Independence Days: An interview with Handmade Festival director John Helps



Once upon a time, the best thing about Leicestershire was the fact there’s a town there named Ashby-de-la-Zouch. These past few years though have seen that title awarded to something even better: Handmade Festival.

Now in its fourth year, the multi-venue music and arts festival is really stepping it up a gear with its 2016 line-up. Kings of comedy We Are Scientists are rubbing shoulders with 65daysofstatic, Deaf Havana, Lonely The Brave, Los Campesinos! and Swim Deep as the headlining honchos, whilst the rest of the weekend is rammed with all sorts of quality acts, such as USA Nails, Alpha Male Tea Party, Weirds, AXES, The Xcerts, Oscar and heaps more!

The independent festival is run in partnership with the likes of Big Scary Monsters, Alcopop RecordsDe Montfort University and for the first time this year,

It’s come on leaps and bounds since its initial outing in 2013, moving on from reclaimed venues across the city such as an ex-library and the city’s historic guildhall to this year’s outing at the O2 Academy Leicester! The big bands have always been there though, with previous years featuring the likes of Dutch Uncles, Rolo Tomassi, And So I Watch You From Afar, Slaves and Eagulls!

Tickets are running for the ludicrous price of £40 for the whole weekend (and they were even cheaper if you bought them a month back!)
But what’s better than that cheap, cheap price? FREE! Birthday Cake For Breakfast are giving away TWO tickets to this year’s festival, and all you need to do is RT this Tweet!

With all the excitement bubbling away for this year’s Handmade Festival, I reached out to the man who’s been there from the start – John Helps, one of the festival Director’s.

BCFB: This year’s Handmade Festival is boasting quite the huge line-up – I’m pretty stoked to see We Are Scientists and USA Nails in particular! How has it been putting together the festival this year
JohnIt’s been a lot easier than previous years actually. I think in part that’s because people know of us now – we’ve established ourselves to at least some extent and people want to play. In a big part though, it’s because the team this year is super tight. Andy who used to run The Charlotte and Nik from The Cookie are both doing a stellar job.

How have people been responding to that HUGE list of names you recently put up?
It’s been very rewarding! Haha. It feels like we’re doing the right thing. Some big names without sacrificing our credibility as a small festival that’s championing new and interesting music… People seem to get that. We’ve got a nice spread of genres but it’s hopefully not so diverse that people only want to see one or two bands – we want people to come for the weekend and take a risk on something new.

Going into 2016, what were your initial plans for this year’s festival and how has it been working out thus far?
We knew we needed to make better use of the spaces at the O2 Academy. Moving there was a big risk that paid off but we can make it even better quite easily. 

Outside of the huge headliners, who are some of the acts spread across the weekend that you’re excited about?
USA Nails is a big one for me. Three Trapped Tigers put out an amazing new track recently so I really wanted them on the festival.

It’s not just music on the agenda for Handmade – You’ve also got Robin Ince joining you this year and all sorts of installations, exhibits and workshops planned. Can you tell us a bit more about the non-music side of things?
Now we’ve got the majority of the music programme out there, we’re starting to push real hard to make the art, film, photography, performance and comedy a big deal. We’re the only festival of this sort in the city, so I do feel an element of responsibility to the city’s creative community to cover as much of what people are putting out there as we can. We’ve got some amazing spoken word stuff from local and national poets coming pretty soon, and some amazing comics too. There’s lots to be excited about.

Looking back on the beginnings of Handmade, how chuffed have you been with the growth it has had over the years?
It’s pretty unbelievable. I was always naively ambitious about the idea… I still am I suppose… But I never imagined us getting to the place we’re at now. I’d like it to exist at the size it is right now for a bit and see how we can maintain that in Leicester. It’s by no means an easy city to be doing this in.

What have been some of your highlights of the festival since its inception?
Watching Future of the Left last year. That band are crazy good. Tangled Hair and Woahnows in earlier years. Getting ASIWYFA to headline in year 2 was awesome.

Out of everyone involved in Handmade 2016 this year, who are you most looking forward to seeing across the line-up?
That’s a tough one. Three Trapped Tigers, USA Nails, 65days… I really love Grace Petrie and she’s curated a stage so I’ll probably hang about there a lot that day. 

For those still unsure about chucking a few quid your way for this ridiculous line-up, what would be your hard sell?
My hard sell? I’m not very good at this… Please come or I will have to sell my car?

Tickets available for Handmade Festival 2016 here!

Tickets available for Handmade Festival 2016 here!

Like what you see? Why not stick around and check out the other articles and interviews!
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