A Lesson in ‘Boombox Failure’ Theory
For a brief spell between 2010 and 2015 the ‘Boombox’ events that took place at the Longmore Hall in Keith pretty much ruled the roost as far as dance music events went in the north-east of Scotland. I’ve seen many dance music events come and go, some more successful than others, but successful none the less. The beauty of what was going on in Keith was simple – the town was a hub on the A96. A central location that was very easy to access from communities such as Huntly, Dufftown, Elgin, Fochabers, Buckie, Banff and Turriff. All less than a half hour journey in any direction.
What promoters and DJ’s rarely realise when they undertake such projects is that everything has a shelf life, and everything comes to an end eventually. For various reasons. You just have to look at any of the major festivals across the land to realise that nothing lasts forever. Take Rock Ness and T in the Park for example. At least the promoters of Glastonbury have the good sense to take a break from time to time. Here I’m going to explore the causes of why your humble local dance music event never lasts forever and measures you can take to extend their life.
So here are my five golden rules if you’re determined to plan a successful house music event. And it’s worth remembering, these rules can apply to just about any genre at any venue…
1. Never allow under aged revellers.
When the first of many ‘Boombox’ events happened in early 2010 (they started life as ‘My House is Your House’), the average age was in the region of 20-35 years old. Which is fairly impressive to capture that demographic. Naturally a lot of those people in that age range would have been frequenting happy hardcore club nights where names like Bass Generator, Hixxy, Toytown etc etc etc during the early 1990’s would have been at the top of their game. Today, there’s still a lot of nostalgia for that kind of thing, and with progressive house coming back on the scene in a big way in 2010 it made dance music ultra cool again after five years of samey Indie rock. There was a lot of enthusiasm for these style of events again. Sure, the tempo was down from 180 bpm to 128 bpm, and the melodies had a much more chilled out feel than the super fast piano riffs of old, but it’s fair to say that house music is all about the vibe… and progressive house provided that for the first time in well over a decade and a half.
However these types of events don’t go unnoticed by teenagers. They want a piece of that action, and there’s nothing they want more than to dress up and go out and behave like a grown up. Teenagers that are usually too young to attend, too young to drink what’s at the bar, and most importantly – are too young for the grown adults that have been frequenting these events. So inevitably it drives grown ups away. As promoters are far more enthusiastic about getting numbers in the door (for whatever reason; to make the place look busier, to get more money), more often than not teenagers always find a way to get past the door staff with fake ID’s, or sometimes simply because nobody is questioning what’s going on. So the demographic of these events changes. Adults stop going because they feel like they’re surrounded by children and before you know it your average age is 14-18. This happened at many of the big trance nights that took place at the Station Hotel in Portsoy during the 2001-2004 period with DJ’s Cheynie and Peapo too.
Once this happens, it’s impossible to go back. You can get tough at the door, clamp down, insist on having a driving licence or passport at the door for ID, but it doesn’t bring back the older party goer. Additionally it makes young people even more determined and more creative in finding ways to get in the door. Just like Pandora’s Box, once it’s opened it can’t be closed.
2. Keep your neighbours happy.
Your event might be taking place for only one night, but your neighbours don’t forget about it. Plan the event four times a year and your neighbours might learn to put up with it. If your event is closing up at 2 am and everyone is lingering outside their homes waiting for a taxi and making lots of noise in the process they’ll get fed up of it very fast. As soon as fighting occurs or damage to their property happens, your event will come up on the radar so hard you’ll begin to wonder why you ever bothered in the first place.
Having had the privilege of sitting in on various meetings over the years that include panels of professionals including the likes of social workers, teachers, community councillors, actual councillors and then inevitably – the local police, nobody wants to stop young people from having fun. But the needs, wants and demands of residents living around your venue will always be weighted in their favour. By the time your public entertainment licence makes its way to the sergeant of your local police station, rest assured that they have the final say in whether or not the council will grant you a licence.
The solution? Encourage your guests to book taxi’s early. Encourage everyone to make their way home as soon as the event is over. A lot of the time people loiter because of a peculiar fear of missing out! It’s 2 am, it’s cold, everyone is drunk, what on earth could possibly happen that’s in the least bit exciting? Encourage your door staff to make sure everyone is moved on quickly. Make sure drinks aren’t taken outside.
