Damnation Festival Organiser Gavin McInally

Wayne Madden | Monday, 26 July 2010

Damnation Festival Organiser Gavin McInally

First and foremost, where did the idea of the Damnation Festival come from and what gave you 'spark' to launch the idea?

By 2004 my tastes in metal had changed somewhat from Slipknot and Korn and I was starting to get frustrated that the major festivals and tours weren't booking the bands I was desperate to see at the time; Amen, Charger, Sikth, Stampin' Ground, etc.

My pet hate is folk who whine like old women but don't get off their arses to do anything about it. So when it was jokingly mentioned that a few Download Festival forum users should start their own event, I though 'Fuck it, what's the worst that can happen?'.

If Damnation '05 had been a successful wee show with a few great bands in a pub, I'd have honestly settled for that. But somewhere down the line we lost all sense of reality; Entombed, Raging Speedhorn and the rest of the cast were confirmed, we shifted 1,000 tickets, and the rest is history!

In 2005 as Dawn of Chaos played their first chords and got the music
underway, what feelings where going through your mind?

It was such an odd feeling, my immediate concern was that fans were piling into the venue and heading straight to the main room and not down to the Terrorizer Stage where Dawn of Chaos were the opening band. I knew how much the gig meant to the DoC boys so I ran up to the entrance and starting yelling 'death metal playing downstairs' like a right tool. I shouldn't have worried, though, the place filled up pretty quickly.

Overall, though, there was a sudden bite of reality. It had been like playing Fantasy Festivals up until then; picking bands and deciding running orders but when those doors opened, it was really happening and I almost puked with nerves and excitement.

Six years on and the festival has changed venue three times, largely due to expansion and attraction of bigger audiences, and has gone from two to three stages. Why do you think Damnation has been able to survive where other music ventures might struggle?

I think there's a number of factors behind Damnation's relative success. Our tickets have been dirt cheap (£13 in 2005; £15 in 2006) our bills have a real diversity about them - especially since the Rock Sound Stage was introduced - and if I'm being honest, I think we've had the best line-up in the UK for open-minded metal fans who can enjoy a set by Sigh followed by *Shels.

Unfortunately, though, we're not immune to the current struggle to sell tickets. Last year's event lost money despite a bill rammed with great bands and I've no doubt this year will see a similar struggle.
I just hope we continue to get enough bodies through the doors to continue doing it because, as hobbies go, organising Damnation is up there with the best of them.

And, of course, in 2008, Carcass played England for the first time in 14
years when they headlined your Main Stage – many people speak about that show because of it possibly having been, at the time, the last show they would ever do. What kind of memories do you have of it?

I've never really set a limit as to how far I think Damnation can go and if
we were to find ourselves outdoors one day, I don't think I'd be all that
surprised. On the flip side if we went to the wall and this year was the last
Damnation, it probably wouldn't come as a major shock to me either.

However, seeing that crowd before Carcass started, absolutely packed from front to back, wall to wall, with mosh pits kicking off as Iron Maiden's 'Fear Of The Dark' was played through the PA system... Well, I don't think anything could have prepared me for that - it was something I'll remember fondly until they tuck me up in a nursing home.

Of the bands that have played at the festival since its conception, who do you remember the most fondly, and have you ever met any personal musical heroes as a result of the bookings?

Like all events, we've dealt with some real legends and some proper twats over the years but we've found it's always from the bands you least expect it from who surprise you.

Akercocke are a great example. All we heard before they showed up in Manchester was that they were going to be hard work and would run us ragged all day with ridiculous demands when in fact, their singer Jason could not have been a friendlier chap if he tried - the guy even went to fetch extra towels from his dressing room to dry up the side of the stage so Stampin' Ground didn't fall amid the chaos of their set.

How's that for behaviour of a devil-worshipper?

When it comes to booking bands for the festival, what kind of system is
adopted, and how much say does the fan forum, for example, have in this decision?

It quite a simple process; we draw up a realistic bill of bands across our
three stages in line with a projected budget which will keep tickets at an
affordable price, and then we harrass the life out of agents until they either give in or tell us to piss off.

Sometimes we get lucky and a great tour is happening at the same time and we can cherry pick the bands or a band we didn't expect to be available or affordable falls on our laps, but those are few and far between; there are 101 reasons bands can't play Damantion each year.

