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Thriving on the fringe. Independent article featuring The Masked Ball

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The Masked Ball getting a mention in The Independent

Thom Yorke walks back out on stage to raucous applause from a crowd stretching as far as the eye can see. “Can you turn the fucking monitors back on, please?” he shouts down the mic at Primavera Sounds’ over-zealously punctual stage team. For a breathtaking moment it seems as if there will be no encore, but with a few taps from the drums Radiohead launch into ‘Creep’ for the second time live in 10 years.

LCD Soundsystem released their final album, This Is Happening, five years ago. After a farewell tour they disbanded the group for good. Despite this, they were here too, reunited and performing a string of hits on the beaches of Barcelona. Primavera Sound was the first (bar a small Swiss festival) to name Radiohead’s return to the festival circuit, and one of the first European festivals to announce the LCD Soundsystem on their lineup. Primavera was pre-emptive and pre-eminent.

The festival has developed a reputation for its distinctive lineups. With little-to-none of the tangential festivities that embellish UK festivals, the music and artists they host are the main attraction. The lineup announcement caused quite a stir, and attracted visitors from over 140 countries, foreigners making up almost 50% of the audience. It caters for a refined palate with a colourful array of acts from across the global cutting edge. This is something that the UK appears either unable to calculate or to culture.

In 2011 Michael Eavis predicted that Glastonbury “[had] probably got another three or four years” left, referencing sunny foreign festivals such as Spain’s Benicassim as cheaper alternatives in a crowded market. “There is a feeling that people have seen it all before,” he said. In a climate where many festivals are questioned for aping their competitors, Primavera’s success begs the question: what makes a successful lineup? And how do UK festival’s compare; more importantly, how and in what ways do they contest?

In the UK we can see a few variants, although in the pool of choices you might well expect a few more. The modern UK festival prospers no longer off of being poster-perfect, but from their placement and partners. London festival Field Day capitalises on exposure from its partner stages, which represent a large part of the music media, from Resident Advisor to Crack and DIY. American based music blog Pitchfork has its own festivals in Chicago and Paris, which never fail to get word out to thousands. The UK has several competing festival staples in it’s busy if not sun-blessed summer, and without the appeal of being somewhere actually sun-kissed, the media do matter. British Summer Time is often overcast, so much so it may well have thrown away tickets for Arcade Fire even in 2014.

In the UK the choice is between miniature events in the niche and massive enterprises. Primavera and the continental class have music and the Mediterranean to swim; music and mountains to ski; music and new maps to explore. Speaking of Dimensions and Outlook Festivals in Croatia, head of marketing Damo Jones, currently of Love International Festival, dwelled on their success: “For us, Croatia offers more than Ibiza ever could. Croatia has one thousand islands, Ibiza is one small island.” Britain is one bigger, bleaker island; similarly, it’s coming of age may also spell the passing of one. Foremost in their field, this bumper electronic fest duo also boast Fort Punta Christo and a Roman amphitheatre as venues.

Since launching in 2008, however, even Dimensions and Outlook only recently turned a profit. The festival field, like the wider field of music, is a monied game. THUMP recently commented on how all electronic music festivals look the same and one should ponder a little further, that in a cut-throat and commercial market many of these festivals either play safe with sure-sells or share the same professionals – that includes promoters in the UK. Brits may well travel abroad to get out of our insular dime-a-dozen demographic.

The DIY icon All Tomorrow’s Parties (ATP) announced it was going into administration this month. Barry Hogan of ATP managed hulkish feats in having acts such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Stewart Lee curate over the years, but was dashed when they just couldn’t dot the i’s and cross the t’s. Speaking with The Independent in May the beleaguered boss said, “all we want to do is put music on that we believe in, to bring together a nice, like-minded crowd who are all into the same thing. I mean, if we wanted to become super-rich we could have been putting massive, shite bands on all this time.” Hop Farm closed after Vince Powers used his clout to book Prince, only to bring Purple Rain down on a crowd packed with green spaces…

Where do these fans go? Where do the pigeon-holed promoters go? Brits may love a queue but the majority don’t get their number called for Glastonbury. If not to foreign climes, a few options within our own shores are cropping up. Some may have seen Leefest – the festival which was first hosted in 16 year-old Lee Denny’s garden – featured in an Android advert, with the mobile company keen to latch on to the unique success story of this socially networked award winner.

The eponymous Lee Denny retraces the narrative of the festival in 60-seconds, from an actual secret garden party to off-the-map champion. Speaking with us last year, the secret was playing to the strength of being audience curated and circulated. “Music has changed a lot, from something that was communally enjoyed and everyone participated into something where there is a big barrier between the music and the people… there isn’t any reason why you shouldn’t just create your own thing”, is his thinking.

While Leefest revolts against the big-festival circuit, some, like Masked Ball, thrive on the fringe. Growing in fertile Cornwall, this fiercely independent crew started out as a group of friends who laid the seeds in their garden too. “The line up is some way down the priority list for the ball – our first intention is to get the right people there then give them a great experience – the line-up is a bonus in our eyes”, Kelvin Batt relates. They have returned a more carnivalesque and lo-fi time. The ballers come in droves for their bi-annual blowout with added antics like pig racing. They even throw their Halloween edition in a functional theme park.

In contrast with Masked Ball’s ultra-local appeal, Primavera Sound sees itself as an ‘international festival.’ Booking co-ordinator Fra Soler describes the ethos: “We really try not to be territorial. Of course, we need to be interesting to Barcelona and the audience around us,” he notes, adding later that the festival also books local acts “in order to keep the scene alive.” But the overarching aim is to “be global, as we are not blind to global developments and the global market that comes as visitors to us.”

