Has the holiday-camp indie festival had its day?

From the Guardian

Safe as Milk, which was set for Prestatyn Pontins, was cancelled last week. In the wake of All Tomorrow’s Parties’s demise, what is the outlook for such leftfield events?

All Tomorrows Parties event in 2008. Photograph: Photoshot/Getty Images

There’s perhaps little appeal in the idea of spending a weekend at a desolate holiday camp listening to challenging music. But from 1999 to 2016, All Tomorrow’s Parties made the format into a festival that inspired devotion from its audience and a regular appearances from bands – that is, until it blew all that goodwill after a series of cancellations and site changes. In June 2016, two months after one last festival curated by comedian Stewart Lee, ATP announced that it was folding for good.

It seemed logical that another promoter would try its hand at what had been a successful model, and in October 2016, the founders of Gateshead’s Tusk festival and shop/label Alt.Vinyl announced the Safe As Milk weekender. Due to take place in Prestatyn Pontins this month, the 3,500-capacity festival was to feature artists such as returning folk godmother Shirley Collins, eyeball fans the Residents, and Syrian wedding singer Omar Souleyman – precisely the kind of leftfield acts that had populated ATP. The news met with a warm response, both for the fearless lineup and a return to holiday camps, where booze is easily smuggled into the venues, punters can cook in their chalets, and rain can’t hamper proceedings. But last week, a month before the festival was due to start, Safe As Milk announced that it was cancelled, owing to to low ticket sales.

All Tomorrow’s Parties’ closure had perhaps influenced those curious about the event. Within days of Safe As Milk’s announcement, Google searches for the festival auto-completed to “safe as milk festival atp” as wary fans checked to see who was behind the scenes. John Rostron is the founder of Cardiff’s Sŵn festival, a board member of the Association of Independent Festivals, and a national adviser to the Arts Council of Wales. “I think the Safe As Milk audience was, broadly speaking, the All Tomorrow’s Parties audience,” he says. “And that’s not a huge number of people – it’s a few thousand. A lot of them had been stung by ATP, and as a result, they’re a lot more informed about how a festival comes together, paying more attention to where they were buying their tickets, and who had their money.” AIF general manager Paul Reed says the knock-on effect is obvious, and emphasises a need to rebuild trust between organisers and consumers.

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