Ten thoughts on festivals after going to We Out Here 2022

A few reflections that could help to shape the future of festivals for years to come...

01.09.22 Photos by: Rob Jones, Words by: Paul Benney

Now in its third year We Out Here is the four day festival curated by Gilles Peterson and featuring the best jazz, house and techno artists, plus talent from a huge range of other genres that takes place on a beautiful site in Cambridgeshire.

This year’s event featured Masters of Work, Fabio and Grooverider, Underground Resistance and Pharoah Sanders as headliners, plus literally hundreds of other acts including SHERELLE, Kokoroko, Elkka, ENNY, Two Shell, Nala Sinephro and many more.

Blessed with great weather and a super friendly crowd WOH 2022 was a triumph in anyone’s book but it also throws up some ideas that could shape the future of festivals for many years to come. 

1. Small is the way forward

The great thing about We Out Here is that there is always more than enough going on at various stages and tents but you can still get around the site relatively easily and quickly. It’s also possible to meet people in a chosen place without too much difficulty and to bump into mates randomly all the time. Also WOH has a number of small tents like ‘Love Dancin’’ that were busy all weekend with a couple of hundred people dancing non-stop  – you don’t need 100,000 people to create a vibe.

2. Community and credibility is important

WOH is based on the loose community created by Gilles Peterson around Worldwide FM, his label Brownswood and his BBC 6 music show on Saturday afternoons. It’s also the result of about 30 years of curating, exploring and playing the best music he can find. That doesn’t mean that everyone at the festival knows each other – it just means that there is a credible foundation for the whole experience that makes the event more than the sum of its parts.

3. Headliners need to think visually

WOH is very brave and creative with its headliners. Masters at Work, Fabio and Grooverider, Underground Resistance and Pharoah Sanders headlined each night and I’m not sure you would see that happen at any other festival in the world. Artists need to repay the favour though and step up when booked in a headline slot. While you have to respect UR’s choice to do whatever the hell they like, for such an important, mysterious outfit the show could have been more inspiring visually. Projecting their logo, adding some visuals, even wearing matching t-shirts would have helped give the show more drama and gravitas (although I’ve heard reports of grown men crying through certain parts of the set so maybe I am alone on this one). And while I applaud and support WOH’s bravery in booking more leftfield headliners who wouldn’t like to see an artist like Little Simz headline the Saturday night next year? I understand budgets could be an issue here though.

4. Interesting sites make all the difference

The WOH site has a number of unique features that make it special. The main stage looks out onto a kind of semi-amphitheatre with a big bank on one side that is perfect for sitting on with friends and getting a great view. And on the other side is a lake that you can gaze at when there’s nothing on the main stage. The site also boasts a small swimming lake that was very popular last weekend and a forest area tucked away at the back of the site where you can listen to house music until the early hours. The best sites are usually more than a flat field.

5. Sponsorship needs to fit the event

Some sponsorship is almost essential to make most festivals work financially and take some of the pressure off the huge costs involved. But festival organisers need to be careful that brands add value to festival goers and not just help with the bottom line at the expense of paying punters. At WOH Carhartt sponsored the roller rink and gave out cool t-shirts to the kids with the best skills and Hennessy had their own arena and booked artists that added something to the existing line-up. But, thankfully, at no point did anyone try to sell me a luxury car or encourage me to take out a new credit card. 

6. The BBC should support independent festivals

Gilles Peterson is on BBC 6 Music every Saturday afternoon but despite listening to the show most weeks I don’t ever remember him mentioning WOH. I assume this is something to do with BBC guidelines but it seems a shame that it wasn’t possible for Gilles to connect his 6 Music audience with a festival that would have appealed to many of his listeners. Maybe even a BBC 6 Music stage at WOH next year although maybe this clashes with Worldwide FM? If we want independent festivals to survive and thrive we need the BBC to support them. 

7. Food and drink should be affordable

Festivals are expensive and to keep them inclusive (especially during the cost of living crisis) there needs to be food and drink options that offer good value. At WOH the grilled cheese sandwiches and loaded fries were affordable food options and the drinks were, relatively, reasonably priced. There were also plenty of taps to fill up water bottles which was good to see. Everyone needs to eat and drink when they’re on site – promoters should ensure there are always affordable options.

8. Talks and debate should be encouraged

WOH put on a number of interesting talks over the weekend and festivals can be a great place for debate and discussion. When I bumped into a friend the day after Underground Resistance headlined and I shared my slight disappointment about the lack of a visual element she said that it would have all made more sense if I had attended the talk they did earlier in the day. 

9. Communication is key

Things go wrong of course and artists cancel and get delayed and although festival goers are naturally disappointed about these things it’s quite incredible the amount of goodwill a festival like WOH has from its attendees. So when Pharoah Sanders didn’t appear at his advertised time there was some confusion but no real tension in the audience. And when Gilles came on and explained what was going on everyone really appreciated the update and totally understood the delay. Apps are useful but the great thing about a person talking from the main stage is that you can hear them whether you’ve got a phone signal or not.

10. Support independent festivals

Festivals are huge business and successful events can make a lot of money but they are also hugely risky and the losses can be insurmountable for some unlucky promoters. So if you are a music fan and you want festivals to continue booking brave, interesting line-ups for smaller capacity events then please support independent festivals like WOH. We are all going to feel the effects of the cost of living crisis in the next 12 months and next summer could be challenging for independent festivals as a result. Support them, or risk losing them.

Finally, props to all those involved in We Out Here 2022, you created something very special. Looking forward to WOH 2023.

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