Curated by a team of passionate promoters, Washed Out Festival champions the underground and quirky independent music venues that the town has to offer, as well as celebrating diversity and community within the scene.
Since its inception, Washed Out Festival has gone from strength to strength, firmly rooting itself as a not-to-be-missed event in the UK DIY punk calendar.
Sophie Porter catches up with the festival’s founder, Patrick McNaught, to find out more:
Sophie Porter: Pat, tell us a little about your background in music?
Patrick McNaught: Like a lot of teenagers in the early 2000s, I was obsessed with punk rock culture. I discovered this mostly through my dad’s CD collection, MTV2, skating, the Tony Hawk games and Jackass. I played in punk rock bands whilst in school and college which got me involved in the local scene. Throughout my late teens and early twenties, I attended punk shows within the Portsmouth and Southampton punk scenes on a weekly basis. This led me to putting on my first show when I was 21. I have no idea how many I’ve done now but my CV says over 100, which I think is pretty close. I ran a record label with a friend of mine for a couple of years and created club nights in both Brighton and Portsmouth. I now play in a punk rock band called Weather Balloon, which is just a casual thing, but bags of fun. And of course, the festival.
SP: What festivals did you go to growing up?
PM: My Dad took me to my first festival, Reading Festival 2002 when I was 11. When he told me that we were going to Reading Festival I thought it was a festival for books until he told me that Reading was a city (I was 11, allow it) and that Foo Fighters and Less Than Jake were playing. I continued going to Reading throughout my teens with my Dad then later with friends, highlight of which was seeing Rage Against the Machine in 2008. As a teenager, I was also a huge fan of day festivals such as Give It A Name which was an emo/punk rock festival in London in the mid-2000s. Southsea Fest was a massive inspiration for Washed Out Festival. I grew up in Portsmouth, so naturally I love that we had a city festival which had a bunch of decent alternative artists performing. We'd all hang out at the Southsea DIY or the hardcore stages. Two more important festivals from the past were Hevy Fest and Southampton's WTFest. All three of which are now dead - RIP.
SP: What drew you to events management?
PM: Originally, I wanted to recreate what I had seen in the Southampton DIY scene in Portsmouth. I admired what Ricky Bates at The Joiners was doing with Wrong Way Wrong and WTFest. I had always organised house parties as a teenager so really events management was a natural progression (HAHA). But really, I loved the creative, DIY and imperfect elements of the punk scene, and I wanted to help expand it in any way I could. I felt like the shows or club nights didn’t need to be perfect and that allowed me to find my feet with it all. I had been organising club nights and live music events for around a year or two when I was signed off from work and diagnosed with Crohns. I was signed off for around a year and it quickly became very monotonous being at home all day every day and I became frustrated that I was unable to work. I found an Event Management course at BIMM Brighton and decided that it would seem like a good fit for my life at that time, as it was what I was interested in and needed to find work which I could do at home. My passion just grew from there, and I’m still wanting to learn as much as I can and grow as an event manager, even pushing myself out of my comfort zone for different styles of events.
SP: What was the catalyst or motivation to start Washed Out fest?
PM: It began as my dissertation project for my degree. I had already done a lot of one-day, single venue festivals at that point and so I wanted to challenge myself. I had been organising shows in Brighton for a couple of years whilst studying at BIMM, and I was involved in the DIY scene for longer. There were tonnes of incredibly talented bands I’d see come and go without a decent platform to showcase their music outside of small-scale DIY shows. Washed Out would be our chance to make a fuss about these bands and expose them to an audience who would appreciate discovering great new music. I asked my good pal James Hunt to give me a hand and we became a great team. Whilst I relentlessly researched and backward engineered other festivals I had been to in the past, James handled all of the design and we shared the booking duties. We ended up getting a little too ambitious and what was meant to be a two-venue festival ended up being five. I knew I had a student loan coming through a week before the festival so used that as my budget, which in hindsight is pretty dumb. But I knew that this would be my only opportunity to do something this risky, and I took a chance. It worked, thank fuck! It didn’t suck and we broke even for the day which I’m extremely grateful for because any other outcome would have resulted in me not being able to eat or pay rent for my last semester at university.
SP: In comparison to festivals you’ve attended, how did you want Washed Out to be different?
PM: Not to say that other festivals are lacking in any of these things or do them badly, but we had a few core principles which we wanted to build the festival around. Firstly, focusing on promoting DIY bands who don’t get nearly enough exposure, opportunity or credit. It’s no secret that a lot of deserving bands don’t have the platform to share their music, let alone get involved in music festivals, so we wanted to ensure that we invited a lot of bands who we noticed had been working hard, releasing music and touring. This disposition is common with small punk festivals, but unfortunately not as much with other local festivals. Secondly, we wanted it to be affordable and as accessible as we could make a multi-venue festival. And lastly, we always want to do our best to book an interesting, diverse and inclusive line up. My intention for Washed Out was, and will always be, for it to be authentic, forward-thinking and to have a positive impact on contemporary punk culture.
SP: The festival is firmly rooted in DIY punk and arts culture; can you tell us a little about that?
PM: There’s a couple of takes on the DIY ethos; using DIY out of necessity due to lack of funding/facilities, who may later branch out or stay independent but either way, keep the ethics of DIY punk with them. Or staying DIY as an anti-capitalist/anarchic stance or out of principle against the music industry. I’d consider us as the former of the two. Everyone in the Washed Out team has come from the DIY punk scenes and have been involved in that world for most of this decade. It’s where we all learnt the ropes of event and gig promoting. However, I wouldn’t push Washed Out as a DIY festival, purely because I don’t want that to limit us or for us to be called out as faux DIY. Although, yeah, we do 90% of this in house with a small team. I think DIY is good for building yourself a platform and a step up to the next level. So yeah, TL;DR we’ve come from that scene, but won’t limit the festival to operating exclusively in-house and DIY, because it would just be too stressful and not fun. We want to stay independent, avoid unethical corporate funding and work with small and local businesses that carry the same ideals as us.
