INTERVIEW: TUSK Festival | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Reliably informed

Words: Lee Etherington

This is our 10th year and the choice was to either do TUSK Virtual or do nothing, so there was no way we were going to take the year off. It felt like we should try to do something big and substantial to make up for the rest of the world cancelling.

We were cautious at first but we also had the advantage a fair bit of streaming experience, it’s just that we hadn’t presented an entire festival online in this way before. So we had to basically devise a totally new format for TUSK. I think at first we agreed a 14-day format and it didn’t occur to us how big a job it was, and it seemed to get bigger the nearer we got to the first day.

We also gave a huge amount of trust to the artists we work with to send us in their pieces (we had over 50 new performances) and with little or no time to reject/replace anything, but that was never an issue – everything we got sent was fantastic and it’s hugely reinforced our faith in the survivability and resilience of art and music and the artists we work with. It was a total headlong rush too – basically a year’s work in six months and in a totally new format, so we’re over the moon with the outcome.

Opening with Sun Ra Arkestra was a dream; putting together a digital festival changes several rules quite a lot – we could normally never afford the Arkestra, and ultra-busy folks like Matana Roberts have proved hard to pin down to an in-person TUSK show in the past, so we embraced the possibilities and dived straight in. I think we gave a great picture of a vibrant music scene in the North East too – I think we had 14 North East acts and they were all fantastic. So many highlights though – MC Yallah followed by Horse Lords worked very nicely I thought, and giving a sense of life in other parts of the world, like Yan Jun’s piece in a lift in Beijing. But then Blóm were on fire, eh?!

I felt more like a TV producer than a festival producer, but I really loved the different way of working and the different possibilities and doing little touches like the idents and so on. We’ll definitely be taking some of the things we’ve learnt into future TUSKs, I’d be amazed if we went back to a straight ‘live’ festival after this. I really don’t know if a ‘live’ TUSK is likely next year – if the conditions allow (and we get our funding) then it will happen ‘live’ but we’ve loved this way of working and I’m sure that’ll change how we do things in the future.

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