Interview: Upsdiedown Festival

we want to create somewhere people will return to again and again, where they'll form lasting friendships; somewhere which feels familiar and comforting while at the same time provides new surprises

Upsidedown Festival is a brand new event taking place this July in sunny Oxforshire, hosted by our favourite studio peeps at Shaken Oak studios and being run by a bunch of people we have known for years through going to other festivals and is only fifty quid for a whole weekend’s entertainment.

They say they “aim is to build a sustainable creative community underpinned by equality, inclusion & acceptance” which sounds like something we wanted to know more about so we caught up with organisers Hannah, Joy & Chocky to pop a few questions.

(((o))): Up//side\down Festival is brand new to the scene, tell us a bit about it?

Hannah: It’s a tiny festival – only 200 tickets available – in the beautiful grounds of Shaken Oak Farm in Oxfordshire, so it’s going to feel very cosy and friendly. We’ve put a lot of thought into creating an event we ourselves would want to attend – we want everyone to feel welcome and comfortable being themselves, whoever they are.

(((o))): What made you want to start a festival?

Hannah: Oh god. I mean, it’s the dream, isn’t it? Ever since I went to my first festival (Glastonbury in 2003) they’ve been my favourite places on earth. Who *wouldn’t* want to start a festival? I’ve been wanting to do something this for more than half my life, I can’t believe I’m actually doing it. I keep having to pinch myself.

Chocky: I’ve met a lot of people in my 25+ years of attending & working various UK festivals and like many others I’m sure, we had THAT sunrise/campfire conversation many times – y’know the one; “we could do this”, “yeah, how hard could it be?”.

Over the last decade or so, those seemingly random friendships coalesced into the right mix of people and eventually we thought “actually ,y’know what, we CAN do this”

(((o))): Tell us a bit about the location. Why Shaken Oak Farm?

Hannah: We first became aware of Shaken Oak Farm as a residential recording studio, run by a friend of a friend. The first time we visited we knew it would be perfect for a festival, and some close friends got married there a few years ago with a festival-style wedding which was just wonderful.

Chocky: Having spent many years of my childhood just up the road in Charlbury I was instantly drawn to the area when it was suggested as a potential site, the rolling Cotswold hills are the ideal backdrop for an intimate event like ours

(((o))): Who is on the team & how did you all meet?

Hannah: The founding team are Joy, Chocky, Dan & I, and we all met on the internet. Dan I met on twitter (and subsequently married), but the rest of us – and the majority of the wider team – met initially on the efestivals Glastonbury message boards, back before anyone had even heard the term ‘social media’. Beyond the “who’s headlining” and “will it rain?” threads, a nascent community was thriving and real lifelong friendships were being forged. After going to a few cider bus meet-ups in my early years, I finally camped with the group for the first time in 2010 and the rest – as they say – is history.

Chocky: The internet was instrumental in bringing us together, with many of us stumbling over each other on festival forums during the mid to late-2000s, sadly due to geography we usually only saw each other once or twice a year in those muddy fields we loved so much.

As time passed, meet-ups were arranged at various gigs, raves & events around the country – fast forward ten years and the trust & friendship that has since developed throughout this once ragtag bunch of strangers is why we’re here today, attempting to create our own slice of the festival scene

(((o))): There are a lot of festivals out there now of all shapes & sizes; what makes USD different?

Hannah: Well, we’re one of the cheaper ones! 😉 In all seriousness, though, I can’t claim we’re entirely different to any other festival because we’re not – we’ve got fields, bands, DJs, a firepit – all the good stuff. But in terms of what makes us special; we really want to create somewhere people arrive at feeling like they’ve come home after a long winter away; somewhere people will return to again and again, where they’ll form lasting friendships; somewhere which feels familiar and comforting while at the same time provides new surprises.

There’s a strong emphasis on friendliness, on community and on creativity – the site has some wonderful nooks and crannies that we have big plans for, so keep your eyes peeled while wandering around!
I’d say we’re probably pretty ideal for festival newbies who like the idea but are a bit overwhelmed by the scale (and cost) of larger events, and also for seasoned festival goers who want a small palette cleanser between larger events.

(((o))): One of the key points from your manifesto is that you’re aiming for gender balance from the outset, not just the number of acts with women in but actual onstage headcount. How have you found acts to do that & has it constrained you in any way?

Hannah: I certainly don’t feel as though it’s constrained us. It did involve a little more work in the initial stages – we specifically asked for female acts to get in touch and then made sure our longlist was balanced, which meant a certain amount of initial filtering. Then we all listened through to the longlist, picked our favourites and re-checked the gender balance, which skewed female at that point. A few more men have snuck in as replacements for female bands who weren’t available but we’re still looking at an overall 50/50 split once we’ve announced the final few acts.

It was important to me to look at this by headcount because I didn’t want a situation where we had a bunch of female solo artists and a bunch of large all-male bands; it may look like a balanced line-up from the poster but if you’ve got 5 men for every woman it’s not going to feel like one from an audience perspective. Equally, I didn’t want a whole load of bands where there’s a male front-person and the women are relegated to backing musicians, for the same reason. We’ve got a whole load of awesome, incredibly talented female musicians on the line-up who are absolutely going to blow people away and I couldn’t be more thrilled about that.