SP: In what way is community important to the festival?
PM: Washed Out Festival is essentially a celebration of difference DIY scenes and communities in Brighton and around the country. Community is what allowed us to build and continue a sustainable music festival without corporate backing and keep our authenticity. It means that people have a genuine interest in supporting us. Our audience come to see friends, watch bands, make friends and support music. Lots of people who attend local shows end up knowing the bands that tour, so a lot of the audience and bands know each other. The festival is a just a big party for us all to hang out and meet likeminded people with similar interests, and everyone who means well is welcome in our gang.
SP: Smaller independent venues are suffering significantly at the minute, why do you think that is and how does Washed Out help to support to venues in Brighton?
PM: I think life is tough right now for a lot of people, we have less time, money and energy to go to gigs every week. It’s a reflection of the economy and people's life and work balance. The venues we work with have been incredibly helpful and accommodating to us, I honestly believe we have a collection of the best music venues in the country here in Brighton and I think they do more to help us out, although us getting people at their bars all day probably does help! We’ve chosen the venues we have built the foundations of the festival on because their values reflect ours and of course we want to promote the venues that support our vibrant music scene. We think of the relationship as symbiotic.
SP: What can others do to help support venues like these in other cities?
PM: Turn up when it counts. It’s unreasonable to expect people to attend their local venue every week but if everyone made an effort to go see some bands instead of having pre-drinks once a month it would make the world of difference. However, it’s also down to the venues to make people want to come to them too, they need passionate staff and willingness to adapt and change. I think that's also important. From my experience, though admittedly not as much in Brighton, venues blame punters rather than reflecting and working out why people are not attending.
SP: I love that the Washed Out festival website very openly states that you “do not tolerate any hate speech, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ageism etc.”, this sentiment is also reflected in the diversity of the lineup. Why is this important to the festival?
PM: I’ve been guilty in the past, in fact, the first three years of putting on shows, of not booking diverse line ups on the shows I put on. It was only after talking and listening to people from these communities that I realised that more action was needed in order to balance the music industry to what truly reflects society. I am completely anti-fascist and therefore so is the festival, which means supporting minority groups and challenging toxic, bigoted behaviour within the music industry and scenes. Besides, if we were to book all white male rock bands it would be THE MOST BORING FESTIVAL EVER. I don’t think the festival should ever be marketed as this though, we don’t need a pat on the back - this should really be the industry’s default.
SP: On your blog there’s a great advice post for bands about ‘How to get a Festival Slot’. When you’re starting out as a band, that kind of information is vital and often hard to come by, especially if you don’t know where to look for it! Is it important to you as an organiser/promoter to help support bands in their journey from earlier stages?
PM: Yeah definitely it is, but to be honest it also makes my life a lot easier. That article was born from both wanting to help and encourage bands, and my pure frustration. As you can imagine, my inbox becomes a bit chaotic in the months leading up to the festival. All too often messages would get ignored because someone would just email ‘Hi, can my band play Washed Out Festival?’ without any links, information, or on occasion even a band name mentioned. It takes time and resource to reply to these emails, so it just makes life easier for everyone if this information is available. If more bands just got the hang of band admin, I think they could go a lot further.
SP: What’s different about Washed Out this year?
PM: I’m glad and excited to say we have a bigger team. I’m working with a couple of other promoters in order to get a more varied sound. We’ve been joined by Anton Mattock from Hot Wax Promotions and the band Ditz, as well as Greg Adsley of Ceremonial Laptop. They’re both very knowledgeable about other areas of the scene that I hadn’t had as much interaction with. They’ve booked some seriously amazing bands that I had no idea existed until they showed me. We’ve also been joined by Tamarah Green who has been our social media wizard since October. She’s been an invaluable addition. Also Nikki Kilroy, has joined us recently, she’s going to be doing all sorts, she’s been a friend of mine for well over 10 years. It feels more like I’m involved in an established festival this year, which is mind-blowing! We’ve also expanded through Patterns and partnering with The Richmond, which are two new venues for the festival.
SP: What does the future have in store for the festival?
PM: We’ve talked over a whole bunch of mad ideas but realistically I’d like to keep things grounded and continue supporting DIY culture whilst booking bigger artists. Balancing DIY ethics but not allowing it to limit us. Boat parties, pyrotechnics, inflatable dogs, Warner Bros VIP stage which costs more to get in, you get the idea.
SP: I can imagine it’s a toughie, but what are your top 5 not-to-be-missed sets of this year?
PM: Yeah this is a hard one! I’d have to go with these though - Gender Roles, Damn Teeth, Itoldyouiwouldeatyou, Algae Bloom and Doe. All 5 are killing it at the moment and I’m certain their Washed Out performances are set to be classics.
SP: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
PM: Thanks for giving us this interview! And to the public: please show some love and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. We NEED to get the word out to as many people as possible. We also have a great Spotify playlist to blast while you shower, and you can check out and follow some of the best underground UK bands.
Photo credit: Sean Baldwin
For tickets and more information, head over to the Washed Out Festival website or follow on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.
Also take a listen to the official Washed Out Festival playlist here.