Since you’re reading this it’s likely you’ll end up at the Spiegeltent at some point this month. But if you head down there on May 19th you’ll see the place transformed in a unique way. Fail Better Productions have been given the run of the venue for a whole day and are planning an impressive mash-up of music and multimedia fun for all ages. As local promoters, they’ve been putting on gigs in Brighton for several years and have consistently championed local bands as well as pulling in choice acts from elsewhere. We caught up with Sonia, one half of the Fail Better team, to find out what they have in store for us.
Tell us about Bigger is Better… What kind of night will it be?
Our Spiegeltent takeover is a multi-venue, multi-genre, multi-generation party with something for almost everyone that will last for 16 hours! We’ve got an eclectic mix of musicians, comedians, DJs, poets, circus performers, interactive mini venues, solo singers and sixty-strong choirs. We’re hosting all manner of creative eccentricity for you to get involved in, spread across all five venues of the Spiegeltent.
What kind of acts can we expect?
The live line-up includes Town Of Cats, Buffo’s Wake Big Band, Ceilidh Boom, Paranoid Void, Around About Dusk, Jorge’s Hot Club, Dr Bluegrass, Nine Dead Mice and Fukushima Dolphin. We’ll also have DJs who will be playing everything from global funk and Balkan beats to drum’n’bass, Latin anthems and 80s favourites. We’ve got a lot of interactive elements too: choir singing, sea shanties, electro-ceilidh, 8-bit karaoke and competitive silent disco. There will also be an assortment of acoustic oddities, including songs and stories from the Burning Glass, ragtime and musical saw duets, poems from Chris Parkinson (Brighton’s famous poet!) and audio-visual projection/soundtracks from Ravine Machine in a vintage cinema bus. Plus a team of posties delivering your love letters across the site.
Sounds like quite a night, what’s happening during the day?
We wanted to make sure that families and children are included, so there’s a varied daytime programme across the site, including a young musicians’ concert in the main tent. And we’re throwing open the venue for a host of free daytime activities – including baby and toddler music classes and student recitals led by the Under The Bridge Studios team. There will also be sea shanty workshops hosted by Homeward Bound Shanties and performances of khorovod songs by the London and Brighton & Hove Russian Choirs. (This concert is free entry, but there will be a collection for a Ukrainian charity.) Basically, our task was to create a day-long party to fit with the Spiegeltent’s general atmosphere, so, naturally, there are a lot of upbeat bands playing music of different genres and a circus sideshow of fire-spinners, stilt-walkers and contortionists as well as poets and comedians. Among the highlights are internationally renowned klezmer duo Polina & Merlin Shepherd along with the Polina Russian choir and Japanese band Paranoid Void whose set will be accompanied by aerial performances.
What else have you got coming up?
This month we’re also doing a H8 ESC triptych: an all-dayer at the Albert on the 9th and two street parties on the grounds of Detour Vintage (near the Green Door Store). H8 ESC gigs are exciting because we get to work with some of our favourite bands (Big Slammu, Human Leather, Mullholland, Gurf – the line ups are massive) and favourite friends to comment on THE INDUSTRY. These gigs are the best because it’s a communal effort: we cook food, buy a lot of drinks, play loud music and celebrate our apartness from glossy, influencer-filled, frantically territorial music BUSINESS.
How do you feel about what happened to the Alternative Escape?
I am actually unaware of the Alt Esc now because we can’t care less. I just don’t get people’s gullibility when it comes to this “festival of new music” with gatekeeper rules for the local artists. Working with local unsigned bands devoid of pretension feels great. We are doing our own thing. No one tells us to sell x number of tickets, no one cares if they headline (eyeroll) or play at 5pm, and we have zero exclusivity rules, unlike you know who… It’s great to be a part of subculture as opposed to mass culture and we don’t have any desire to be a part of the latter.
Fail Better events always have impressive visuals, how important is that side of it for you?
All of our gigs are themed. It makes it much more interesting for us to curate and promote shows and it makes us excited about the individual events, and hopefully that spills over. The themes are usually humorous and they make our gigs distinct from one another – and the visuals carry layers, references and easter eggs; they tie everything together and show that we care.
Which shows were most fun to work on?
Usually there is a lot of cutting, gluing, spray-painting and random objects that surprise-surprise we already have at home. For our gig of excess at The Old Market, we used a renaissance painting by Giuseppe Arcimboldo for the poster (you know, a guy’s bust constructed from various vegetables and flowers) and then decorated the stage to mirror the poster. It was A LOT of handmade flowers and many litres of fire retardant (health and safety first!) but it did look great against all odds. The Spiegeltent takeover is a somewhat natural progression from that last Big event at The Old Market and came out of the need for our creative egos to do something new on a Bigger and more challenging scale.
It’s not your first time putting on shows for children, how have they been going?
Children’s gigs have been such a rewarding heart-melting experience for us. We’ve put on young musicians at the Hope & Ruin and the Brunswick. As a parent of young children who are learning to play music, I feel that these kinds of gigs are incredibly important for families who are traditionally excluded from quality live music events. We know of a bunch of kids who attended our events and decided to start learning instruments. And the kids who have played want to play again and again, and it’s made them practise and get better. It’s still work in progress as we’d like to have more children and teachers involved, but so far it’s been an invaluable and, apologies for the cliché, inspiring experience.
So how did all this start?
Fail Better was formerly known as Fresh Lenins and it started very unassumingly as an inside joke between me and my partner – we were making memes. One day we decided to put on a gig and we were required to give a name of an ‘organisation’ in order to book a venue, and that’s how our learn-on-the-go operation began. The gig was a success (how could it not have been – it was at the Bee’s Mouth with 30 cap) and we got a taste of doing things our way. Since then, we’ve organised over 100 (maybe 200?) shows, small and big with local and international artists, received Arts Council recognition three times and went on tour to Japan. And we are only starting.
What is the Fail Better mission statement?
We don’t have a mission statement carved on our office wall (obviously, we don’t have an office). We just want to carry on working, doing what we love, playing music, facilitating quality live music events and giving a platform to eccentrics. Our motto is to try to create enjoyable and meaningful experience for bands, audiences and everyone involved.
Bigger is Better, The Spiegeltent, Friday 19th May 2023
Tickets available here
Photos by Steve Churchill