"They should have booked INSERT MASSIVE BAND HERE!", we all cry. "Why don't they just put on more loos?", we ask. Seriously, when it comes down to it, we don't know much about running a festival. But that's okay, because we've tracked down the people behind your favourite events, and asked them all the questions you'll ever need to know. (Okay, maybe not the toilet one.) Next up, we have James Scarlett from 2000trees (12th-14th July; At The Drive In, Twin Atlantic, Enter Shikari + more) and ArcTanGent (17th-19th August; Glassjaw, Shellac + more).
Hey James, how's it going? You must be super busy at the mo?
All is great thanks. I'm really buzzing about our festivals this year. Shellac at ArcTanGent and At The Drive In at 2000trees are definitely career highlights for me, and unless I manage to book Deftones and the Mars Volta in the future then I really don't think things could be better! But yeah, everything is very busy at 2000trees Towers right now – March is that weird time where band booking, sales/marketing and event planning are all happening at the same time. We're very DIY, and hands on so it's all systems go.
What prompted you to start 2000trees and ArcTanGent, and how did you go about it?
I used to have a "normal" business job in London which I absolutely hated, and I'd never worked in the music industry. However, I was pretty obsessed with music and festivals, so me and my five best mates just thought "we could do this better than Reading" and 2000trees was then born. We just went for it, and the crazy thing is that 2000trees was the first gig or event that I ever organised! Honestly, we didn't have a clue what we were doing at the start – enthusiasm and hard work were all we relied on. That was twelve years ago, and then about six years ago we decided to start ArcTanGent as a more leftfield and less mainstream alternative to 2000trees. Everything has gone so well, so it's kind of weird to think back to where we came from.
There must've been a steep learning curve initially, what were some of the challenges you faced?
In the first years of 2000trees, it was incredibly steep. Dealing with the local police and council was a big challenge at the start, but we now have a great relationship with them. The really big thing though is the weather. My main advice to any event organiser is to assume it will rain every year and plan for the worst. We haven't seen any rain at 2000trees for at least five years though so we're feeling pretty good about that!
One other challenge that makes me very proud is dealing with artist booking agents. Eleven years ago it was hard to get them to answer an email or pick up the phone, but now I have excellent relationships across the "rock" industry, and that's one of the reasons we have access to bands like Enter Shikari and At The Drive In. It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get to this point!
How have the events evolved since those early days?
Well 2000trees has gone from 1,000 to 10,000, so clearly it's a lot bigger with a much more impressive line up of bands, but I'm pleased to say that I think we've maintained that independent spirit and it still feels like a small event without some of the problems you get at the bigger festivals. We pride ourselves on clean toilets, great sound and lighting, awesome food and drink and a beautiful location. Ultimately I think the best thing about 2000trees is that it has a great rock line up but has a more chilled and fun vibe than something like Download or Slam Dunk. Just good people hanging out in the sunshine and drinking a few beers.
And ArcTanGent has, without doubt, the nicest audience of any festival I've ever been to. It's kind of evolved into this secret club that anyone is welcome to join and at least half of our audience every year are repeat customers. It's the sort of festival where you strike up a music conversation with any random person, and they'll be more than happy to talk to you. My favourite festival in the whole world is Roadburn in Holland, and I really think that ATG is starting to create that sort of vibe.
Do you have big plans for the future of 2000trees and ArcTanGent, too?
We have big plans for sure, but not in the sense of making the festivals bigger and bigger until we ruin them. That's inevitably what happens with music festivals that are successful, and that is 100% not what we will be doing. I'm already talking to headliners for next year, and it's looking very exciting so watch this space.
What are going to be the highlights of 2018's events?
For me, both festivals are all about the music. Clearly, I'm very excited about the headliners, but for me, there is nothing more satisfying than discovering your new favourite band and Trees and ATG are all about that. My top recommendations are Telepathy and Vasquez at ArcTanGent and Gender Roles and Haggard Cat at 2000trees. And if people still don't know Brutus, they need to check them out now. They are the best thing to happen to rock music in years. And Black Peaks obviously!
What advice would you give others who'd like to work on live events?
It's all about getting stuck in and working hard. Don't stand there watching – just go for it and get your hands dirty. Being DIY is the most fulfilling thing for me, and I think my favourite day of every year is putting up the fencing at 2000trees. So don't sit around watching others doing the hard work!
2000trees takes place from 12th-14th July at Upcote Farm, Withington, near Cheltenham, and ArcTanGent from 17th-19th August at Fernhill Farm, near Bristol.