Embarrassingly homogeneous line-ups, extortionate boutique camping, impossible clashes, wall-to-wall corporate branding and fancy dress party mob are all tedious realities blighting the ever-expanding UK market. A few trips to some of the larger occasions can easily result in a life-long aversion to festivals. But for those prepared to look further afield there lies a land of DIY events, where curation means something other than product marketing and community spirit defeats profit-making.

Some have been around for a while, others are brand new additions to the season. Leaving aside genre niche gatherings, we take a look at some of the smaller events with big ideas.


Manchester, 12th March 2016

Since its inception in 2014 Cosmosis has grown from a niche 600-capacity event held in a dilapidated Victorian mansion in Rusholme to a 6000-strong festival, attracting major names across the spectrum of psychedelia and other far flung musical galaxies. This year's line-up may be bursting at the seams with illustrious names like Jesus and Mary Chain, Sleaford Mods and Wire, but at its core Cosmosis is still a DIY event brought to life by a duo of local promoters Remake Remodel and Interstellar Overdrive, who have a strong understanding of how they want to expand traditional psychedelic horizons. Rather than just increasing numbers and booking random big acts, the organisers have opted for a carefully curated bill of criss-crossing and overlapping musical themes enhanced through art installations and well-coordinated stage timing aimed at avoiding frustrating clashes.


Liverpool, 1st - 3rd April 2016

Set up by local artists and performers, Threshold was intended "to promote & celebrate grassroots music and arts in Liverpool & further afield." It has a strong inclusive spirit giving voice to every genre of music, visual arts and experimental performance. "There was barely pavements and certainly wasn't any street lighting" is how the organiser Chris Carney describes the festival's Baltic Triangle location at the start of their journey five festivals ago. "The post-industrial warehouses of the "creative district" of the city gave birth to what we do and in turn we have contributed to its development over the years." Prepare for the musical armada of turbo-folk-thrash-punk-pop-poetry-fancydress'orama The Destroyers, poly-rhythmic prog noise lycra enthusiasts Barberos and a brand-new exhibition exploring the dark arts of alchemical symbolism and transmutation.

Other Worlds

Blackpool, 7th - 10th April 2016

"We didn't set off with any ambitions", confess festival organisers Rick Thompson and Carlito Juanito. "It's just grown organically from the record label (Must Die Records)." The name of this event does a good job of describing its ethos and booking policies. Held in Blackpool, a place outside the touring circle and cool music festival frenzy, Other Worlds is a showcase of outlier audio-visual projects: from Dubai's Tse-Tse Fly sound art and experiments-in-noise to Richard Dawson's subversive re-imaginings of dark Northumbrian storytelling and the fearsome folk avant-gardism of Laura Cannell. "Blackpool has a lot to offer for the weekend visitor. Dig deep and you'll find a lot of oddness," warn Rick and Carlito, who describe their own musical orientation as 'hard to please oddballs'. Get ready to be shocked, bedazzled and inspired.

Skye Live

Portree, Isle of Skye, 29th - 30th April 2016

Scottish folk and electronic music seem like an unlikely pairing but Skye Live is no ordinary event. "Upbeat and vibrant" is how Niall Munro, co-organiser of this event, sums up its curious essence. Retro-futurists Public Service Broadcasting and house saviours Bicep will share a bill with acts, such as Rura and Capercaillie, rooted in traditional Celtic music. As locations go, this nice wee gem probably has the most impressive natural setting a festival can have. Locally sourced produce will feature highly on the culinary line-up; plus, we've been reliably informed that April - May are the sunniest months on Skye.

Sounds from the Other City (SFTOC)

Salford, 1st May 2016

The mysterious 'other city' is Manchester's often-overlooked neighbouring city of Salford. An offspring of the Islington Mill - one of the most ballsy creative hubs in the entire country - SFTOC has been around for over a decade and has a reputation for supporting well-known names like Money, Stealing Sheep and Dutch Uncles early in their careers. According to the festival co-producer Rivca Burns the performance element is also what makes the festival unique; it is "where everything grows from and means that all the odd happenings and unusual events aren't just tacked on but the core of what the event is based around." Rather than booking artists themselves, organisers invite local North West promoters to host a 'stage', which could be an outdoor area or a venue along Salford's Chapel Street. The result is a one-day carnival of arts that this year includes future legends Meilyr Jones, ILL and Pumarosa.


