James Scarlett (2000 Trees / ArcTanGent) – Interview
With festival season fast approaching, 2000 Trees (12-14 July) and ArcTanGent (16-18 August) are set to host some of the best alternative acts in the world right now. From At The Drive In, Twin Atlantic, and Enter Shikari to And So I Watch You From Afar, Glassjaw, and Shellac – to mention the headliners alone – both lineups are guaranteed to satisfy any reasonable rock fan.
Meanwhile in Shoreditch, I got chatting to James Scarlett, co-founder of and booker for both 2000 Trees and ArcTanGent…
How did you get into music?
Purely through 2000 Trees. We started it because we wanted to do a festival that combined the boutique elements of independent festivals with rock music, and that didn’t really exist at the time.
All the festivals we used to go to – the massive rock festivals – we didn’t really like anymore. We basically got drunk one night and decided to start our own festival. So that was how I got into it. I didn’t have any experience in music before then.
But you were interested in music before that point – did you play music at all?
Yeah – I’d been in bands, but not in a professional sense. Just a hobby, really. But I was absolutely obsessed with music – listening to it, reading about it, going to gigs.
My favourite thing was going to festivals.
Which festival were you at when you first had the idea for 2000 Trees?
Reading 2006. We were sitting around a campfire, and decided to start something new.
There’s definitely a certain vibe around massive festivals – people might feel they can get away with starting trouble, just because of the scale of the event, whereas with 2000 Trees and ArcTanGent people tend to be a lot more friendly and respectful of the festival as an institution – and other people in general.
I think partly because of the type of festival, it feels nice when you get there. You’re treated nicely from the moment you get there, by our staff, security, stewards. The bands are hanging out…so people don’t want to be idiots. It attracts good people.
At some of the bigger festivals, it’s just the way it is. If you put 80,000 people in a field, then some of them are going to behave badly.
What did you do before setting up 2000 Trees?
I used to be an accountant, believe it or not. So it was very different.
What was the actual process of getting 2000 Trees started, after you had the initial idea?
We sat down and thought up a list of things you’d need. Anyone could brainstorm it – obviously you need a stage or a few stages, bands, power, security, fencing…so you just make a massive list. A festival is just a big jigsaw puzzle, really. You just put it all together, piece by piece.
Were you initially involved in the financial side? You’re booking all the bands now, so how did that transition take place?
There’s a tendency to think that I must’ve been boring because I was an accountant – but the reality is, I just happened to have graduated with an economics degree from university. Then I ended up doing accounting. But every night, I was still going to rock and metal gigs, and festivals as well.
So I’m the booker now, but I do still do some of the budgeting and accounting. Ultimately, the most important thing and the thing everyone sees is the lineup – but if you don’t get the other stuff right, in the background, then you’re not going to have a business. You can see that from the number of festivals that have gone bust over the years.
2000 Trees and ArcTanGent have managed to thrive, even though so many others end up struggling or going out of business. Are you happy with where things are now in terms of their size, or could you see them expanding further in the future?
Well, 2000 Trees is now at 10,000 capacity; ArcTanGent is 5,000. We definitely don’t want to become another one of those massive festivals.
You have to think about why people come – and it is partly because it’s small and intimate. You can get around easily, you can bump into your mates easily, and you can get close to the bands. I definitely don’t want to ruin that.
How did you choose the names 2000 Trees and ArcTanGent? They’re very unique names.
With 2000 Trees, we believed – and still do believe, quite strongly – in various green issues. We wanted to reflect that in the name.
For ArcTanGent…arc’tan’gent is actually the name of an album by a band called earthtone9. We literally sat on the floor with loads of vinyl and CDs, and went through every album and song title and band name that we could think of.
Were there any names that didn’t make it?
There was a Mars Volta song called Tira Me a Las Arañas, which translates as “throw me to the spiders.” So we thought about doing something based around spiders…
You could’ve ended up calling it De-Loused In The Comatorium!
We considered “The Comatorium,” but decided that it was a bit depressing.
Do you have any special plans for either 2000 Trees or ArcTanGent this year?
Well, 2000 Trees is now 12, and ArcTanGent is six. So they’re not big birthdays, but some years we do big changes and other years we do tweaks, if we feel the year before went well.
At 2000 Trees, I think last year was one of the best years we’ve ever had. So the main thing we wanted this year was a stronger lineup with bigger headliners. So we’ve got At The Drive In and Enter Shikari, plus Twin Atlantic – and that’s definitely a big step up for us.
At ArcTanGent, we’ve changed the main stage – and this is the first time I’ve mentioned it, actually. It’s going to be completely undercover this year, so rain or shine, it’ll keep people dry. But other than that, it’s down to getting the lineup right. That’s the key.
As the person who gets the bands and the lineup together, how do you discover music and find the right acts for each festival?
The research process is to have a lot of people who I respect in the music industry – from booking agents to label managers, PR companies, and so on…they do the filtering for me. So instead of me listening to all of the 10,000 new bands in the world, you listen to the 500 that people have recommended.
If a band are getting recommended by, for instance, Holy Roar Records, and they’ve signed a band, I’m going to listen to them. Because I really respect that label, and I think they’re putting out a lot of amazing records. Same with Big Scary Monsters, or Devil PR; if they tell me to listen to a band, then I do.
