Wide Awake's Marcus Weedon on how to launch a festival in a pandemic year

Wide Awake's Marcus Weedon on how to launch a festival in a pandemic year

It’s a bold move to debut a brand new festival in the time of Covid – but South London’s Wide Awake is doing just that.

Staged by Bad Vibrations, Dimensions, LNZRT and SC&P, the event specialising in underground and alternative music take place on Friday, September 3 at Brockwell Park in South London. 

The impressive line-up includes Black Midi, Dream Wife, Crack Cloud, Songhoy Blues and A Certain Ratio, as well as curation from Daniel Avery. The festival will focus on genres across leftfield indie, post punk, electronica, techno and jazz.

Wide Awake is the brainchild of some of the original foundersofField Day, alongside LNZRT, who are behind some of London’s most iconic, small music venues, including MOTH Club, The Shacklewell Arms, The Waiting Room and Peckham Audio. 

Wide Awake had been set to launch in 2020, until the pandemic halted all live music. With the government’s roadmap out of restrictions announced last month, organisers have pushed ahead with a 2021 edition.

The event will champion independence, as well as promote a strong policy for sustainability. Early bird tickets priced £34.50 are on sale now.

Here, Wide Awake's festival director Marcus Weedon reveals their gameplan for launching during a pandemic…

What’s the vision for this new festival in terms of the music and artists? 

“We're really looking to give people a chance to see as many of the most important emerging artists as possible in one day, for as low a ticket price as is sensible. The UK guitar scene is on fire at the moment, and we're really delighted to have managed to secure so many of these acts, as we felt it was important to encapsulate that scene. In terms of electronic music, we're absolutely delighted to have Daniel Avery at the top of an amazing line-up and we've got music from around the world in the shape of Tinariwen, Songhoy Blues and Tropical F*** Storm.”

How important is it to have sustainability as an integral element of a new festival, how can this help drive change within the sector?

“It is incredibly important to have sustainability as an integral element of all festivals, new or otherwise – the debate on whether climate action should be taken by industries, governments or individuals is a topic that should continue to be at the forefront. It’s an area we care passionately about – there’s more action needed now from all sides. We have started a policy that we hope is positive in making changes to an industry we love, one that educates people as well as organisations and will help mobilise more people to be involved with climate action. There is a huge amount to be done from tackling supply chain issues to finding solutions that can make festivals carbon neutral, giving support to local causes and not creating air pollution. Wide Awake’s Positive Policy leads with complete transparency laying bare all that we need to do in the future to be a planet ready festival.”

It's been amazing to see how flexible we can all be in a crisis

Marcus Weedon

What are the challenges in launching a new festival at this time? Is the line-up so far indicative of a healthy alternative scene?  

“Ultimately, everyone’s in the same boat and it's been amazing to see how flexible we can all be in a crisis. We have had to move the date and announcement around a few times now for logistical reasons and the roadmap, but each time everyone was ready and willing to make the changes necessary to get things moving. 

“There are so many great acts right now it's almost impossible to keep up. Grassroots venues like The Windmill and The Shacklewell have been a petri dish for these kinds of acts for a long time now, and it's great to see so many of them elevating themselves up to the top of festival bills and regularly charting in the Top 10. I have no doubt that this year, a few of those in the crowd will be inspired enough to start their own projects, and end up on our stages in future years.” 

Were you encouraged by the announcement on easing of Covid restrictions?

“The Wide Awake team have been increasingly optimistic about the return of ‘normality’ for live events since the vaccine roll-out and, of course, the announcement was a huge boost. We have chosen a later summer start than originally planned and the customer experience and safety remains our utmost priority, so we will be preparing and planning for all eventualities.

“We are confident the event will take place this year. But in the unlikely event of the September event being cancelled due to Covid restrictions, we will reschedule the event to June 2022 and transfer tickets over or refund the face value of the ticket price.”

What have you learnt from Field Day and other past events that will help Wide Awake get off to a strong start? 

“We've always worked hard to ensure our line-ups are fresh and represent the music scene as it's happening. While music is always at the forefront of our events, we always keep an eye on issues such as the environment, social dynamics and include them in our wider programming. In 2021, it's also important to offer the best food and drink possible.  

“Collaborating with the local music community is absolutely key to what we do too. Having a whole range of partners from record labels and shops to venues to magazines gives us a 360-degree view of the scene, and with their added input it has always helped us produce a great festival.”

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