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Alt-Fest Organiser Dominic Void [Interview]

Promising edgy art, truly creative sideshows, and oddball theatre, Alt-Fest is more than just an alternative music festival. Dominic Void explains all.

Alt-fest

Welcome to the biggest outsider festival in the UK.

Alt-Fest is coming. Already marked out as a major event on 2014’s busy festival calendar there is enough difference in the outsider lineup and crowd-inspired approach to back the promise of something new and unforgettable.

The Damned. Alien Sex Fiend. Killing Joke. The Cult. Fields of the Nephilim. Gary Numan.

For many this is the best chance to explore the darker corners of your record collection in a uniquely theatrical and participatory environment. Promising edgy art, truly creative sideshows, and oddball theatre, hopes are high that we might have a festival more in line with underground values than another merchandised platform for sponsorship.

Better yet, being the first one, there should be less attraction for the ritualised mega-ego booze-fuelled machismo types and a more open appreciation of creative weirdness. Values which Trebuchet is definitely behind, even though we are still ‘umbly fond of a festival pint or two.

Who doesn’t like shadowy musical endeavours of this magnitude, or even dark ale for that matter?

As it is, even if Trebuchet weren’t partners with Alt-Fest (old school disclosure) we’d be bugging them for review passes. So without much more enthusiastic hyperbole we spoke to Dominic Void – one of the founding organisers about the history of the idea and what we can expect from Alt-Fest 2014.

Alt-fest

 

Dominic Void: I’ve been promoting bands and DJ’ing in clubs for 25 years or more. About 11 years ago, I started Club AntiChrist with my wife who also runs Alt-Fest.

AntiChrist (AC) is a multi-genre, multi-rooms clubbing event, probably the largest alternative crossover clubbing event in Europe. It has multiple dance floors, live bands, theatre and performance spread over ten different areas. We attract around 1,500 people every other month. On top of that, I’ve been booking alternative and Goth bands on and off in that period, and we book bands for the club.

That’s how the idea arrived for Alt-Fest really, it’s sort of the unification of the alternative subcultures, avoiding of all the politics that sometimes go with that. We thought it would be great to start a festival with the same kind of vibe and same ethos that celebrated the whole alternative lifestyle, whatever your lifestyle in that is.

Bringing the tribes together in a unified way have you seen any fruits of the cross pollination happen over those years?  

Yeah, absolutely! I mean, I started when I was a lot younger when I first met my wife, and we were in bands ourselves. We were living in London and we were going out to lots of clubs. So, as individual people, we liked metal, goth, industrial.

We went to the fetish scene, we went to gigs, and every time we went to a club, it was always generically locked into one particular tribe or  genre. So, if you go to Slimelight, you’re a gothic or industrial, you could go to Torture Garden for the fetish and so on. After we’d had that for a while, it all became tedious. We were thinking, lots of our friends do the same thing, and they are groups of people. So if you are a trad goth, maybe your main social going out is to trad goth clubs with events.

But there seemed to be a lot of people that had multiple music taste and interests. They shared a lot of those. Other times, they might like metal, goth and industrial but they weren’t into the fetish scene. So, initially when we built AC, we built it for a laugh really.Alt-Fest

You know, let’s just run a club that we want to go to. Let’s have the best music: metal, industrial, dark wave, EBM, chuck a bit of fetish in, make it multi-friendly. And everyone went, ‘Oh that won’t work, you can’t get Goths in a fetish club and you can’t get people who like fetish into a metal club, and vice versa’. And we just went, well, we’re into that! We know loads of people that feel the same, so we started the club. And we decided that rather than being a little club, we’d start big, and we launched a kind of embryonic version of AntiChrist at the Electric Ballroom, and then realized that kind of idea would work but we needed more room so we could do more variants within the alternative subcultures.

We moved over to where we are currently at, which is in the Colosseum in Vauxhall 8 years ago, so that we could have a dedicated industrial floor, a dedicated crossover floor that played goth and then a third dance floor that rotates between metal, electro or all kinds of different genres. We chucked in Rockabilly, or anything that’s alternative.

And Steampunk as well?

Yeah, we’ve had lots of steampunk events where we targeted the dress code to steampunk, and we had steampunk bands and performances on the stage. As we thought the alternative lifestyle had shrunk and there were less of us, we’d actually found that the clubs had become busier and busier every year.

Is that because the other nights closed?

Yeah, it could be. But I think it’s the fact that it’s really the only place you can go in London where it’s not aimed at one type of genre. It’s also got live bands and theatre, which most clubs don’t do. That makes it different, and I think, speaking for the people and not sounding too arrogant, it’s more of a spectacle and special event.

If you’re a goth, you can go and have a good time. Maybe your mates are into metal, so they come along with you. And I know that there are people that go and spend the whole night in the industrial floor. People who are more fetish, they go and spend most of their time in the dungeon or whatever.