Then it’s working out which ones to book. You’ve got bands that nobody’s heard of, and bands that are really big, and everything in between.
When you’re working out the order of each lineup, I’d imagine that can be tough. For headliners, maybe you’d go by audience size, but below that level, how do you make those choices?
I have a spreadsheet that shows me which bands clash with which bands – and if you’ve booked two hardcore bands, or two pop-punk bands, you don’t want the hardcore bands to be on at the same time, and the same goes for the two pop-punk bands. It doesn’t make sense.
Yeah – it means that people don’t really get a choice between one style and something else.
I do a lot of work to try and make sure you don’t get stupid clashes. That’s just going to piss off the audience, and the bands as well. But in terms of higher up the bill, the biggest band goes at the top, second biggest band goes second.
It can get quite political within the industry, arguing about which bands go where.
How do you manage that, as the person who’s stuck with that decision?
You have to discuss it with the booking agents and band managers, and make sure everyone’s happy. It isn’t just a case of I make the decision and then everyone has to deal with it – there’s a long process of discussion in order to get there.
What do you do outside of 2000 Trees and ArcTanGent?
I used to do a lot of band management, but I don’t do any now.
The festivals are my full-time job, but I also do a bit of promoting in Bristol. I did quite a few shows recently with The Wonder Years, Arcane Roots, And So I Watch You From Afar, Jamie Lenman…all the usual 2000 Trees and ArcTanGent bands. When they come to Bristol, I’ll be the promoter. But the festivals are my full-time job now. No more accountancy!
How does it feel to have made that transition?
It’s been so long that all that stuff feels like a dream that never really happened! Or a nightmare [laughs]!
How would you like to see the music industry change? Like you were saying, a lot of festivals have had issues in recent years – and then you have the arguments about a lack of female rock and metal musicians in festival lineups as well.
I’d like people to realise that smaller festivals are the more rewarding experience as a punter. So people diverting their attention from the Readings and Downloads to events like 2000 Trees and ArcTanGent.
I think we’ve got a long way to go with gender equality, and that’ll be a long-term process.
Yeah – there are so many stages where women experience resistance against them getting involved in rock ‘n’ roll. It really starts in childhood – maybe it’s their parents, other relatives, teachers they have at school, their peers or siblings…if they do get past that and form a band, then there can be resistance from the industry, or people behaving in a patronising way. It often goes without being acknowledged.
The important thing for me as a booker is to not be part of that resistance. To make sure that you are absolutely not resisting. I agree with what you just said – a lot of it takes place when people are still children, and they get stereotyped and told that girls don’t play in rock bands and so on.
I don’t want to be a part of that – and I believe strongly that I’m not a part of it. I’d like to think I’m aiding women in the music industry; we’ve got a lot of women working with and for us at 2000 Trees, in all sorts of teams.
I think there’s a good representation on our lineup as well, more so than a lot of other festivals.
Besides that, you have a lot of families coming to 2000 Trees especially – families with clearly cool parents. A lot of what we were just talking about has to do with parenting, so with families coming to your festivals you can connect with people who are being more supportive of children who want to be a part of the music scene as well. A lot of people have their first real musical experience at festivals and live shows.
Absolutely, yeah. I love it when I see kids in the crowd, checking out the bands.
Besides that, another thing that’s been flaring up a lot recently is this whole idea that rock is dead, the guitar is dead, and so on. As the booker for two very guitar-centric festivals, what do you think of all that?
It’s demonstratively not true. Not true.
Maybe the big behemoth rock bands are on the way out; maybe there’ll never be another Metallica or a new Iron Maiden. But that’s fine. I’m quite happy with the Metallica that we’ve got.
What I get excited about is Brutus, or Ground Culture, or Fan Club…I’m excited about the new bands. Those bands are not dead. The music scene in the UK and further afield is really, really strong. There’s a really strong rock scene out there.
Holy Roar Records is the epitome of that. Everything they’re releasing recently is amazing. I love the Boss Keloid album, I love the Conjurer album, the MØL album. There’s nothing dead about it.
Do you ever get frustrated with the fact that there are so many bands in the underground who deserve more large-scale recognition, and are world-class? Say bands like Arcane Roots, Black Peaks, Jamie Lenman…people in the mainstream seem very preoccupied with looking up at the top of festival bills and looking back in time, rather than exploring things that are out there, but slightly obscured from view in comparison to the mainstream and the exposure bands get there…
Yeah. The Arcane Roots album last year, Melancholia Hymns, was amazing. Those bands are actually releasing better albums than a lot of the bigger acts.
Who needs another Judas Priest album? We don’t need it. Let’s go listen to the new Black Peaks album, or Brutus. They’re way more satisfying.
So looking back at so many festival lineups, is there any one moment that stands out as a peak achievement?
Honestly, I think it’s coming this summer. If you told me twelve years ago that I’d ever book At The Drive-In, I wouldn’t have believed it. So the fact that At The Drive-In are going to stand on my stage, playing my festival, and I booked them…I just can’t get my head around it.
This might sound a bit cheesy, but the thing I love most is sharing. I put this festival together with my best friends, and I’m booking my favourite bands and sharing it with them. There’ll be moments during the festival where I’m stood at the side of the stage watching a band, and it’s just an amazing feeling.
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