Interview – Radar Festival Organisers, Catherine Jackson and Joe James

It has to be said that the UK/European festival season for 2019 is shaping up to be a particularly strong one. Alongside established festivals delivering killer line-ups for this

5 years ago

It has to be said that the UK/European festival season for 2019 is shaping up to be a particularly strong one. Alongside established festivals delivering killer line-ups for this year’s iteration, there are also a few newcomers finding space for themselves on the calendar. Of these newbies, Radar Festival’s opening announcement for their inaugural weekend – held in Guildford in  early August – took many people aback with the sheer concentration of talent.

So, to find out a little bit more about the festival,where it came from and what to expect from the weekend,  I sat down for a chat with organisers, Catherine Jackson and Joe James, on the eve of their second line-up announcement. The pair of them both run venues in their own right, with Joe at The Boileroom in Guildford itself, and Catherine at the Lounge Bar in Alton. The Lounge Bar has it’s own place in the prog-metal festival lore, as Catherine hosted the inaugural Tech Fest in the venue in 2012. With a combined 30 years of experience in venues, festivals and tour management behind them, the pair had a great many ideas for a weekend festival that they wanted to put into practice. Exciting times.

Simon Clark – What was the inspiration for Radar?

Joe James – To put on the best event we are capable of. A celebration of music we love and wanting to share it. To see our friends have a fantastic time and watch the community get together for another event in the calendar. We’re a niche event, with a global community and we love seeing our friends as much as we love listening to the music. Also, with our experience, we want the bands to have the best experience at our event. We’ve both toured, we know how much of a difference it makes!

Simon – Is there a story behind the name?

Catherine Jackson – As anyone who has started something new, be it a band, an event, a company, coming up with a name is hard! We had so many names which we whittled down. In a sense what is a name? Reading Festival is one of the biggest festivals in Europe and it is just the name of a town! But saying that, we did put a lot of thought into it, maybe too much. The word “Radar” shares connections with progressive music. It is concise, complex, yet clinical and clean. There is symmetry. In one sense, it is just a name, in another, it can mean all the above.

Simon –  Great.  Can I ask you to define what ‘progressive’ means to you.  It pops up a lot, but it is quite an elastic term, so means different things to different people.

Catherine – I think for me personally, I see it as the traditional progressive genre in terms of what people would understand, but in relation to the festival as a whole and as a concept, I think “something interesting”. That encompasses taking music in a direction that one doesn’t expect, expanding upon original ideas and that element of surprise that makes you want to tell someone about it.
Joe – Ooh, hard question. Good answer Catherine. I am not a musician, I very much see things through the music lover, dare I say ‘consumer’ view point. For me it is a very broad label for, I guess, complex beautiful music, that can be as soft as Cory Wong or as heavy as Meshuggah.

Simon – Excellent – I can definitely see that philosophy at work in the line-up announcements.

Catherine – Yes. It’s difficult to pin down, and the answer is as broad as our traditional ‘genres’ in the announcements we’ve made.

Simon – So do you have parameters for the bands you look to book? – would you consider a particular band too heavy, or even not heavy enough, for example?

Joe – I would say we very much book by feel, as if curating a playlist on Spotify, if that analogy fits.  I think people will see that the two days have a distinct feel when we announce the day splits.  They flow very nicely.

Simon – Oh, cool. I like the idea of that.

Catherine – It allows people to discover something outside of their knowledge hopefully (especially with no overlaps in music) but also pick and choose. Some absolutely hate the softer side/harder side of the music we’ve booked, and so we’ve catered for that too.
Joe – I get very fed up with larger festivals, which don’t seem to take any care in the stage booking. The big festivals, like Reading, etc.

Simon – As far as I’m concerned, all the big festivals do is put the greatest bands on the smallest stages.

Joe – I agree there!
Catherine – I love Muse too much to agree 100%, but a solid 90% with me there too!

Simon – Some might call it snobbery or elitism, but I prefer ‘discerning’.  I’m just interested in a bit more on that point you made approaching it ‘as a consumer’, Joe – That’s interesting because of the high proportion of fans who are also musicians, especially when it comes to the likes of Animals As Leaders.

