Charlie Anderson spoke to Noah Ball, the man behind Outlook and Dimensions festivals, and the new UK festival We Out Here.
Noah Ball is the founder and managing director of NVS Music Group, the company behind Outlook & Dimensions festivals. He has been a core part of the Croatian festival market, also responsible for Soundwave festival. This year Noah joined up with Gilles Peterson to launch the new UK festival We Out Here. We caught up with Noah to hear a bit about We Out Here and his journey as an independent promoter.
Noah originally attended Liverpool’s John Moores University to study a Fine Art degree, but rather than spending time in the studio he found that he was spending most of his time putting on gigs and club nights. Knowing his passion was music he left his art course and instead moved across the pennines to study Event Management in Leeds. “I spent the next 7 or 8 years in Leeds studying (a bit), and doing as much practical stuff as possible, working for the venue at the university and running weekly nights at The Faversham, Hi-Fi Club and Wire.”
The local scene and Leeds College of Music provided a pool of talent for Noah, and he regularly worked with musicians who were either current students or graduates such as Submotion Orchestra, The Haggis Horns, Kidkanevil. “Andreya Triana was a first year student at Leeds when we started working together. She was actually the singer in the house band for my regular night. It’s great to support artists from the early stages, providing them with opportunities to perform with other musicians, introducing them to other contacts, helping them to develop their careers in some way.”
Staging concerts and club nights was a way for Noah to put on music that he loved, but his heart was set on festivals.
“In my early twenties I knew that festivals was what I wanted to do. I was offering my services to any and all along the way, volunteering to work in different departments at different festivals to get an insight into the many roles and responsibilities.” This involved everything from working on the Make Poverty History Rally in Edinburgh in 2005 to working on the traffic management team at Glastonbury.
As well as putting in the hard work, Noah also benefitted from a stroke of luck. He bought tickets for The Garden festival, Croatia’s first UK-hosted music event. One of the founders of The Garden festival, Eddie O’Callaghan, was previously the owner of The Magnet in Liverpool, where Noah once had a residency as a DJ. Eddie recognised Noah’s name from the PayPal receipt and got in touch, inviting him to DJ at the festival. When he found out that Noah was working as a promoter in Leeds he then offered him the chance to host his own festival in Croatia, on the same site. At that time The Garden was similar to Noah’s own taste in music so he knew he would have to put on something different. “I approached Simon Scott, who runs SubDub in Leeds and I asked him if he wanted to be my partner in this event. He’d been promoting reggae, dub and dubstep nights in Leeds, so between the two of us we put together a line up.” The end result was Outlook festival.
As dubstep became more and more popular, so did Outlook. “We went from 1200 people in the first year to 12,000 in the fourth year and we had to move sites a couple of times during that period. Outlook really caught peoples’ imagination, especially if you were a fan of bass music and sound system culture.”
However, they only lasted one year at The Garden before having to move. “It was a beautiful site in a very rustic, small fishing village. The weight of the basslines from dubstep and dub really carried across the village, scared the fishes and the local residents, so the owners said ‘Can you come back to this location with a different thing?’ So that’s when Soundwave started as an event at The Garden. Soundwave ended up running for 10 years. It was a very small, nice, intimate event. Over the years we managed to put on a lot of acts on the rise just before they turned into Brixton Academy sized artists, such as Bonobo, Little Dragon and Fat Freddy’s Drop and The Cinematic Orchestra. It was a perfect, small weekend away of great music.”
With Outlook festival settling at a new location over the next few years, Noah and his partners then launched Dimensions festival to present a side of music they were deeply passionate about but didn’t quite fit within the Outlook sound. “If you were to place a locality on where the sounds came from, Outlook’s music has its roots in Kingston, London and in part New York, whereas the roots of Dimensions were firmly Detroit, Chicago, Berlin as well as London.”
Meanwhile in the UK, 12 years after Eddie O’Callaghan had spotted Noah’s name on a PayPal receipt, 12 years of successfully running festivals in Croatia, and 2 years after Noah’s company had been running SunFall festival in Brixton’s Brockwell Park, Noah was approached by the team behind Field Day festival, asking him to get involved in the programming of the Friday, a jazz and soul focussed day. “We had Erykah Badu as headliner, and a who’s who of UK jazz filling out the rest of the bill. It was fantastic to see 18,000 people descend on Brockwell Park for a Friday afternoon and enjoy a scene of music that had been bubbling away for as long as I’ve been putting on events. But it seems that now is the time where there’s a lot more hunger for these styles of music and certainly a lot more attention amongst the press. It’s a really exciting time for UK jazz.”
Erykah Badu at Field Day, 2018 by Lisa Wormsley
The success of Field Day and its showcasing of British jazz talent proved to be inspiration for a new UK festival. “I’d approached Gilles Peterson a few years ago to see if he was interested in working on an event together but the timing wasn’t right. It wasn’t until Gilles saw real, actual hunger for jazz that Friday at Field Day that he came round to the idea of us working on a UK event together. Luckily, at the same time, we were in talks with the owners of the Secret Garden site who were open to the idea of us presenting a new festival on their grounds.” This was the starting point for We Out Here festival.
“It’s one of the most exciting projects I’ve ever worked on. I’ve wanted to deliver an event that has the depth of programming that only someone either totally crazy or totally inspired would do. Working with Gilles allows the programme to be so deep and so out there that I can’t wait. He was one of the first acts to play at our club night some 15 years ago. He’s one of the biggest influences on thousands of people’s musical tastes in the UK. The number of artists that everyone hears first on his show is phenomenal. His show has always been instrumental to my taste, and that has a major impact on what I book at the events that I run, and the direction of the events that I run.”
With such a diverse range of US and UK acts at We Out Here, Noah is enthusiastic about the four-day festival. “It’s going to be difficult to know which stage to be at, at any one time. The team we have is fantastic, the line up is fantastic, and I know it can be the nicest crowd of any festival. Great music attracts a great crowd. This is going to be a weekend of fantastic music, all of the right things are in place.”
One of the stages at We Out Here will focus on supporting up-and-coming talent. “We’re going into partnership with Arts Council England with a programme to showcase some of the best of this talent from across the UK. The London jazz scene has benefitted massively from a magnifying glass on it over the last couple of years, so we sought out great musicians in other pockets of the country, and discovered some fantastic artists from Manchester, Leeds, Nottingham and Bristol. We hope to develop this programme as the years go on. It’s the perfect event and platform for artists within our realm of music to come together and do some networking, get some inspiration and perform in front of crowds of people who have hungry ears.”
Noah is also enthusiastic about We Out Here festival being open to everyone. “The festival site is family friendly. We’re friendly to everyone, and we’ve got plenty of things to do for all ages, and some great food offerings. But we also have five late night venues where people can dance into the early hours. It’s going to be an amazing mix of people.”
We Out Here Festival
15th – 18th August, 2019
Abbots Ripton, Cambridgeshire
Interview by Charlie Anderson.
Photos by Lisa Wormsley.