Have you ever been to a festival and wondered how the powers that be put together some of the spectacular installations that now punctuate many of the UK’s top events? Attractions like Shangri La at Glastonbury blend a combination of sound, sight and space to create a feast for the senses that never fails to raise the hairs on the back of your neck as you’re thrust into a alternative world, revolving on an axis of imagination.
After wondering for some time as to how you might get a job working in such an industry, we took the time to catch up with Ali Watson, the marketing director of events company, The Halo Group. Is it all getting paid to party or is there a whole lot more to this picture?
How did you get involved in the festival industry? What was the first festival you ever worked with?
The story dates back to our university days. Our co-director’s Gareth Chappell, Sam Matthews and I started out in the industry running parties in unusual venues, spaces and locations. One of the first we organised was five hundred meters underground in the Hell Fire Caves, a network of man-made subterranean caverns created by Sir Francis Dashwood around 1742. Here he held famously debouch parties and masonic gatherings, so we hired the caves to throw a party twentieth century style. Another saw us invited by another promoter to take over the whole of Lego Land Windsor. We kept all the rides open whilst packing out the park with thousands of party-goers one summer’s day, all dancing to House music. The skills we learned producing these events would later lead us to becoming the agency we are today.
Promoting parties came easily to us. As three outgoing people, we relished the chance to express ourselves. We started out by coming up with interesting décor and production ideas and finding fantastic locations. This helped us gain many contacts in these formative years and these people we met would later go on to work in creative industries such as agencies, festivals and so forth.
The impression we made on these people back in the day served us well and as we started to move away from club nights and into the events industry, our contacts and friends had not forgotten the passion, creativity and originality we put into our parties and would later look to harness this force at their festivals and events.
One such person was Claire Lynch. She had come to many of our parties and was by now a close friend. She had also seen our company expand into corporate events delivering high quality services to blue chip companies, banks and law firms. At the time she was working at an agency called Sports Vision, now known as Vision 9, who looked after Relentless, Coca Cola and other brands in their portfolio.
Sports Vision needed a consumer experiential activation that really spoke to their target demographic and needed a company that understood how this could work at a music festival, so she invited us to tender for the contract. We ached for something more creative than our corporate projects so we really gravitated towards this opportunity.
The Relentless project was our first-ever festival build, which we delivered at Reading & Leeds, Boardmasters, Freeze and NASS Festivals with great success. We sourced, integrated the brand and delivered a giant pyramid design that was the most imposing structure on all the sites we visited that year. We will never forget the likes of Chase and Status absolutely rocking our stage, some great times indeed.
When you meet with a festival how do you go about creating what they want? Is there a very open brief or do they give you carte blanche to come up with what you like?
If it’s brand led festival project, there will be a full brief, an identity tool kit, pre-approved branding, campaign artwork, a full press, PR and marketing campaign with which to synchronise and of course an end client who knows their brand inside out. This doesn’t have to be restrictive to creativity and we definitely take even the most defined brief as an opportunity to showcase our imagination. What client do you know who would not consider an idea if it genuinely added something to their campaign?
If it’s a direct festival client, there is often a lot of freedom. These type of briefs rely on tapping the ideas of others. That’s the best thing about festivals. They are by nature an amalgamation of hundreds, if not thousands, of brilliant and creative minds all working towards the same goal. With these projects we have carte blanche at the design stages, but ultimately the client still has to sign everything off so we are playing the same game at the end of the day. It’s still just as important to understand the festival as if it were a defined brief. You must absolutely know their identity, vision and of course ultimately their target audience. As long as you understand these factors the sky is the limit when it comes to dreaming up our creations.
What is your most spectacular festival build? We’d love to hear more about the passion and energy that you’ve put into your best creation.
Without a doubt it has to be our 2014 delivery at Global Gathering. We had been working with the festival for four years, but in 2014 this partnership reached its apex. The organisers wanted to redefine and rebrand the festival’s identity.
Global Gathering is renowned for its world-class line-ups and they wanted to mirror this with their production credentials. We became deeply involved in this project, working on styling significant elements of the festival. This included a responsibility for delivering multiple music stages, arenas and installations across the entire site. Our builds included The Bunker – a Cold War styled temporary venue. The Freight Depot, which was made from modified shipping containers. The VIP Hub, a giant two-tier tree house nestled in a hidden wood, and the Artist Area. This was used for DJ hospitality.