We'll be chasing Bolt Thrower until I'm 50 at this rate.

Our fans have a massive influence on the line-up we book, some bands have been booked purely because of the demand from our most dedicated punters. But sometimes you have to take a step back and look at the full picture or you'll find yourself booking bands to please elistists who won't pay to support your event no matter what you do.

Our forums are a great example of a Terrorizer Stage crowd, yet the more
accessible Jagermeister Stage always pulls more people on the day itself.
However, we hear very little online from the Skindred, Therapy? and Panic Cell fans.

A lot of acts also promise their only UK show in 2010 with yourselves. This year Anaal Nathrakh have already said this. How important (and difficult!) is it for Damnation personally to secure exclusive performances such as these?

Exclusive deals are becoming a huge pain in the tits if I'm being honest and the only people they are screwing over is the fans. Some events are even announcing 'UK Exclusives' with further dates being announced once the band has played and this year we even witnessed the birth of 'Spring Exclusives' - you really couldn't make that shit up!

In our first few years, we didn't have exclusive deals with bands but if it
happened to be a one-off show or the band were happy for us to use 'exclusive' it was a nice touch of extra promo.

By 2008, as far as I'm aware, Carcass were only looking for the one UK gig, so that was an exclusive by default.

Obviously we need to cover our backs to make sure we don't fly a band in from the States or Japan only to have them playing Manchester the following night, but as far as I'm concerned if you're not Download and Sonisphere fighting for the signature of AC/DC or Rammstein, you can give the exclusive chat a rest before the fans see through it.

You've announced some great acts for 2010 – Dillinger Escape Plan and Lawnmower Deth being among them – but have yet to announce the headliners; could it possibly get any better than this?

Well, that's the plan.

Our biggest problem - and this was a nightmare last year too - is the pool of suitable bands we can approach to headline Damnation is frustratingly shallow. So once the likes of Immortal, Neurosis, Testament, Porcupine Tree, Morbid Angel etc aren't available, we're really up against it.

Our fans don't want an In Flames, Lamb of God or Children of Bodom at Damnation and I don't think going down the scene route or the power metal path would be met with huge cheers either.

So, we'll see how it pans out but fans can rest assured we're doing everything we possibly can to land the bands they want to see.

What kind of material finds its way into your personal collection and your iPod? What kind of music and artists do you tend to listen to yourself?

I'm a sucker for post-rock; Mono, God Is An Astronaut, Explosions In The
Sky, Maybeshewill, This Will Destroy You, Mogwai, Russian Circles... and
because it doesn't scare off the in-laws when they visit, it's generally what's playing around the house most days.

In my own time I have my favourite bands; Tool, Cult of Luna, Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, Rivals Schools, Deftones... and whatever newer bands I've stumbled onto which I tend to have on repeat for a while; Rinoa, Kvelertak, And So I Watch You From Afar, How To Destroy Angels, Alcest...

If you had the chance to book any bands – either living or dead – who would you book to perform at Damnation?

I would've hung up my promoter's hat the second Nine Inch Nails finished a set at Damnation as that would've been it for me.

Even more unrealistic is Tool ever playing a note, but if I'm allowed dead
folk, I'm sure Tool is a valid shout... I'd even settle for A Perfect Circle!

Back in the real world though, I'd personally be chuffed to see Cult of Luna
play one year and despite the backlash from the Darkthrone massive, Machine Head would be a real coup.

Finally, where does the future lie for Damnation? With the festival
bursting over three stages for its third year in a row, do you think a second day might be added to future events, or that the festival can be expanded upon anymore?

Right now, it's all about survival. New, bigger festivals are popping up all
over the country; Sonisphere, Hammerfest, High Voltage, Hevy, Hard Rock Hell, and Ozzfest at a time when metal fans have less money to pay for them so getting the numbers through the doors to secure Damnation's future is our priority.

Also, we need to be realistic about what a fairly targeted event like Damnation can achieve. Is there 8,000 fans in the UK who want to see Anaal Nathrakh, Electric Wizard, Napalm Death and Jesu or will the Taste of Chaos package continue to thrive?

The Damnation Festival takes place on 6th November 2010 at Leeds University. Tickets are on sale now.