If you really want to make a positive impression… put flyers/letters through the doors of residents explaining what’s going on, what they can expect. Or better still – knock on doors! Tell them it will be noisy, and let them know exactly when they can expect things to wrap up. Give them a contact number so they can get in touch with you so they can share their concerns which helps you alleviate their fears. If your event is anonymous with no face or name behind it, believe me – their problems with your event will fester and by the time you come to address an issue that’s boiled over it’ll be a case of far too little, far too late.
3. Never have events too frequently.
It’s fairly simple. Christmas is only once a year, and that makes it a fairly special occasion. And exactly for that reason – it’s only once a year. So if your event is on the calendar once a year, rest assured your event will last a life time, and will last as long as there is the enthusiasm on your part to be the driving force that sees it continue.
Things will start to get complicated when you have an event twice a year. Suddenly it becomes a bit less special. Three times a year – a bit less special still. Four times a year? What you need to consider now is why you’re having the event so frequently. Is there the demand for it? Is attendance so high to warrant it? Or is it because it’s a fantastic revenue generator keeping your pockets lined? People will lose interest if something happens far too often. If you find yourself putting on the same event once a month begin to reign things in a bit. What you have to remember is that nobody has that much money to spend. If your event is taking place in a pub, or there is someone putting on a bar… don’t be driven by what they want. They have much more to gain than you by frequent events. Don’t be afraid to take your foot off the gas to preserve the longevity of what you’ve created.
As soon as you see attendance figures dip significantly, start to scale back your operations immediately. If people lose interest – it’s very difficult to undo again.
4. Keep the law happy.
Law enforcement have one priority above any other and that’s public safety. If they believe that your event poses a risk for any reason they’ll pull the plug and there’s very little warning they’re going to do so. One method I’ve found that works is if the police decide to pull an event early, it’s worth reminding them that everyone in attendance has taxi’s booked for closing time at 1/2/3am etc. If your event is being shut down at 12am, where is everyone going to go in the meantime? That’s right – they’ll be loitering on the street, most likely cold and annoyed with the potential for trouble to kick off.
If you can demonstrate that you’re doing everything you can to keep people safe, the police will always remain on your side. Use fencing to create a secure smoking area. Use wrist bands and tickets to distinguish between different age groups. Fence off areas away from the main road so people don’t come to any harm in high traffic areas. Insist the bar stops serving an hour before closing time and serves only water. Demonstrate you’re doing everything you can to ensure drugs or other illegal substances aren’t being taken. Ultra violet lights are a great way to show up coke stains under the nose.
Show that you’re taking any complaints or suggestions on board. Some of the recommendations from the police may be very difficult to implement, but during the planning stages invite police to meetings and site visits and actively ask for their help and recommendations. This will speak great volumes when officers report back to their sergeants and will ensure you have a public entertainment/alcohol licence for many years to come.
5. Knowing to quit when you’re ahead.
Most events that come to a close do so for two reasons. Events organisers are fed up of bashing their heads against a wall and give up. The second most common reason is usually because they’ve been denied a public entertainment licence. If you know things are just getting a bit out of control and you can see the end is nigh, then don’t persevere. Try something different. Admitting defeat is one thing, trying something else is another. If it’s starting to become pretty damn obvious that you’re fighting a losing battle, then re-evaluate your position and do so quickly! There’s nothing to say you can’t come back to a project and try again in five years time. Sometimes it takes skipping a fraction of a generation to put some perspective on things, and put everything in place that you maybe should have done in the first place.
The benefit of hindsight is always a wonderful thing. There are plenty of other events that can be done. They might not be on quite the same scale, maybe not as impressive, but along the way you’ll meet new people, with different levels of skill and expertise. Over time you’ll find that you’ve became an expert in managing events successfully because you made the right call at the right time due to circumstances you couldn’t have controlled.
Quitting and giving up are two different things. They are different things to different people and when you’ve worked out which is which, and what applies to you – then you’ll know you’ve mastered the ‘Boombox Failure’ theory!