So really, the honest truth of it was that when Alt-Fest started; it was two years ago when we were on holiday, we’d had a few too many sangrias, and the kids were in bed. We just started this conversation saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if there was a festival like the club, with the same ethos that combine all the different genres on different stages, but then brought in the whole life style, whether it’s piercing, spectacle, performance, art, and it could attract people from Wiccan backgrounds, people like transvestites, goths, metallers. All in a friendly, generic hub of all this mad stuff’?’

And then we ran with it, and said ‘OK, let’s do it!’ Coming back from holiday, we started looking into it. So we just went out, bought a domain.

We spoke to a friend of ours who owns the ticketing company for the club, and he said ‘I’ve just got  into doing tickets for festivals. Have a chat with this guy, because he runs a company that does a number of festivals.’ We got in touch with that guy, who became the director within Alt-Fest, so it just took off and went from there really.

How did you choose Boughton Estate as the site for the festival?

That was slightly protracted. Once we’ve got the website built and the basic idea of what stages we want, we started looking at production. Obviously where we were going to hold this event. We initially looked at states that were already used for festivals.  We signed up to be in a place called the Hop Farm in Kent, which was where the Hop Farm Music Festival used to be. We announced that a long time ago, well over a year and a half ago, probably right at the beginning.

We started looking at the site and planning and so on, but the owners of the site went into liquidation, and there were problems with the license in terms of what volume of sound we could deliver.

So, you want to get loud?

Not necessarily, not loud in an unpleasant way, but because they had lots of festivals there before, and I mean, it is in a rural area, but it is in the middle of lots of houses. Over the years, there have been complaints and the license has been tweaked, but when the license was renewed, the sound stipulations were so bad that it would be untenable for some of the acts we had on the bill. At the time we were thinking of Atari Teenage Riot on the bill. The sound levels were so poor we decided we couldn’t realize our show on that kind of level.

So, a site was recommended by our ticket agent. He runs his own dance festival, and he’d been looking for a new site for his festival. We decided between us to find somewhere completely new that’s not been used for a festival. Because generally what happens is that once the festival becomes established, the site then becomes synonymous and known as the home of that particular festival.

So, we went out and wondered what stately homes there are that have large areas of land we could perhaps use. We found Boughton, because from a geographic perspective, it’s got such great travel connection with certain motorways etc., that 85% of the UK can travel easily to the festival.

So, we approached them and said we were starting a festival and we wanted to use the site, and funnily enough, there was a lot of unemployment in the area, the council had been looking to re-generate things in the local area, and they had been suggesting using the site for festivals to bring people into the local economy. So, a license was applied for, and that was a very long, protracted process, but that went smoothly according to plan in the end.

We got our license and we publicly moved from being in the Hop Farm over to Boughton. So, factually, it’s the second largest piece of privately-owned land that the Queen owns, and is a huge and almost unfathomed massive piece of land. It’s also quite interesting because it was secret airbase in World War II.

During World War II, the government went to lots of house owners, saying there was a war on and that they wanted the houses or the land to use as a government buildings area or whatever, but the estates didn’t want to give anything and asked to do a deal. The government said ‘If you let us build an American airbase in your grounds, we’ll let you keep your house’. I think it was a B17 base, and what they did was, they had a runway, but the planes were so big they didn’t want to put them into hangars that the Germans would see and blow up easily.

So, they built these round pods that were size of one B17, which is a pretty big plane, and they built them in the woodland, and they built a trackway so they could push the planes in and out of the woodland. There are still concrete trackways going into the woods which we’ve incorporated into the goth stage, children’s area and various art orientated things are in these pod clearings. And where the runway used to be became an exceptionally flat piece of land, so that’s nearly where the main arena is.

Cleaning all that up must be a big job?

Well, we’re quite green, so we didn’t want to chop anything down. We’re not going to use the hangars, except maybe for some storage, but the hangars weren’t in a safe condition to convert into a stage area or anything like that. So we just kind of used the natural lie of the land and the infrastructure that was left, which has been taken over by nature in most cases, to build a natural kind of environment in the woods for some of the bits in the festival and all the main arena stuff right next to the woods.

Are you giving the woodlands over to some of the more theatrical acts?

Yeah , I mean, the art side of the festival, lots of that is in the woods. So, if you, say, go into the children’s area or the goth stage, there’ll be stuff in the woods; all manner of things to get lost in and discover. And that’s what we want, a kind of voyage of stuff that you would be on a walk or journey. And if you go, there’ll be hammocks so you can stop and have a snooze, and little clearings with things in, buskers here and there, all sorts of other surprising bits and pieces sprinkled around in the woods.

The whole thing about the art side is that we’ve got a freelance artist who’s put together a lot of volunteers and artists and they form these collaborative groups. They’re already building props, collecting recycled stuff, they’re doing massive paintings to be blown up and put on to various banners around the place.

I mean, in a way, we really given the audience enough information about the lineup, but in some ways that’s not the most exciting thing. And what we’ve found with the club, the art part of the club is more extensive compared to other clubs. So, while most people go along to a band and watch the performance, you’ll find that the social gathering part takes over. So, I think we’re gathering the tribes, as you put it, which we share, and the art and the whole experience is going to be more exciting retrospectively when people come away from it, than perhaps just the bands performances alone.

