Organisers Rob Cracknell and Tom Hoyle on the making of the UK's newest bass music mega-rave
Saturday 24 February is a date drum & bass lovers will want to put in their diaries, because that's when the UK's newest D&B and bass music festival will be touching down for the very first time at the Bath & West Showground in Shepton Mallet, Somerset. That's just down the road from Glastonbury, for anyone who wasn't sure.
What a line-up they've got in store for you, too! Hype B2B Hazard, Shy FX, High Contrast, London Elektricity, My Nu Leng, SASASAS, The Prototypes, Mampi Swift, Fabio & Grooverider, J-Hus, Sam Binga, Flava D, Holy Goof... stages hosted by Hospitality and Drum & Bass Arena... for a brand new festival, that's a pretty impressive list. So impressive, in fact, that we started to wonder how on earth a new outfit had managed it.
But when we contacted them to find out... well, it turns out they're not quite so new at all. Yes, Shockout is a new event, but the team behind it are essentially an amalgam of three very experienced promotions teams: Hospitality, Slammin' Vinyl and Bristol D&B stalwarts The Blast.
We'll let Rob and Tom from The Blast explain the rest...
So… what made you decide to put on a new D&B festival now?
Rob: "It was almost a moon-aligning of a few things. In 2016, I put together the fifth arena for Westfest, which is also at the Bath & West Showground, run by Slammin' Vinyl. I'm of the age - I'm 36 - where, as far as D&B goes, Slammin' Vinyl and One Nation and those kind of brands are like the Bible, for me. In Bristol it was Drive-By, of course, but I'm from Cambridge, so for me it was people like Warning and One Nation.
"So we did that arena at Westfest 2016 and it was amazing. I was quite taken by the venue, and I was very much taken by the people that went there. I don't know if it was because it was that bit harder to get there, but people were just so friendly, it had that real kind of drum & bass unity vibe. And then last year Grant at Slammin' Vinyl got us back to do the third arena, which was bigger, so that was a huge honour for us.
"Then I was in a meeting with Josh from Hospitality, and he asked me about Westfest, and I think he was a bit taken aback by how much me and the Blast guys had enjoyed it. So he said, 'Well, there's only one event there a year, why don't we...' It's like a lot of the stuff we do, a lot of the forward movement comes from conversations not directly related to work, those 'imagine if' moments."
What was your relationship with Hospital prior to Shockout, then?
Rob: "As The Blast we'd been running Hospital/Hospitality events for some time. When Hospital started franchising themselves out, about 12 years ago, first they went to Brighton, and then after Brighton it was Bristol. And I started running Hospitality for them at Thekla in Bristol, so I've been working for them for about 12 years now."
Okay, so you're not entirely starting from scratch! But with it being your own large-scale event, was there anything new you had to learn in order to put Shockout together?
Rob: "Not really, I've been quite lucky! I've booked and worked with a lot of festivals over the past 10 years. We do stuff with Love Saves The Day, we do stuff with Lovebox at fabric, I'm the booker for drum & bass at fabric, I've worked with Josh on the Hospitality In The Park festival. So there's kind of a large pool of shared work and resources we all pull from.
"And also, I'm at the bookings end. I'm the person who gets to scribble ideas on paper which I then put to my business partner, who then puts it in an Excel spreadsheet and tells me how much we're going to lose! So I didn't really have to learn anything, it was more just putting things to my business partner and then it's computer says yes, computer says no. Mostly computer says no! But we're all big D&B fans and bass music fans, so we find a way to make it work."
"I guess the real learning process kicks in after the event, but right now we're over the moon with where the sales are and stuff like that."
So how many people are involved in putting together something like this?
Rob: "Well, there's the three of us - me, Tom and Kane - that are The Blast, plus all our residents because they're like our sounding board for ideas. And then Josh has a big team working for him in London, so there's probably about 25-30 people working on the project."
That's in the run-up - what about on the day?
Rob: "That I can't tell you... I'm the bookings guy, not the logistics man! Tom?"
Tom: "I couldn't give you an exact answer off the top of my head. But we have an event control team, who'll be taking care of stewarding and security. It's something like one security for every 100 punters, plus stewards. Then you've got stage managers for each stage, so I'd imagine you're talking about 250 staff or something like that. Plus there's traders and the people running bars and food stalls, but I'm not including them.
"Essentially you have a stage manager for each stage, a lighting guy, a sound guy - maybe two sound guys - and an artist liaision, so basically you've got a team of five or six for each stage. Then you've got the event control team, which is stewards and security and the site office - the guys who sit there with radios and go around doing whatever it is needs to be done, everything from an overflowing Portaloo to a collapsed fence, all that stuff! But yeah, I'd say a ballpark figure would be about 250 people."
And how do you go about recruiting that many people?
Tom: "Well, the core team is ourselves, Hospitality and Slammin' Vinyl, and because Slammin' Vinyl already do Westfest on the same site, they took care of a lot of that side of things. For our own The Blast events, I do more of that stuff but because they've been doing Westfest on the same site for 15 years they can do it with their eyes closed!"
So it's almost like there's a 'festival machine' already in place and you just need to wheel it out?
Tom: "Well, it doesn't sound very romantic when you put it like that, but yes! Obviously we're going to make tweaks to the machine and oil it and give it a lick of paint, but we've been promoting with Hospitality for a long time. We know we can book a good line-up and we know that the Slammin' Vinyl guys can run that site really well, because they've been doing it for 15 years, so we'll be using their framework, so to speak."
Well, it seems to be working - you've certainly attracted a damn fine line-up for it...
Rob: "Again, we've been lucky: because we've been doing this for so many years, pretty much everyone we spoke to said yes, even though this is a new project. There are very few variants between who we wanted to book and who's ended up on the bill - and most of those were only because they're abroad."
And you say tickets have been selling well?
Rob: "Yeah, it's been beyond expectations really. For a first year, you don't expect it to have this level of hype, but people have really taken to it and run with it. It's been very nice to put something out there that's quite uncompromising, and have people take to it."
And that's despite it being in February, which isn't an obvious time of year to be putting on a festival...
Rob: "Well, it is, but bear in mind that Westfest is in October, and that every arena has a roof on it and is heated. So compared to going to an outdoor event in the summer, where it rains all the time... as far as staying warm and dry goes you're probably better off coming to our event! Although it is a festival, it kind of harks back a bit more to the rave-y thing of using warehouses."
Going forward - assuming this works, do you see yourselves expanding? Either in terms of a bigger venue, or a more eclectic music policy?
Rob: "No I don't think so. Genre-wise, it's hard to say of course, because music changes all the time and I can't really tell you what's going to be out there next year! But as for expansion, I think this event for me stays were it it, and hopefully it'll become an annual thing - every year people come together at the Bath & West Showground in February and have a dance at Shockout."
So you're happy where you are for now?
Rob: "Well, that's a tough one because we're not even where we are yet, really! But putting this together has been really good fun... now let's see what happens."
Words: Russell Deeks Pics: Sarah Koury/The Blast
Shockout is at the Bath & West Showground in Shepton Mallet on 24 February. For full details, see their website.
Tags: Shockout, The Blast, Hospital Records, Hospitality, Slammin' Vinyl, Bath & West Showground, Shepton Mallet, drum & bass, drum + bass, DNB, D&B, jungle, dubstep, grime, bassline, Westfest, Hype, Hazard, Shy FX, High Contrast, London Elektricity, My Nu Leng, SASASAS, The Prototypes, Mampi Swift, Fabio & Grooverider, J-Hus, Sam Binga, Flava D, Holy Goof, Drum & Bass Arena, Bristol