Summer may be drawing to a close, but that shouldn’t disguise the fact that in terms of live music the last few months have gone about as well as anyone could have hoped.
There was a fair amount of trepidation that this summer could easily have been another write off. Glastonbury’s postponement initially seemed like a warning sign of things to come, but on the contrary, recent festivals have been well attended and cherished.
One event set to return next week is Cosmic Roots, a festival based at The Walled Garden in East Raynham, Norfolk. With a focus on high quality programming and production, perhaps it should be little surprise that the event originally sold out back in March – six months before music would be played and any names on the lineup had been announced.
The team sought a small capacity increase from the estate which was granted, but that doesn’t mean the event is compromising on any of its values.
Noise Narrative sat down with the festival’s head of production Angus James, for a chat about what it means to have Cosmic Roots back and why keeping things small can sometimes be for the best.
As the festival’s head of production, what does an average day look like for you?
To be honest it changes as the build goes on. There could be site visits from various people – power, sound or security, just making sure everything is in place before things kick off. Covid has complicated things this year with more admin but every day is different.
How has Covid affected your role?
At Cosmic Roots, a lot of close friends turn up to help onsite and that’s been more stressful this time because rather than them just rocking up, there’s paperwork to be signed off. Everyone is a bit bored of it by now but it is good to have the security of knowing people are safe.
The festival isn’t like working for a big sponsored event where you’re dealing with massive companies scheduled to build one stage and you don’t know any of their crew. We’re friends with the people we work with and haven’t seen them since the last edition, so it is nice to get things done together again.
That’s probably one of the best parts of being in a festival production crew like this, the building atmosphere. From a blank canvas to a full party and then watching it be taken away again, it’s really enjoyable – more so than the actual event.
Rather than running around worrying about stuff going wrong?
Not stressing about things going wrong because hopefully you’ve done enough planning, but it’s just all the unforeseen stuff. Problems always pop up that you didn’t envisage. It’s not a normal festival experience for me or the rest of the team because our focus is on making sure everything runs smoothly instead of enjoying a party.
How would you describe the space at The Walled Garden?
The base is a 6-acre walled garden with a little ruined cottage in the middle. We’ve done everything we can to spruce it up using the organic and natural resources on the estate.
When you’re designing the different stages, what is your thought process like?
Each has its own characteristics and is unique – whether it be in the woods or the open, a stretch tent or a teepee. The stages have distinctive qualities which then translate to the lighting which then translates to the sound and the DJs that play and the overall programming.
There is an organic feel to everything that we do, which I love. It’s not as though we construct brand new wooden stuff or horrible white tents, everything is earthy toned and in keeping with the surroundings.
Do you have a favourite stage?
I’m a big fan of all four… it’s hard to say and depends what you’re after. If you’re in for a laser show then The Wormhole is one of the most immersive experiences I have ever had at a festival stage. Obviously I’m a bit biased! But seriously, the whole experience of walking into the space is amazing and then once you’re in, it’s a whole different world.
Given the fierce festival competition in the UK, how challenging is it to carve out a niche as a smaller, more intimate event? Especially around other local festivals that might book bigger names?
I think a lot of groups are carving out something different . As long as you’re not based around a lake and blanket copy other events, you’re in a place to create something unique. What’s actually been amazing this summer is the amount of small 250-500 person parties that have cropped up – events like Warm Up festival or Above Below have caught my eye. That definitely has something to do with Covid and the fact that some of the bigger festivals haven’t happened.
Is there much synergy between these events at all? Houghton invited Cosmic Roots down to spin some tunes a few years back for example.
I don’t think you’ll ever find us booking names like they do, they are very lucky to have Craig Richards being one of the main cogs of that powerhouse. It is difficult to connect Houghton with us budget-wise and in terms of scale. We are born from a different ethos – to me, Houghton is about placing a club-based event in the woods.
It must be pretty amazing to have nearly sold out a 2,500 capacity event pretty much via word of mouth alone?
Yeah that was a massive surprise. We always want our growth to be organic and for that reason don’t really push the festival much in terms of marketing. We were obviously over the moon to initially sell out back in March, and then be granted a small capacity increase by the estate.
We are super excited about this year and the numbers we have because it will work beautifully with the site whilst keeping things intimate. I guess you could ask what if Cosmic blew up to 17,000 people, would it be the same? I don’t think so.
Cosmic Roots takes place at The Walled Garden from Thursday 9th September to Sunday 12 September. Final release tickets available here.