Threshold Festival returns for one last hurrah in April, Getintothis Peter Guy catches up with directors Chris and Kaya Herstad Carney about the final big Baltic Triangle blow out.
“Sometimes I wish that life was never ending, but all good things, they say, never last – and love, it isn’t love until it’s past…”
The words from Christopher Tracey aka Prince‘s magnificent ballad Sometimes It Snows In April could barely be more fitting than when applied to Threshold Festival‘s swansong which is to play out this spring in Liverpool’s Baltic Triangle.
After ten years of hosting emerging new music, grassroots art and high calibre performance events, organisers Chris and Kaya Herstad Carney revealed that the 2020 edition of Threshold Festival was to be their last.
Having hosted a decade of festivities which have seen the likes of European touring artists, UK mainstays including Akala and Beans on Toast and cornerstones of new Merseyside talent from Stealing Sheep through to All We Are, Esco Williams and a myriad of unsigned acts just hoping for their turn in the spotlight.
It is without a doubt a less rich festival circuit on Merseyside – and indeed the UK without the likes of Threshold Festival as it’s these kinds of happenings which thrive on giving all manner of artists under the huge umbrella of the arts a chance to shine.
This year’s final edition has secured Arts funding and is shaping up to be something worthy of their lasting legacy.
With that in mind, we decided to catch up with Chris and Kaya to talk ten years of Threshold, festival highlights, the shape of Liverpool music in 2020 – and what to expect from the final edition.
Getintothis: Hey Kaya and Chris – it’s the last ever Threshold Festival – you must have so many emotions – obviously, you’re ploughing ahead with the 2020 edition but there must be lots of feelings coursing through you both?
Kaya: “Yeah, there’s a lot of mixed feelings, the strongest one for us is of the need for closure and that’s one of the reasons why Threshold X is so important to us.”
“We’ve pushed hard for 10 years to make this happen each year. It’s absolutely flown by. What just happened?”
Getintothis: What were the main thoughts about calling time on it this year?
Kaya: “The team all have different reasons, mainly as we’re all progressing in our careers and getting very busy in all aspects of our personal and professional lives, it’s much more difficult to volunteer the time.
Chris: “The ever-increasing Liverpool event calendar means that we’re not only in competition with the regular events, we are now in competition with at least one festival on the same weekend as well.”
“That never used to happen in Liverpool, festivals used to respect each other and stay away from key weekends. The big and sad deciding factor that people will not be surprised to learn is money. We wish it didn’t come down to this, but it’s the stark reality.”
Getintothis: We’ve seen a vast reduction of festivals on Merseyside and inner-city Liverpool in recent years – do you think it is getting harder to stage festivals – and what do you think are the main reasons?
Chris: “We’re not sure we agree that it’s a vast reduction in festivals, we still have most of the big players.
“In our ten years, we’ve seen the boom and decrease in festivals and perhaps a shift in definition.”
Kaya: “There’s been a few that we’ve found surprising – for example, one day, one venue events calling themselves a festival.
“The wave of festivals that we’ve seen over the last few years is receding.”
Chris: “The demand is also dropping and that may have to do with an ageing demographic or perhaps economic strains as we start to see the true long-term effects of austerity.
“You need to love this game unconditionally if you want to stay in it.”
Getintothis: How essential is funding in Threshold – and do you think funding is a tricky thing for people to get their heads around?
Chris: “It is intrinsic to a festival like Threshold because unfortunately, we live in a climate where an event of this nature is not sustainable on commercial income alone.
“That’s why it’s a blessing to have the Arts Council. They are dedicated to providing the support new art needs in order to be seen and for audiences who would not normally experience new art to be enriched by it.
“At the risk of sounding like an advert for them, we’re absolutely advocates for this use of public money.”
Kaya: “It’s essential to provide opportunities for artists who do not necessarily have a commercial pull.
“With Arts Council support over the years, we’ve been able to steer clear of the kind of corporate control that a major sponsor could well have imposed on us. We were able to stay true to our grassroots.”
Chris: “It is a tricky thing to negotiate, we’ve had plenty of grants rejected but we’ve had almost as many accepted and it’s well worth the work.
“Plus, the Arts Council team can be very helpful, they want the money to go to the right places.”
Kaya: “To anyone thinking of applying, you don’t know unless you try and if you do get a rejection, don’t give up.”
