Festival season is back! Although some UK summer festivals have succumbed to the pressure of the world, other smaller events have been given a chance to re-establish themselves in this brave new landscape. So much so, that events like Altitude Festival in Devon, a small 1500 capacity festival can return with a maxed-out audience and an atmosphere that exceeds it’s humble attitude.
We set off to the festival campsite in the early hours of Friday morning as we had been offered a space in the Music In Devon Initiative (MIDI) tent to try and sell some of our merchandise. As we arrived, we managed to snag a spot in the band camping area which meant we could park the car right next to the tent (score!). Minus the dodgy bed pump that set on fire due to an eBay charging cable that forced us to blow up our beds by mouth – it was a fairly simple setup and we set off to the main site around midday.
I met up with Phil Doodson, one of the festival’s main founders and organisers, who gave me a small tour of the festival and introduced me to a few of the crew members. Straight away, we were welcomed by everyone and were made to feel like part of the team. Each person I met was very hands-on and helped out across the festival site doing various tasks. This is something you don’t get at larger events because a lot of the time the employees are volunteers who are gagging for a free ticket, so there’s usually a lot of space to delegate tasks and very little payout. At smaller events like this, each member of the team tends to spread themselves across multiple jobs to cut down the cost of extra staff. This can sometimes cause a lot of visible stress if it’s not managed properly, but each of the workers I encountered over the day were calm, helpful and really professional. Most of all, they all looked like they were having a great time!
Then I made my way to the MIDI tent, battered and broken from a storm in the early hours of Thursday evening, to meet up with the company director Nick Hall. It turns out that this giant gazebo didn’t have the proper pegs or fixing straps to hold it down, so I kept an eye on the gazebo and Nick head off to grab some industrial sized pegs from a local hardware store outside of the festival.
Shortly after Nick left, we were hit with a gust of wind that knocked the gazebo over along with all of its contents. Luckily nothing was damaged and nobody was hurt, but this did mean I had to spend 40 minutes swinging from the gazebos framework to weigh it down until Nick came back. Once we had the new pegs, I summoned the force of a thousand suns and whacked them into the ground so hard that it would take brute strength to remove them at the end of the festival. Now we are ready to meet some punters!
By around 2pm we were mingling with festival-goers and members of the crew, hearing their thoughts on the event & the return of festivals in general. As a family friendly festival, we found that there wasn’t much of a market for our merchandise and magazines generally, but a lot of the artists and family members of younger musicians came over for a chat to understand what we do. This was our first time selling anything or working with the general public at a festival, usually we spend our time in the press areas interviewing artists and organisers, but we decided that we wanted to really understand what people like about smaller festivals. We sold a few magazines, met some lovely people and had a very easy day with no complications (excusing the runaway gazebo) and by 7pm, we packed down our merch table and set off to see some of the evening acts.
Midi TV at Altitude Festival was a massive success, we spoke to some of the freshest breaking acts, got some amazing footage of performances and festival vibes over 3 days. The weather was ‘challenging’ but once we pegged everything down and fired up the Midi TV Pacman machine, it all clicked into place! Let’s do it again!– Nick Hall, Music In Devon Initiative / MIDI TV
Before I took our stuff back to the car, I caught a bit of Haytors set – a reviewer favourite on our website and a band that I’ve been following since their infancy in Fifth Witness. It’s been a good few years since I had last seen them live (even before the pandemic), so I was very excited to see how well they could perform their tracks as their recent releases had been a pretty big step up from their previous sound. Then, like a proud distant uncle, I watched a band that I’ve seen go through the motions over the years burst on to the stage with a pop fuelled energy, charisma and charm that has been refined to suit them right down to the shoes. This isn’t the same band that I had seen all those years ago. These guys owned the stage, themselves and their identity. I was incredibly impressed on all fronts.
Now, I’m not going to pretend like I didn’t have a few beers by this point. I’m only human, it’s my first festival back doing what I love and I may have been caught up by the atmosphere a bit. The main bar for the festival was really easy to access with hardly any queues and was very comfortable to manoeuvre compared to bigger events, which made it nice and easy to get tipsy pretty quickly. Which for me, doesn’t take a lot anyway!
After a quick scoot back to the tent, I head back down to catch the tail-end of Samantics set who once again proved why he is one of the most desired performers in the underground circuit. I’d heard so many great things about his ability, but witnessing it live is a whole other level. He confidently performs an amalgamation of looped beats, spoken word, rapping, beatboxing, comedy tracks and more to make his incredibly raw and honest sound. A real treat for anyone who managed to catch his set, he gets a very large thumbs up from me!
Soon after, we managed to catch Moriaty after checking out the dance tent (which was heaving all night!) and the main stage by the bar which was busy and full of life in anticipation of the bands performance. Once they hit the stage, the field flooded with bodies and grins were spread as far as the eye can see. We already know Moriaty are a fantastic band, but seeing an audience of people who haven’t seen them before slowly get turned into fans over the course of their set, right before it all ended in a crescendo of stage invasions and belting riffs was nothing short of magical. It’s what music is all about, it’s what festivals are all about and it’s the reason we all keep doing what we are doing. To make moments like that.
We managed to catch up with Jordan and Matthew from Moraity who had this to say about their time at Altitude Festival 2021:
Small festival… massive atmosphere. We had the best time. It really felt like the good old days, everyone was really nice, the crowd were amazing and the sound was beefy. What more could you want.– Jordan, Moriaty
Altitude Festival was such fun for me and us as a band. The people involved should be very proud of the way it went. Everyone was so nice and was so good to see everyone enjoying live music and the company of others again– Matthew, Moriaty
As the night drew to a close, we were played out by the Datura Roots Collective in the bar area who know how to bring the party. Blending ska, reggae, swing and various world music influences to create the ultimate afterparty vibe in the main bar area. Everyone was dancing, I dropped my pint all over my shoes and tripped over the tent straps.
We had to leave early the next day, so we head off to bed and set sail in the morning after grabbing a quick coffee from the main arena. Although our time at Altitude Festival was short, it showed us that small festivals can have the same atmosphere as these large scale events, right down to late night stragglers and backstage boozing. It showed us that quality lineups can be delivered on a smaller scale with the right people booking the acts. Most importantly, it taught us that festivals don’t need to be grandiose and excessive to deliver the same experience as it’s competitors, they just need a small dedicated team who pour their heart into the project to make it happen and truly care about the end result.
Thanks for having us Altitude, we will see you again next year!
Written By: Marcus Osborne