Lee Hawthorn

Seven things I want to see from Split Festival 2015

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Split Festival

While I thoroughly enjoyed Split Festival in 2014, immersing myself in the Mowbray Park events finest offerings of local talent, internationally known headliners and the best food I’ve had from an assortment of burger, fish & chip and sweet vans I’ve had in my life – there’s no such thing as perfect.

For 2015’s incarnation, if there is to be one, I’ve listed a few improvements to pre-existing components of the two-day Sunderland festival which hosted Dizzee Rascal, The Cribs & Maximo Park last year, which I believe would make it a little less irritating that I can’t make it to Wireless, or any other nationally renowned festival this year.

7. For it to actually happen.

With all due respect to Split Festival, it is no debate that it’s a level or five lower than the likes of Glastonbury or Reading & Leeds and, the type of festivals that multi-media outlets cover whether it’s the BBC Radio, music specified magazines or even the likes of The Sun newspaper. That said, smaller festivals like Split and it’s regional competitors have a place in the world because their a platform, a stepping stone for up-and-coming local talents to hone their festival performances until their ready to move on to the bigger shows. Had 2014’s Split Festival never occurred, I may not have seen Big Beat Bronson’s spectacular stage presence, I may not have been introduced to The Lake Poets and generally never heard of certain local acts that I’ve become a fan of, as consequence of the event. With no news of a 2015 Split Festival, or any indication of their being any to come in the impending future – I might miss out on the next big thing from the North East.

6. Better promotion

Last year, I was attending Sunderland University, which is walking distance from Mowbray Park, and never heard a whisper about Split Festival until about a month beforehand on my way to work, on the other side of the Tyne & Wear divide. Should Split Festival return in 2015, I want hear talk of it, not just because I now write for a publication that covered the event last year and will likely do the same this year, but as subsequence of the hype it’s created. Whether it’s because of a massive name headliner that is storming the charts or earning critical acclaim on the independent circuits, and people are genuinely excited about them. Or because the regions collection of multi-media exports from The Chronicle and The Sunderland Echo, to Spark FM and Capital Radio down to NARC and Northern Lights are all covering the event, giving away tickets, and creating a buzz that far supersedes that of 2014. I don’t want to be able to walk from the St. Peters Campus of Sunderland University to the Empire Cinema across the river without having a load of posters for the event plastered about – making it impossible to not know about Split.

5. Less is more (maybe)

In 2014, the festival seemed somewhat longwinded. There was too much going on, across two afternoon-into-evenings on the August weekend, and too little to be genuinely excited about. Taking a look at those billed as headliners last year, they could have easily merged into one day, instead of across the two. I guess Split make more money from two days, but in terms of quality control, even some of my favourite bands going into the event, I didn’t think necessarily needed to be on the main stage. This could be rectified by condensing the festival into one day, and making a line-up consistently great, and fitting into the place that they’re right for. Or maybe, there just needs to be more acts across the two days that properly fit the bill as headline artists – either of those options would go down a treat in terms of my excitement towards the festival.

4. More non-musical entertainment

With the minimal amount of non-musical entertainment on offer, it was easy to grab a double vodka and coke from the bar, lie on the grass and chill to some of the mid-point performers of the main stage last year. There was a Nintendo Wii and a few other forgettable interactive entertainment in Mowbray Park, but I’d love to see more. Whether that be smaller fairground rides, or even local talents that transcend music – dance acts, magicians and anyone who might apply for Britain’s Got Talent that isn’t a musician. It’s not exactly the deal breaker for festivals, what the non-music entertainment selection is but it’s the finer details of Split that could turn it from a decent local event into a must-attend show, that people might even be tempted to travel into the region for.

3. More musical diversity

Back to the music, I’m not sure Split truly captured the versatility of the North East’s music. Obviously the region is best known to the music world for the indie-rock exports (aside from talent show winners), there is a lot more than meets in eye in the depths of Sunderland and it’s neighbouring cities. As a fan of Hip Hop, I was delighted by the presence of Big Beat Bronson on the main stage – but there just wasn’t enough representation for the North East rap circuit. They can be forgiven for last year, considering the lack of buzz around the regions emcee’s, but this year, the likes of Just B, Kema Kay, Silvar Laidlow and of course Big Beat Bronson are set to make big moves in local music and it’d be criminal to not have more Hip Hop talent showcased at Split. I’m personally hoping for an exclusively urban stage, but I’ll not hold my breath.

2. If not diversity, at least cohesion

If there isn’t going to be more diversity in 2015’s Split Festival, then there should be restrictions to make the event more cohesive. The reason why I was expecting more Hip Hop last year, was because Dizzee Rascal was headliner of Saturday’s event and expected the preceding performers to follow suit. So this year, if there’s going to be a continued dominance in indie-rock bands making up the majority of the bill, then the organisers should be restricted to bands that fit that mould. There was a huge divide in conversation as people left Saturday’s headline show as the crowd debated whether it was right for certain people to have only showed up for Dizzee, and not support talents such as Hyde & Beast, who headlined the subsidiary stage and those of a similar local legend status who preceded them. While I wouldn’t likely attend Split if it were exclusive to the indie-rock genre, at least they’d be able to market it better with a distinct vision of what to expect.

1. Better headline

Now, before I go into this, I love Dizzee Rascal. He’s symbolic of everything I love in music. Someone who broke expectations, carried a sub-genre and sub-culture on his back and opened opportunities for British emcee’s that previously had no hope of breaking into national charts, never mind crossing into the other side of the Atlantic. That said, Dizzee’s been M.I.A for years. His last big hit is almost a decade old, and he has since released cringeworthy collaborations with James Corden and Robbie Williams, that never recaptured the essence of Baseline Junkie, Bonkers or Fix Up, Look Sharp, although after the festival his output has improved dramatically. So, for 2015, Split Festival needs to take heed from ‘out with the old, in with the new’ and book a headline artist that is current and exciting for purposes beyond nostalgia. Take Stormzy or BBK if you’re going down the urban headliner route, or maybe save up the pennies for the likes of the Arctic Monkeys, Bastille or Royal Blood, who’re more likely to sell tickets to people with their eye on what’s hot right now, not back in the previous decade.


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