Getintothis: Last year was tricky because of the BBC’s 6 Music Festival landing slap bang in the middle of Threshold – we all know it made an impact on Threshold Festival – give us your take on it all?
Chris: “It was far from ideal for us. One of our favourite things about the whole situation though was how our supporters spoke out so passionately about it.
“Remaining diplomatic is quite important to us, it’s something we pride ourselves on, so all we can say is thank you to everyone who stomped their feet.”
Kaya: “We felt the love. It was also a boost for a lot of our artists to have the 6 Music association.”
Getintothis: On that point, do you think Culture Liverpool and those in charge of looking after the arts and music in Liverpool helped enough? The City Music Board and the UNESCO status seems very much all up in the air – what are your thoughts on all this?
Chris: “We absolutely deserve the status of a UNESCO City of Music, but it should be hard-won and fiercely maintained.
“We don’t envy the job of the Culture Liverpool team, at a time when budgets are so scarce.
“It would be good to see a greater variety of projects supported by them and a bigger focus on grassroots.”
Kaya: “We haven’t seen or heard much from The City Music Board for a while, but hopefully once Threshold is done we can get more involved with the initiative and understand a bit more about their purpose.”
Getintothis: Looking ahead to the 2020 edition – what are the differences to last year – and what are your immediate highlights?
Kaya: “Nick Ellis, we’ve wanted him to play for years so it’s a pleasure to get him on the final edition.
“Amazing to have BARBEROS back and new acts like TEE are the kind of thing that really gets us excited, we thrive off people seeing their new favourite act for the very first time. There’s a good mix of brand new and returning acts.”
Chris: “Chapters of Us is a brand-new venue in the Baltic that we are excited to be using, there’s a really nice atmosphere in there, it’s one of those places where you immediately feel welcome as soon as you walk in.”
“When Chris Hawkins at BBC 6 Music heard about the festival late last year, he was really inspired to get involved alongside one of our oldest advocates Steve Levine. We’re stoked to be welcoming them both to the festival for an exclusive ‘in conversation’ session.”
Kaya: “We’ve also selected a few exclusives for the Getintothis massive to reveal today including Seafoam Green, Agbeko, Rongorongo, Vidar Norheim, Campbell L. Sangster, Muireann, Richie Vegas, Alex Parsi, Kapil Seshasayee, The Soul Rays, Mersey Wylie, Shadow Captain, Dawn & The Embers, Science of the Lamps, Twist Helix, Ooberfuse, HUDSUN and Sarpa Salpa.
“And the return of Liverpool Acoustic’s ’24 Hour Songwriting Challenge’ for its third year, which is open to all singer-songwriters.”
Getintothis: Threshold has always placed an emphasis on new talent and very much helping grassroots talent flourish – who can we look forward to this year who may be under the radar – and who from previous festivals are you proud to have helped get those first steps on the festival circuit?
Kaya: “We’re immensely proud of so many of our “alumni”.
“Acts that have played Threshold early in their journey include She Drew The Gun, Mersey Wylie, Stealing Sheep, Seafoam Green, Eleanor Nelly, All We Are, Xam Volo and the meteoric but sadly short-lived Queen Zee.
“Acts that you might be surprised by this year include Saint & Nicola Jane, Evie Moran, George Nash and God On My Right. We are pretty much the undiscovered festival of the city so it’s hard to single anyone out. You will see your next favourite band at Threshold.“
Chris: “But this is why we’ve always worked with promoters too.
“Nobody has their ears to the ground like the Liverpool promoters – people like yourself with Deep Cuts, Mellowtone, Happy Accidents, The Secret Circus, the list goes on.
“We love working with people who are passionate in their groove, because they can spot what we might miss.”
Getintothis: Away from the stage, the arts have also played a key part of Threshold Festival – what should we expect in 2020, and which exhibitions or artists have been your highlights from previous years?
Chris: “We have seen some incredible work over the years.
“A big highlight was Drama Triangle by Leon Jakeman in 2015 in the factory space that Love Lane now occupies.
“Robyn Woolston’s Smart Price was absolutely beautiful, and we still roll out the photos of it from time to time despite it being all the way back in 2012. The Guardian published a photo of that too.
“Heady days. There was a massive street art project that took over the entire Baltic with paste-ups and we loved that one, but it also got us into a spot of trouble. Lessons learnt every year.”
Kaya: “This year we are excited to welcome back Robyn after a few years hiatus of working with us and also the brilliant We Fail.