Joe – Well, my father is a well-known folk musician. He was made to learn instruments as a child and didn’t want to force me. I tried, but if I don’t get good at something straight away, I fold fast, ha! I was drawn to the genre in the early Tesseract/Periphery days. It was just so different to everything about. I was in love straight away. I have not put too much thought into it until this moment.  But there is nothing like the moment you discover a new band and it hits you – for me recently, that has been Novelists and Kadinja. They’re bands from the scene that I had missed and was love on first listen.

Catherine – I think that looking at the festival experience from every angle was something we were keen to do in the formation of our ideas too. So, consumer, band member, supplier. They all matter in the overall vibe and formation of what you are creating.

Simon – That’s a great point, Catherine, and I absolutely agree with Joe about the moment of discovery – it’s the reason I go to as many shows as I do.

Joe – I accidentally discovered so many bands in the same way Simon.  As everyone reading your blog probably does.  I think the genre is so fantastic, because the people that make the community are all so keen to give new bands a chance.
Catherine – Yeah, I think that’s fairly unique in the music industry too. For such a particular crowd, they are incredibly welcoming to new ideas.

Simon – Actually, I first saw Toska as a completely unknown and unexpected opening band at the Barfly.

Joe – Toska! I saw them supporting Heights in Brighton and got chatting to Bea after and I think we (Progressive Promotions) have put them on about four or five times since! It has been a pleasure watching them become such a brilliant band.
Catherine – Yeah, I was at the Brighton show too and loved their set – I very clearly remember you saying about booking them, Joe, and that definitely introduced them to a Surrey crowd.

Simon – Funnily enough, they were supporting Heights at the Barfly too. Probably the same tour.

Catherine – Yes, it was. I worked both those shows and they wowed everyone!
Joe – Heights are good friends of Catherine and I. A big regret is not being able to coax them out for Radar 2019.

Simon – I guess Jay (Postones, TesseracT and Heights drummer) is probably a bit busy, all things considered.  But, I agree that is a shame. They’re like the musical equivalent of a great big hug.

Joe – A perfect example of ‘close your eyes prog’.
Catherine – They are!

Simon – Ha! Great. I get the impression that we all stumbled upon this community of bands around the same sort of time? About 2010ish?

Joe – 2010 was my estimate.
Catherine – Yes, sounds about right for me personally.  TesseracT started playing at mine around then I think.
Joe – I was always very jealous of your TesseracT shows.
Catherine – That was my lead into the genre as a whole, and then the first Tech Fest sealed it and made more of a scene in the local area around the bands we all now know.
Joe – My close friends, who do Progressive Promotions with me, Nick and Rob, talked me into going to Euroblast in 2012 and that was it. Hooked.

Simon – …and that, if I am remembering the scene lore correctly, is where people got their first exposure to Agent Fresco, yes?

Joe – Yes! They played two sets.
Catherine – I think so…. I remember clearly everyone going in there and coming out almost unable to speak.

Simon – They are a very special band. So, frankly, I am delighted by their inclusion in the second announcement for Radar.

Catherine – It was very much an ‘event’ in the scene, and Joe and I have talked about wanting to create a festival that has pockets of these moments, as I think they really shape the continuation of the scene in a really positive manner.
Joe – Catherine suggested Agent Fresco for this year actually and we were pretty delighted it came together.  They add a great counter-balance to some of the heavier bands.
Catherine – Everyone needs a bit of balance sometimes and a festival that has no ebbs and flows can grow tiresome!

Simon – Undoubtedly – I’m obviously looking over the new poster now, and it looks very impressive. Some of the very best bands this scene has generated over the last few years.

Catherine – I think it’s a fantastic time to showcase that whilst introducing some new music to the scene and establish ourselves as a festival that wants to showcase what people know and love already in celebration but also have the confidence to say, “Trust us- you’ll like these guys too.”
Joe – We hope to add a tiny sprinkle more in the coming weeks, but we are nearly done with the main line up.

Simon – As I mentioned in my column the other month, that first announcement landed with a great big bang. It’s the boldest opening salvo for new festival that I can recall.

Joe – That was very much the intention
Catherine – If you’re going to do something; do it properly.
Joe – We felt coming out of no-where, we needed to keep our hand secret until we were ready to make some waves.

