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Festival Coverage : Long Division

  • Written by  Kenneth McMurtrie

Long Division takes place in Wakefield , and is put on by the Rhubarb Bomb blog. For the 2013 incarnation of the festival (in conjunction with Jonny The Firth and Wolfyboy Records of Leeds) 7 venues in the city will host 70 acts over the course of 07 – 09 June. Those acts already confirmed at time of writing include The Fall, Nine Black Alps, Ghostpoet, Jeffrey Lewis, The History Of Apple Pie, Howard Marks, RM Hubbert and The Spills. With tickets at a mere £20 this is a festival that’s pretty much off the scale in terms of value for money.

Dean Freeman from Rhubarb Bomb was kind enough to answer a few questions that we put to him about the organisation of the weekend’s activities:-

MG) How far in advance of the event do you start planning/booking acts?

Dean) We reflect almost as soon as the previous year is done. You get an instant feel of what has worked and where the holes in the planning were. But we do take some time off. Long Division is in June so it’s nice to take time off over the summer and enjoy other people’s festival for a bit. We then get started in October with basic stuff, like the headliners we want to aim for, so about 9 months in total.

MG) How easy is it to keep each year’s line-up as fresh as you’d like (i.e. few acts playing the same set as the year before)?

Dean) It is quite tricky. Inevitably the people who enjoyed last year always say ‘get so-and-so back!’ when in reality that isn’t going to happen. A big part of Long Division is supporting the local DIY scene, but there are only a certain amount of bands that exist. This year we have made a distinct effort to mix it up locally and find new stuff, which has actually been a great success. There’s always more out there.

MG) What’s the biggest act you’ve ever had to turn down an appearance from?

Dean) Well I don’t want to name any names. But we get offers from bands of all sizes; unsigned through to international artists that are clearly just bluffing it. They’ve not done any research as to who or what we are. We’re a festival run by a fanzine so, sorry, generic pub rock or stadium bores are not going to float our boat. It’s about an ethos, and when a band’s management email us saying how this act has supported Black Eyed Peas and had their music on a Pepsi advert – or can’t even spell the names of the artists the band are supposedly influenced by - it goes straight in the bin. But generally, we go out and find the bands we want, we don’t have any interest in unsolicited requests, however big.

MG) What’s the strangest rider request any act has ever submitted and were you able to meet it?

Dean) I love getting the riders through, they are so daft. Just things like band’s management requesting ‘medium towels – MUST NOT BE LARGE’ and things like that. One band demanded a football shirt of the local team, which I thought was rather cheeky. Luckily Wakefield doesn’t have a football team, so we just ignored that. We got the generic "24 bottles of water" one time. Upon arrival, the tour manager went nuts because they were plastic bottles and the artist was on a big recycling kick and hated how wasteful that was. So we had to give them away!

MG) Festivals seem to be more prevalent than ever in the UK – have you noticed any negative impact from this?

Dean) If I still went to large scale festivals like Leeds & Reading or V or T In The Park I would. The same bands seem to play them each year, in a slightly different order. Anything approaching an exclusive is usually a band that was at their peak fifteen years ago and is now making a comeback. It seems wrong to me. I know you need that communal, singalong moment on the big stage to end the day, but I discovered so many bands at festivals when I was young; it seems harder to do that at the large ones now.

Which is why I am more interested in smaller festivals with an Indie ethos. They arebetter in every way as far as I can see. More care is put into the setup, the lineup and everyone benefits. As a festival programmer, I do find it scary each year because you build what you hope is a great lineup, but you could so easily be outdone by the festival in the next city. That’s the difference. But because each city has its own style and approach, that shouldn’t happen too much.

MG) Do you see niche events (i.e. urban ones not involving camping) such as your own as the way forward or as a less expensive add-on that fans can take in as well as a major event?

Dean) I definitely think they are the way forward because, in general, they are created andcontrolled by promoters involved with the grassroots of live music – at least, in the beginning. You can create a much more personal experience. Leeds Festival, for example, tells you nothing about Leeds. Once you are inside those iron walls, you could be anywhere. Although I love being out in the countryside watching bands, a city – no matter how run down and economically challenged – is a unique setting.

I love using strange venues for Long Division. Wakefield essentially has one venue in the city centre that puts on touring bands. So we have to get creative and use arts spaces and reclaimed libraries and things like that. It’s a one off experience that can be duplicated across the country in terms of approach, but those little touches make each one special.

And the fact they are cheaper is just the icing on the cake for me. I’d rather do five city festivals than Leeds Festival, I don’t care who is headlining.

MG) If things work out well this year would you consider franchising the festival to other places in the UK?  

Dean) It’s an interesting question. Obviously I would like to, because I love what I do. But I would have to say no. Everything I do, day to day, is built on the contacts I’ve made in the city from being part of its music and culture for many years. It’s a great feeling to know so many positive people across Wakefield. But for me to roll up in a completely different town and do that… It would be tricky and would take time. I believe it should be the people at the heart of the scene that do that. However, if I got to know people in other places who needed some help, or the Long Division ‘brand’ became strong enough, then maybe it would happen.

MG) How much time to you get to see performances yourselves over the weekend?

Dean) About zero. 2012 was the worst for me; I saw barely anything, which was actually a massive disappointment. I need to address that for 2013 because a) I book bands I love and missing them in my own town is awful and b) I really need to see the venues in action to make sound decisions about the following year. So yes, a much freer role required.

MG) Finally, have you ever had to miss an important life event due to festival related business/promoting a show?

Dean) No, thankfully not. As much as I love it, it is a job at the end of the day, and it can’t take presidence over family and really important things. It’s a difficult balance though and I do end up thinking and talking about it ALL the time, when I should perhaps be doing other things.

We'll be running further pre-festival pieces here on Muso's Guide but you can always get further details from the event's own website here.

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