Indiependence 2014: Interview
Indiependence, the Mitchelstown-based music festival, is one of the big Irish music success stories of recent times. Pre-2005 the Mitchelstown Music Festival, as it was known then, was more of a town-fair affair with mounting debts and a propensity for booking one-hit wonders and acts long since passed their sell-by-date.
Step forward some intrepid locals armed only with good intentions and a shared vision for what the festival could be. Fast forward nine years and Indiependence is now firmly established as a contemporary boutique music festival, renowned for bringing together the cream of Irish talent along with some leading international acts.
We Are Noise caught up with Shane Dunne to discuss the festivals metamorphosis, the difficulties faced by festival organisers and the future of Indiependence.
From Coolio to Public Enemy, the festival has certainly come a long way. While I’m sure it’s a story you’re sick of repeating at this stage, for the benefits of the readers maybe you can (briefly) recount how this all came to be and how you’ve managed to establish a sustainable festival during such testing economic times.
Shane: The Mitchelstown Music Festival as it was, was a great event for the town and lots of local businesses at the time, did really well out of it. Unfortunately for the people behind the festival, not every business that benefited was willing to sponsor it to the level it needed and that coupled with some questionable bookings (Coolio aside, I thought he was great!) brought it to a difficult position in 2003/2004. It was very disappointing for those involved as many of them had broken their arses to keep it afloat as it was. I can’t pretend that I really knew what I was doing either at the start. My initial input was to try and help out and get a festival back up and running again which we did after a break in 2005. I didn’t have any intention of running the thing at that point but others had different ideas and I kinda got duped into it and before I knew it we were driving on clearing the outstanding debts and launching INDIEPENDENCE in 2006.
The bookings the first year were a bit strange, a mix of Cork indie and more pop stuff but we couldn’t just go to something completely new overnight. By 2008, we had 10,000+ people rocking up to stand alone shows and the gig out-grew its free town square surroundings. 2009 meant moving to a green field and losing around €50,000 in the process, it rained a lot that year too!
2010 was the first year at Deer Farm and the first year with sustainable numbers. We didn’t make any money but it allowed us to service what was outstanding from 2009 and push on. 2011 we had Editors on the main stage and this is probably where the unique selling point of the festival is and why it developed in tough economic times. We had major UK headliners on a very low ticket price.
We’ve just developed it from there. When we’ve made mistakes, we’ve rectified them. We take on board what people say on social media (for the most part, some people are just crazy, it’s hard to talk to crazy!) and try to fix the problems. We’ve strengthened the bill each year while maintaining the lowest ticket price of any festival this size in the country, we’re anywhere from €20-€40 cheaper than any of the other small independent festivals and I think our line-up is probably the strongest, that’s why it does well and sells out. Add to that, am easy going attitude, nice security staff and an easily accessible location and it makes for a really enjoyable weekend for you and your mates.
How would you describe the vibe at Indiependence to someone who hasn’t yet been? Can you recount some of your favourite memories from the festival over the years, musical or otherwise?
Like any event where you have 5000 people and alcohol, you need security so that everyone stays safe. The vibe at INDIE starts with them. They are friendly, they talk to people and their aim is to look after the people that come to INDIE, not to be a fucking asshole.
INDIEPENDENCE is pretty laid back as its small and everything is close together. We also try to do simple things like put on loads of bar staff to minimise queues, it’s a really simple idea but one that gets forgotten at a lot of events, no-one likes standing in queues! I think INDIEPENDENCE is like a big house party, you go with your mates and make lots more there as you keep meeting the same people over and over again.
Best memories for me, there’s lots but a few off the top of my head, White Lies in 2010, Editors in 2011, The Coronas in 2012, Delorentos in 2012, there are loads on non-artist related ones but we’d be here all day.
What are the biggest challenges the festival faces today?
Not losing a shit load of money. Festivals are expensive to run. Artist fees, production costs, health & safety etc etc. You really need to know what you are doing and new festivals keep popping up, losing a packet and disappearing but they hurt the other festivals along the way as it’s the same suppliers working with us all, when they don’t get paid by some new event, they have to squeeze you for payment in advance and then everyone’s under pressure.
Too many festivals under 5000 are operating without sufficient medical cover also and this badly needs to be addressed. The HSE are being proactive in this area which is great but it’s going to mean that a lot of small festivals are going to the have to jump from no medical cover to an acceptable level which is going to be expensive for them, it’s absolutely right that they should have it but it’s gonna sting the first year
What would you say is the most important thing to get right when planning the festival every year?
Health & Safety and Medical Provision. Everything else only effects sales, this affects lives. It absolutely needs to be right.
Which acts are you particularly looking forward to seeing this year?
There’s a few but of the headliners definitely Public Enemy, it’s still hard to believe that they are playing. Hozier will be amazing and there’s some great Irish acts like Delorentos, We Cut Corners, Lisa O’Neill and David Holmes, Great new talent like Orla Gartland and The Academic and I think everyone in the crew is looking forward to The Sultans of Ping.
Is there anything happening this year that’s new to the festival?
We’ve moved the site around a bit to give it a better balance and the main stage is now indoors so the sun will no doubt shine! The beer hall is back which was a huge hit last year and we have a new Kopparberg Fruit Market bar which looks great so plenty to look forward to
Having now established Indiependence what are the plans, both long-term and short-term for future festivals?
We just want to keep making INDIEPENDENCE better, that’s the only plan we have at the moment!