Photos by Dan Salter

Boasting a stellar line-up, a fantastic venue and held on easily the busiest day of the week for Brick Lane, the general feeling in advance was that there was no way the Sweet Beans festival could be anything other than spectacular. Sadly, the reality on the day was vastly different. As a member of one of the bands on the bill, it could be said that my opinion is biased, but I will do my best to give an honest and objective account of the event.

Starting right at the beginning, I arrived at Vibe Bar at 10.30 for our promised soundcheck to find the upstairs bar still locked up. The organisers arrived in dribs and drabs, showing a total absence of urgency, and the full backline did not arrive until midday. Five minutes into our soundcheck we were told we had to stop as Three Colours were due on stage in ten minutes. They eventually started their set 15 minutes late – hardly a good omen given that they were the first band of an 11 hour day. However, this needn’t have spelled disaster for the entire event. If any of the Sweet Beans staff had been on-hand to chivvy bands along and aid changeovers, or if any of the bands had been provided with a full list of set-times, the day could have been brought back on schedule with relative ease. However, there was a shocking absence of anyone prepared to take responsibility for this, and so as the day went on, the event fell further and further behind. I appreciate that it’s not ideal to cut setlists short, however shaving one song off each band throughout the day would have avoided the unacceptable conclusion to the night, where headliners Her Name Is Calla had the sound unplugged not only 20 minutes into what should have been a 70 minute set, but halfway through one of their songs. But more on that later.

After we (Rumour Cubes) had played – we took to the stage when we should have been finishing, but in the absence of any instruction to the contrary still played our full set – I headed outside to grab some food before watching Milk, who had told me they were due on at 2.30pm. Wandering into the downstairs bar at 2.15, I was slightly surprised to find them already in full swing. Given that the downstairs bar was open to all-comers, and not just those with festival wristbands, they were playing to a very good-sized crowd. I was baffled, however, at the total lack of publicity for the event going on upstairs; I couldn’t see anything saying there was a further aspect to the festival, that there were tickets available, that the larger bands on the posters weren’t actually playing in the downstairs bar. It seemed to me to be a massive oversight, as you’d have thought that people watching the bands downstairs could very possibly be persuaded to buy tickets for the upstairs event.

The next act I was desperate to see were Tom and Sophie from Her Name Is Calla performing an acoustic set downstairs – a billing I only knew about as I’d been out drinking with them the previous day. They put on a fantastic set to a great reception from the busy room. Speaking to Tom afterwards, however, he seemed quite concerned about the way the day was going and whether or not they would get to play their full set – concerns that were borne out later on that afternoon when he was asked “what would be the shortest set you’d be prepared to play?” by the organisers. Not a good sign...

Other highlights of the day included Ute, Brontide and Tall Ships, who all played blinding sets. By this stage of the afternoon there was actually a reasonably-sized crowd watching the upstairs bands, which renewed my confidence somewhat – although the fact that the same 4 songs were played during every single band changeover meant that the room all but emptied out between sets.

Allow me, if you will, a quick rant about band changeovers. Since Sunday’s event, Sweet Beans have admitted that they ‘underestimated change-over times’, but that seems to be the extent of the amount of responsibility they are accepting. Sweet Beans are fairly well-renowned London gig promoters, and specialise in showcasing post-rock, math and electronic music. You’d have thought, then, that they would be well-versed in how long it takes to disassemble and reassemble the complex stage-setups that come as standard with bands of those genres, especially as a number of the bands on today’s bill had played at previous Sweet Beans events. You might also have thought that they would be on hand to assist where necessary, or at least to hurry the bands along in getting on and off stage. You might even have thought that somewhere in the pre-festival communications they would have said “hey guys, we’ve got a really busy line-up for this so if you could be super-speedy setting up and getting off stage when you’ve finished, that’d be great”. You may be shocked to learn that none of these things happened.

The first outward sign that organisers had realised that things were going very wrong came during penultimate band Talons’ set, where they were told – much to their frustration – that they had to leave the stage after only 4 songs. They didn’t take this news well – and neither did the crowd - but by this point it was already 10.45 and Her Name Is Calla should have started at 10.20. Calla set up as quickly as was feasibly possible, but had issues with equipment not working and stage monitors being incorrectly balanced, meaning they didn’t actually start their set until 11.05. Bearing in mind it was a Sunday evening, the vast majority of people had left by this stage to get last tubes/trains home, and they played to a shamefully tiny crowd (which included a couple who had travelled all the way from Sweden to watch them perform). To add insult to injury, the 11.30 curfew was unbearably strictly adhered to, to the extent that a third of the way into the phenomenal ‘New England’, the sound was turned off and the event came to a very disappointing close.

By this point, I had been at the venue for 13 hours – at least as long, if not longer, than the organisers themselves. What should have been a fantastic and enjoyable day wound up feeling more like a farce and a disappointment. Sweet Beans have a good reputation as gig-promoters, and before today I would have said it was richly deserved. However, I get the feeling that they were out of their depth with this event and unfortunately that came across as total disinterest in ensuring the day ran smoothly. It’s very difficult for bands to publicly express dissatisfaction with promoters for fear of being blacklisted, but it’s very important to me that the bands who did have their sets shortened on Sunday should not face any backlash from fans, which is why I want to bring this issue to light. I have been to a number of gigs, festivals and all-dayers over the years, as a punter, as a performer and as an organiser, and while I appreciate the difficulties involved in ensuring large-scale events run to time, I don’t feel as though today was well organised or well executed, which is a great shame as it had the potential to be absolutely spectacular.