Simon – Mission accomplished, I think

Catherine – Yeah, being the new kid in town in terms of festivals means that we needed credibility immediately. That first drop had to be good so that people took it seriously.
Joe – We couldn’t have done it without some serious industry goodwill. I think Catherine and I booking for a combined 20 years gave us enough strong relationships to build this.
Catherine – Yes, good point. We’ve hardly walked into it without being known in the industry.

Simon – There does seem to have been a noticeable shift into these more boutique festivals over the last ten years.

Joe – The big festivals are noticing attendances dropping. I think people are sick of being charged £250 a ticket and squeezed out of every penny over four days Also, the charm of events like us, Tech Fest and Euroblast is you get to meet the acts and the audience has a real community feel, something we need in 2019.
Catherine – It’s something we’ve discussed a lot in terms of designing how we want the festival to be perceived by people.

Simon – Before Tech Fest, Euroblast and then ArcTanGent came along, I’d basically resigned myself to the idea that my festival years were behind me.

Joe – How could I forget ArcTanGent… their line up this year is absolutely phenomenal!  Meshuggah + Cult of Luna + Bossk are three of my all time favourites.
Catherine – Yes, by far the best line-up I’ve seen anywhere in years… and I can’t go. So upset!

Simon – Now, you mentioned that you almost stumbled on the venue by accident going to a show – were you already thinking seriously about a festival at that point, or did the idea snowball from that night?

Joe – I think it is something Catherine and I always wanted to do. We’ve worked together at a few festivals and always talked about the idea.  But having poured my heart and soul into events that were killed by rain, I never ever want to put on an outdoor festival again.  So,  the venue based template was something I was very interested in – Euroblast being the shining industry example.
Catherine – Yes, that basically!
Joe – They do everything extremely well.
Catherine – I hosted the first Tech Fest but my own venue is 400 capacity and so it has a quick glass ceiling in terms of bands.
Joe – Also, it is 1pm, your favourite band is playing. it is sunny, you just can’t get into it in way you can in a dark room with perfect lighting and haze.

Simon – That’s very true – I’ve seen Bossk in daylight a few times, and it just isn’t the same.

Joe – I love Crystal Castles. One of my favourite acts ever. I saw them second to last at Reading on the Radio One stage. Amazing. Everything I hoped it would be. I went back the next year and watched them in the sun on the main stage and the magic was not there.  I mean who doesn’t like computer game based dance music with a woman inaudibly screaming?
Catherine – No, creating that intimate atmosphere whilst being in comfy surroundings was a win-win when we went to scope out the venue properly!

Simon – The slightly more ‘experienced’ gig goers very much appreciate that.

Joe – We are both crossing the mid-30 point, so agree! There are plenty of sofas in the venue.

Simon – Sold.

Joe – We should lead with that in the promo
Catherine – I’m all for it, I want a comfy seat after a few hours of music.

Simon – I do always forget to sit down, and end up a bit ruined.  I think it’s fair to say that everyone is intrigued about the venue. But I can also appreciate why you might not want to say too much just yet.

Joe – It is a bit of a chicken and the egg situation. The venue is undergoing some works, with a name change, so we are desperately trying not to confuse things, but equally, I know the first thing I would do is Google the venue. We’ll be putting out more information soon.

Simon – I also think the idea you mentioned to me of having the masterclasses as a bolt-on, adjacent to the festival and available to non-festival ticket holders is a really good one.

Catherine – Yeah, I think that it’s really important to offer an experience as we briefly touched upon earlier.  When you have the flexibility of the venue we have, it’s easy to be able to split that down into areas where people can attend and actually go home having learnt something and had access to their peers which in itself actually helps advance the scene in many ways too.

Simon – Looking at the people you’re going to have in the building, I can see equally that there may be people who want to come and specifically see those people talk, but not want to see a day of bands to do so, but also people who will have no interest in that at all.

