(4th December 2003)
Three, that's the magic number. Three times one. What is it? Three, that's the magic number. Jo, Dave and Andy are Bad Timing. Three. They put on the Cambridge legs of the recent Warp and Rephlex tours and their irregular nights at The Portland Arms often feature The Man From Uranus to playing his theremin with a rubber boot. That's the magic number.
It's three times one. And the one? That's their missionary zeal for the music and for getting out there and doing it. In fact, all they really wanted to talk about how to go about putting gigs on and they've written a guide for us.
Additional information: Dave records as Ascoltare and runs Tripel records. Andy has a yet unnamed record label on the go and Jo moonlights as PDA.
I like it when bands interview each other. So if you've got any questions as we go along..
D: I've got a question. What was your first gig, and did it change your life?
A: Not really sure. One of the first gigs I remember going to was Gary Clail in Coventry. It did change my life because I've never come across anything that had such a loud PA since. It was that cliché of feeling your bowels move and it was a massive long hall as well.
Do you aspire to that kind of PA now?
J: The first gig I want to admit to was the Cocteau Twins but my actual first gig was Ultravox when I was twelve. I've been obsessed with Vienna ever since.
The place or the song?
ha. The song.. then the place.
D: I lived in Malaysia where there weren't any gigs. I came here when I was about 18 so the fist gig I saw was Autechre at the Boat Race.
And did that change your life?
D: Well the thing is, I was listening to that kind of subversive music before and it was nothing I hadn't heard before because I was listening to music at great volume in my living room.
Tell me how Bad Timing started.
Jo brought the idea up because the Spare Toasters night was closing down.
It used to be on the second Wednesday of every month, I think. It was
started by Al Brooker, the Gwei-Lo guitarist, and Kev Lasker, one of the
guys in Novaphon, the noise group with whatsisname from Skullflower. Anyway
the night eventually folded. By the end of it there was no focus and it
degenerated into people just DJ-ing.
And it got less varied and more beat-orientated.
It started with a principal of being a mixture of live and DJs.
they just decided not to do and there was nothing else at that point.
Jo was saying that she'd done nights before in Brighton and she'd done
stuff for LEAPS..
.. in particular I wanted to put bands on. LEAPS is an experimental arts
project, with lots of electronic music, very focussed on artists in Cambridge
and original music. So I was saying that we really needed to replace Spare
Toasters because we had nowhere else to go out to.
It was a sad and depressing time, really.
J: It ran for two years which is about the average for that kind of thing.
And when did you start Bad Timing?
J: We started in November 2001.
So you're just about ready to pack up then?
J: Ha ha ha. I must admit, having got to two years, I can see why. We've been quite lucky with the amount of money we've lost but I think a lot of people do worse. We limit the amount of things we put on and try and publicise them as well as possible.
Did you meet at Spare Toasters?
D: Well Jo used to DJ there and I'd played a few gigs there and I used to live with Al, and I was in Gwei-Lo with him. There was almost a scene, but it was a struggle, there were nights when it was completely empty and there weren't that many well-known acts - just obscure stuff. Which was probably why I liked it. It did take risks.
really we just took that over and changed the name and went from there.
I can't remember what our first Bad Timing was, can you?
It was a Tripel night - yourself, Pete Um and Andy Coleman.
At that time it was a case of trying to get people to chip in and make
the night work. I remember asking anyone to who wanted to to get involved
but in the end it just came down to us three. People initially were enthusiastic,
but nothing came of it.
We've always had a small group of artists who are prepared to play, but
maybe a bigger group than Spare Toasters had: Pete Um, The Man From Uranus..
So yeah, I suppose the point is that there was almost a proper electronica
scene, or underground music scene, the sort of things that we wanted to
put on that could sustain itself. There were only a handful of groups
but it was important enough that it shouldn't be allowed to evaporate.
J: It's always been an important part of what we do, to help people get more exposure by giving them support slots when we get bigger bands in. Some people think that if you just give people a chance to perform in their home town everything else will just sort itself out, but I don't think it works like that.
So how did you start getting the bigger bands in?
