I feel it may be time to grasp the nettle and talk about “Journey Into Steampunk” a steampunk music festival for the August Bank Holiday weekend (two weeks before The Asylum) organised by a couple which appears to be a lady who is really getting into steampunk and her partner who is a professional music promoter according to his website.

I will admit that when I first heard about it I was disconcerted.  Why would anyone try to launch a big festival for a niche genre and go head to head with one of the best established events in the steampunk world?  Was it lack of research? Was it arrogance? Malice? Or was it about availability of the headline act Abney Park?  I can’t answer that. 

I looked at their lineup.  Seemed pretty good.  It looked expensive.  Since I promote many of these bands and have spoken to them and others I had an idea what it was going to cost to put the festival on.  I raised an eyebrow.  This seemed to be ambitious to the point of foolhardiness.

I have followed the festival’s “promotion”.  It seemed very limited.  I expected more from a professional music promoter.  It seemed to be mainly spamming facebook groups. (Indeed the promoter managed to get himself banned from a couple for spamming.)   There didn’t seem to be any real effort to engage in a meaningful way with the existing steampunk community.  There was no getting out there and meeting steampunks at events, selling the concept and the passion face to face.  There was no building a relationship or trust with the steampunk community. No attempt to show shared values and shared ideas.  It appeared a classic example of an outsider seeing the sparkle of the brass pound and assuming their skillset was directly transferable.  The trouble is if you don’t understand the values and foibles of a community it is very difficult to appeal to that community.

Their promotion has been along the lines of “get your tickets now they are selling fast”.  Well if you look at the facebook event group started by the promoter it shows just 200 people as “going” of whom around 30 are members of bands or the promoter (he is on there in at least three different guises) and the number has not been increasing.  Luckily Abney Park are a draw.  Opportunities to see them play are limited and they are one of the flagship brands for the scene.  Consequently a goodly number of diehard steampunks and some newer converts to the scene have booked.  Mind you the amount of revenue earned by my reckoning probably only was enough to cover the venue costs, facilities and perhaps one or two of the supports.

Six weeks before the event they were due to pay Abney Park.  The agreement was no fee as such but that their air fare should be covered.  The time schedule allowed for the purchase of plane tickets.  Indeed the band had already bought the tickets using their credit cards and were expecting to be reimbursed.   It must have been a real shock for Robert when he was told that this “huge festival”, as it had been sold to them, didn’t have the money to pay them what had been agreed almost a year previously.  They publicly cancelled.  The promoters faced a backlash.  They needed to rescue this. They immediately blamed the weather.  Foul weather has indeed hit events this summer. We have been flooded at home twice (luckily not badly since I was prepared).   The economic climate has also been a factor – people have limited funds so spend it carefully.  They have not blamed the fact that they were going up against The Asylum  (we are currently looking at 903 day/weekend bands to issue by the way with six weeks to go and more people coming just to evening features or to hang out) nor the fact that their promotion was sadly lacking or that they hadn’t engaged with the steampunk community.  It is comforting to blame an “act of god” since it leaves one blameless.  It also allows for the playing of a sympathy card.   Questions about “well will we be able to get refunds” are left hanging unanswered on the event boards etc. Along with requests from booked features saying “please reply you are ignoring us and we have been booked for months”.   I suspect this lack of transparency and responsiveness has further damaged their cause.

So how do they try to pull the fat from the fire?  They start a wefund site asking people to pledge money in return for goodies to raise the extra ash.  One minor problem – on the boards they were saying they needed just 80 more tickets at £45 to make the event work  (£3600) the wefund says they need £5800.  Of course the additional £2200 is partly to pay for the merchandise they will be “giving away” and a little bit more for the trouble.    It’s an interesting way to fund a festival.  We never take an event on unless we are prepared to underwrite it.  We don’t take on acts etc unless we are sure we have the money to pay them.  We don’t speculate but cut our cloth to suit.  Then again we are not chasing the brass pound to line our pockets, we try to convert the brass pound into events for the benefit of the community.     Had the event been entirely funded by wefund with total transparency of the amounts pledged and needed and no risk to people unless the event goes ahead then Journey into Steampunk might have been a goer.  Unfortunately this move has come in at the eleventh hour and even here they have shot themselves in the foot.

A ticket to “Journey” was £45.  People have paid this upfront in good faith.  As part of the wefund though you can buy a VIP ticket with backstage priveledges for just £35. Remember you don’t have to pay if the event does not go ahead too so your money is safe.  The poor steampunks who supported the event from the outset currently have paid more for less and have no safety net.  This is the perfect way to p*ss people off and  lose support.   The irony is if they had launched these VIP tickets at £50 0r £55 with the option of an “upgrade” at £5 or £10 then they would have sold more tickets and got even more cash from people who were already coming.  Why did they make this error?  Ineptitude? Contempt? Desperation?

Strangely the promoters are still very quiet online.  They are relying on steampunk advocates to push the event for them.  They are not trying to reassure or build trust.  The FB boards have had very little traffic for some days and criticisms are still on them unremarked .  The main website is STILL advertising Abney Park even though the band has cancelled and with no mention of the conditional nature of the gig.  Surely this is perilously close to fraud?

I sincerely hope that the promoters can pull this one out of the fire.  They have made mistakes but they could step up to the plate and make a difference.  Engage!  Address the problems.  Take ownership and work to rescue things.  Don’t just slope shoulders, blame the weather and panic.  My personal opinion is that the promoters meant well but overstretched and were outside their comfort zone.  The steampunk community can still set up and rescue them.  Indeed we looked at actually offering to bail the event out but the lack of transparency and the pulling up of ladders has convinced us this would be foolishness.  Lessons to be learned indeed.

The wefund site can be found here for people who want to support Journey and try and rescue it.

http://wefund.com/project/get-abney-park-over-to-the-uk/p44769/

If the promoters wish to talk to me to see if there is anything we can do to help salvage this situation they are welcome to drop me a line.

Advertisements