SINCE its inaugural event, Wide Days has been the standard bearer for how to run a music conference in Scotland or even further afield. Born of a desire to highlight the nation’s industry and its many merits whilst imparting knowledge to the next crop of professionals, it’s an institution that is known for its early adoption of breakout stars of the future and refreshing aversion to complacency in its programming.
Nearly 10 years on from its humble beginnings, the organisers’ unfaltering refusal to rest on their laurels has been all too evident due to the massive expansion that they’re undertaking for 2019. Steeped in the midst of what was undoubtedly one of the most hectic, high-octane weeks of his life, Wide Days founder Olaf Furniss candidly chatted to TTV about tearing up the rubric in order to pave the way for their biggest event yet and keeping his sanity intact along the way.
A decade on from its inception, Wide Days has firmly cemented itself on the Scottish music Industry’s calendar. In a fortuitous twist of fate, interest in Scotland’s unique musical eco-system has experienced an upswing over the past few years. Do you think this has the potential to be one of the biggest events yet?
With the Antidote night and Festival Takeover, we will have more than three times as many live acts as in previous years. It’s definitely ambitious taking the step from seven short showcases to something of this magnitude. We also have more speakers than ever before – 50 in total – and that’s not including those coming for a meeting of European showcases, festivals and music export offices. Our aim is to create even stronger ties between Scotland and the rest of Europe.
With such an extensive programme to book, Does the enormity of the task get any easier to handle as the years go on and did that wealth of experience play a role in this year’s expansions?
Adding so many elements to the programme has meant that it has been just as intense as previous years, but the reason we are able to expand is because of the relationships we have built up. With each event you learn something new, whether that’d be something which worked well or something you need to avoid. And it’s not just about event management. I usually stop drinking in the weeks before Wide Days and this year I have started to do cycle or walk for at last an hour a day, as well as doing some yoga exercises.
One of the unexpected outcomes of Wide Days is that I can now lie on my back and put my legs right over my head until my feet touch the floor. It’s fucking horrible but when you come back up it feels amazing. When my girlfriend comes back from Sweden I’m going to get her to take a photograph.
Speaking of which, this year’s event will see more acts play the festival than ever before. Between the stacked line-up at Thursday’s Antidote welcome party to the coveted showcases and the newly minted festival takeover, is this a direct response to the sheer quantity of great talent that’s emanating from not only Glasgow and Edinburgh but the UK at large?
I have always felt that seven acts for the showcase was about the right number as we also want to make sure that we can work with the artists so they can make the most out of the opportunity. However, there have also been acts that we would have liked to showcase in the past, but who were not available- Callum Easter and Man Of Moon are examples. At the same time, we were getting inquiries from other events keen to do partnerships and we were really eager to find a way of putting on exciting acts from the rest of Europe.
The only way to do this was to expand, but I was of the opinion that it should not simply be a multi-venue festival. After months of deliberation, the idea for the Festival Takeover came about when my business partner (Michael Lambert) and I asked our office-mate Nick Roberts (Founder of Electric Fields) to act as a kind of arbiter when we couldn’t agree on a way forward. One cup of coffee later, the concept was born.
By the way, three of our showcase acts this year are from outside the Central Belt, which I think is a great development. In fact, the majority of Scotland’s most commercially successful acts over the past decade have not been from Glasgow or Edinburgh.
Away from the music, that spirit of eclecticism carries through into this year’s panels and speakers. From Vic Galloway to asking the Young Team to a retrospective on the death of EMI and what lessons can be ascertained from it, do you feel a responsibility to cover as wide a spectrum of topics and incorporate people from all different demographics in order to give a full picture of the industry?
When I set up Wide Days in 2010, it was as a conference. We added a showcase component because we thought it was a good opportunity to show the visiting industry figures some great Scottish acts. Most events are the other way around and it often seems like the conference is an afterthought. Far too often you get see the same speakers you see everywhere, boring panels, amateur moderators and lazy programming. From the beginning I was determined to invite a diverse range of speakers and make sure that we went beyond the usual suspects to have a different take on themes which were being covered everywhere.
At the time, there were still quite a lot of blokes doing the rounds who couldn’t quite get over the fact that people weren’t buying so many CD’s anymore or that they couldn’t shovel huge quantities of gak up their noses and deduct it from their generous expense accounts. My feeling was that the older industry figures could also learn something from people in the early stage of their careers. So, I wanted the event to serve as a leveller, a forum to exchange knowledge and experience. It’s why we were the first event to ask speakers to make themselves available for 15-minute meetings and do everything we could to get them to hang out at the showcases instead of going for a boozy dinner (we do this by feeding them beforehand).
This year’s Ask The Young Team, which will be hosted by Vic Galloway, was born out of the fact that everyone is so hung up on social media insights, surveys and technical solutions. I wanted to invert the usual dynamic and make the students and younger delegates the ones dispensing the information. We’ve already got someone from DF Concerts signed up for it, the founder of the Music Venue Trust and the owner of Sneaky Pete’s. I’m really curious what they are going to ask.
Most of our keynote speakers over the years have not spoken at other conferences, and we were the first industry event in the UK to showcase a majority of female-fronted acts (2016) and have a gender-balanced conference (2017). I think it is a measure of how far things have come that in less than one fortnight last month in Glasgow alone, there were three events focusing on women in the music industry.
Last year, we invited the charity Attitude Is Everything to give a presentation to small venues about what steps they could take to be more accessible for disabled guests. This is another area in which I hope we can see things improve and help play a part in changing attitudes.
What events or sets are you most looking forward to over the weekend?
I organised most of the panels at Wide Days and it is a bit like having to let go of something you have lovingly put together and see what course it takes. If I didn’t have to run the event, I would want to be moderating Peak Showcase and the Lyric Clinic, which includes Dave Hook, Stina from Honeyblood and Iona Fyfe. Ask the Young Team is going to be interesting as it’s a brand-new concept and I can’t wait to hear what the journalists and PR’s get off their chests at Ten Things I Hate About You.
I haven’t seen Franky’s Evil Party or Chuchoter yet so I’m really excited to find out what they are like live. The Festival Takeover is going to be an orgy of different styles and I’m looking forward to total indulgence. I’m loving Calva Louise’s song No Hay, so can’t wait to check them out. I’d be surprised if I don’t finish the night with about six new-favourite-acts.
For anyone that’s skeptical about how an industry conference such as Wide Days can tangibly benefit them, what would you say to convince them of its potential to be a transformative experience? Either from a knowledge or networking perspective?
Where do you want to start? The Soundcloud, EmuBands and Bandcamp session wil be useful to most artists, labels and managers, as will the CMU sessions on Building An Audience and Why You Don’t Get Paid.
Music publishing is what provides a living for many artists and being on top of PPL will make a big difference for sustaining an income. There are some great labels attending including Ninja Tune, Sunday Best and Soma and we have showcase events and festivals from across Europe taking part.
This is a rare chance to get a no-bullshit look at new technology which could change the nature of the music business and for managers there is a great opportunity to get an insight from how some of your peers are approaching the business. And if anyone needs to know what to do in a crisis, we have two lawyers and Help Musicians on hand to meet delegates. All of this and the three nights of gigs are all included in the delegate pass.
For people who just want to check out great music and get a taste of three of Scotland’s most vibrant festivals, the Thursday night is a tenner, you can sign up for free tickets for the Friday showcases and Saturday Festival Takeover is a effectively a £10 deposit, which you get back in the form of a discount if you buy a ticket for Tenement Trail, Electric Fields or Kelburn Garden Party.
Tickets for Wide Days 2019 and any additional information on their programme are available now via their official website.