Last year, a group of friends set up a series of music festivals with a twist. Today, their last gig has attracted fans from all over Canterbury and beyond. Subversive Press asks its amicable founder, Heatha Akosua, what makes for a successful DIY concert.
When I talk to Heatha, she has just finished packing away four years of her life into boxes. After graduating from the University of Kent, she is now moving back to London to leave her musical stamp there too. It is safe to say that Canterbury’s concert lovers will miss her dearly.
Acting as the driving force behind a series of mini festivals this year, Heatha Akosua’s events have attracted students and young people from Kent and even further afield. The last in a series of sessions rounded off last week with a bang, boasting eight artists and bands, barbecue food, henna tattoos and, according to facebook, 100 attendees.
The caliber of artist is also impressive. One veteran band from Heatha’s live sessions, Syd Arthur, will be supporting Vampire Weekend on tour this year, and many more have appeared on TV and in music publications. When I asked a long-term attendee of the festival how Heatha finds all of these great acts, he replied: “I’m pretty sure they find her.”
Now, here is the twist. These festivals happen in her living room and all the artists play for free.
Punters are not charged either. “We suggest a contribution for the food and drink” Heatha explains, “but we don’t make a profit. All the money goes straight back into more events.”
Canterbury is seen by many as a town which caters for students, so what led to two undergraduates taking the time and effort to set up something like this? Heatha explains that her friends were not big drinkers or party-goers, just fans of music. “We felt all the events in Kent appealed to the freshers. We love live music but never really knew were to go.” Soon, Heatha and her friend Victoriana Bulley had decided to track down some up and coming bands to play in their living room. The artists brought their CDs and merchandise, then played for a close group who enjoyed new music. The event soon evolved into a roaring success.
However, like all grand ideas, the thought of a front-room festival provoked its fair share of naysayers. Luckily, Heatha found support in her best friend, Victoriana, who acted as a positive backer, and collaborator, when others doubted. “Even my friends were telling me ‘yeah, it’s not going to work’” says Heatha, recalling the difficulties they faced earlier in the year. “I mean we had no contacts, nothing. I couldn’t have done it without Victoria.”
Their last festival, held earlier this month, proved against all odds that it really is possible to run a great event with next to no money. The gig saw artists graduate from the front room to garden and every single person in attendance seemed happy, grateful even, to be there. The event featured food, sociable people and, of course, jaw-dropping acts. Musically, we saw everything from the gritty but angelic to Jamie T’s slightly ruder younger brother and many of the artists will, presumably, go on to attain a similar kind of success to their predecessors.
With the popularity of the last concert alone, there was clearly scope to make a lot of money, did that ever cross their mind? “Nope. We didn’t really care about that. It was purely for enjoyment. I guess in London our plans are to make a little money out of it but I’m sure it will go directly into creating more events.”
Blown away by the generosity displayed by so many of the artists, Heatha is happy to now have the chance to offer something back in the future, after relocating to London. “We found incredible artists this year and I feel we are giving them more opportunities to play to a more varied but important demographic: Students and young people, the key players who can shape their success.”
Many are sad to see the founders of Canterbury’s favourite mini festival leave, which begs the question, is there somebody set to carry the torch next year? Heatha believes there may well be, so it seems the art of the backyard festival will not die out. “A few younger people at our events say they will do similar things next year which is brilliant. Hopefully we’ve started something great.”
Heatha’s advice to those taking over where she left off? “Canterbury has some crazy talented people. I think the idea is to involve everyone. Don’t make it hip or exclusive; just be open and great people and acts will come.”
Hoping to take over London, the events this year have provided invaluable experience for Heatha and Victoria in the path to even bigger things, and the gigs are only getting more mammoth. It look as if London will be host to a great deal more festivals at the hands of the two ex-students. “Fingers crossed!” Heatha says.
However, Canterbury has not seen the last of Heatha, as she will be back in October to help out with the city’s Oxjam gig. You can keep up to date with Oxjam’s Canterbury Takeover here (date to be announced) or check out Heatha’s amazing photography here.