day left Moo and myself so dispirited that we only headed over to Ossett for Senser, who were great despite their anarchist politico-rap industrial dissolving in intensity a little now they all look like very liberal secondary school teachers. Having said that, both male (Geography) and female (French) vocal performances were spot on and tracks like "States Of Mind" and "Age Of Panic" are still killers. It highlighted the incongruous nature of the gig when the entire band couldn't actually fit on stage, with the decks (Art) operated while precariously balanced in front of the monitors.

Also, I ate an awful copy of a Feast bar called a Festival. And the vinegar for the fish and chips was labelled as "fish and chips flavour condiment". And my bald, bald head got a bit burned. All in all, I have had better festival experiences.

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