I know our focus is normally Midlands-centric, but I wanted to mention the sterling efforts of experimental Leeds-based promoters Forest of Sound before it’s too late – they deliver their final show on 5 June. Started in July 2006 by Paul Elam (the man behind electronica project Fieldhead) and Chris Woolford, their events have evolved to become a fixture in the calendars of leftfield music fans in the North.
I’ve kept an eye on their activities over the last few years and their approach has been a real inspiration to us. I caught up with Paul and Chris via email to discuss the history of Forest of Sound and find out a bit more about their last shows.
Why did you start Forest of Sound?
We met at a mutual friend’s birthday weekend away in 2006 and spent much of the weekend drunkenly bemoaning the apathetic promoters we’d come across in Leeds during our time gigging. We came to the conclusion that if we didn’t like what most of the people we played for were doing, we should do it ourselves. We sobered up, and it still seemed like a good idea, so we did it!
It was important to us that we’d put bands on that we’d genuinely want to watch ourselves, that we’d put time and effort in to promoting them, and that we’d treat everybody involved as fairly. We’d also get to show off our record collections in the gaps between the bands.
We’re always interested in the experiences of other leftfield and experimental promoters. What was the reaction like in the local scene and did you build up a loyal and consistent audience?
The reaction we’ve had from the local scene has changed as Forest of Sound has matured. Originally we focussed more on local bands, specifically in the post-rock/electronic/ indie vein. Coupled with the fact that we got linked with a few bands that were ‘on the up’ at that point (Vessels, Her Name is Calla etc.), we found that we got sizeable audiences, but that it was very much dependent on the band being popular. A couple of gigs we did around that time fell very flat, and there wasn’t much of a consistent audience.
As we moved towards a more ambient/electro-acoustic slant (partly as it was under-represented in Leeds and partly through personal taste) the audience numbers initially dropped, but we’ve found that as we’ve continued we’ve had more of loyal audience coming from further and further away. We’ve become markedly more niche towards the end of Forest of Sound (which is probably partly from Chris taking a back seat due to having a new baby daughter, so my tastes have become more dominant), which has lead to a more niche, but consistent audience.
How has the music scene up north changed since you started and has it got easier or harder over time?
Not really sure how we can answer this for the whole of the north, but in Leeds the scene has noticeably changed since we started. 2005-2007/8 was a bit of a boom time for Leeds in terms of music. It was a city full of great bands, loads of promoters and an enthusiastic audience to sustain them both. A lot of this was to do with the core DIY scene that’s existed in Leeds for a long time giving birth to whole host of bands and promoters who took on their ideals of quality and fair treatment, without necessarily keeping the politics – very true of Forest of Sound.
Couple this with Leeds not having had much of a music scene for many years outside of a hard to access underground, and the excitement of 2005 was easy to understand. As with anything, this initial excitement has now pretty much run out, but we’re left with what’s probably a more mature and sustainable scene in the city, with an infrastructure of venues, bands, engineers and promoters to go with it. It’s still a great city for music, and we’ve always been proud of the quality of bands coming out of Leeds.
Your posters are great and your strong visual aesthetic has definitely inspired us. What’s the process behind the visuals and who designs them?
The majority of the posters have been done by my brother, Elliot. There was no real thought behind the visual aesthetic, other than that we wanted good quality posters and that we trusted Ell to do them, and they always came out brilliantly! Rich Knox (of Gizeh Records) has also done a few, and he’s also excellent.
Forest of Sound Highlights
Glissando at The Fell Foot Woods Festival
Three shows that stand out as high points for Paul:
15 August ’07 – The Pattern Theory, Golden Disko Ship, We’re Not The Cool Kids & Quip
Although not their first gig for us, this one showed us exactly how amazing The Pattern Theory are, and cemented them as probably the perfect ‘Forest of Sound band’. Finding the ‘Theory’ had to be one of the most rewarding parts of the Forest’s life. It’s an amazing feeling to feel like you’ve opened a door for a band (we put on nearly all of their initial gigs) especially when they’re brilliant and they blow straight through it like they did.
Probably the least known bill of any gig we’ve done, probably the most diverse, and one of the most successful.
27 November ’07 – Stars of the Lid, Glissando & Pausal
The Holy Trinity Church
This was probably our overall favourite. Being huge Stars of the Lid fans, getting the chance to put them on in such a beautiful venue and see them make such an awe inspiring noise was as much as we could ever ask from promoting. The gig was just perfect in every way, and Glissando and Pausal were two more excellent bands that just sat right with what we were trying to do.
26 April ’07 – Thee More Shallows, Rose Kemp & randomNumber
This was the first ‘big’ gig we did, and with our first ‘proper’ international touring band. Musically it was fantastic, with Thee More Shallows being especially great…. but it’s also a highlight because it proves to us that we could take more of a risk with (non-local) bands and still get away with it. The atmosphere that night was great too.
Putting our own musical projects on was always fun too. We always enjoyed the buzz of a successful record launch, be it for I Concur, The Declining Winter or Fieldhead, where everyone has a good night and goes home sweaty with a pocket full of cash to reward their hard work. We also can’t forget to mention the outdoor Fell Foot Wood Festival we organised (it was in a proper ‘forest’ of sound!) and witnessing the brilliant Two Minute Noodles go bonkers, leaving all their equipment on stage to run around an actual forest!
The Final Shows
6 May2010: Jasmina Maschina, Tempelhof, Tomorrow We Sail – The Royal Park Cellars
14 May 2010: The Pattern Theory, Conquering Animal Sound, Juffage – The Packhorse
21 May 2010: Tim Hecker, Machinefabriek, Simon Scott – Left Bank Leeds
5 June 2010: Forest of Sound is Dead Glissando, Epic45, The Declining Winter, Golden Disko Ship, Sleepingdog, Brave Timbers, Ithaca Trio – Left Bank Leeds
We’re planning on heading up to Leeds for the final show, it’s going to be an amazing send-off to Forest of Sound. Best of luck to them in their future endeavours!