London-based independent event promoter Eat Your Own Ears (EYOE) is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a show across three stages at Depot Mayfield in Manchester on 19 November. Tom Baker, EYOE founder and co-founder of Field Day festival, tells Access about his launch of a new festival and record label this year. He also provides his views on what the increasing dominance of major corporations means for the live music industry.
Tom Baker launched Eat Your Own Ears (EYOE) 20 years ago, promoting shows at the 93 Feet East club venue on Brick Lane, east London. Initially partnering with indie labels including Rough Trade, Mute, Warp and Domino to promote gigs by fledgling acts, the promoter played a key role in helping to boost the early careers of numerous artists, including Florence + The Machine, Four Tet and Hot Chip.
In 2007, Baker co-founded the Field Day Festival, which has evolved into the 25,000-capacity event that was staged at Victoria Park this year. Despite no longer having anything to do with the Broadwick Live-owned one-day event, Baker’s passion for festivals remains undiminished. In June this year he was behind the launch of the Sands festival at Dreamland in Margate (pictured). Focused on electronica, jazz and soul music, the event saw performances from acts including BICEP, Floating Points, The Comet Is Coming and Elkka.
Congratulations on reaching your 20th anniversary as an independent promoter. Does it feel like a major landmark?
I’ve never really done anniversaries before, I’ve always wanted to look forward rather than back, but 20 years is a milestone to be part of this world. It felt important to do something to mark it, and staging an event outside of London was an exciting prospect, especially with The Warehouse Project.
How formative was your time at 93 Feet East?
It is where Eat Your Own Ears started, it was built from there. It was always about working closely with record labels and presenting their recent signings and more established artists.
I built relationships with artists and started to work with booking agents. One of my first headline shows was Clinic, who was signed to Domino. The well-known agent Russell Warby taught me how to present a costing, which was a whole new way of working for me, and from then on I became a more traditional promoter in the sense of promoting headline artists.
How important was the launch of Field Day in terms of the development of EYOE?
Eat Your Own Ears helped to build Field Day, and that’s when we really made a name for ourselves in London as a promoter. We had a very good run with Field Day. We started it at a time when the market wasn’t so overly saturated, and a one-day multi-genre event at a cheap ticket price was quite a new thing. We learned a lot over the years and we put on some amazing artists; PJ Harvey, Patti Smith, reforming Ride to headline. I believe the founders got out at the right time, before it became very much harder in an oversaturated market with a lot of festivals, not just one-day events.
What led you to get back into the world of promoting festivals this year?
I love the concept of a multi-genre event with a diverse line-up, somewhere you can discover new stuff and see some of your favourite artists all on one day. I launched the Sands with Soundcrash. It had a 6,000 capacity. It felt exciting to be part of that again, but it’s very different doing it in a site that is ready-made, you don’t have to put everything into a field – the stages, toilets and bars are already there so we can really focus on the creative curatorial element of it – that’s what I always enjoy.
What’s the ambition with Sands festival? Is there room for growth?
At the moment it is two stages, with potential for three. We can grow it to a 15,000 capacity event and there is potential to do camping, so we are looking at making it a weekend event, but we want to build it slowly and organically. Margate is a great place, it is very accessible from London, and a lot of people have moved there from London. It is a bubbling creative hub with many musicians and artists living there.
What led you to launch the record label Eat Your Own Ears Recordings this year?
I wanted to do something different, learn something new and work with new people. I am working with promoter Lucy Pitkethly, who’s worked with me for 13 years, and we are now building new relationships with artists and managers in a different way. We have signed an act called Bloodmoon, who is Dougy Mandagi from the band The Temper Trap. We’re releasing EPs with artists that we’ve worked with over the past 20 years, including exclusive tracks by acts such as Arab Strap, Four Tet and Metronomy, alongside new artists like Tyson. We will then release a vinyl album as a celebration of all the genres and artists that we’ve worked with.
The industry has changed significantly over the past two decades. Do you think it is harder to be an independent promoter now the major corporations control such a significant chunk of the market?
A lot has changed over the years. Many of the independent festivals in the market when we were working on Field Day ended up selling to Global, who acquired a portfolio of festivals. We were part of that. Then Global sold a whole lot of festivals and Superstruct picked up many of them. It’s quite amazing how many festivals are now under the umbrella of Live Nation and Superstruct. I know the people that run those festivals still run them in the same way but they’ve got the support of bigger organisations, which is key because they are operating in a very competitive world. It is similar with agents, you have the big agencies Wasserman, CAA and WME, and not many independents. There is still the spirit of independence, it’s about the individuals doing a good job. There’s positives and negatives but, at the end of the day, as long as artists are represented in the right way, the right shows are put on and festivals are run well, then maybe it doesn’t matter as much as people thought it did when I first started.
THIS ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED IN THE LATEST EDITION OF ACCESS ALL AREAS MAGAZINE – SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE HERE.