That said the lineup is pretty extensive at this stage?

Yeah, well, it’s been a voyage of rollercoaster discoveries, and as the lineup grew along the way, more people became interested from a band perspective, particularly after Christmas when we announced Marilyn Manson and The Cult. Then we started getting some quite big names actually coming to us.

Fields of the Nephilim were probably the first of the bigger bands we booked. They came on board really early.

What’s interesting is, being a Nephilim fan myself, seeing them the first time round, it was almost like they’re ageless. They look the same, they sound the same, they haven’t lost any of their vibe. They’re still dressed up, flour all over their leather.

So, for me, although the line-up has been generated by the crowd (crowdfunding) and their input over who they want to see, we actually ended up with me almost booking every band that I went to see when I was a kid. So, it’s kind of amazing, because all these bands that were iconic to you when you were growing up as a teenager are almost, it’s not all of them, but they’re on the bill.

And we tried to think out of the box. I mean, they’re getting generated by the people, because when we first started the website we put polls up each day so people could vote on their for the line-up. Most of those we’ve booked. The exceptions would be if a band disbanded or if the band were not on tour or they were in the studio, or whatever, or in some cases they were playing another festival, so they couldn’t do us. We even thought out of the box and we wondered what bands that no longer play could we get back together.

We went to people like X-Mal Deutschland to see if we could get her to get back together with the band. Unfortunately, she said she’s actually moved somewhere else. We approached Amen from the metal fraternity. They did reform especially for us, that was a bit of a coup.

Then, on 30th April, we announced The Damned. And they came to us and said they’ve got to play Alt-Fest, and we said we agreed. However the most suitable slot was the headline slot on the goth stage. So, they actually went, perfect, we’ve been trying to find a way where we could play tracks of Phantasmagoria and The Black Album, which were their gothier albums. They said, ‘We’ll go in the studio and rehearse, couple of weeks and we’ll give you an exclusive set’.

We tried Ministry. I mean, in reality, any good band that you can think of we’ve spoken to, even big ones like Nine Inch Nails, Rammstein, The Cure, Placebo.

Who were the most unusual people you asked?

Bill Bailey, Christopher Lee.

You talked about how the local community was saying they should get a festival to try and increase local business, etc. It sounds like there’s some local support for the festival, and that isn’t always the case.

People are people, so there are always the best and worst kinds of people. And there are certainly people in the local community that are not excited by Alt-Fest and not excited by the fact that they see us as strange people. All that perception that we’re going to be pillaging and sacrificing in the woods or whatever.

On the other side, you’ve got people that you perhaps wouldn’t expect who come out and surprise you. A good example is from the very early days when we were looking at booking the bands. The house is owned by the Duke of Berkeley, who is very high up and hangs about the Queen. He needed to have his own confidence that what we were going to do wasn’t going to bring him into any kind of disrepute. One of the things they asked was that myself and Missy met the local police, and then they did various police-type things on us as people, on our clubs, on our culture to come back and to say, ‘yes, this is acceptable’.

So we met up with the police from the local area, and they were in uniform and one of the guys asked me about Alt-Fest and who is on the bill. So, I gave him a flyer with the bill that was at the time, and he went, ‘Oh it’s got Alien Sex Fiend, I love them, they’re one of my favourite bands! I went to see them at the Back Cave in 1983, I’m going to take the weekend off and come down!’ Another policeman said that, while he’s a bit more Rock ‘n’ Roll, the festival sounded great.

And then they said, to be honest, the alternative scene from a policing perspective is that, we’re such nice people, they give us very low risk from the policing point of view.

Generally speaking, we obviously have the Sophie Lancaster Stage with the Sophie Lancaster Foundation. We were passionate about being alternative lifestyle in a positive way in any community, not just the local community of Boughton. I think it’s all very positive, and part of that was, you know, when you look at Whitby Goth Weekend or Wave Gothic Treffen, they’re local communities.

What’s interesting about us is, we try to make the location almost irrelevant so that it’s an international gathering of alternative culture.Nearly 20% of our sales are outside of the UK. We’ve got large numbers of people coming from America, Mexico, Chile, and probably 15% are coming from Belgium, Germany, Spain.

You must be pretty excited?

I don’t have a lot of time to be excited, there’s so much work to do. It’s kind of taken over my and my wife’s life. I almost have to make an appointment to spend any time with my wife, because we’re self-employed and we also run the club. We get up at 7 in the morning, take our daughter to school and then before you know where you’re at, it’s 11 o’clock at night and you’re still working. So you forget to have your beer.

I am excited and very proud of what we’ve achieved, but at the same time, it’s so much work that takes over and doesn’t give you time to sit back and go ‘You know what, this is just amazing!’

Sounds like you’re busy, thanks for the chat.

My pleasure. We’re not into money or motivated by any of that. We just want to deliver something for the people really, so it’s our utmost pleasure to do it!

Alt-Fest

 

 

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