Threshold Festival: “Our programming has always represented us”

By Planet Slop
Wed 27 March, 2019

As the ever popular festival prepares its weekend festivities, co-founder Chris Carney talks to Planet Slop about their natural diversity.  

For as long as we’ve been doing Threshold Festival there’s one thing that has never been a discussion topic: Diversity.

Did we ever sit down and say: “we need to make our event inclusive”? Nope. We never even noticed it was until people told us we should go for this award here or that pot of funding there because there were so many women on the team or we were ethnically diverse in our programming or we had pushed the campaign for mental health awareness through projects like Mad Pride and other partners.

Even after recognition, we’ve still been crap at acknowledging it and exploiting it for funding, but why?

I think it’s because it’s difficult to shout from the rooftops about something that just is our reality.

We’re not the cool kids. We never have been. In fact most of us have no claim to the word ‘kids’ any more either, but cool? Definitely not something we’ve tried to be, and there’s not many folk on any rung of the Liverpool music scene ladder who would describe us as cool.

We’ve had our moments, granted. Akala in 2015, Eliza Shaddad in 2014, Beans on Toast 2013 and Barberos in 2016 might have made us look a tiny bit cooler.

But we’re about the new, the next and the could be. Every year we bring something first time to Liverpool, or a collaboration of acts that has never before been seen. But we don’t think about the “cool factor”; all we know to do is get our heads down and make the festival we’d love to see (but then never get to see, as there’s too much going on).

Being one of two founders of the festival – the male half and the one with the least music industry experience of the partnership – it has been an eye opening journey. From day one people have defaulted to me when asking about the event, sometimes when my female co-founder has been standing right next to me. She has been asked countless times; “How is Chris’ festival going?” and I’ve been referred to as “The man behind Threshold” more times than a suffragette has been force fed.

I had a deep ignorance to festival production before Threshold and many would be forgiven for not understanding amount of work that goes in and how many people it takes to make it a success.

It’s very easy to dismiss it actually and even the dreaded Lee O’Hanlon experienced this general ignorance on social media. Most of the criticism was warranted, lots of it was ignorant.

I am the man behind Threshold…one of them anyway. There are about seven more. The rest of the team (about nine) are women. Yes, it takes that many people working year round and we’re only a small event by festival standards. The reason I have to use the word “about” is that we have a core team but everyone is a volunteer, so members come and go year by year.

Click here for Threshold Festival 2019 tickets

The programming for Threshold Festival has never favoured men or made a conscious effort to book more women, or tried to shoehorn mixed ethnicity or gay representation into the show. Our programming has always just represented us.

We are men, women, gay, bi, straight, mixed ethnicity and whatever the fuck we are and we don’t shout about it.

Maybe not enough, I don’t know, but we just get on with what we’re doing and we share two common things:

1) We love making art festivals

2) We’re nice

When I was working with John Grant *clang* on North Atlantic Flux in 2017 the first thing I asked him was: “What kind of festival do you want to make?” and one of the first things he wanted was an event with no assholes involved.

I thought, wow, we’re going to get along. We’d been doing that with Threshold for seven years already.

Maybe that’s the key to diversity in the work place. Because let’s be fair, the majority of assholes aren’t super keen on sharing their space with someone different from them…unless It’s the cool thing to do.

There was story published in The Guide a few weeks ago celebrating female Liverpool artists and I think there was only four of them hasn’t appeared at Threshold Festival, and one of them was Rebecca Ferguson.

We’re not standing alone flying some massive flag though, there’s plenty of promoters in the city blowing up just as many female acts as male and I don’t think the problem specifically lies with anyone in our scene. It’s deeper set and it’s older than us all and it’s apparent in pretty much every aspect of creative industries today.

As the Guerrilla Girls so poignantly pointed out in the 1990’s after visiting the New York Metropolitan Museum: “less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art Sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female.”

We’ve made progress since then (or I like to hope we have) but there’s still lots more to make and it can’t be arbitrary, it can’t be just a token nod to gender, sexuality and ethnicity, it needs to be at our very core. So much so that we don’t even really think about it.

Threshold Festival 2019 takes place on Friday 29th and Saturday 30th March 2019 throughout the Baltic Triangle. Tickets are available by clicking here.