Catherine – Yeah, I think that summarises exactly what our approach is. We are really close to a couple of music-based education facilities, and some people may appreciate “X” is in town, and could learn from them, but not be able to attend the festival. It opens the festival up a bit to the wider community as a whole but also makes the day something that bit extra special for the fans if they choose to do so.  As you say, it’s not going to be in the middle of the festival either, so you won’t be stepping over someone explaining the minor scale as you go to get a beer. I think design is crucial to the experience of a festival and we’re thrilled that the venue is as accommodating to our ideas.

Simon – Great stuff. It all sounds very promising.  I know we’ve already touched on Toska – and I obviously have no idea who you have booked for classes – but I think that Rabea is filling the same role with younger lads just picking up the guitar that Misha, Browne and Paul Ortiz were in 2012 or so..

Catherine – Yes, I think a new generation of bands and inspiration is filtering through and that’s exciting to be able to work with.
Joe – Bea has done exceptionally well just being himself. it is so refreshing to see. He is a genuine, lovely guy and extremely talented. He is a great example of how to use the internet correctly.
Catherine – We’re nearly done with the line-up, so it’s time to move on to the masterclasses and we’ll get all information out to people next so that they can see that the festival is not ‘just’ watching bands.

Simon – Cool. There are two other bands on the bill I just wanted to touch on specifically – Rolo Tomassi, and No Consequence.  I think Rolo are particularly interesting because they are so incredibly caustic, but they’re almost the only band who can get away with playing at pretty much any festival over the whole season.

Joe – Yeah there is something about them right? I completely agree, they fit many bills. I have listened to them a great deal and I still can’t quite put my finger on what I love about them,which keeps me listening.

Simon – I’ve heard it said that the reason that Coca cola is so popular is that nobody can quite describe what it tastes like. So maybe that’s the equivalent.

Catherine – That could be their new tag line.
Joe – Well, personally I cannot stand the stuff, but I’m now considering going into marketing

Simon – I think that having No Consequence back for one night will be another thing that makes the weekend more of an event, for a number of us.

Catherine – Joe has connections there more, but it touches on what we mentioned about creating an ‘event’ moment.
Joe – Kaan, Colin and Harry are three of my best mates. I met them all at Euroblast in 2012, then we realised we were all from Guildford. As soon as we started doing this, it was a no-brainer. We wanted to talk them into one more gig

Simon – Well, I for one am very glad that you did.  It’s obviously cool seeing what Kaan is doing now (as vocalist of Heart of a Coward), but I’m very much looking forward to hearing “Citizen” one more time.

Joe – They are a great band and I think it’ll be one of the busiest crowds of the weekend.

Simon – Outstanding – Well, I think I’ve asked everything I had. Is there anything else you wanted to say at this stage?

Catherine – I think something that we want to get across in general is that we want the festival to be the best experience we can provide for everyone.  We’ve both toured, and walking into a venue and finding that your needs are very barely catered for or not at all is demoralising and horrible, and ultimately not how to treat people.  So, part of the design process has always been to focus on making it great for everyone involved and we’ll strive to do that.
Joe – We would 100% like to thank everyone for each and every wonderful comment we received after the announcement. It really made the hard work worth it. As well as everyone who has put their faith in us and bought a ticket
Catherine –  Yeah, I’d like to echo the ticket thing too. It’s not a small gig, it’s a big leap of faith in us to commit to a weekend of potentially travelling to see a new venture, and people doing so- and in the numbers they have, really means a lot.  Being able to put some solid locals on the line-up and represent our local scene is special too. Sumer are some of my oldest friends and I’m so proud to see them progress from their first ever show at my venue to supporting Animals As Leaders- as they should do!

Simon – I’m an enormous Sumer fan. I’ve seen them north of 20 times since the album release show.  It was a real love-at-first-sight moment for me, so I’m delighted they’re playing, too.

Joe – I can’t believe I didn’t know of them until last year. I have put them on twice and seen them twice more. Wonderful band.  I narrowly stopped myself making a Radar pun there.
Catherine – I keep having to stop myself too.
Joe – We still have some really cool things to announce, after the masterclasses. We’re planning some super fun after parties and a lot of other venue content.
Catherine – I’m looking forward to a room full of friends discovering new music, and watching favourites together.

Simon – That seems like a perfect note to end this on.  Thank you very much for your time.

Tickets and more information about Radar Festival are available on their website.

Simon Clark

Published 5 years ago