Access provides a few take home insights from another fabulous AIF Congress, which took place in Sheffield, 6-7 November

Gill Tee, founder, Black Deer Festival: “I wake up every day an think how much I love my festival, and so do my friends, and family. Being independent as an owner means I can make choices in how I look after the person who bought the ticket as well as everyone on my site. So I’m very proud of being independent. Entertee Hire, my company, look at all angles of producing the festival.”

Jon Walsh, co-founder and director, Kambe Events: “It’s a passion, a personal endeavour, and a risk. We put our heart and soul into it, and everything is on the line. Personal independence has been a big discussion, and Shambala’s been at core of it, I think there’s an element of being free from outside influence, you can always listen to the people putting an event on with you. Product placement and sponsorship can be handled on your own terms, with freedom of choice and creativity.”

Goc O’Callaghan, events and music consultant: “There’s a lot of festivals that focus on smaller capacities, and independence. This allows you to focus on more intimate and personal experiences. Music is an integral part of that, but I like to look at creating that fear of missing out event.”

Rob Nosworthy, director and site manager for Nozstock The Hidden Valley: “Year on year we continue to expand what a traditional festival is. I talk to people starting out, and how to find a community, progress and grow by nurturing that. Now we have festivals on so many topics, music, fashion, wherever there’s a strong community, there’s room to expand on that, and bring people together. We have a long list of people we want to include, but we don’t really follow that touring schedule.”

Conglomerate warning

AIF CEO Paul Reed weighed in on the threats to independent festivals from the big players

At Congress we published our updated ownership map, showing that just under 30% of the market is owned by two companies – Live Nation & AEG. AIF now represent 19.49% of the market.

   Superstruct is a new entry and the second largest UK festival operator with 6.52% of the market having acquired a number of festivals earlier this year including Boardmasters, Tramlines, Victorious, and Truck Festival.

We repeat our warning: Allowing a single company to dominate festivals, and the live music sector in general through vertical integration results in a stranglehold that stifles competition throughout the sector.

The volunteering boom

Robin Wilkinson, director at My Cause UK says: “Emotional labour is 90% of the job. You can be a great administrator but you have to be able to communicate well with your volunteers. It’s important to empower and enable a volunteer! The energy and enthusiasm an individual can bring to an event can be a powerful force to harness!”

Making stories

Owen Kingston, artistic director of Parabolic Theatre discussed the concept of being ‘immersive’

We give audiences a lot of control over their journey. We don’t use decision trees because that’s very limiting for consumers, as every decision creates a wall beyond which you can’t go, and this counters the whole idea of being immersive. You can’t then learn, play and be immersed.

To create artificial structures breaks the idea of immersion. Instead, we bend a structure around the audience’s decisions – whatever they might be. For example in a World War II event, For King and Country: D-Day, we staged a scenario about the Nazis invading Britain. We built the drama around the Nazis possessing a superweapon, and one of the options was that the Nazis built an atomic weapon, and it would be launched at a certain point of the show.

One of the participants said: “Why don’t we capture it and fire it back”. We hadn’t thought of that as an option, so we didn’t refuse the request. Instead, we improvised a scenario in which they fire it back.

Adaptability is important, as we can truly achieve something special. The immersive art form does something conventional theatre can’t do. It’s like listening to an album compared to going to a festival. You have the illusion of control. By walking in someone’s shoes there’s a change that can happen inside.