ReBalancing Act: Inside Festival Republic and PRS Foundation's groundbreaking new initiative

In 2017, the spectre of gender imbalance, inequality and sexism in workforces around the UK has been laid bare. The exposition of the gender pay gap at the BBC was but the tip of the iceberg. Indeed, PRS Foundation’s Women ...

PVRIS: The Music Week Interview

Some 25 miles north-west of Boston, Massachusetts, you will find Lowell. A former mill town bisected by the rushing waters of the Merrimack River, its principal claim to fame is Jack Kerouac. Here the king of the Beat Generation was born, here he found inspiration for works like Doctor Sax and Visions Of Gerard and here, finally, he was laid to rest. In many ways it remains unchanged – Kerouac’s descriptions still applicable to Lowell’s industrial skyline and ice-strangled winters. Yet the past few years have given Lowell another notch in its belt courtesy of one of rock’s most compelling bands: PVRIS. That’s Paris, for those averse to stylised bvnd nvmes. Ask frontwoman Lyndsey Gunnulfsen – aka Lynn Gunn – how she and her bandmates, guitarist Alex Babinski and bassist Brian MacDonald, managed to emerge from Lowell to become superstars in the making and she laughs. “It’s been a very busy, chaotic, hectic and messy journey, but a beautiful one,” she smiles, sat opposite Music Week in a West London cafe. Indeed, ahead of releasing their second album All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell – out August 25 via Rise Records/BMG – PVRIS already have a lot of pressure weighing down on them. In 2014 their debut, White Noise, gave goth-tinged rock a pristine, melodic pop overcoat to compelling effect, selling 62,192 copies in the UK to date according to Official Charts Company data. What’s more, they also delivered one of Reading Festival 2015’s most talked-about sets to a Pit tent not only singing along to every word, but famously spilling far outside of every entrance. In a short time they’ve graced numerous magazine covers and even found themselves on Jimmy Kimmel. You might think this was all part of the plan, but Gunn has an altogether more metaphysical way of framing it. “I really believe in manifesting,” she explains. “Like,  if you put your mind to it you can make anything happen, with realistic expectations and just keeping yourself in check. I was like, this might not happen, but I’ve always had it in my head that this was how the future was gonna be and that we were going to make it work no matter what. I’ve always wanted this, and I’ve always believed we could be here. I didn’t really know if it would ever happen – or fully, fully trust it – but I think the past two to three years have definitely shown just how powerful working hard is.” Gunn may exude an utterly commanding, supremely confident stage presence, not to mention a pensive figure in the band’s arthouse videos, but in person she is friendly, open yet charmingly humble. She talks about being nervous before gigs, and even details how fame has, at times, taken its toll. “I constantly psych myself out and this is something that I have tried to put in the past and that I’ve been trying to work through,” she says. “I’m really good at psyching myself out and getting in my head and ruining things through that, just by getting too nervous, working myself up or overthinking. That was a lot of the past three years.” She thinks she’s more comfortable with attention now, and it’s a good job because the feeling in 2017 is that PVRIS are on the verge of a huge crossover breakthrough. They certainly have the music to pull it off. The Lowell trio’s second outing takes the goth-pop blueprint and explodes it into a grander sound, Gunn noting that she would drive to the studio in her Ford Taurus soundtracked by Florence + The Machine, Fleetwood Mac, Grimes and Banks. It shows on single What’s Wrong, a song that starts out indebted to The Cure before morphing into gorgeous electronic throbs and a chorus that implores, ‘Don’t need a metaphor for you to know I’m miserable’. Another track sees Gunn tackle the broken state of the world in 2017. “We have this one song, No Mercy, and we demoed it back in July or so, before the [U.S.] election,” she explains. “I went in to track vocals for it the day after the inauguratuion it literally felt like doomsday. We pulled up No Mercy and I just got fired the fuck up.” The task now is to capitalise on the fruits of that passion. To that end, PVRIS have not one, not two but three managers overseeing their campaign: Matt Feldman and Nathan James of Iron Management and Matt Arsenault of Reclaim Music Group. Their ties with the group run deep, Arsenault first having met Gunn when she was just 17. “They were recording at my best friend’s studio and I heard Lynn sing and I was like, Holy shit, this girl’s amazing!” recalls Arsenault. “I had no idea what a manager did or was but I was like, I want to take you guys under my wing. That’s pretty much how it started.”  