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Chicken Shop Shakespeare and mass dancing - arts reign at Beacons Festival

12 Months of Neon Love by Victoria Lucas and Richard Wheater. Photo credit Giles Smith.


On the whole, we’re not short of a boutique festival or two, but then there are the ones that are really worth exploring.

Back in 2011, Beacons Festival was quite seriously a washout – those behind the scenes refer ominously to 'the flood' that forced everyone to abandon site. But Beacons have a determined team behind them and in the two years since they’ve come back with tempting musical lineups and a serious investment in the arts.

Beacons’ arts field, The Space Between, was named afterthe goings-on between the music that make a festival weekend unique. But as art was never a thing to be contained you can find light and sound installations and roaming acts around the site, as well as literary and spoken word tents, film screenings, live art and performance.

Natasha Chubbuck is Beacons’ Arts Producer and has worked on the festival pretty much since its invention. She took time out from coordinating artists and performers to give us her tips for the weekend.


RunRiot: There’s a whole array of arts events at Beacons this year - from Chicken Shop Shakespeare to Elephant Collective - what are your highlights?

Natasha: I’m excited to see all of it - it’s always amazing to see the projects that you’ve been talking with artists about for months come to fruition – but as our highlights, I’d say that the performance programme is really strong this year. We teamed up with Yorkshire Dance to launch an open call this year, and I can’t wait to see Non-Applicables do their dance flashes around the site (the tutorial trailer video is pretty spectacular!).


We’re got some amazing new commissions this year. I’m also very excited to see Bristol-based Impermanence Dance Theatre’s outdoor stage, where they’ll be creating a new dance and live art show each day. And as always we’ve got a killer film programme! There’s music documentaries Pulp: A Film about Life, Death & Supermarkets and Mistaken for Strangers as well as some indie gems that have had very limited release in the UK, like the Sign Painters documentary - a snapshot of this dying art - showing in Dawsons Arthouse on Sunday, the incredible Leviathan, and a handpicked selection of rarely-seen shorts from Warp Films. The list could go on…


RR: As festivalgoers know, it's not only the music but also the things you discover between the bands that makes a great event. Has Beacons always had a strong arts focus? Or it this something that's grown with the festival?

N: Beacons has always had an arts focus, but it’s something that’s really grown year-on-year. This time around we’ve got our biggest programme yet, and a new location right next to the main arena, really putting the arts at the heart of the festival. As we’ve grown is also really exciting to have artists and organisations whose work we love approaching us to collaborate.


It’s also really important for us to have things that people can get actively involved in, not just look at or listen to. Dawsons Arthouse and Things to Make and Do both have awesome programmes of workshops this year, led by artists and makers from across the North, and there are lots of little surprises planned for around the site. It’s all about making the experience of coming to the festival richer than just standing in a field in front of a stage.


RR: What are the most important factors when commissioning artists for Beacons? Do you go for immediate talent, or potential?

N: It’s really a mix of both. We’re at a stage now where we can invite artists who we’ve had an eye on for a while to come and collaborate, but supporting young and emerging artists is a massive part of what we do with our Open Call and arts programming in general. For a lot of artists in our programme Beacons is a chance to get their work seen by a huge audience for the first time.


Our two Grants for the Arts (Arts Council funded) projects this year are good examples of this. The first – Arborescent – by Ed Carter is a collaboration that brings together 3 really incredible established musicians to perform an improvised set to graphic scores, created by an artist, an architect and musician especially for Beacons. Ed’s been involved in major projects such as ~Flow, commissioned for the London Olympic Games, so we’re really excited to be working with him this year.


The other project is a commission by Reet So, a young Leeds-based collective who we first worked with last year as recent graduates, and they’re amongst a large cohort of young and emerging artists that we’re showcasing this year.


RR: Are there any new artists you're particularly excited about this year? And how did you discover them?

N: The Reet So project I mentioned is something I can’t wait to see! We first spotted Reet So last year as they were about to graduate from Uni. They came to as potential interns, but we loved their DIY spirit and the aesthetic of their work so much we asked them to run a small project in the arts field which was hugely popular.


This year we’re supporting them, to create Reet So Varsity – a multicoloured outdoor club house and ‘games arena’ that where two festival teams will be pitted against each other in giant games like enormous Twister, and the mysteriously named ‘Humanary’. Every festival-goer picks their side from either Corpus or Mentis and competes for their team. Reet So also win the prize for best uniforms on site!


RR: Tell us more about Into the Woods - it looks like there's a bit of everything going on in this tent! Who are you most intrigued by?

N: You’re not wrong! Into the Woods has a bit of everything – from yoga first thing in the morning to film shorts last thing at night, with a programme of talks, music, feature films and dance in between.


This year the tent’s even bigger than last year, and with its black-out draping, carpeted floor, comfy seats and Whisky Lounge it’s somewhere to escape to and be immersed in a different kind of experience. I can’t wait to see and hear the late-night experimental sound performance programme we’ve put together with Full of Noises festival, featuring Howlround, Ex-Easter Island Head and The Aleph. Imagine immersive, textural layers of sound at 2am in a dark, warm tent with a glass of whiskey after the main stages close…


Into the Woods is also our main cinema tent. Through our partnership with CineNorth we’re really lucky this year to have amazingly talented directors like Clio Barnard (The Arbour, The Selfish Giant) and Huw Wahl (To Hell with Culture) giving Q&As alongside the rest of the film programme.


We’ve also got an incredible rescore of Japanese 1964 cult filmKwaidan by The Death Rays of Ardilla late on Thursday and Friday. And Sunday morning sees a different use of the space with dance performances by Gracefool Collective and Percussive Customer Projects. It’s open from 9am until the early hours each day so there’s always something to discover there!


RR: How much freedom is there to do something a bit different at Beacons? 

N: As a festival we pride ourselves on being totally independent and taking a bit of a risk. The music at Beacons has a reputation for maverick programming, showcasing new bands just before they’re about to break. People come to the festival not knowing all the names on the bill, but leaving with a new favourite band. This is something that we aim to replicate with the arts programme – avoiding the obvious, and going for the new, the different and the exciting…we already have big ideas for 2015!


Beacons Festival 2014 takes place this weekend, 7th-10th August, at Heslaker Farm in Skipton, Yorkshire. RunRiot will be reporting from the fields. You can still grab tickets here

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