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Trailblazers catches up with the team behind independent UK music festival Strawberries and Creem, who talk about the challenges and rewards of festival organising
By Anna Grace on 17 Apr 2019
Welcome to the latest edition of Trailblazers – IQ’s regular series of Q&As with the inspirational figures forging their own paths in the global concert business.
From people working in challenging conditions or markets to those simply bringing a fresh perspective to the music world, Trailblazers aims to spotlight unique individuals from all walks of life who are making a mark in one of the world’s most competitive industries. (Read the last Trailblazer interview, with Kingdom Collective’s Nick Griffiths, here.)
This week, Trailblazers holds its second joint interview, with Chris Jammer and Louise Young of Cambridge-based, independent music festival Strawberries and Creem.
Founded by a team of five friends in 2014, Strawberries and Creem started out as an 800-capacity summer garden party. Now in its fifth year, the event has grown to accommodate 15,000 festivalgoers annually to its home on the outskirts of Cambridge, UK.
The festival has welcomed the likes of Skepta, Nelly, Wiley, Octavian, T-Pain, Shaggy and Shy FX over the years. Recognised for its high levels of diversity, Strawberries and Creem received a highly commended accolade for inclusivity in Festicket’s 2018 awards.
Strawberries and Creem returns this year on Saturday 15 June for its largest event to date, with performances from Stefflon Don, Ms Dynamite and Sean Kingston, among others.
IQ talks to festival co-founder Jammer and head of operations Young about Strawberry and Creem’s journey from a “party in a field” to a legitimate music festival, future ambitions and the satisfaction of putting on a successful event.
How did you get your starts in the industry?
Jammer: I stumbled across the industry if I’m perfectly honest. I was studying land economy at university with the intention of working in finance. My first real experience in the industry came as a club promoter for local club nights in Cambridge.
This is where I met [fellow co-founders] Will, Frazer, Sam and Preye. As a group of mates we were just putting on events for the fun of it and not really following any rule book. We just did what we saw fit and wanted to do at the time.
Young: Chris stole my line! I was working in finance when I was looking for something that would be more creative and more active. I’ve always been very organised and a bit of a control freak, so when the boys had the idea to start the festival they needed someone to bring it all together and I was in the perfect position to do so.
Can you tell me about your current roles?
Jammer: My current role is head of brand and business development. I assist on the partnership deals we do too. There is a lot of crossover within the business as you would expect with a small team.
My main focuses are developing the brand and working out new revenue streams to keep us moving forward into new spaces. We don’t just want to be a music festival. Strawberries & Creem and [fellow Cambridge-based festival] The Cambridge Club are bigger than that. I have input on both the site content side of things, along with what we put out on social media and our marketing as well.
Young: I do all things operations and event management. Day to day, I’ll be doing anything finance-related to security planning to artist liaison. It’s extremely varied and as Chris says there is a lot of crossover, we all support each other to make sure that we achieve what we set out to achieve. Although I’m not sure you’d catch the boys in a police intelligence meeting or talking about the medical provisions – that fortunately is where we all play to our strengths!
“We’d love to get to the point where we have such a strong brand that people will buy a ticket to the festival just because they want to be there, not only based on the line-up”
Who, or what, have been the biggest influences on your career so far?
Jammer: The likes of P Diddy and Dr Dre who have built empires out of doing something they love have really influenced me and my career. I love that they both didn’t stop with making music and have branched out into different industries, and I want our brands to be able to do that in the future too.
Young: For me, it’s generally other festivals and events. We’d love to get to the point where we have such a strong brand that people will buy a ticket to the festival just because they want to be there and they trust our reputation thanks to past experiences, not only based on the line-up.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Jammer: For me the most rewarding aspect of this job is the clean up and debrief week after the festival – knowing what we have just pulled off. Working all year primarily for one event is often scary and there is a lot of pressure on having a successful day. That feeling of knowing you have achieved what you set out to do 12 months prior is priceless.
Young: I don’t often get much spare time in the months surrounding the festivals, they become quite a blur. But I do try and stand at the back of the stage for a few songs and just watch people’s faces in the crowd. The joy on everyone’s faces is just amazing and reminds me of the whole reason why we do the festivals – to create that feeling, that happiness for all of our crowd.
And the most challenging?
Jammer: The November/December period is always hard for me as it’s so far away from the next festival and the buzz of summer has worn off. It’s really hard to keep motivated at that time of year for me personally. Hopefully this will change his year as we branch out a bit more and have other projects to work on!
Young: It’s the responsibility. We strive to get as many people to the festival as possible, we’ve grown massively year on year but with that comes the increased responsibility and stress. My job is to make sure everyone has an amazing but also a safe time. You hear some horror stories about festivals but I strive each year to make sure I put everything in place so nothing like that happens in our field.
“I don’t like that artists or events are sometimes put in a box, pigeonholed into certain genres and vibes”
What achievements would you say you were most proud of?
Jammer: I think I’m most proud of being in a position as a company to have a number full time employees. In the early years when myself and Lou were working full time on this we couldn’t afford to pay ourselves enough to live comfortably. Being able to support two more members of full time staff now is a great feeling to have.
Young: I’d definitely agree with Chris, we have grown from a party in a field to an official company, which now means people can earn a living doing what they love doing. I’m also extremely proud of the fact we have all remained the best of friends. It’s extremely challenging and stressful at times, and a few choice words are often exchanged, but we all just get on so well and still love each other at the end of the day!
What, if anything, do you think the music industry could do better?
Jammer: I’d love to see a real push for more diversity across the board and more of a blurring of the lines. I don’t like that artists or events are sometimes put in a box, pigeonholed into certain genres and vibes.
Previously we’ve been labelled a ‘grime’ or an ‘urban’ festival because we’ve had grime MCs at the top of the bill. But we celebrate a wide range of genres from D&B to house to dancehall. Often artists or events are labelled incorrectly which I don’t think is necessary – just enjoy the music for what it is!
Young: Something that we’ve tried to do this year, get more female artists on the line-up. There is still a massive divide between female and male artists, and across other industries too. I’ve also found that lots of the key roles within festival management are male-led, but I always try and work with female contractors where possible and encourage more to get into the industry.
What advice would you give to someone hoping to make it in live music/entertainment?
Jammer: Be brave and be bold. I think we have been very ambitious in what we have set out to do. It has of course been important to think carefully about what we are doing and not to be too bullish without planning, but dreaming big has certainly helped to get us to where we are today.
Young: Know what your goal is and stick to it. There is so much competition and people will often try and lead you down certain paths but stay true to who you are and focus on what you want to achieve.