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Ask 'the festivals': John Helps and Nik Sharpe from Handmade give their tips for festival success

"Make sure you have a lot of awesome friends."
Published: 10:26 am, May 04, 2018
Ask 'the festivals': John Helps and Nik Sharpe from Handmade give their tips for festival success
"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 John Helps and Nik Sharpe from Handmade, which is taking place this Saturday and Sunday (5th-6th May) with Circa Waves (pictured), Drenge, The Big Moon, IDLES and loads more.

Tell us about the origins of Handmade - how did the festival start?
Back in 2013 Handmade started as a collection of shows at a couple of small venues - The Cookie and Firebug - and in weird spaces like libraries and churches (Rolo Tomassi in an old library being maybe the most unusual collision of act and venue). It was a weird, cool little thing, but it's grown a lot now. We take over four venues at O2 Academy Leicester at Attenborough Arts Centre for a few thousand people - but we still have that ethos of wanting to create something for the city by any means necessary. It's definitely a labour of love by myself and the guys from The Cookie and Firebug.

How long does it take to put each year's event together?
We start basically as soon as each festival is over - so 12 months, on and off. There are a lot of things you wouldn't imagine need doing at that point, and if you stop for any length of time it's Christmas before you know it, and you're trying to catch up with yourself. The three of us all oversee different bits of the organisation, so some people's jobs don't start until much later and some are going basically all year round.

What's been the highlight of your time working on the festival?
Last year was our first year in the main O2 Academy, which was really rewarding to see packed to the rafters - but I think I my personal highlights are always seeing little bands that I love playing to packed smaller venues - knowing that a few hundred people are discovering that band for the first time is a really nice thing to observe.

What's the biggest challenge Handmade has had to contend with during its time?
We're really early in the year for a festival, but it's already a super crowded weekend to be trying to put an event on. This year, in particular, has seen a lot of the bigger festivals enforcing exclusivity deals for acts that there's no way we can compete with. I think we've got an incredible line-up, but it's been tough for Nik, who books the majority of the festival. Watching him tearing his hair out has not been pleasant.

You've loads of our fave bands playing this year, how do you go about curating the bill?
That's nice to hear. We all put shows on all year round, so we always have Handmade at the back of our mind and slowly build a wish list through the course of the year. We don't take submissions to play the festival - it all comes from having our ears to the ground and our little areas of the music scene that we choose acts from.

What prompted the introduction of a Conference, and what do you have planned so far?
Leicester's always seen as a bit of a backwater, musically, but we don't believe that's true. We wanted to put something on predominantly for musicians, people who want to work in the music industry or want to create something like Handmade themselves to maybe think a bit bigger - to give people more of a national view of what's possible for them to do. Aspiring to more than just playing the local circuit is a really important thing I think - but there are a tonne of different approaches to doing that that we wanted to put in front of people.

What advice would you give others who'd like to work on live events like Handmade?
Make sure you have a lot of awesome friends. Handmade wouldn't happen if it weren't for the fact that the three of us are good mates and have very different tastes and areas of expertise - but we also rely on a tonne of awesome volunteers who come back every year and basically make the festival happen. That is absolutely the most important thing.

You can find out more about this summer's festival fun in Dork's Festival Guide 2018 - order your copy below. Handmade takes place from 5th-6th May at the O2 Academy, Leicester.

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