(((o))): Some of the larger festivals have committed to doing something similar but needing several years to achieve it. What are your thoughts on that?

Hannah: Admittedly I don’t have any experience of running or booking for a large festival but honestly I don’t have a huge amount of time for this claim. It’s not like all these big festivals just sprung up out of nowhere – Glastonbury will have been going for 50 years next year. 50! And we’re expected to believe this is something they’ve only just started thinking about and therefore need time to implement? If that’s really true, it’s depressing as hell.

Even for smaller newer festivals – why haven’t they been thinking about this since they started? It’s not like this issue has just appeared overnight. You see festivals release a chunk of their line-up and there’s one band with one woman in and it’s like, you clearly haven’t thought about this *at all*, for all that you claim to be an ally. If there’s any truth to the argument that there aren’t enough women at headline level (& I don’t personally believe there is) then how on earth is that going to get any better unless people start booking more women at lower levels and giving them the opportunities to grow?

At the end of the day, I think the music industry as a whole has failed women in so many ways for so long that to hear people say ‘oh yeah we want to fix it, honest we do, we just need 5 years’ can feel pretty disingenuous when so many promoters won’t even stop booking known abusers. Don’t get me wrong, I think KeyChange is doing brilliant, vital work and I wholly support them. I just wish this kind of external pressure wasn’t necessary.

(((o))): Another of your manifesto points talks about sustainability. How do you apply that to a festival and particularly how do combat the ‘throw away’ culture that pervades at many events where people leave everything behind?

Joy: We’re starting off small so hopefully everyone will adopt the same ethics we have even if it’s only just for the weekend. I mean, you’d stick out like a sore thumb if you’re the only one to leave your tent behind and I fully expect everyone to ridicule and shame those that don’t look after the land we’ve promised to keep clean. Bring in the Green Police I say.

Hannah: The scale of littering at some larger festivals is truly devastating. I heard a statistic last year which says 4 out of 5 tents at Reading get left behind, which is appalling. As well as encouraging everyone to take their stuff home, we’re asking them to be considerate while on-site; putting their waste in the appropriate bins, using butt-bins for cigarette ends, bring refillable water bottles etc.

But it’s also about what we can do ourselves – the onus isn’t entirely on the punters; we’re looking at partnering with a surplus food company to provide meals, sourcing infrastructure locally where possible. We’re trying to make decorations out of things people have lying around – and trying to make things we can use in future years, rather than things which get thrown away at the end. Sustainability is also something Arthur (Shaken Oak) feels very strongly about, so the site is already quite eco-friendly; it has six compost toilets, for example.

(((o))): You imply that you are trying to build a community as much as a festival. Can you expand a bit on what that means?

Joy: The modern day music festival is mostly about the big lineup, sponsorship deals and it can feel quite clinical so it doesn’t take long to feel lost and alone in the crowds. But however many years ago it was, when we all first met in a small corner of those enormous fields, we managed to build a small community that would look after one another.

We wanted to build that human element into our event right from the start so we’re creating a hub area a bit like a campsite kitchen where you can bring your camping stove to cook up breakfast and share stories of what you got up to the night before with old friends or people you’ve never met before. The best conversations at house parties always take place in the kitchen.

(((o))): The bands line up is pretty eclectic touching on everything from folk to punk to post rock and krautrock to bouncy electro pop. How have you selected the music?

Chocky: The line-up is a mish-mash of our collective appreciation for music and the result of many hours of, oddly enough not arguing…while we all have (sometimes radically) different areas of interest, there is also a lot of overlap, so we started there, drew up a long list of acts we thought a) were affordable for a first year event without deep pockets & b) would fit our ethos – from there we literally sat down together and played each act one-by-one voting as we went – those with a high enough score made the cut, those that didn’t, sorry!

(((o))): The dance tent line up looks rather tasty too with a couple of headliners from the dance festival circuit, a smattering of Manchester techno legends & a smorgasbord of funky beats; how have you gone about booking the acts?

Chocky: Good old fashion nepotism for some of them I’m afraid, but don’t worry it’s not Barry from the Nag’s Head with a laptop, they are all established artists in their own right, we just happen to be friends (of friends) on this occasion.

(((o))): If you had an unlimited budget, who would your 3 dream headliners be?

Hannah: Oof, that’s a tough one. Purely from a ‘who would I like to see’ perspective, I think Lamb, Low and The Decemberists. But as an organiser I probably wouldn’t actually get to watch them!

Joy: Shy FX, Deadmou5, Tycho.

Chocky: I’ve immersed myself in several different scenes over the years, so I consider myself a musical chameleon these days and my tastes vary month to month, but if I had to pick 3 right now, ones that would slot nicely into this Up/SideDown world we’re creating, I’d probably go for Tipper, Koan Sound & Luttrell

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