“Some interactive sculpture from Emma Lloyd and in performance we have Nana Funk with her one nana show “Tough Old Bird” as well as some improvised dance from the incredibly talented Douglas McCormick.”
Getintothis: I know it’s tricky to pinpoint so many music highlights over the years, but if you were to pick three bands or artists each who would be the ones you’d select as your personal favourites?
Chris: “Paddy Steer’s 3-Pronged Audio Bath in 2013. Science of the Lamps in 2017. The Fire Beneath The Sea in 2014.”
Kaya: “Akala in 2015. Beans on Toast in 2014 and Emergency Tiara in 2018.”
Getintothis: Liverpool has changed so much since you began – especially your home in the Baltic Triangle – what’s your opinion of the city’s music landscape and the Baltic these days?
Kaya: “When we tell people what the Baltic used to be like they can scarcely believe it. It was a dangerous place to go to back at the end of the oughts.
“There were no streetlights or proper pavements and people were getting regularly mugged on their way home from CUC.
“The Picket (Now District) was truly pioneering and we’re proud to say it’s been consistently our festival home since 2012.”
Chris: “We remember being so fatigued from trying to get people to go to events in the Baltic and would constantly get the answer: “Yeah, it’s just a bit out of the way isn’t it?”
“We love what it’s become and we’re fiercely proud to have been a part of it. It’s not all great, some bits are a bit like a theme park these days, but it’s still an area to celebrate.”
Kaya: “In the Baltic and Liverpool, in general, we must support the independent music venues. We need to nurture new promoters and give them the opportunities that we had. Most importantly we need to encourage art and music at every level.”
Chris: “It’s definitely time for some people to start passing the ladder down because that’s the true spirit of Liverpool. When it’s just corporate owned venues and large promoters left it will spell the death knell of grassroots music.”
Getintothis: Here’s some quick-fire questions – Fantasy Threshold Festival – if you had an unlimited budget and you could choose any artists throughout history – who would you love to have on the bill?
Chris: “Goooood question…[they both then reel off a list which includes…]“The Jimi Hendrix Experience, David Bowie, Jeff Buckley, Björk, St. Vincent, LCD Soundsystem, The Doors, Nirvana, Daft Punk, Joni Mitchell, Damien Rice, Nick Drake, Gil Scott Heron, Nina Simone, Anderson .Paak, Portishead…
“And… OutKast, Skunk Anansie, A Tribe Called Quest, Pearl Jam, Bon Iver, Tune-Yards, Janis Joplin, John Grant, Cirque De’Soleil, Bill Hicks, Derren Brown, Victoria Wood, Marcel Marceau, Laurel & Hardy, Richard Wilson (not that one), Joan Miro, Tracey Emin and Erykah Badu (and seeing as it’s a fantasy festival, she’ll arrive on stage on time).”
Getintothis: What are your favourite bits of Liverpool right now?
Kaya: “Falling back in love with Ropewalks since moving back to the city and living in the area.”
Chris: “Seeing the Baltic flourish.”
Kaya: “Being with people we love. “We’ve recently made a huge effort to cut down our meat consumption and the veggie and vegan offerings in the city have improved massively, Bundobust is a winner.”
Kaya: “Nothing beats a walk down the prom.”
Getintothis: Where would you take a guest visiting the city out to eat and drink?[both in unison]“Bacaro for food. Hobo Kiosk for drinks.”
Getintothis: Who are your favourite Liverpool artists or bands?
Kaya: “Our first date was watching Wave Machines and poet Ross Sutherland perform at the Tate. So, we won’t choose any favourites, but they both hold a special place for us as does the venue.”
Chris: “I also watched you play that night, so I’ll add you to my list.”
Kaya: “Didn’t Dave McTague organise that?”
Chris: “Sounds like something he’d do.”
Getintothis: Finally, is there anything else to declare?
Chris “It’s been a wild ride, a steep learning curve and an absolute honour.”
Kaya: “Totally, a decade of challenges, but mostly absolute joy. Weekends without a spreadsheet in front of us are going to be very strange.”
Chris: “Buy a ticket to Threshold X, it’s your last chance.”
- Threshold 2020 takes place April 3-4 at various venues across the Baltic Triangle.
Tickets can be purchased here.
Here’s a look at Getintothis‘ images from Threshold Festival 2019 – expect much more this year.