Dan Chandler has certainly paid his dues in the Bristol music industry. Today, he’s one of the brains behind Bristol’s biggest city festival The Downs, helped mastermind the event that legitimised Lloyds Amphitheatre as a big name concert venue, and looks after tours for the likes of Nick Cave, Sleaford Mods and The Pixies up and down the country.
After moving to Bristol in 2002, Dan started out working at the O2 Academy box office. It wasn’t long before he had an eager foot well and truly in the door, becoming the venue’s marketing manager, as well as generally pitching in across the board.
I was doing daytime box office shifts and then coming back in at night and working the door
‘I was doing daytime box office shifts and then coming back in at night and working the door – all the old Full Cycle nights, all the BlowPop nights. Gradually, I got more involved with the marketing of the venue and the running of the venue in all aspects – the production side, the junior managing side, I even used to DJ for BlowPop back in the day, so it was across a lot of different angles.’
On top of that, while the venues quietened down over summer, Dan migrated to the festival fields, working as an artist liaison for Download, V Festival and Secret Garden Party. He now packs out his summers stage managing for the likes of Wireless and Neverworld, as well as Bristol’s own Love Saves the Day and Simple Things.
In 2016, Dan became part of the newly-established, independent Crosstown Concerts, set up by former Metropolis Music directors Paul Hutton and Conal Dodds. Their first outing as Crosstown was the huge homecoming concert for Massive Attack on Clifton Downs, as part of an all-day event that’s now evolved into fully-fledged annual festival The Downs.
Dan still very much has his feet (and ears) on the ground when it comes to his day-to-day role
After more than 15 years in the industry, it might look as though Dan has traded 1600 capacity shows at O2 Academy for stage managing The Downs to 30,000 people, however Dan still very much has his feet (and ears) on the ground when it comes to his day-to-day role, and a big part of Crosstown Concerts’ MO is working with artists from the very beginning of their careers.
‘We still do the small stuff, I’m still keen to throw my ear in and say “I think this band sounds really cool, we should be promoting them and putting them on in The Louisiana”. You don’t get to being a big scale promoter without building acts up to that level. It’s all about finding them when they’re small and finding their audiences for them – that’s the job of a promoter. You find artists you like and you put them in front of people that you think are going to like them and, if you get it right, you end up looking after big bands.
I don’t think I would get as much enjoyment out of what I do (…) if I was working for a non-independent promoter
‘I don’t think I would get as much enjoyment out of what I do, or certainly have as much input into the company as a whole, if I was working for a non-independent promoter, so I feel really lucky that I’ve been able to carry on working for a small team. It means that you’ve all got to work really hard, because we’re still a small business, but we are doing stuff at a big level.’
Although Dan is fortunate to still work as part of a close knit team, there is an unavoidable stress factor that comes with dealing with bigger capacities, bigger infrastructure and bigger budgets. Though, of course, the rewards and feel good factor can be much, much greater.
I have certain points in the year where I feel like I can’t cope and my list never gets any smaller
‘Stress wise, I have certain points in the year where I feel like I can’t cope and my list never gets any smaller even though I’m crossing lots of stuff off it, but the payoffs are more rewarding. It is difficult to stop and take notice sometimes, which is something I have to force myself to do every now and then.
‘I still really love the buzz of working on events, I think that’s something that I’ve held on to from working in venues, so I like being on the ground and making things happen at events. Usually when you’re a promoter, you kind of do everything before the show and make sure that everyone working on the show has got what they need and then you’re at show as a punter. Whereas I still like to do the stage management thing or looking after the artists.
‘I would say that the trade off is that you get to experience these massive, massive highs but for a much shorter period of time and you don’t really get that sense of completion on things, because you’re always on to the next thing. But it is very rewarding when things work out and you get to go to a sold out gig that you’ve been working on, you’ve got a beer in your hand and everyone’s happy. The band are rocking it, the venue is full, there are no issues – that’s a nice feeling.’
