Back in the early 2000’s the state of the UK festival scene for metalheads was pretty dire. Sure you had small, low profile niche events which catered for specific tastes and subgenres and then you had Download which… Well put it this way, LiveNation haven’t always been the best when it comes to book a bill have they? Funeral for a friend for 4 years running anyone?
Slights aside, it was in this rather empty or hard to access timeframe where Damnation was thought up and eventually born. What has always been a flagship for the underground metal scene in the UK, Damnation stood out as a breath of fresh air from the usual shite which plagued the country and in turn, helped to provide more promoters with ideas and beliefs that they could put together their own one day events or actually take a punt and go for bands they thought they’d not be able to get hold of.
Starting off in the much loved JIlly’s Rockworld/Music Box in Manchester before travelling up the motorway to Leeds, finding its home in both Universities before finally settling in Leeds University Union, Damnation has played host to some of the finest rising UK acts across many genres, and also played host to some true international heavyweights, and with At The Gates topping the bill this year, it’s sure to be one hell of a 10th birthday party for the Festival.
Taking time out from the final run in for one of the biggest One day events of the year, Paul Farrington took the time to speak to us about Damnation, his history with it and some of the bands who have played it over the years.
AN: What is your main role within the Damnation Festival Organisation team and what does it entail?
Paul: I’m somewhat a jack of all trades, and master of none. During the year, I will book roughly half the bill, with Gav being responsible for booking the other half, and then acting as the point of contact for those bands throughout the year. I am also responsible for the ordering of the backline for all the bands, managing the ticketing process and general marketing of the festival. On the day, I will be the backline liaison, so I will be floating between all four stages making sure that all the equipment is working and sounding as it should.
AN: Your story with Damnation is an interesting one. Going from ‘fan’ to helping run the operation in a couple of years. Care to tell us how that came about?
Paul: I had always been on the fringes of Damnation. When Gav spoke of setting up an event back in 2004, and was looking to get a team together, I offered him my full support but being honest, I wasn’t sure if it would ever actually happen and never contributed as a group of others got things going. Over the next couple of years, I helped on the day, as a runner, lifter and all round helper. I properly joined the team in 2008 and have been involved since then. Over the years the team has been very fluid with people joining and leaving as their life priorities have changed (jobs, marriages, children etc). For the last couple of years, it has been just me, Gav, and our press officer Becky, who brings a touch of class and organisation to the process.
AN: Along with myself, you and several others helped get the word out in the early days. The chances were if you spotted a Damnation Festival shirt, you knew it would have been one of us back then. How far have you gone to promote the festival and help it get noticed over the years?
Paul: Damnation has always been very grass roots in how it promoted itself, and there has always been a loyal team of friends and supporters who have helped us spread the word. In the early years, I have ‘bent’ the truth in who was booked for the festival to help generate sales …”Oh you like band X, well there is a good chance they might get announced” knowing full well that they weren’t booked for the festival. Even now we still have some very loyal supporters who will help us flyer events like Hellfest, Bloodstock and Download festival to get the word out. Nowadays though, Facebook makes it much easier when you can get your line up onto 20,000+ screens through our Facebook page. That said as much as social media makes things easier, I still feel the now ‘old-fashioned’ way of printing flyers and getting them into people’s hands is still really valuable. You can’t debate the merits of Jesu vs Godflesh or which year of Damnation a person preferred through a Facebook post. That face-to-face interaction is still very important for us. You will always see us at other festivals in our Damnation clobber, and happy to talk all things Damnation with anyone willing to listen.
AN: Which instalment would you say was the year when Damnation really took off?
Paul: It has to be 2008, no question about it. The booking of Carcass was a huge coup for us as an event, and I think that was the point where people stood up and took notice of Damnation as a serious event. We won Terrorizer’s reader’s poll for best festival that year, so we were definitely doing something right that year.
AN: Favourite band to ever grace the stage at Damnation? What about your favourite line up?
Paul: I have so many favourite bands that have played at Damnation over the years that it’s hard to nail it down to one, but any of the following would make the list; Mistress, Maybeshewill, Raging Speedhorn, Stampin’ Ground, Devin Townsend and Bolt Thrower. I think if I’m honest, band for band, this year’s line up is the one that that is my favourite. It most closely matches my taste in music and I think of all the years, if I was going as a fan, 2015 is year that I would be at my busiest jumping from stage to stage to catch bands.
AN: Who is one band who has played Damnation whose set you wished you had caught?
Paul: I have heard nothing but great things about Crippled Black Phoenix’s set from 2013, but I was tied up dealing with something at the time and missed it. Pretty disappointed about that. Luckily though, the more professional we have gotten over the years, the more time it has freed up for Gav and I to actually get to watch bands, but of course, no matter how much you plan, something is bound to pop up to take you away from just enjoying the day.
AN: Which bands has Damnation helped you discover and come to like more and more?