Tanworth-in-Arden, Warwickshire, 3rd - 5th June 2016

Set in an idyllic rural location, and the spiritual home of Nick Drake, Lunar festival has always been a family event with a touch of delicate English psychedelia and a taste for the more unorthodox eccentric performers. Run by the organisers of Moseley Folk festival and Mostly Jazz Funk & Soul, every year this festival creates line-ups that look not just different or deliberately obscure, but colourfully diverse and directed at music discovery across all genres. This year's sonic cocktail includes Mercury Rev, Television, Flamingods and Matt Berry & the Maypoles. The size of Lunar's site does limit the scope of its boutique ambitions but it also makes navigation easy and aids its gentle community vibe.

Howlin' Fling

Isle of Eigg, Scotland, 1st - 2nd July 2016

A successor of Fence Collective's Away Day festival, Howlin' Fling is organised by the Lost Map label chief and Moshi Moshi artist Johnny Lynch (aka The Pictish Trail). Apart from the obvious attractions of a mind-blowing journey up to Eigg and an equally impressive natural setting, expect to be entertained by the Lost Map roster in action and some yet-to-be-confirmed musical guests. Just to give you some idea of the festival's artistic reach, the inaugural Howlin' Fling 2014 bill included Beth Orton, Luke Abbot, Steve Mason, Alexis Taylor, Golden Teacher and Adult Jazz. There's every reason to suspect that this year's line-up might just top it. However, what might cause some frustration is the fact that all Howlin' Fling 2016 tickets sold out within 5 minutes of going on sale. Yep, all gone already. Here's to hoping that there might be some returns between now and July!


Braziers Park, Oxfordshire, 5th - 7th August 2016

The ultimate alternative festival, Supernormal finds its spirit in the original free festivals of the 60s. Rejection of commercialism, breaking boundaries between artists and spectators, and celebration of underground cultures lie at the heart of this event founded and curated by a non-profit Community Interest Company. Braziers House, a Grade II listed Victorian gothic mansion, and its outbuildings are all part of its mysterious stage set, where audience participation and political debate are as critical to the event as bands, workshops and other scheduled happenings. Musically, this curious event tends to steer towards psych, noise, doom and darker shades of folk music but each year brings new sounds, so perhaps 2016 will be the year Supernormal goes pop or discovers its classical roots. Like art or life itself, it is a journey rather than a destination.

Sea Change

Totnes, Devon, 26th - 28th August 2016

Despite its unassuming location in a small Devon town, Drift is known as one of the top records shops in the country. The only surprise about Sea Change is the fact it's taken Drift this long to sum up the courage to start a festival. "Our friends, labels and artists like British Sea Power, James Yorkston, TOY and Heavenly, have all been supporting us, a small town festival in our first year," modestly says Drift's Rupert Morrison. "We've all worked, browsed, spoken and played at festivals, so I think we're looking to scan our collective memories for the best bits and craft something unique," he continues describing their intentions for this year's debut event. In addition to some serious music brains behind the scenes, Sea Change has the advantage of a spectacular location that's an undeniable part of the appeal and very much part of the festival plan, with outdoor food markets and specially commissioned works based around Devon folklore already on the cards.

Rockaway Beach

Butlins, Bognor Regis, 7th - 9th October 2016

The idea of holding a festival in an old-fashioned holiday camp may strike you as not entirely new but Rockaway Beach is likely to be a safer investment than an All Tomorrow's Parties ticket and a more interesting experience than a Butlins Weekend party. "It's more like a series of intimate gigs than a traditional festival, a no-nonsense celebration of alternative music with a DIY aesthetic," says Ian Crowther, adding. "... and there's bowling." Ian set up his company The Way of Music specifically to run Rockaway Beach, with an aim of bringing together "the old and new, for anybody, a real level playing field. No VIPs, no bullshit." Last year's inaugural festival got rocking reviews and this year is already looking like a winning combination of cult heroes (Damo Suzuki, Luna) less obvious new artists (Man Made, Eyre Llew) and established names (Suede, Saint Etienne, Killing Joke). Onsite aquatic-themed hotels give the place a surreal edge complimented by arcades and even its own stretch of Sussex beach.