If the mainstream musical landscape is akin to a climate-controlled domed city, then the bands populating Wrong Festival’s line-up are the irradiated mutants scavenging beyond its facade, wholly unconcerned with the sterility and sanctuary advertised within. Billed as a festival for the ‘freakscene’, Wrong quite rightly suggests that rock has become outsider music once again, and subsequently promises to track down and unite its wildest and most subversive practitioners.
Insights spoke with Michael Edward – founder of Wrong Festival – about his approach to curation, how running a record label has influenced his approach to organisation, venue scouting and more.
Festival Insights: Wrong Festival’s programming sensibilities follow on naturally from your label Loner Noise, the output of which you summarise as ‘music for weirdos, by weirdos’. With that said, which oddballs are you looking forward to seeing perform the most this time around?
Michael Edward: Considering most of the bill is oddballs, I’ll forego the obvious ones like Damo and Future of the Left for the sake of this question, though I have to note Gnod since they made my favourite album of last year. I’m also looking forward to Salt the Snail vs Bleach Sweets, as the two bands are going to play song for song, facing each other, in a showdown style. Considering their collective penchant for ridiculousness, it’s sure to surprise and might be dangerous. I’m gonna give Grey Hairs a shout out as well because their last album was incredible and I’m yet to see them live, plus Lucy Leave, who are always wonderful.
FI: Have your experiences as a label owner and musician informed your approach to festival organisation at all?
ME: Yes. Basically the festival is just bands I like. The label’s roster is just bands I like. A good deal of the bands in the bottom half of the bill are bands that my band, Elevant, has toured or gigged with. Being on the road all the time is a great way to find interesting people doing cool things. I’d put small shows on as the label before, which is what made me think I could pull off something as ridiculous as this. Wrong Festival is vaguely similar to those shows, just much more intense.
FI: Did Wrong’s debut teach you any particularly significant lessons that you’ve applied when preparing for the upcoming edition?
ME: On a practical level: be organised very far ahead of time or you’ll be extremely stressed, and keep very close track of the money. On a more philosophical level, its success was rather vindicating to see that there was still an appetite for the weirder side of what rock has to offer.
FI: Loner Noise’s website states that rock is ‘outsider music once again’. To what do you attribute this shift in the musical landscape? Do you think it’s becoming increasingly difficult for new rock bands to break through?
ME: The musical landscape has changed so much due to the pervasiveness of the internet and the subsequent decentralisation of culture, so much so that I doubt there’ll ever be another band that dominates like a Nirvana, or even a Radiohead. As such, everyone’s now finding their niche and appealing to it. To be a crossover success requires a degree of pandering to Spotify playlists and the like, which a lot of great rock music isn’t suited for. If the chorus doesn’t come immediately, it won’t make it on. If it’s abrasive or strange, it won’t make it on. If it’s boundary pushing and sonically adventurous, it won’t fit with the rest of the playlist. Of course this was true for radio in the pre-internet era, but it’s been severely exacerbated now. Now subversive rock music is often confined to DIY communities and small venues.
FI: Liverpool plays host to a relatively large amount of vibrant, grass roots events that, despite catering to different audiences, all seem to share the common desire to promote local & emerging talent. Why do you think this is?
ME: With a city as rich in musical heritage as this, you’re always going to have creative people here, and speaking from experience, if you don’t feel like your scene is represented in your city, a good way to change that is to put on a festival. It’s planting your flag on the battleground.
FI: Metropolitan festivals sometimes struggle to find venues that both suit their logistical needs and complement their event’s identity, but it seems that you’ve found a perfect match in the DIY spaces of Liverpool’s docklands. Was it a difficult process to find the right location for Wrong Festival?
ME: No. I knew straight away where it would be. The loss of the Kazimier left a huge octagonal hole in the city and it’s a shame the Agent of Change law didn’t get passed sooner to protect venues from developers. That team have been the heart of the city’s music scene for a decade now and there’s nobody else I’d want to do it with, so the Invisible Wind Factory – which is also run by them – was always the place I was going to use for the main stage.
The North Shore Troubadour is run by AE Audio, who kit out nearly every venue in town with sound, and it’s right next door, so that was another no brainer. Drop the Dumbulls is a magical place just down the road, lived in by the lovely DIY lifers who run it. They put on all kinds of shows that normal venues wouldn’t touch, building their own sets for events, and it’s a real haven for the freaks, which is a term I use with the most love possible. How could I put a festival on like this in the docklands and not involve them?
FI: Is there anything else we should know about Wrong Festival?
ME: It’s been a lot of work, so buy a ticket and make it a success so I won’t have to sell my organs to pay the bands.
Wrong Festival takes place from April 28.