Paul: This is something that happens regularly with the smaller bands. The bigger bands, you know what they’re about and what you’re getting when you book them. But the smaller bands are the ones where you might be listening to them for the first time, and then we’re booking them for Damnation. For me there have been quite a few bands that I’ve learned about through booking Damnation that have stayed as regulars on my ipod; Dragged Into Sunlight, Black Moth, Blacklisters, A Forest of Stars, The Construct and Rinoa.
AN: What do you look for in a band when it comes to inviting them to become a part of Damnation Festival’s story? Is there a ‘set criteria’ you go by or some kind of tick sheet you use to help narrow things down?
Paul: There is no tick sheet or set criteria really. There are bands we have chased for years to get and will keep doing so until we get them because we know they’ll be a popular booking. Bolt Thrower is a classic example of that who we have approached nearly every year since Damnation started. Others are bands that have submitted material that we have listed to that we’ve liked and asked to take part. This year we have CROWN performing, who sent me their ‘The One’ EP back in 2012 or 2013 but it’s only now that it has happened. The final bunch of bands are those we have seen elsewhere and have then booked. This year Gav and I saw Tacoma Narrows Bridge Disaster at Arctangent festival, thought they were great and asked them to play at our event. If they had been more local than America, we would have done the same for 100 Onces who also played Arctangent. Those guys blew me away. You should check them out.
AN: Have there been any ‘butting of heads’ when it comes to band selection between you and Gav?
Paul: Honestly no. Certainly not in terms of booking a particular band. We know that there are going to be bands booked that I like that Gav doesn’t and vice versa, but it’s about what work’s best for the festival. The most we’ve probably had is mild disagreements about where a band is placed in the running order and on what stage but those would probably be better described as discussions than disagreements.
AN: Has there been a band you thought would go down really well at the festival but they didn’t live up to your expectations?
Paul: I can’t think of anyone who didn’t live up to my expectations. I think there have been bands that caught out some people as they didn’t know what to expect. Last year, we had Monarch play, and I know for quite a few, they were a bit of an unknown as to what to expect. I am a fan, so I knew what they sounded like but I certainly wasn’t sure what to expect live. When Emilie sings, she is truly terrifying. The wails that she made on that stage sounded like they were coming from someone who was possessed. I remember seeing the crowd’s reaction after their set, and people not really sure what to make of the set. Many seemed quite perturbed by it. I thought it was wonderful. But my got was it bleak!
AN: What would you say your favourite moment from any given Damnation is?
Paul: The wall of death that Stampin’ Ground did in 2006 that was the full length of the room at Jilly’s was pretty special. They repeated the feat last year which was almost as much fun. Seeing the room rammed in 2008 for Carcass was also a highlight. That was the moment for me that felt like Damnation had taken another step up, and became a bit more serious.
AN: What would you say sets Damnation apart from other one day festivals?
Paul: I’m not sure what sets us apart really. I think we’re pretty genuine guys, who do this because we love it, and I hope that comes across and people respect that fact. We’ve always tried to keep the cost for a ticket reasonable, and for that money we fill the bill with a lot of quality acts. There are a lot of 1 day events happening up and down the county, so we feel you have to have something that keeps people coming back. I think that is consistency. People know what they’re getting with Damnation. A full day of music, at a reasonable price, with a chance to catch up with 2-3000 pals. Its like a family gathering. I see people on our Facebook page arranging to meet up with other people saying things like “Can’t believe it been a year already”, “It’ll be good to catch up at Damnation” etc etc. It’s a long time from the end of the summer festival season, to the start of the next one, and anyone know has done summer music festivals know that more than half the fun of festivals is the people you meet and hang out with there as much as it is the bands that you see. Damnation gives you the chance to have that again in the cold of November in Leeds.
AN: Who would you say are your top 5 Damnation bands as in those who have played Damnation?
Paul: At present my 5 favourite bands that have played Damnation are Maybeshewill, Amenra, Dragged Into Sunlight, Mono and Cult of Luna
AN: What would you say is the biggest change which Damnation has undergone which has benefitted it the most?
Paul: I don’t know really. Social media has allowed us to spread our reach far beyond anything we thought possible. We’ve had people from Japan, Australia and America fly in just to attend Damnation which blows my mind a bit. I think the thing that probably has benefitted Damnation the most, is us slowly figuring out what we’re doing. Neither Gav nor I do this professionally and our only regular foray into music promotion is putting on Damnation each year. But with each year, we learn a little more, and the more we learn, the better we are at putting things together. Where before it was a lot of trial and error, we’re continuing to polish things, and hopefully that can be reflected in continuingly improved experiences for those who join us for a day of chaos and carnage each November.
So there we have it. What started out rather small to begin with has now grown into a massive one day event, spanning four stages, hosting all kinds of genres, from post-rock to full on unrelenting death metal. With four stages to choose from, there is something for everyone and who knows, those undecided might as well take a chance and grab a ticket if there are any left. Special moments happen at Damnation, from Stampin’ Ground’s Wall of Death in 2006 which I was a part of, to the last ever performance of Mistress in 2009 to bands like Sigh and Chthonic making it across from east Asia to join in the fun.
After all, it’s a 10th birthday party too… Tell me what 10th Birthday party has At The Gates playing it?
(Interview by Fraggle)