Photo: Joe Singh
With ArcTanGent having just celebrated it's massive seventh consecutive year and with 2000 Trees being championed with plaudits and awards on high, it's no surprise that these festivals are the fastest growing events within the UK. Whilst at this year's ArcTanGent we sat down with the head organiser James Scarlett to discuss the success of both festivals, the challenges of hosting growing festivals, hosting UK exclusives, his advice on hosting festivals, his ideal headliners and much more!
So it's the seventh consecutive year of ArcTanGent, when you originally planned the festival did you ever anticipate it getting this far?
James: Well I suppose the plan was for it to get this far, but I didn't think we ever really knew it would. I think we took a bit of a punt at the start and we didn't know that anyone would actually care about the kind of narrow niche we were focusing on, but they ultimately did. I think they were about three or four thousand people here on the first year, so yeah, it's grown.
Both ArcTanGent and 2000 Trees have ballooned massively in recent years, what's that been like from the standpoint of a promoter?
James: Well, it brings it's own challenges with obviously having more people here. For me it's really important that we as a festival realise why people come to our festivals and one of the reasons they come is because it's small, intimate and independent, so you have to respect that and not just focus on selling more and more tickets. I don't think ArcTanGent will grow much more than it is now really, the nature of the bands we book constricts it.
Has there been any new logistical challenges with the festivals growing?
James: Yeah, but it's the boring things like car parks, toilets and yesterday there was quite a big queue at the wristband exchange and people where having to wait to get in which was a bit disappointing, we didn't quite get that right. To be honest the main logistical challenge here is the weather, particularly high wind, there was a lot of festivals cancelled last weekend. High winds are scary, there's nothing you can do about it. The rain is fine, but when the wind comes in it's scary, it can shut down a whole festival. That's the main fear.
Bristol is a hotbed for alternative contemporary music. Was that one of the reasons for hosting ArcTanGent in this region?
James: Yeah, I love the Bristol music scene and we're trying really hard to support that scene, we've got loads of Bristol bands about this weekend and we had loads of Bristol bands playing 2000 Trees. But I think we learned from 2000 Trees is that basing a festival in the middle of nowhere, nowhere a city is probably not the right way to go. We still wanted to be in south west and Bristol is a no brainer really.
Both ArcTanGent and 2000 Trees have hosted a fair few UK exclusives these past few years, how difficult is it organise and confirm these exclusive one off performances?
James: The way it works really is, you talk to the band and agent what their plan is for the year, so asking if they're playing other festivals, are they playing other tours. So in the case of Meshuggah, they're only playing here so it's much more enticing for a Meshuggah fan than if they've just done a ten date UK tour and they're playing Bloodstock as well. But obviously that will affect the price. So I don't necessarily always want exclusives as you pay more for it. So for instance, for Every Time I Die we flew them from America to 2000 Trees just to play a show before heading straight back again, whereas when the band's on tour they're already here and it's a lot cheaper to book them. Exclusives are cool, they work much better here at ArcTanGent because people are just so dedicated to certain bands, so like Battles, we flew them in, they might do a few other shows but they're here mainly for ArcTanGent.
Like you said, ArcTanGent focuses on a niche corner of the music industry, where did the inspiration come to host a festival that focuses only on that genre?
James: Because at 2000 Trees, we started putting on bands like 65daysofstatic, Three Trapped Tigers, And So I Watch You From Afar, Maybeshewill, The Physics House Band and these were some of the most requested bands. Suddenly we thought hang on, there's this pocket of math rock and post rock fans who are here just for this, let's take that and turn it into a separate festival. Clearly it worked.
So obviously both 2000 Trees and ArcTanGent are highly successful events. From your experience what would be your best piece of advice for young promoters trying to host their own events?
James: Well, it's kind of difficult. I think if you're going to do anything outdoors you have to realise that there's hugely expensive to put on an outdoor event. So my advice is that you need to be very confident you have something unique, you need to ask yourself what are you selling? A lot of people come up with really generic new festivals, like here's another festival that's just like all the other festivals and actually, why would anyone go to that and all you end up doing is losing loads of money. What I'm saying is that you have to have a concept, an unique selling point. Like ArcTanGent has a very clear concept, everyone here knows what it is and it's genre is.
Both 2000 Trees and ArcTanGent have proven to be extremely socially conscious festivals. Do you think it's vital that festivals need promote such vales in this day and age from a business perspective?
James: Well, I don't think anyone in the world is arguing against single use plastics for instance. The whole world is in board for that whenever you're a multinational corporation or an independent festival. I don't think it's important that festivals have a political standpoint, I mean we're not Glastonbury and I think you need to be very careful about pushing your own political agenda with your festivals. I'm a leftie, I've got my own beliefs but they're not necessarily the beliefs of all of the people I work with. I don't necessarily it's important to promote politics, that's not why where here, we're here to give people a good time and I think that's the most important thing.
With 2000 Trees continuously expanding each year, some people have expressed concern that it may eventually loose it's intimate charm. What's your viewpoint on such concerns?
James: I think people should trust us that we don't do that. I honestly feel that we haven't done that, I mean, Trees is a lot bigger than it originally was but it still feels really nice, really intimate. You know, there was a few things at 2000 Trees this year that we will be improving for next year, like the toilets for the VIP campers and backstage campers for instance. There's things that could of been better that will certainly be better for next year. But yeah, we're not trying to grow Trees into a 100,000 cap festival or anything like that at all. We are very, very focused on not ruining the atmosphere and yeah, just trust us and we'll deliver.
Time for a generic question, what would be your ideal headliners for each festival?
James: Here, at ArcTanGent, it would be The Mars Volta obviously, Mastodon and Neurosis. I mean, Neurosis, Mastodon and The Mars Volta together, it would just be the best festival on the planet. As for 2000 Trees it would have to be Biffy Clyro, Deftones and Queens Of The Stone Age.
So, festival season for this year is coming to end, can you reveal any plans for next year's festivals?
James: We've already started booking for next year, but I'll be getting straight back on it next week. We've got loads of ideas on who we'll be having here next year and we'll be working on the site layout straight away. The most important thing you do after a festival is work out the site layout itself, like work out where everything was, such as the stages, the food trailers, the bars and think if we need to change anything or whenever it's working, and if it is, work out how it could be better.
Both ArcTanGent and 2000 Trees will be returning next year, with tickets already on sale now. Make sure to grab your early bird tickets before they're gone!