It is now a matter of only a few weeks before the inaugural Safe As Milk Festival takes place from Friday 21st to Sunday 23rd April 2017, at the Pontins, Prestatyn Holiday Centre, on the North Wales coast. We caught up with Lee Etherington, the festival’s co-producer (alongside Graham Thrower of alt.vinyl) and he kindly took time out from his incredibly busy schedule to answer some questions for us.
Hi Lee, first of all, you are someone who is primarily associated with the North East of England and the annual TUSK Festival. What then prompted you to start a completely new festival in North Wales?
Well, it wasn’t necessarily that we wanted to do a festival in North Wales, lovely though it is, but we didn’t want to see the leftfield holiday camp festival die and that seemed to be about to happen. I’ve really enjoyed a lot of those events in the past, despite their well-documented shortcomings – we saw issues with them too in that they were done on a very no-frills basis and we wanted to present a much fuller, more diverse experience over the weekend – films, good food, decent beer, pop-up record stores etc – and there aren’t really any holiday camps in the North East. I went to the last ATP at Prestatyn (in April 2016) and the venue spaces are really good, especially when we take our own production in, and its actually a nice place, so it seemed a logical starting point.
Like you, I was at that last ATP Festival. Did that particular ATP experience – both good and bad – inform your planning and preparation for your own event at this same location?
Yes. Like I say, I think the two live spaces at Prestatyn, with the right sound and light (which we’re bringing), are very good places to see acts of this size. It’s a shame ATP didn’t work out and we entered this whole process very cautiously with that in mind. It’s clear we wouldn’t be doing this if we hadn’t previously enjoyed a few ATP weekends (the Thurston Moore one was non-stop brilliance, musically) but I think we’ve also improved it a lot and people will see that when they come in April.
In what way will Safe As Milk differ from TUSK?
Well, it’s about 20 times bigger for a start so the line-up can’t be quite as obscure as TUSK, even though we’ve managed to keep it very leftfield and very diverse. The thing I enjoy most about producing festivals is creating the line-up and we’re really excited about this one. At TUSK, we can almost present a line-up that none of our audience have heard of and they’ll still come, but then the audience for that is about 200 a day and this is MUCH bigger – this is year one for Safe As Milk so we’ve had to create a bill that attracts a lot of people but that, you know, has credibility and leaves you genuinely excited, and I really think we’ve done that.
It is really great that you have got both Shirley Collins and This Is Not This Heat for Safe As Milk – two acts that for differing reasons were not able to appear at either of the last two ATP events at Prestatyn. But your biggest coup has got to be the incredible booking of Butthole Surfers in what will be the band’s first UK appearance in five years and their only scheduled show for 2017. Are you able to tell us a little about how that came about?
Patient persuasion, I suppose. Several times during those discussions it seemed we’d hit a brick wall and it wasn’t happening but I think we also benefitted from the fact they just did a show in Texas for the first time in ages and enjoyed it a lot more than they expected, so we managed to politely twist their arms. And we could not be more excited to have them!
Moving away from some of the more established names who will perform at Safe As Milk, are there any other, perhaps less well-known acts that we may not be so familiar with, who we should be particularly looking out for over the weekend?
I’ve become a massive GAIKA fan in the past 6 months, amazing slow heavy dubby storytelling basically – the images he evokes really remind me of Tricky and The Specials at their best. Princess Nokia is pure fire, Moor Mother sounds like Matana Roberts fronting Death Grips. Horse Lords are the new kings of math rock, like Don Caballero meets Fairport Convention. Basic Rhythm and Rezzett released some of our fave records of the past year. Circle have been around forever but are still pretty obscure but make the most insanely enjoyable kraut-metal. Warm Digits have created the dancefloor soundtrack of these terrifying times in End Times and Guttersnipe make Lightning Bolt sound like the Nolan Sisters. Its gonna be a weekend of discoveries, for sure.
Looking ahead and beyond this Safe As Milk event, how do you see the future? Are there any plans for further expansion?
It’s been a massive job so far so once this is over I think the first expansion will be our staff team! With regards to expanding our ambitions, right now we’re just thinking about making it an annual event. I genuinely think this first Safe As Milk is going to greatly raise people’s expectations about just how good this kind of festival can be – we’re laying on so much more than just our killer line-up. I think once that sinks in with people and see they see just how good a holiday camp festival can actually be, I think it’ll just go on from there – our audience are in for a proper treat!
Thank you, Lee, for answering our questions. Good luck with all of your final preparations for Safe As Milk and we wish you all the very best for what promises to be an absolutely cracking event. We are really looking forward to it.
With thanks to Anastasia Connor in preparing for this interview.
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