James, who had played with bands in and around the Massachusetts area with Arsenault, was drafted in to help with the endeavour alongside his partner Feldman. Together they manage Blake Harnage  – very much PVRIS’ secret weapon, he is the prodigious producer and collaborator behind White Noise and All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell. Today this management triumvirate remember the debut campaign that broke them globally as one forged on hard work and making the most of what they had. “Just to give you the dichotomy between the situations, the last record was done in Blake’s mum’s extra bedroom in his house,” says Feldman. “That was his studio, they recorded drums in their friend’s living room.” It’s safe to say things have changed. All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell was recorded in upstate New York in a full studio. Gunn, in particular, relished the switch in environment. “I’ve played the drums, tracked an actual piano, also tracked some organs, two grand pianos,” she beams. “I had a harp player come in and that was probably my favourite day in the studio.” PVRIS’ management believe there is real scope for growth this time, particularly in streaming. To date, lead single Heaven has racked up 4,553,632 listens on Spotify, with its follow-up What’s Wrong on 2,787,261. “The songs are pop songs, they have pop structures, pop melodies, but they are also edgy, sometimes left of centre,” explains Feldman. “I think that allows us to cross-pollinate a lot of different demographics.” Everyone in camp PVRIS stresses, however, that their musical alchemy – and success – has been organic. “So many people played a major role but at the end of the day it came down to the band, especially Lyndsey with her visuals, her music and her image,” reveals Arsenault. “Letting Lynn be in complete creative control of the music is a huge, huge part of it,” agrees James. “Everything just comes from her authentically, there’s no outside force giving her any opinions.” Arsenault goes on to describe Gunn as “the hardest worker” he has ever met. Indeed, one of the defining aspects of the campaign so far – and with PVRIS’ career as a whole – is their striking visual aesthetic. Gunn, a lover of Victorian-era art, tells Music Week she spent time in the studio studying old photographs, just setting the mood. It is a pronounced love of visuals that adds a string to their bow when translated to their videos – lead single Heaven’s unsettling monochrome clip seemingly transmitted directly from David Lynch’s brain. The next step is to take the new material on the road. The campaign started in the UK with two May headline shows at O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, next it takes in their eagerly-anticipated return to Reading & Leeds and a November headline tour, including O2 Academy Brixton. That’s not to mention them supporting Muse and 30 Seconds To Mars on their colossal North American tour. Yet, growing into bigger stages while remaining true to the scene that birthed them is important to the team.   “The main thing is never forgetting where we came from,” says Arsenault. “Not alienating our crowd, because that is our big market. But at the same time, you have to expand, too. If you keep taking the same tours, the same avenues, you can’t grow. I think our team has done a really good job with this, being smart and holding back from doing another tour straight away. If we’d done that, we would have missed the Muse and 30 Seconds To Mars tour.”    It begs the question: are PVRIS dreaming of headlining arenas in their own right in the future? “I mean, obviously,” Gunn smiles. “But the main goal is just to be proud, and not regret anything and feel good about it. I feel like with the White Noise cycle I was so stressed out, I couldn’t enjoy any of it and I psyched myself out. My goal for this record is to really enjoy it.”

Parklife Festival/The Warehouse Project's Sacha Lord-Marchionne & Sam Kandel: The Big Interview

Parklife festival; Heaton Park, Manchester; Saturday, June 10. Matt Healy, frontman of hometown heroes The 1975, takes the mic as his band approach the end of their headline set, less than three weeks after the darkest day in the city’s history - the May 22 terrorist attack. “I think we’ve all spent a lot of time mourning since what happened,” said Healy. “But this is a music festival and we’ve had our silence. We didn’t want to do a moment of silence, we wanted to do a moment of noise.” The 80,000-strong crowd erupts in unison, a reaction typical of this most resilient of cities. Manchester native Sacha Lord-Marchionne, the festival’s co-founder, could not have felt prouder. “It’s a real cliché, but there is most definitely a spirit in Manchester,” he tells Music Week. “I went to the Ariana Grande charity concert [One Love Manchester] in June and, on the way there, I was contemplating what the mood would be like. But as soon as I got out of the cab I saw those smiles - 50,000 smiles! Everybody was wearing the bee T-shirts or the I Love Manchester T-shirts and having selfies with the cops. It was a huge party. “There were heartbreaking moments, but even the people with tears in their eyes were smiling and I think that says a lot for our city. It’s something I’m really proud about. I’m always banging on about Manchester, I’ve always flown the flag - and I think I’ve been proven correct.” First held in 2010 as a 20,000-capacity day festival, Parklife has evolved into an 80,000-capacity, two-day monster, boosted by headline acts as diverse as Frank Ocean, The 1975, The Chemical Brothers, Major Lazer, Disclosure, Nas and Snoop Dogg. Explaining its origins, Lord-Marchionne notes: “We saw a group of students putting on a party in [local park] Platt Fields. The concept was great, but the line-up and the infrastructure needed work. It was run by a crew called Mad Ferret, so we stepped in and had a natter with them. We really liked what they did, but we thought we could add to it. They’re still minor shareholders to this day and get involved on the ground level. “This year was our fastest sell-out to date, so it’s grown rapidly - faster than we could have ever imagined.”The ‘we’ refers to Lord-Marchionne’s business partner Sam Kandel, with whom he also founded The Warehouse Project. The club brand returns for its 2017 season next month with a sold-out opening weekend, headlined by LCD Soundsystem. Since 2006, the WHP series, which runs from September 16 to January 1, has welcomed artists and DJs like Skepta, The Prodigy, M.I.A., Disclosure, Foals, Basement Jaxx, Annie Mac and Deadmau5. The majority of events will take place at WHP’s spiritual home in Store Street, but there will also be a number of specially curated events at various other Manchester venues. “Sacha and I previously worked together at [Manchester club] Sankeys, where we saw first-hand how difficult it was becoming to maintain a venue 52 weeks a year,” recalls Kandel.   “With Manchester being a big university centre, you would see that golden few months between the end of September and New Year where everyone was very active and it was easier to sell tickets. You then spent the rest of the year trying to hold it together. So our idea [for The Warehouse Project] was to create something that only lasted for those three months, and it worked well. It gave us the opportunity to evolve the programming and concept each year. From our experiences at Sankeys, we saw there was a real demand for that kind of seasonal approach. “We’re now going into Season 12 of the Warehouse Project and we’ve just done the eighth Parklife - Parklife was a natural second move.” Acts performing in the forthcoming season include Jeff Mills, Daphni, Marcel Dettmann, Robert Hood, Nina Kraviz, Jackmaster, Hunee, Mura Masa, Annie Mac, Giggs, Andy C, Craig David, The Chemical Brothers, Jamie Jones, Fatima Yamaha, Adam Beyer, Laurent Garnier, Chase & Status and Jamie xx & Friends. “Sam, bless him, has been up to his eyeballs with the line-up, but it’s looking pretty - I hate the word sexy - but it’s looking pretty sexy,” laughs Lord-Marchionne. Lord-Marchionne spoke out passionately in defence of London nightspot Fabric during its legal troubles last year, branding Islington Council’s decision to revoke its licence “a farce”. “How on earth can three suits, who don’t know anything about clubbing, make such a huge cultural decision? It’s just not right,” he said at the time. Thankfully, the situation was resolved after Fabric won its appeal and reopened back in January. “My take on the whole Fabric thing is that [the council] should never have been in opposition in the first place, because the club’s operators are among the best in the country,” he reflects. “I have been very vocal about that and what most people don’t know is that when it was going on, Cameron [Leslie], one of Fabric’s owners, was invited up to Manchester to meet the Lord Mayor for a cup of tea and Manchester City Council said to him that if this had happened in our city, they certainly wouldn’t be reviewing the licence. There would have been some very adult conversations - but about how to help and how to educate as opposed to, Let’s shut it down and move the problem somewhere else, which doesn’t seem like common sense to me.” It’s not just idle talk either - Lord Marchionne has backed up his words with action. In 2013, WHP introduced the pioneering MAST drugs testing service on-site, whereby scientists test drugs confiscated or handed in by clubbers. The facility has since been piloted at UK festivals such as Kendal Calling and Secret Garden Party. “We’re the only venue to do it,” he says. “We work very closely with Professor Fiona Measham [founder of drug harm reduction operation The Loop] and take samples of drug confiscations into the back area where Fiona will test them. If we find anything alarming, we’ll send out messages on social media. That’s been something that’s been extremely effective for us for the last three to four years.” In 2016, LN-Gaiety - the UK music promotion joint venture between Live Nation and Gaiety Investments - acquired a majority share in both Parklife and The Warehouse Project. “It’s amazing to be in partnership with such a machine, something that has such huge strength,” smiles Lord-Marchionne. “We actually had to pinch ourselves because we were just a couple of kids in south Manchester who started out putting up posters at 2am. The police would run around trying to tear them down!” Here, the duo open up further about their relationship with the global promoting giant, ponder the state of club culture and reveal what the future may hold for Parklife and The Warehouse Project...Let’s start with Parklife then - the festival is now four times bigger than when you began? Sacha Lord-Marchionne: Eight times bigger actually, because it’s now held over two days. What do you attribute that growth to? SL: When we started, it was predominantly aimed at the student market, but the line-up was attracting the attention of non-students, so all of a sudden we went from what was predominantly 95% students to an event that’s now, I would say, 50/50. The city really got behind it as well because, at that stage, there wasn’t a Manchester festival to tick the box for our market, so to speak, whereas obviously there was Creamfields down the road in Liverpool. So they really helped it to get to where we are today. Sam Kandel: Parklife targeted the student market when it first started, but it’s much more than that these days. It’s not specifically for students, the reason that we chose that date initially was that it was the end of the student calendar and we still define the Parklife dates based on when the Manchester universities finish. When Parklife started we were originally in a park called Platt Fields, which is right in the heart of student land and it became a big end of year celebration for all the students. But then, when we moved to Heaton Park, we picked up a whole new audience; the capacity doubled and it evolved into something else. Parklife has garnered a good reputation almost as a rite of passage event for people in the north of England and beyond, but I think a big part of