Interviews

Venue boss Jake Farey talks passion, survival and what makes a perfect space

Words by Kate Menzies

With over a decade of industry experience, the man behind Peckham Audio, Bermondsey Social and Desertfest tells his story.

It was 2006 when Jake Farey started to put on local gigs. He still had a day job in IT and was interviewing bands for Guitar Magazine on the side. But as time went on, he began to forge connections with rising bands of the time, like the Maccabees and Mumford & Sons, and decided to dedicate his career to live music. One connection that became especially important was when he met the fellow promoter Reece Tee.

Together, Farey and Tee went on to found Desertscene, a promotions company where they could champion the underground rock and metal they loved. From this, the music festival Desertfest was born. “It was set up as a concept to put on a load of shows in the UK for a niche that wasn’t really being targeted here, more so in Europe”, says Farey. “From there, we started putting on shows and it evolved into multi-venue festivals in four cities around the world in the last 10 years. One of the reasons I’ve stuck with it for so long is the people. It’s a great atmosphere.” The first Desertfest was held in the iconic metalhead territory of Camden – since then it’s expanded to Europe and even to the US. 

The festival has remained independent, foregoing corporate sponsorship in favour of a smaller and totally fan-oriented approach. “We’ve never felt like we’d be suited to brand collaboration. Our niche is too weird to go corporate,” says Farey. And what is that niche? “It’s underground rock fans; people who are really passionate about metal. They’re a very nice crowd.”

Bermondsey Social Club

One
of
the
reasons
I’ve
stuck
with
it
for
so
long
is
the
people.
It’s
a
great
atmosphere.

The future of Desertfest changed a lot as a result of the pandemic. In an ambitious move, they broke New York in April 2019. And they were having conversations about new cities when COVID-19 arrived and brought their plans into sharp relief. Farey found himself wondering: is there a need to grow? “One thing I’ve noticed in the last year is: do you actually need to expand all the time, so that you’re potentially going to be more fragile from expansion?” he says. “Ultimately, it’s going to look very different after the pandemic, but it’s hard to know how yet. We’ll ride it out until things are better.”

Beyond Desertfest, Farey co-owns Bermondsey Social Club and Peckham Audio, two venues with very different purposes, locations, and crowds. “Bermondsey Social Club was a great opportunity because the space had potential, overheads weren’t that high, and with the location being in a less desirable area we could be more experimental”, Farey explains. “It’s easy for us to do private parties, because we’re in the middle of nowhere, and that pays well.” But it’s a different story when it comes to newer venue Peckham Audio. 

Peckham Audio gave Farey a chance to build his dream venue. “Having been to so many venues over ten years of touring, around 200 to 300”, he says, “you get to understand what a good venue looks like.” Peckham Audio was set up as a dedicated live space, one of the few in south London. The top priorities were building a beautiful looking venue with a high-quality sound system. “Things like the eyeline are important, but it all comes down to the sound. That’s what builds a reputation”, says Farey. “When you’ve got that reputation, then agents want to put their bands on there, and they tell promoters to put their bands on there.”

But starting a new live music venue on a high street comes with a specific set of challenges. In a sea of pubs, people are likely to stop in for a couple of pints, watch a band, and then move onto the next place. And finding the right lineups to keep the venue going while investing in local talent is a hard line to walk. "Championing grassroots indie is a difficult game for all concerned. It’s great there’s a reputation that we’re breaking new bands, but sometimes it doesn’t pay the bills, and it can run at a loss and put you in debt, it’s hard to justify doing it.” says Farey of the venue’s challenges. These challenges have only been further complicated by the mess that 2020 made of the live music industry. In the same way that expansion for expansion’s sake might not be a good idea, moving slowly and sustainably is most likely the key to staying afloat in 2021.

Peckham Audio

Championing
grassroots
indie
is
a
difficult
game
for
all
concerned.
It’s
great
there’s
a
reputation
that
we’re
breaking
new
bands,
but
sometimes
it
doesn’t
pay
the
bills,
and
it
can
run
at
a
loss
and
put
you
in
debt,
it’s
hard
to
justify
doing
it.

There have been some little wins for Farey though: Bermondsey Social Club, Peckham Audio, and Desertfest each received grants to continue operating. Right now, it’s hard to know what the future holds, but the circumstances did lead Farey to a new way of thinking. “You might be pretty confident and capable people”, he says, “but when it comes to writing an application for an Arts Council grant – and there’s a chance you won’t survive if your event doesn’t go ahead – simple things become very hard to manage and you put a lot of pressure on yourself. You make simple mistakes when you panic, that’s been the biggest thing I’ve found.”

The one thing he has placed value on throughout his career is finding the right people. “It’s a bit cliche but ‘a good cowboy waters the horse first’ – if you make sure that everyone around you is doing ok, then it makes your life a lot easier”, he says. “Find a good team, and make sure that if someone cares about their job, you look after them.” 

It’s this focus on people that’s led to his long relationship with DICE. “I’ve worked with DICE for years, first with Bermondsey Social Club, then Desertfest, then Peckham Audio. All of the ticketing has moved over to DICE and a lot of it is to do with the account managers.” The close relationships he’s formed and the good experience he’s had have obviously made an impact. “Everything at DICE is simple and streamlined,” he says. “The company has great exposure and it’s offering stuff other companies just aren’t offering.” 

This interview was recorded in February of 2021.

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