Six Questions With... Sarah McBriar of AVA Festival

Six Questions With... Sarah McBriar of AVA Festival

Welcome to the latest edition of Six Questions With..., a regular short and sharp interview with a live music figure. Email jhanley@nbmedia.com if you would like to take part or recommend someone for inclusion. 

This week's Q&A is with Sarah McBriar of electronic music festival and conference, which takes place in Belfast, Northern Ireland from May 31 to June 1. Its London edition was held at Printworks on March 15.

What was your first job in music?

I used to study in Manchester (a good 12 years ago - showing my age now). I picked to study in Manchester purely on the music scene. My brother studied in Liverpool for a year, when I was deciding where to go, and I used to visit him and hit Chibuku, then travel over to Manchester to go out there. When I moved to Manchester, I went to the Warehouse Project, in its first year, at the old Boddington's brewery. I loved it... I remember it clearly, Green Velvet and two of my old Belfast friends were visiting me. I did various jobs relating to music when at Uni, from flyering, to guest list for various nights. Then at the end, I worked for the Warehouse Project at the weekends in the Artist Liaison team. I was a runner and loved the energy of it. The team were class, and I am still really good mates with the crew. It was a full circle experience bringing AVA to the WHP for the last store street in December 2018. An emotional one, as that is where it all started for me. There and Glastonbury shaped me for sure.

How long have you been in your current role?

This will be my sixth year in my role. I started AVA & UP Productions in 2014, with the first AVA in 2015 down at the Titanic Docks. This year will be our fifth of the festival. Still can't really believe it.

What is your favourite thing about working in the live music industry?

The energy and atmosphere. Nothing really compares to the intensity of a crowd reacting. Being the organiser, that moment it all comes together and you can really feel it. I have a background across music and theatre, and for me, the difference in theatre (so words in effect) and live music, is the atmosphere and the emotional intensity and the feeling that a great performance can give. I don't get that from theatre. I have always loved set design and production, and I think that is what I really got from theatre. I used to sit in shows and just study the set and lighting, I would pull apart the set in my head. It's music that gets into my soul, nothing else has the same impact.

What is the one thing you would like to change about the business?

More support and licenses for varying cultural events, with a greater understanding of what is possible. I think the rules are quite stringent (for of course the right reasons, mainly safety), but I think there is a need to look at culture, music and art, and look at how best we animate our cities. This needs progressive leadership at the top (in government), creative thinking, a leadership that values this and can push forward what the industry needs to make it happen. It is possible, it's a mindset.

What is the highlight of your career so far?

Making year one of AVA happen, and launching what we did in Belfast. I will never forget that feeling, standing on the stage at the end of AVA 2015, looking out at the crowd and giving pure love.

What’s the best gig you’ve ever been too?

There are so many. I know you asked for 'the best gig', but can I pick five!? (...please!!!) A Belfast After Party - Boxing Day, December 26, 2013, everyone is our Belfast crew were stuffed into an office block owned by a friend of ours, and we had hours of the best music, played by many of the crew we book now. It was an unforgettable night. Then official gigs... five that really stand out for me:

Jon Hopkins Live Visual Show at the Southbank, London, 2014.

Timmy Stewart & JMX, the outdoor stage at AVA Festival in 2016.

Noname, SxSW, 2016.

AVA presents Bicep Live, Ulster Hall 2017.

Nils Frahm at the Mandela Hall, Belfast, 2018. 

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