that is because the line-up is strong and because of the way we’ve developed the brand. What is the festival’s booking policy? SK: There are rules and certain parameters that we try to stay within. It’s very much a similar policy to the way we approach The Warehouse Project in that we don’t want anything to be taken for granted and we want to keep pushing the boundaries of people’s expectations - we don’t want it just to be an obvious list. We’ll always try and throw in a couple of curve balls that no one’s expecting, whether it’s Ice Cube or Chaka Khan, or whatever, it’s not always just what’s hot right now, we do try and mix it up. Obviously the grime and the hip-hop elements are a big part of the programme at the moment; Frank Ocean was a huge booking for Parklife this year, he really stole the show as well - his performance was absolutely amazing. But in terms of a general approach, there’s a big dance music element and that really comes down to our background and the fact that Parklife was borne out of The Warehouse Project. Are headliners not as important to Parklife as they are to some of the traditional rock festivals? SK: No. There are other events out there which are all about the headliner and with Parklife it’s much more about the whole line-up and also the way we present the line-up as well, we try and put the focus across the whole bill, rather than pinning it all around the headliners each day. But the headliners are still key, and we were lucky this year, we nailed Frank Ocean and The 1975, who were both very good.  Sometimes the opportunity comes up for us to book an established headline artist, and other times we like to present something that perhaps not all of the major festivals would consider a headliner at the top of the bill. And I think we’re in a good position to be able to do that whereas a lot of the other festivals aren’t. The audience that comes to Parklife, generally, is quite musically aware and a load of them come to see some of the underground DJs or whatever, so it’s not the same pressure that might be on some of the major festivals. So what’s next? Is there room for further expansion? SL: We’ve hit capacity at Heaton Park now. In terms of line-up, this was by far our strongest year yet. We’re spending a lot more money on the production side, a lot more money on the VIP side and they’re elements that we’re trying to improve on. Parklife is 80,000 people, but the great thing about it is that the majority of those people know the characters behind it, so whether it’s myself or Sam or Rich [McGinnis, WHP director], they know that we’re very hands-on. We interact with our customers on a day-to-day basis and listen to what they want. We always send out surveys and polls and we tend to deliver on what comes back.How were your own security arrangements affected by the Manchester attack? SL: The first call I took the morning after the tragedy was from the head of licensing at Greater Manchester Police, whose strong message to me was that it was business as usual [for Parklife]. We then had endless meetings with counter-terrorism officers and GMP, who were 110% supportive. Obviously, I can’t go into details about the changes that I made, but what I can say is that the safety of our customers is of the absolute and utmost importance. We thought of every possibility and put in every contingency. I put a message out saying, Please be aware that it may take longer to get in this weekend because of the queues, but this is for your benefit, and I didn’t get back one negative comment. So people were expecting it and it’s our responsibility to look after those customers. They’ve paid to come to our event so we have to look after them. SK: It was obviously challnging from a security perspective. There was a lot of nervousness from the authorities and from the public, which was to be expected. But actually, everything went very well, everyone was on their best behaviour and there was definitely a special atmosphere around the event this year, it was one of the best Parklifes to date. It was a great event, the atmosphere was good and it certainly felt like people were responding in a positive way to the terrible incident that had happened a few weeks earlier. You went into partnership with Live Nation last year, why did you feel that was the right move? SL: What they have brought to our company is incredible. [Festival Republic MD] Melvin Benn, I don’t think he’s human! He has to be a machine, you can get him on the phone at 2am, 3am, 5am - the guy doesn’t sleep! Then there’s [Live Nation UK chairman] Denis Desmond, who you can pick up the phone to at any point for help or advice. They have helped us along the way in the last 18 months and given us some great advice. It’s not a faceless company; there are some great characters there. They’ve really welcomed us and vice versa. What’s really good is that when we first had our meeting with Denis, we were very keen that we wanted to control our own destiny. We didn’t want to feel like we were working for someone else and that isn’t the case. It is very much a partnership and they let us do our own thing, but they’re always at the end of the phone if we need them. I’ve actually started to grow fond of London from coming down for meetings, which I thought I’d never say.It will never replace Manchester in your affections though right? SL: A question that I’m asked quite a lot in interviews is, What makes the atmosphere in The Warehouse Project so different to atmospheres in similar music genres in venues around the country? And the answer is Manchester. There’s something about Manchester people, there’s something special in the city.

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