Music Features

Park:Live Festival - Jen Long (BBC Radio 1) (Interview)

Over the past few years, the residents of the city of Gloucester, England have been treated to an increasingly exciting live music scene.

Two years ago saw the first edition of Gloucester's Underground Festival, a two-day event which, as the name suggests, promotes new and upcoming acts.  In its short history, the festival has already seen a number of bands move on to bigger and better things, including The Joy Formidable, Dog Is Dead, Morning Parade and Stealing Sheep.  The festival organisers initially charged a modest admission fee but last year, the decision was made to make the festival free, as a thank you to the residents who had nominated Gloucester Guildhall as one of NME's Best Small Venues.

And as if one free festival wasn't generous enough, this year Gloucester added a second to its event schedule.  Known as Park:Live, the festival took place Saturday 21st July in Gloucester Park, and featured bands including Lexy, The Good Natured and headliners We Are Scientists.  Acting as compere was BBC Radio 1's Jen Long, one of the presenters on Sunday night / Monday morning radio show BBC Introducing. As well as being an ambassador for new music, Jen runs the Kissability music label, appears on BBC Three, and writes for the BBC, NME plus a host of other sites.  She's a band manager, has an mp3 blog and can be seen out and about at festivals all over the summer.  It's safe to assume that Jen knows her music.

Jen spared a few minutes to talk to Craig Stevens about festivals, new music and, erm, M.I.A....

I'm guessing this isn't your first festival of the summer?

No, it's not, no. There have been a few!

Which has been the best so far?

Ooh, probably Latitude last weekend.

So you're not going corporate and going for [BBC Radio 1's] Hackney Weekend then?

Oh, I forgot that was a festival, sorry! There's something weird about Hackney because you only have to get a bus to get there! I suppose you're right, that was amazing though. I got to see Jay-Z and Kanye West...

And M.I.A. onstage as well!

Yeah, she was a bit rubbish. I'm probably not supposed to say that, I've gone off message! But Hackney Weekend was sick, I had a wicked time.

And at those two festivals you mentioned, who else did you enjoy, other than Jay-Z and Kanye?

At Latitude - St Vincent, Sharon Van Etten, Alt-J were incredible, Los Campesinos!, Team Me. It was such a good festival, such a good lineup. I was gutted that I had to leave on Sunday to do my radio show, I wanted to stay and watch M83 and Wild Beasts. life's so difficult! And at Hackney, I was working quite a bit so I didn't get to see that much stuff but Savages were amazing on the Introducing stage. They're such a good band. And Arthur Beatrice as well, I really like them. They were like, “Why are you saying our name like you're American?!”

Did you have to introduce bands onto the stage?

Yeah, like today. I keep getting confused and wanting to say “Welcome to the BBC Introducing stage” and then I tell myself “No, you're in Gloucester, it's Park:Live!”

You must be good at doing segues though, having done the radio show for so long. Is it a different experience doing it live?

Yeah, it's well different. It's a completely different situation. You forget when you're on your own in a radio studio that there's anyone even listening!

For those of our readers that don't already know, how did you make the transition to Radio 1? Where was your “big break”?

I've been working for Radio 1 since 2007, as a broadcasting assistant right when BBC Introducing started. Maybe two months after it started, I was doing loads of work experience, living in Cardiff, and I knew Bethan [Elfyn], Huw [Stephens] and their producer Ed, just from being around at a lot of shows. I also did a lot of podcasts and wrote for various magazines. And they needed someone to help out in the office, so I went and helped out. And I covered when Bethan did SXSW the next year, and then Bethan got ill so I kept doing her show for a bit. And then eventually, they gave me her show.

Is that the best way to try and get involved in radio, if that's what you want to do – is it all about who you know rather than going through a set process?

Yeah, it is all about who you know. But you get to know those people from doing work experience. You get to know those people by working for free for x many years, and you earn the right to know those people. You don't get to think “oh, I know that person, I can get that job”. You have to actually have to put in a bit of graft as well.

And what about the bands? The internet is saturated with blogs full of new bands, all trying to break through. What advice would you give to a band that was really looking to get noticed?

Well, you can look at it from a negative aspect – oh my God, there's so much stuff. Or you can look at it from a positive outlook that it's easier now than ever before to be noticed as a band. The thing that you've got to do is put in a lot of the back work that you would have always had to put in as well. It's so easy to put a track online and instantly get blogged about on five, six, sixty different blogs. But if you haven't got a live show to back it up, if you're not willing to go out there and prove your worth...

So how do you do it? How do you find the bands that you're interested in?

Well...I go to the BBC Introducing uploader, and I listen to all the bands that have been uploaded there. But also, it's word of mouth, it's friends of friends, seeing bands at festivals, seeing bands' names pop up in various places, it all helps to be out there as much as possible.

The key is then not just to rely on one method, but to try and use as many different ways of getting your music out there as possible.

Absolutely, yeah. And you've got to be enthusiastic, and be prepared to not earn very much money for a while, but you'll have a lot of fun hopefully whilst you're doing it.

In a way, although we're always hearing about how bands get a tiny fraction of record sales, and music piracy is also adding to the problem, it does mean that the bands that are coming in at the lower end are doing it for the music and not for the money.

Yeah. And a new band starting out shouldn't worry too much. You should probably giving away your music for free. Because if someone's got one track by you on their mp3 player, then if you're playing in their town, they're likely to go see you. And then they'll maybe buy a T-shirt, which gives you more money than you ever would have had from selling an album anyway.

You mentioned BBC Introducing earlier. In your time with Introducing, which bands have you seen grow and move on to really great things? I remember seeing Everything Everything back at Reading a couple of years' ago on the Introducing stage, and you mentioned Alt-J – they've had quite a successful year.

Yeah, they're doing great at the moment. There are so many bands that have come through Introducing; Florence + The Machine, Pulled Apart By Horses. But the band for me that I've loved watching getting bigger and bigger and bigger are The Joy Formidable. I remember hearing them in one of my first weeks at Radio 1 in the office, and we supported them on BBC Introducing in Wales. They played the Introducing stage at Reading in 2008, I absolutely love that band.

And the main stage at last year's Reading Festival too, of course.

Actually, they've moved up a stage every year. They played 2008 Introducing, 2009 Festival Republic, 2010 Radio 1 / NME Stage and last year the Main Stage. And they're back again, at Foo Fighters' request, in fact. Dave Grohl wanted them to play. And what Dave Grohl wants, Dave Grohl gets! And rightly so!

Who are you excited about at the moment, from Introducing or otherwise?

Oh man, I got to interview Yoni Wolf on Thursday, which was a bit of a dream for me. He's the front man of WHY?, who are one of my favourite acts, and have got a new album coming out in October. He was talking about a girl who I've been listening to as well called Kitty Pryde, from the States. She writes... I'm not sure you can call it hip-hop, she calls it hip-hop but she brings something of her own to it.

What do you mean? What is it that's not hip-hop?

Oh, it is, but she's this white girl and she's all, “yeah, white girl ruining hip-hop”. It's got a certain comedy that you don't typically find in a lot of stuff around at the moment. As well as that, in terms of bands from the UK, we put out a lot of good stuff on Kissability, my little label. Splashh are amazing, I really like them. Their new single's out, Love Love Love. And I manage a band called Monk Brothers, who we've just released a single for as well. They're a chamber-pop multi-instrumental outfit from Cardiff, sound a bit like Efterklang...

You're a busy lady!

Yeah, I know!

Jen can be heard with Ally McCrae on BBC Introducing every Sunday night / Monday morning at 00:00 (GMT) on BBC Radio 1.  You can listen again to the latest show here.