We are proud to say that we designed and built all these arenas in-house, which is a testament to our amazing team. These guys and girls put so much passion into the delivery of this project. Around thirty key staff called a local country manor house home for the two week build, activation and break-out, working with countless other partners and suppliers. We believe that this work at Global over the past four years was a major factor in winning Best Production Team 2014 at The Event Production awards.
When I think about this projects like Global might seem the obvious choice, but actually looking back, our build at Glastonbury in 2010 is one that really stands out. Firstly, it was our first ever build using our own modular structure system, which today forms the focus of so many of our builds. The brief was also incredible and certainly flexed our creative muscles.
LoveBullets approached us on behalf of Shangri-La to design a post-apocalyptic favela. The end result was a two-story shantytown complex that went on to be voted the best secret destination area by ID magazine. Cutting your teeth at Glastonbury is always going to be memorable, but this activation threw us straight in the deep end. We have so many great memories of this event and the end results hopefully spoke for themselves. The look and feel was incredibly authentic, the temporary venue was perfect for the festival and the build provided a blue print for our future success in this area.
What advice would you give for a young, creative individual or company looking to become involved in the festival scene?
Hit the reclamation yard. There is nothing quite like working with reclaimed materials as there is so much character and individuality inherent in the items you can find. It’s a great way to achieve an authentic look. From wood and building items to scrap yard metal, glass and more, the limits are literally endless so it’s a great place to gain inspiration. Our build at Glastonbury last summer for the BBC used up-cycled window panes, which we used to build a stunning acoustic stage backdrop. With simple lighting, some coloured gels and foliage we achieved a beautifully styled set-piece, which became one of the most iconic images of last year’s event.
Think immersive. With all our builds, we are always inventing new ways to engage with people. Festival goers, our clients and event organizers are increasingly seeking new experiences for their following. Gone are the days of simply heading for the main stage and standing with 50,000 people. Today it’s all about more personal experiences and memories that last long after the turn-styles close. When groups of friends are given a truly memorable experience, they will take that away with them and a deeper relationship develops between them and the festival. With this in mind, whatever our brief entails, we are always focussing on immersing people in the environment by stimulating their senses.
Embrace technology in your delivery. This is a great way to increase the impact of any activation. There are thousands of new technologies out there, many of which can be incorporated into a project. Keep your finger on the pulse and know what cutting edge and emerging tech ideas are available. The rest is up to you as how you use them is the real challenge. Often these ideas can have a hefty price-tag so you need to work out how these will factor in with the bottom line for your client, then you are much more likely to secure part of their marketing budget in this area.
With the festival scene only set to become bigger and brighter in 2015, to what events are you most looking forward to taking your builds and can you give us an idea of what you might have planned?
In 2015 we will be working on a very exciting new project. It’s a brand new 20,000 capacity festival that’s set to launch in August. The concept comes from a well -established festival organiser and promises to bring something new to the market. We will be heavily involved in the creative direction, styling and production of this event and getting in at the grass roots level will give our team an exciting challenge. We will be the only production team involved so it’s a big honour.
In terms of events we are looking forward to returning to, we really enjoyed our 2014 activations at the Reading, Wireless and Calling festivals. Last year the sponsor was Tuborg and we were working with More, their concept agency our client, London agency Bigger.
Tuborg Town was remodelled for the 2014 season and went on to scoop the Winner – Greatest Brand Impact Gong at the Live UK Music Business Awards 2014. This year we will be working with a new brand, delivering a new structure and creative, working in partnership with our agency clients as we aim to build on the success of last year by developing an exciting arena concept using our unique modular system.
Glastonbury was another highlight of last year for us and we are looking forward to going back this year where we will be working with a major media company. Already we’re on for a busy year ahead.
We would like to say thank you to The Halo Group for giving this insight into the hard work, creativity and above all imagination that goes into making the sights and spectacles of today’s festivals into such an impressive reality. This is an inspirational story that looks at how it is possible to take your artistic interests, sensibilities and aspirations and turn them into a working lifestyle – and isn’t that what the festival scene is really all about?
Next time you’re at an event, take a little time to wonder at how the structures and attractions have been put together and allow yourself to sit back and be inspired by the levels of ingenuity and craftsmanship that make these new immersive worlds into a reality.