FOCUS Wales is one of the 19 Showcase festivals of The Innovation Network of European Showcases (INES) and just announced as “Best Festival for Emerging Talent” by the UK Festival Awards 2019 Shortlist.
In 2020 from May 7th to 9th in its 10th edition, the festival will welcome over 15,000 people to Wrexham. Over 250 international bands will perform on 20 stages. Previous performers include GRUFF RHYS, BO NINGEN, MICHAEL ROTHER and THE JOY FORMIDABLE.
At Live at Heart 2019 in Sweden we had the chance to meet Andy Jones, FOCUS Wales co-founder and music booker. We spoke about how the showcase festival and its booking process, the benefits of INES for showcase festivals, and what it takes to get booked at FOCUS Wales.
gigmit: Which INES talents were booked for FOCUS Wales 2019?
Andy Jones: The Magnettes from Sweden and :Papercutz from Portugal. It was great for us! It was really exciting to see these bands that have been put forward by promoters in their own countries who presented them essentially through INES saying ’these are the most exciting bands from our area’. It brought something new to the table and it is definitely a success of our festival this year.
gigmit: Did you receive feedback from the artists you’ve booked? What about the Welsh artists selected for the INES talents pool?
Andy Jones: Generally, the artists are very happy with the opportunities. FOCUS Wales 2019 was a success! The shows were certainly well received. They all had great audiences and all played great showcases.
Looking at 2020, I know a lot of Welsh artists in particular who are really excited with the opportunity to take their music to new festivals across Europe. So it’s something we’re really excited about. It will also be very interesting to see which festivals do invite the artists.
gigmit: How is the selection of INES talents working? Can you explain the process?
Andy Jones: The booking process for the bands is an ongoing one. We have a few combinations of routes: we have over 4.500 applications coming to the festival, so you know, it’s a bit of a complex process. It is something that I personally oversee. I ensure that all the applications are given a thorough check over to be sure we don’t miss anything. It’s really important to us to make sure we take the very very best artists through.
gigmit: FOCUS Wales is an associate member of INES. What is the biggest benefit of the programme?
Andy Jones: As we’ve developed our festival we’ve placed a big importance in internationalising the event. It’s something that our artists really enjoy. International artists enjoy the opportunity to play to a new audience in the UK and it’s something that we can never supplicate. So we look at artists exchanges, such as our partnerships with other festivals, and clearly this is what INES offers to our artists: something we’re really on board with and hopefully something we can increase year on year.
gigmit: What difference has INES made in the organisation of the festival?
Andy Jones: In terms of increasing our visibility across the European music community, I definitely think INES has helped giving some attention to our festival in countries that, perhaps their music scene has not become aware of FOCUS Wales yet, so we have definitely seen a benefit in that respect. Hopefully the more INES#talents that we book, the word starts to spread year on year and then the sort of reciprocation of sending artists from Wales to other countries will increase as the festival grows.
gigmit: Can you speak about the collaboration between the 19 INES festival organisers?
Andy Jones: Being part of INES has given me the opportunity to meet lots of people doing similar work as what we do at FOCUS Wales in lots of interesting countries, lots of interesting music communities that we’ve not been able to engage with yet as a festival. We learn things from each other! It’s very interesting to learn what the guys are doing with Monkey Week in Seville and what Peter is doing here in Örebro at Live at Heart.
We see we have similar challenges, trying to find some help with space for the music communities in the wider European landscape. Definitely in some cases I’m seeing things they’re doing here in Live at Heart that are great ideas and that we might incorporate into what we’re doing and vice versa. I think the collaboration helps us all to grow a bit and this coming together is a very healthy thing for new music.
We’re all going to Eurosonic and SXSW and Reeperbahn, recognising new ideas and new concepts that have worked in the conferences for instance and new ways of showcasing the artists. It’s quite a unique opportunity that INES provides in bringing this particular collection of festivals together. From my side, we’re really excited that Wales is a voice among this music community now.
gigmit: What is the objective of the conference panels taking place at FOCUS Wales?
Andy Jones: The conference at FOCUS Wales is something that my colleague Neal Thompson oversees and delivers, however, there’s a natural crossover between our two roles as co-founders.
At the heart of our conference, the whole reason we do it is from this desire of creating something really practical and useful for new music makers and the music scene in general in Wales. While we go to some more established events you can experience quite niche conversations and panels that are targeted at niche audiences.
We understand our conference at FOCUS Wales should be very practical and useful for the emerging music community. We want to put together a gathering of agents, we want to do a ‘meet the festivals’. It gives us the opportunity to say ‘great, we’re gonna invite six labels, six festivals and put them all on a platform to ask them the tough questions’, so that the audience, and largely the musicians, learn stuff that they can apply to their music right now.
I don’t care so much about hearing about the 1980s or 1990s really. I’m looking at what can artists apply to their project right now that is going to make a difference. That’s the aim with the conference. Generally we’re getting good feedback from it and we’re always looking for new ideas.
gigmit: What do you want to say to the future applicants of FOCUS Wales?
Andy Jones: I encourage people to apply to showcase at FOCUS Wales! All the information is at focuswales.com for people to check it out and oversee and understand what type of event we are before they apply. We are not a genre specific event and we’re open to all types of artists, so long as they make a solid case for why it makes sense for their creative path to come to the UK right now.
Applications for FOCUS Wales festival 2020 will open soon on gigmit! Stay tuned…