It’s that time of year again – festival season is about to begin. Music fans might be spreading themselves all over the country to see all manner of bands, but one of the greatest alternative festivals is right here in our home city.
In May 2013, a vast number of indie and alternative musicians descended upon Leicester. Among their ranks were the likes of Rolo Tomassi, Nine Black Alps and Sam Duckworth (FKA Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly), as well as many other local and national artists. Between them, they made a huge, beautiful noise across the bank holiday weekend, and the event was a resounding success. This was the first Handmade Festival, and it set the scene for what was to come.
Full disclosure: Great Central’s own Editor-In-Chief, John Helps, is a key part of Handmade Festival, but that doesn’t stop me personally being a big fan who wants to write about it, and if it makes him feel embarrassed then that’s all the more enjoyable for me.
This year marks Handmade Festival’s fifth birthday. Its short life so far has seen performances from a dizzying array of indie, alternative, post-rock and hardcore bands – We Are Scientists, Slaves, Bo Ningen, And So I Watch You From Afar, Three Trapped Tigers, Shonen Knife, Tellison, Eagulls, 65daysofstatic and dozens more. It gets a little bigger each year, drawing more acts and more fans as word spreads about Leicester’s own answer to the might of Y Not, Truck Festival or 2000 Trees – albeit indoors.
The first iteration of Handmade was a spread-out affair, taking in a range of local venues such as Firebug, The Cookie and Bishops Street Church, but in its third year, Handmade moved into the convenient, well-equipped and surprisingly huge O2 Academy – where before bands had been at different areas across the city, now the festival found itself with several sizeable stages all under one (very large) roof. This not only makes things massively convenient in terms of getting from venue to venue and being able to see every act you want to see, but it also means that the festival is pretty much weatherproof – come at me all you like, Thor. I’m going to watch some bands.
Confirmed acts for 2017 include Twin Atlantic, British Sea Power, Frightened Rabbit, Honeyblood Cabbage, Jaws and Pulled Apart By Horses. These are all big names in the alternative scene, and the festival is scaling up appropriately – this year moving into the cavernous O2 Academy One. This, the largest room in the Academy (for those who love facts, its capacity is 1,450 – for those who prefer “alternative” facts, it’s bigger than any venue Barack Obama ever used), but that doesn’t mean that the festival is losing touch with its local roots.
“We’ve slowly grown Handmade every year,” says John about the expansion, “and the audience has grown with it, which is very gratifying to experience. As the headline names get bigger, we try and make sure we keep a flavour of those early years in there – that magic of discovering bands you’ve not heard before, of celebrating the wealth of talent we have in the East Midlands, and reflecting the personalities of the different promoters involved in putting Handmade together, but who also programme shows throughout the year.”
Handmade also features a wealth of talent from other disciplines – each year there’s a thriving comedy stage, spoken word acts, photography and art exhibitions, as well as DJs, the Handmade Cinema and excellent independent food vendors. All of these are predominantly local, showcasing the amazing range of creativity that we have in the Midlands, and they are curated each year by people with knowledge in their individual fields. Handmade is a labour of love for everyone involved, and a huge team of volunteers keeps the wheels turning smoothly.
John is keen to emphasise the role of the volunteer team. “What’s really beautiful about the festival is how supportive of it the city is – so many people give up their weekend, or even longer, to make it happen. The festival has a lot of friends without whom it wouldn’t exist.” From my own personal experience, I can tell you that everyone involved is dedicated to making it an awesome show, and if you haven’t experienced it yet, this year should be something pretty special.
Handmade runs from the 29th to the 30th April at O2 Academy Leicester and Attenborough Arts Centre.