It started through Dave's contacts, didn't it? The first outside gig we
did was with Lo recordings.
Yeah, I knew John at Lo and he opened us up to some of their artists.
I think it was just a case of emailing people and being very sincere and
saying, you know, that we might not be the most successful night ever
but we've only just started. We were just honest. The key to getting bands
to play is understanding where they're coming from musically and booking
the right kind of support, making them feel comfortable as artists and
the rest will just come.
lot of bad gigs are where the artists go and play and they're not put
in an environment they're comfortable in, perhaps they're supporting a
goth band or something.
Or the promoter doesn't understand their music, or even like it.
You get all those ingredients right and making some money out of the gig
is the last thing on their mind. And if they do want loads of money, they'll
just say so in the initial email and that'll be it. But sincerity is the
Unless they're an act that you know will make money on.
Yeah, we've taken on some people who want more money.
We have two approaches. For people that we like but we know are not going
to pull many people then we'll take the approach that whatever we make,
they can have, which most people take as an honest approach and we can
cover travel expenses if we pick people who live within a reasonable radius.
Then there's the other thing of booking people through agents who want guarantees, which are substantial. But if they're bigger names like Venetian Snares or Kid 606 then people will come out. You have to make an intelligent judgement based on your knowledge of that sort of music to decide which are the bands who will bring a lot of people in.
Back at the very beginning, was it difficult to book bands when you really had no idea whether there was any audience at all?
When we booked the Charlottefield, on Fat Cat, they played to absolutely
We were learning lessons about the large proportion of the year when you
can't put gigs on. That applies to lots of other towns as well - the student
year is very important, especially for our type of music. We didn't know
It's not also the case that we feel like a certain size audience is guaranteed
for any given artists. We still get the fear, an hour before the show:
is anybody going to come? Does anybody even care about this?
of the best ones, in terms of a really good turnout that I was really
pleased with, was Isan. We thought, you know, does anybody really know
them? Because people who're passionate about them will come from miles
around - and that turned out to be true, people travelled from Canterbury.
But we still weren't sure about getting a respectable audience. Also,
it was the first Saturday night we'd done as well. And it just worked
out. But it could equally not have been a success.
D: It's hard to know what brings people in. Sometimes I wonder whether flyering does anything, or whether it's a personal thing.
The thing is that flyers are an accepted way of publicising yourself and a certain set of people are looking for you through flyers, so you need to flyer to find them - a kind of hardcore audience. The problem is that the majority of people who see flyers aren't interested in them.
J: Yeah, if somebody hasn't heard of something then giving them a flyer won't make any difference. I've spent enough nights standing outside the Boat Race to know that.
When I see someone flyering now, even for ten percent off Big Macs or something, I always take a flyer off them because I know how soul-destroying it is. And I never throw it straight on the floor or in a bin, I take it round the corner.. and then throw it in a bin.
A: It definitely changes your opinion of certain activities that go on at gigs - the people doing the door or putting out flyers or whatever. You understand what it is that they're going through.
When you started, and you had no history behind you, how did you go about getting "proper" bands, bands who you didn't know, bands you'd heard on the radio or whatever, to come to Cambridge to play? ("come to Cambridge where we don't know how many people are going to turn up and we don't know how much we'll be able to pay.")
A: It's awkward, because it didn't happen for us that way. I think Kid 606 was the first "press" act we put on in September 2002. That was a case of just thinking, certainly from my point of view, surely people will come out for Kid 606, surely there's 100 people who'll want to see him. Obviously, you have doubts about it, and in fact there weren't 100 people.
I remember I'd seen many times people saying on their websites "if you want to book some shows in Europe, get in touch." We dared to presume that he could come and play here just as well as anywhere else, thinking that, of course, everybody else would be that much more professional and better than us..
J: I think you do look at other towns and venues the bands are playing at. If somebody can play Cardiff, they can play here.
A: For years, I didn't understand why bands I liked weren't getting booked to play in Cambridge. People just don't understand the way that bands get booked. Naively, I assumed that it was purely venues that book people but then I realised that people can take it into their own hands to book shows.