Dan is part of a team of individuals that have changed the very landscape of Bristol’s music industry
It’s important to note that Dan hasn’t just been killing it on a personal level, he’s been part of a team of individuals that have changed the very landscape of Bristol’s music industry. The Downs was the first event to make use of the sprawling, central space for 15 years, and Bristol Sounds (formerly Bristol Summer Series) brought Lloyds Amphitheatre into use as a city centre concert venue – a blueprint that has been successfully taken up by Colston Hall and MJR’s Skyline Series among others, between them bringing in concerts from huge names that would otherwise pass Bristol by.
This June, Bristol Sounds is bringing us shows from Bloc Party, Tom Misch, Elbow, The Cat Empire and Cinematic Orchestra – all names that are otherwise simply too big to play outside of a festival field in Bristol. The whole concept has given people a chance to see these big names at a price point that is affordable, without having to shell out for a day ticket to a festival or put themselves up in a hotel in another city.
you’d see all these tours routed and Bristol was being missed out a lot
‘Something I learned from being at the Academy is that you’d see all these tours routed and Bristol was being missed out a lot. There are a lot of young people here, there are a lot of creative people here, there’s money around and people want stuff to do. The level of culture here compared to other cities of its size, Bristol punches well above its weight. But what I noticed was that you’d only really get those bands that were on the way up, once they got to a decent level, there wasn’t anywhere for them to play.
‘One of the things that naturally came out of that was thinking about how we could utilise other spaces to bring bigger acts to Bristol. Using that central location and putting an infrastructure in there – because you can fit more than two thousand people in there, which is what Colston Hall will be when it’s reopened – it gives people like Tom Misch a place to play. We’re not the only people that put shows on in that space now, Bristol Sounds proved the worth of that space almost instantly.
it’s really important to try and utilise city centre spaces for things that bring cultural capital to the city
‘I think it’s really important to try and utilise city centre spaces for things that bring cultural capital to the city. I think it’s really, really important that these events use local suppliers. We make sure that with any of our events, all the staging, all the lighting, all the audio, all the staff, all the stock, fences, toilets – everything that we use – is as much as possible hired from local suppliers.
‘We understand that it’s really important in terms of, number one, a cultural offering to make Bristol appear like an attractive city for people to come and visit and, number two, to give people work. There are loads of us working in this industry and we want to keep that money here. That’s what keeps Bristol being able to punch above its weight culturally.’
There are loads of us working in this industry and we want to keep that money here
Similarly, The Downs – which Crosstown Concerts run in partnership with Team Love – is much more than big names in a central space. In its first instance, it served as the homecoming show for Massive Attack, who hadn’t had a space to play in Bristol for 13 years.
A huge amount of thought is put into lineup curation with a view to representing diverse, boundary-pushing artists, alongside lesser-known acts that some of Bristol’s most experienced promoters believe deserve your attention. There’s also the Information Stage, which invites high profile guest speakers to talk about a range of important social and political issues, with previous guests including Ken Loach and Akala.
Heading into its third year this August, The Downs’ lineup announcement has blown previous years’ out of the water. Main stage acts include Lauryn Hill, Grace Jones, IDLES, Neneh Cherry and Arrested Development, while the likes of Loyle Carner and High Contrast headline the second stage. Plus, Dan assures us, a wealth of rising talent and a strong Bristol contingent.
‘Lauryn Hill, Grace Jones and IDLES – there aren’t going to be many festival bills with those three names on! It feels really Bristol, it feels like we’re moving in a direction that means that we can book different types of artists. We’ve all been really keen to diversify the event, we want to feel like this is an event that we can bring any type of artist to.
‘The USP behind The Downs is that it’s two stages that are curated by people living and working in Bristol and there is a consciousness behind the event as a whole. We want to keep it green, we want solid food offerings that are all local, we want good beers on draft, we want the price to be fair, we want there to be areas for families to enjoy. We want to have a discussion about relevant social concerns – that’s what the arts should engage with and that’s something that we’re going to keep pushing.’
We want to have a discussion about relevant social concerns – that’s what the arts should engage with and that’s something that we’re going to keep pushing
Photos by Martin Thompson // @thefacecollective