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Guest Column – A Handmade Festival: How to beg borrow and steal your own event

Guest Column – A Handmade Festival: How to beg borrow and steal your own event
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Taking place in Leicester this spring (29 April – 1 May), Handmade Festival is an independent event being staged by the city’s venues and promoters. With the likes of We Are Scientists, Pretty Vicious, Swim Deep and more on the bill, the event’s co-organiser John Helps explains how it all came about in a guest column.

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Handmade is a festival that started as a collaboration between Leicester’s musicians, small venues and promoters. It’s a completely independent, “DIY” Festival that now takes places in the decidedly un-DIY environment of Leicester’s O2 Academy. Where once there was confrontation and derisory internet comments about “corporate music” invading our city, there is now collaboration and cohabitation. We all work together to create something great over three days at the end of April, and it works… somehow. It wasn’t dreamt up by one of the massive national festival promoters, and so It exists, like many small festivals, because somehow we’ve managed to persuade people at every level of our city’s creative community that it is something worth working towards.

The core team behind Handmade is Matt who owns the Firebug venue, Nik who runs The Cookie Venue, Andy Wright who used to own the legendary Charlotte venue and myself – I play in a band called Maybeshewill and had just been putting shows on all over the place. We’ve come together slowly as people volunteered their help and support for the event because I think we all felt the city needed something to fill the void left by previous festivals that had fallen by the wayside.

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It almost looks like a “real” festival right now, which is something I never imagined I’d be saying. We’re six months in to the planning and just about to announce the final two headline acts – with three months until we open doors at the end of April – but it’s been a shambolic journey to get here. Our first years mostly consisted of convincing people to lend us spaces to turn in to venues because the city just didn’t have the larger capacities we needed in the city centre – we’d borrow a gallery here, a museum there, and then we’d build PA systems from mostly broken equipment to accommodate the various bands we’d persuaded to come and play. We put Shonen Knife in to an adult education college lecture theatre, Dry The River in a pub bar and The Twilight Sad in the city’s ancient Guildhall museum… It worked, but only just. Every so often the power would go off on a stage, and everyone would just have to take it in their stride.

Last year we made the move to The O2 Academy and audiences were sceptical for sure. The knife edge production standards were gone, but yeah, so was that slightly shambolic atmosphere people had loved. But that said, I don’t think any of us expected to feel as vindicated as we did once doors were opened on last years event. What’s more punk than convincing the biggest live music institution in the country to let you loose in one of their venues!? They’ve been super supportive and really understand where the festival is coming from, and know what the city needs just as acutely as we think we do. The fact that there have been no power cuts is a bonus.

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This year we’ve been able to take our ideas even further and with them build the festival we’d always imagined. It’s been very rewarding, and we’ve not even made it as far as the festival. Leicester isn’t known for much creatively beyond the questionable accolade of producing Kasabian (depending on your particular tastes), so we know we’re starting from a tough place in terms of convincing the wider world that it’s worth coming here for a weekend. We just have to try and be as good as we possibly can without worrying too much about what other people do. If we love our line-up, then we’re sure other people will do, and that’s basically where we stand.

For more, including the full line-up and latest ticket news, head to Handmadefestival.co.uk


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