By catering to a global market while also assuaging local punters, Primavera has become a kind of musical pilgrimage comparable to SXSW and Great Escape, though their formats are far more industry focussed. The lesson learnt is that diversity is at the centre of a crowd-pulling lineup. In the age of instantly streaming music, there are fewer and fewer ‘scenesters’ who define themselves through a single genre of music.

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Business Cornwall Feature – Masked Ball insight

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Taken from Business Cornwall feature

The Masked Ball has grown hugely since it started. The Biannual event features a vast range of artists and themed venues that attracts a huge number of both local party-goers and those from allover.

The Halloween Ball, staged at Flambards, Helston,  has become the largest of its kind in Europe and will feature new venues, hidden arenas and stage shows that will shock even the most seasoned of all-night hedonists.

Business Cornwall spoke to Masked Ball director and events manager, Kelvin Batt to find out what it’s like to be part of event of this scale.

Business Cornwall: Explain what it’s like being the events manager at Masked Ball? How has this developed as the Ball has grown? 

It’s pretty chaotic, but if I’m truthful, as it’s grown it’s got easier, just with the experience you gain as you get further down the line and the team we now have.

Business Cornwall: There’s a lot to think about now the Ball has grown so big; how do you keep on top of it all?

Well, I’m lucky to say we’ve now developed where we have support both in production and administration. I will admit it used to get a bit too much, especially around April time with the food festival and ball happening in close proximity to each other.

Business Cornwall: What has been the main factor(s) in the success of MB? How did you cope with the moments where things weren’t so plain sailing?

The main factor of success is perseverance because there’s been many, many times when it hasn’t been plain sailing and when people around you question why you put yourself through it. But with a positive outlook and knowing where you want to reach you can get there eventually.

Business Cornwall: What would your advice be to anyone looking to put on a large event?

Be prepared to take a lot of knocks and make sure you have big shoulders.

Business Cornwall: How is the Ball itself evolving? And, what does the future hold for the Ball?

We are in a good place now so we are really excited about the future. We have a new format for May which we will announce after Halloween. At the moment we are focusing on keeping the ticket price affordable as in our eyes it seems festival ticket prices are spiralling out of control all over the country.

Business Cornwall: Do you get involved with the partying yourself?

Not so much in the past but in the last couple of years I’ve definitely been dipping my toe in and out. The last ball was a highlight for me, again because of the team and being our 10 year anniversary. We had a few….

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Directors volunteer to Operation Surf

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Alec Short volunteers to coach vets from Operation Surf Project in preparation for England’s first ever Adaptive Surfing Open

England’s first ever Adaptive Surfing Open took place over the weekend in the stormy seas of Watergate Bay, Newquay. 18 adaptive surfers from the UK, USA, Italy & France competed across five divisions to take the inaugural titles. The event, which was the first of its kind here in England, follows a global push to celebrate and provide for adaptive surfing. An integral and developing part of the sport for surfers with a variety of disabilities, and an area lead by the the world governing body, the international surfing association.

The surfers competed in divisions based on their functional surfing ability; Prone Division, Sitting/ Kneeling Division, Assisted Division, Open Division & Standing Division. The conditions may have been less than ideal with autumnal low pressures kicking the sea into motion and heavy rain, but nothing would dampen the spirits of the surfers as they enjoyed a day of rivalry and socialising. As contest organisers seeked to learn for the development of additive surfing, as well as identifying potential Team England athletes for the upcoming World Adaptive Surfing Games in California.

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Alec Short – Director

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Alec Short has a wealth of experience in organising events for over 15 years in the SW alongside Kelvin. Alec has built up a unique technical skillset such as CAD design, developing digital assets and new business opportunities.

He is also a qualified carpenter, keen surfer, who loves The Stones and lives in Porthleven.

Kelvin Batt – Director

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Youve probably heard of Kelvin Batt through The Masked Ball. Kelvin is a founder of The Ball and director of Arc Live. He also founded the event of Frendzy in St Buryan . Its fair to say Kelvin knows a good party and its his creative vision that fuels many of the weird and wonderful things you’ll find at a Ball or any of Arc Live’s events.

Kelv is an ex champ snowboarder and also a keen surfer who lives in Porthleven.

Vicki Cox – Event Manager

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Vicki joined us after temping on many of our events and has a wealth of festival experience across many different disciplines. During the summer Vicki can be found at many of the best UK festivals touring as Wayne & Wanda the lip syncing karaoke machine. A local to Helston Vicki is well known throughout the industry in the SW and also helps us look after local businesses and traders at the Porthleven Food Festival.

Ben Carrington – Event Manager

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Ben joined us from Falmouth University’s Creative Event Management degree course and brought with him a wealth of organisational skills..but his real passion lies in music and food. One quarter of Cosmic music collective Viscera, part of Bristol DJ outfit Ere Wax and promoter of nights in Falmouth and the Southwest he’s also a decent cook and all round nice guy.

The best cheap music festivals in the UK

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Everyone loves a degree of mystery in life and masks are often the answer to many a ravers confidence. For one weekend, become your alter ego and see what happens.

Cornwall’s immersive and theatrical festival is back next month with music headliners including Austin Ato, Craig Richards, Dicky Trisco, DJ Marky and MC GQ and DJ Woody.

Get your tickets here.

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Hit the Floor -Summer Ball 2016

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Masked Ball – Bank holiday events for all the family

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(£40) is set on a clifftop in Porthleven, Cornwall and – from 4-5 May – features live acts and DJs (including DJ Yoda, The Cuban Brothers and Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs), plus a grand tented ballroom and an intriguing-sounding “rabbit-hole experience”.

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