Promoter Interview: City Sound Project

City Sound Project is one of the most interesting sounding festival out there.

As well as a very tasteful line-up, the venues for the musical shenanigans have to be seen to be believed; they include the medieval Westgate Towers and a 13th Century Franciscan Chapel, ancient theatres, cobbled streets and chapels and castles, all in a UNESCO World Heritage site in Canterbury. Playing the lush setting over the May Bank Holiday on April 30th and May 1st will be acts for the worlds of house, techno bass and more across a massive 16 different stages.

Tickets are very affordable for what treats are on offer, and that includes names like garage star Mike Skinner of The Streets playing a DJ set, dance crossover stars 99 Souls, and many more. We caught up with one of the men behind it all to find out what make him tick, how long it takes to put something like this together and more besides.

“Don’t ever expect everything to go perfectly. It never does. Be ready to adjust quickly to things that crop up.”

How and when did you get into promoting, and why? How many people are involved with City Sound?
I got into promoting completely by accident: I was 20 (a few years ago now haha) and started up a student night. Things kicked off pretty quickly for me. It started with one night per term, and then by 2nd year we were soon operating multiple nights a week, of varying styles/genres in different University cities around the UK.

It all just felt very natural. I was about 15/16 when I went to my first rave and I’d always been massively interested in clubbing culture and events/parties, generally. Creating an environment for people to have fun is, for me, just the perfect job.

The City Sound Project team is made of of 5 main members (Me, Stuart O’Leary, Chris Hawksey, Edd Withers, Ollie Porter) and then a number of collaborators and contributors. We work with a network of brands/promoters and venue owners to create the event.

Tell us about how and why and when the festival came together? How long did it take from idea stage to full fruition?
The festival really came about through frustration. We were very busy running 4 weekly events in Canterbury but there was a serious lack of music shows, and more importantly venues large enough to warrant big bookings artist-wise. We figured that if we could join a number of venues together we could, kind of artificially, create a large capacity, therefore having the economics to allow for big artist bookings etc.

The idea was there for around 2 years before we were able to get it to work. Our 1st event had 6 headliners and only about 5 venues. This year we have 21 stages/venues and 30 headliners (and counting).

Are there any parties you grew up attending that really inspired you or this festival?
I grew up going to big Jungle and Dum’n’Bass raves – they were quite different to anything we put on now. But they did embed the thirst for a big atmosphere and big production. I’m from Camden so was naturally aware of the Camden Crawl (and other events of it’s kind popping up). I suppose this inspired the idea of wrist banding a load of venues in one area.

What skills do you think it takes to be a good and successful promoter? Have you had to learn on the job, and if so, what have been the key lessons learnt?
Ha. Spinning plates (metaphorically speaking). No, seriously, you have to be a pretty good multi-tasker. There’s plenty of different things to concentrate on at once. And with something like a festival with multiple stages, it’s a matter of getting everything to come together at once.
You never stop learning on the job, in my opinion. In know more now that I did last year, and the same goes for every year that I’ve been ion this line of work. One key lesson learnt: don’t ever expect everything to go perfectly. It never does. Be ready to adjust quickly to things that crop up.

Tell us about the settings for the festival – they sound pretty wild.
So, our ethos is to put on music in exciting, unexpected and unusual spaces. We’re so lucky that Canterbury, a World Heritage Site, isn’t short of these types of places. This year we have: a 13th Century Franciscan Chapel, a 12th Century Underground Hospital that is now a museum, the Westgate Towers: an ancient monument and old gateway to the city, the Newly renovated Westgate Hall; which was a WWII drill-hall. To name a few.

Was it hard to get permission to use these, or have the local council been helpful?
In short, yes, it’s not easy. We’ve had to earn our stripes put it that way.
Authorities in places like Canterbury are not like London. I mean, arts and culture in Canterbury was, not so long ago, limited to offerings very much aimed at the more ‘mature’ audience. Things like City Sound Project concerned them. Lots of young people constantly moving around the city to go to all-day and all-night gigs wasn’t the norm.

But we go about things responsibly, and the authorities appreciate that. We do what we do in the safest and least-abrasive way we can. So now, the local authorities are very receptive and we meet with them regularly to discuss advancements.

What are you most looking forward to about this year’s event and why?
I’m just looking forward to the general vibe that takes over Canterbury.
There’s a real atmosphere throughout the event and this should be even more evident this year as we have so much on offer.

Have you got any tips for people coming for the first time? nothing they should bring or definitely check out?
Just to be as open as possible to new music. Don’t plan too much. Just see where the day/s take you. I promise you’ll end up checking something out that you don’t usually listen to, or don’t know much about. And for me, that’s the essence of a festival.

What have been the biggest challenges, the highs, the lows, the problems and obstacles regarding putting on this event?
I would say the biggest challenge for us is getting the access to the venues/stages. The highs are definitely seeing literally thousands of people wearing CSP wristbands bouncing around the city from show to show. There’s something so satisfying in seeing people having that great a time. The lows are when you freak out that tickets aren’t selling as well as they need to (but then always do fine in the end), or when you get really close to booking an artist that you want and then for reasons out of your control, like their schedule or movements, you can’t make it work.

Who A&Rs acts for the night, what are they looking for?
I do all the electronic acts and Ollie Porter does the Live. We’re both looking for the same thing really. Good quality (usually UK) acts that haven’t been showcased in Canterbury/Kent before. City Sound Project prides itself on bringing new, breaking music to the city. I hope our line-ups demonstrate that.

Promoter Page Website