D: You can just look at bands that are just upcoming and don't expect a huge amount of money and they want to fill in another date and another place to promote their new CD and they'll probably do it for transport costs. They might have three other shows that are going to pay well, and they can see that you're sincere and they'll just do it. That's a good way of breaking through the "local band" thing.
J: We did that for a few months. We were working with people from London and..
D: .. people like The Charlottefield and John Callaghan from Warp. He wasn't really on Warp at the time, but we could put Warp on the flyer and he wasn't some character who was known by every beat-bashup kid on the block.
J: We had about four or five months doing gigs at that level so we weren't putting on Kid 606 with no experience at all.
How did you hook up with the Logarhythm people? [Logarthym run national tours for people like Warp and Rephlex]
A: That came about through Venetian Snares who put us in touch with Joanna Seguro who's in charge of Logarhythm, seeking out like-minded people to be in a consortium to put tours on. They're partly funded and there's central publicity money.
Do you do more than just put the gig on?
A: We're members of Logarhythm but in terms of putting gigs on on the night, we're less involved than normal, I think.
J: One of the best things about it is these meetings we have in London where we meet other promoters from all over the country. People who're putting on the same kind of music as us. One of the funding conditions is that they run education sessions which can tell you how to get funding yourself and ..
D: .. it's a bit like being on an Access course at college.
J: Just talking to people is great. I mean, you might meet people at All Tomorrow's Parties or something, but you're not going to sit down and say "How did you get going? What's the financial realities? How did you book so-and-so?" But in these meetings, that's exactly what you're there to do. And get the gigs.
D: The Rephlex gig the other night came from Logarhythm.
Yeah, I was there. What's happened to make Rephlex more popular now? They've been doing essentially the same thing for years.
D: Yeah, it was a real nostalgia trip for me. Especially the Cylob set.
How do you divide the work out between you? And does one of you have the power to book a gig without asking the others?
A: Artistically, we try to be completely democratic. Everybody has to like it, or at least be happy that it's a thing that should be put on. We do do different tasks.
J: I do publicity, design, website. You end up doing all the driving.
A: I do the staying sober and picking people up from the airport, and quite a bit of booking.
D: I do the rest. Ha ha. We work as a team.
Could one of you do it alone?
J: One of us has the afternoon off work on the day of the gig and we can do whatever needs to be done on the day, but..
A: ..one thing that is worth saying is that for people who want to promote the gigs they like rather than being career promoters, the difference you can make from the artists' point of view is great. Making it successful means not doing too many gigs and putting your own time into it. I think gigs won't go so well if you don't have time to prepare for them. If you have five gigs a week you won't prepare for them as well as if you have one gig a month.
D: We did have a time when we had Rephlex and two other gigs in the space of a week and a half. By the time we got to the last one, Vert, we were drained and there was hardly anyone there. We'd probably saturated Cambridge because there'd been a couple of other gigs by other promoters in the same time.
A: That's another thing, cooperating with local promoters to make sure you don't clash. Never mind the same night, but in the same week if they're similar types of band.
You were saying that maybe you weren't as interested in putting larger gigs on, even at the size of the Boat Race.
A: That's part of it, from my point of view.
D: Being a fan, you love going to see a band in a small venue with a big PA. I don't get that feeling when I go to a large stadium gig.
The Boat Race is hardly Wembley, though is it?
J: It's big enough though..
A: ..it's too big. If you can get 100 people in, you can meet most bands' fees. And if you can do that at the Portland, you get a better atmosphere and a smaller gig with a better PA.
So, finally, do you intend to continue small rather than booking the Corn Exchange for Basement Jaxx or something?
D: The PA is really important to me. I can't go to the Junction or Corn Exchange without the sound being terrible. The Portland just sounds great with the natural compression - I could go on with technical stuff if you want?
A: I'm not attracted to doing bigger gigs.
J: There is an expectation on us to take it to the "next level" but like most places in Britain there isn't really a mid-sized venue that we could use.
Ain't that the truth? But Bad Timing's gigs at The Portland Arms are all the more intimate for it. (And it's got a great PA, I hear.) Bad Timing: www.bad-timing.co.uk
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