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interview

Stu Matson

Farmfestival / Bath Carnival

Director of Bath Carnival and a music programmer, curating line-ups for festivals and cultural events across the UK, including Farmfestival in Somerset. 

Outside of music he manages an event-stylist company, NightJar Events, specialising in floral/balloon installations and bespoke decor.

Stu Matson

Where are you based?

Based in Bristol but I split my time between here and Bath.

Where do you work? What do you do?

I’m currently working from home in Bristol.

My two main roles are Head of Programming for Farmfestival, curating a line-up of live and electronic music, and Director of Bath Carnival where I organise community projects and arts-based events throughout the year.

I also work on Glastonbury’s West Holts Stage, programming the entertainment for their backstage bar, and a few smaller events throughout the year.

What are you listening to?

There were some great releases last year which kept me going. I’ve been particularly enjoying the new material from Nadine Shah, GoGo Penguin, Sophie Hunger, SAULT and Moses Sumney.

Right at the tail end of 2020 there was a bunch of really exciting music coming out including Kokoroko’s single Baba Ayoola, Claude Cooper’s Tangerine Dreams (debut release off the new Friendly Records Label) and new albums from Ólafur Arnalds, Babeheaven and Quakers.

I usually lean towards electronic music when I’m at my desk; favourites at the moment are Four Tet, Bonobo (who guests on the brilliant aforementioned Ólafur Arnalds’ new album), O’fynn, Yu Su, Bicep, DJ Khalab, Boards of Canada and Sylvan Esso.

Looking ahead to this year I’m excited to hear what Los Bitchos and Talk Show have to offer.

Old favs which I’m constantly revisiting include any of the old Calypsonians (Kitchener, Mighty Sparrow, Lord Invader, Duke of Iron etc); and classics like Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone and Sam Cooke.

How do you discover new music?

Keeping up with new releases would be a 24/7 job in itself, especially with so many sources of new music now available online. The main streaming platforms have incredibly intuitive algorithms which are very useful for discovering a broad range of genres, based on your listening habits.

However, as music fans we face a moral dilemma when using these services as the artists are not being equitably paid. It’s good to see artists like Nadine Shah, Guy Garvey and Ed O’Brien (Radiohead) highlighting this disparity and it is beginning to get some media coverage.

Full transparency though, some of my favourite finds recently have been via Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist. I also use my YouTube Music account to keep track of the artists already on my radar, as the ‘Your Favourites’ feature conveniently flags up new releases.

On a personal level I try to avoid social media, but there’s no denying that Facebook and Instagram feeds are great sources of music news, so I have alerts setup for specific labels and artists.

I’m particularly enjoying the recent flurry of activity from new Bristol label Worm Discs, including corto.alto’s first vinyl release (definitely worth checking out); I tend to keep track of those sort of local updates via their socials.

Although it seems like a lifetime away now, before COVID I always preferred flicking through the local music ‘zines, like CRACK, Bristol In Stereo, B24/7 and DIY. And all that said, hands down the best way to discover new music is on a friends’ recommendation (definitely helps to have friends like Gareth of Bedmo Disco, who’s an encyclopedia of musical obscurities).

What formats do you usually listen to? LP, CD, Cassette, Digital, Streaming Services? Why?

Personally, I’m not a vinyl junkie namely because I can’t afford to be one. While I do love record stores and flicking through crates, if I’m honest the majority of my listening is done digitally.

However, I’m now using Serato to mix with so I’ve started using audio files much more and with that in mind I’ve been doing a lot more research through Bandcamp and Beatport. I can definitely see myself slipping into the vinyl wormhole; and my dad has an incredible vinyl collection so maybe I’ll start there…

Where do you do most of your music listening?

I have a couple of setups at home for listening to music. For vinyl I use two Technics 1200s with a Numark Scratch mixer and KRK Rokit 5 monitors. That setup suggests that I’m more advanced on my DJing journey than I really am, as I’ve only started picking it up properly in the last couple of months (watch this space – haha). I got the SONOS Five speaker at Christmas, which I now use for day-to-day listening.

At the moment all my music research is being done from behind a screen, though I’m keeping my fingers crossed for live venues to make a return soon.

Other than that, I run most mornings and have some go-to artists and playlists for the headphones. Shout out to IDLES, KOKOKO!, The Comet is Coming, LIINES and Snapped Ankles for helping me to keep the weight down over these lockdowns!

How do you find and listen to pre-release music?

As a booker I’ll often get sent pre-releases which is a lovely perk of the job. But BBC 6 Music, blogs and online magazines are generally a great source of pre-release music and premieres. Premieres in particular are often coupled with an interview with the artist which can offer some insight into how the record was made or their upcoming plans etc.

What are your frustrations with listening to music digitally? Any benefits?

On balance I am a big fan of listening to music digitally. Though I do count myself lucky to have experienced the leap from recording radio shows onto cassette, through to the Napster revolution, ipod and now streaming services.

Without that evolutionary context I think I’d probably take for granted how accessible music is today.

Perhaps the biggest shame with this transition is the lack of a physical connection with music, which I had growing up. My earlier memories of music listening are of a more sensory experience, flicking through album sleeves and having the artwork there in my hands.

In terms of frustrations, the only platform I really don’t get on with is Soundcloud; for some reason I’ve always found compatibility issues with whatever phone I have, and I don’t find it to be particularly intuitive.

If I didn’t have subscriptions to premium services, the constant adverts would definitely drive me mad.

“I do count myself lucky to have experienced the leap from recording radio shows onto cassette, through to the Napster revolution, iPod and now streaming services.”

“Without that evolutionary context I think I’d probably take for granted how accessible music is today.”

How do you keep track of everything you are listening to?

I confess to being a total playlist addict. The nature of my work requires me to be on top of organising music, otherwise I’d never relocate a song or artist two minutes after listening, let known two weeks!

Meanwhile, my audio files are catalogued on external hard-drives and backed up at least once.

Discover the #HowWeListen Playlist

Listen to the #HowWeListen 2021 Picks playlist. Curated by this year’s interviewees.

Listen on Spotify

Do you tip other people off to new music? How?

I suppose my biggest outlet is programming festivals. In my opinion there’s no better way to tip off people about the music you love than by putting an act on a stage in front of an audience. Let’s hope it won’t be too long before that can happen again.

Other than the live events, I often curate playlists for friends and family (in keeping with the playlist complex) and we also have plans to launch a new podcast/radio show this year, so I’m looking forward to sharing some of that music with a wider audience.

Anything you want to “promote”?

Assuming live events make a return in some form or another, I’ll have two to promote in July; Bath Carnival on Sat 10th followed by Farmfest on Fri 30th and Sat 31st.

I see both events as really inclusive gatherings worth shouting about, and neither have a massive marketing budget so could do with the promotion!

I’ve been involved with Farmfest for many years now, and I still believe it to be one of the hidden gems on the UK festival circuit. We consciously cap ourselves at 5,000 which seems to be the sweet spot for us in terms of keeping an intimate atmosphere but with enough variety on site for a genre-defying line-up.

Bath Carnival is my passion project, our team do incredible work in the community throughout the year, keeping the arts accessible for people. We usually have a free carnival procession, combined-arts and music festival, and a children’s carnival area, though this year will look a bit different in light of the current circumstances.

One final shout out goes to a good friend and an incredible DIY musician Craig Sutton aka The Flamenco Thief. He’s been working on some amazing new music during 2020, which I’ve really enjoyed seeing develop, I can’t wait to hear his next steps!

"there’s no better way to tip off people about the music you love than by putting an act on a stage in front of an audience. Let’s hope it won’t be too long before that can happen again."

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