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Crowd at the Supersonic Festival, Custard Factory
Crowd at the Supersonic Festival

Happy birthday to Capsule

By Phill Huxley
Lisa Meyer and Jenny Moore are the creators and promoters of Capsule, one of Birmingham’s most innovative art and music events. We caught up with them ahead of their fifth birthday celebrations.


Capsule 5th Birthday Party

The event takes place on Friday 17th December at The Custard Factory, Digbeth. featuring live performances from:

  • Noise Noise Alore
  • Esquilax + friends
  • Floach
  • PCM
  • Lucha

The night also features very special guest DJs, bits and bobs from 7 inch cinema and karaoke.
3 pounds entry or 1 pound  if you have a party outfit.
More information on http://www.capsule.org.uk

Capsule seeks to fuse music and art together in one space. A difficult task, but something that Lisa and Jenny have been doing in Birmingham for the past five years. Based at the Custard Factory, Capsule put on regular nights featuring bands, DJs, visual artists and much more, as they seek to use the space available in as many creative ways as possible.

As well as booking major international acts to appear in Birmingham, Capsule encourage and helps to develop local talent in the city.

The duo began with a DIY asthetic which they maintain to this day, and from small beginnings they have brought major acts like Lydia Lunch, Godspeed You Black Emperor, Fugazi, Chicks On Speed and The Rapture to appear at Capsule nights.

Capsule also organise and curate the Supersonic Festival which began in July 2003 and was held again in July 2004. Described as a Sonic/Visual Festival, it attracts just under 1,000 people from all over the UK, Europe and the World to sample the unique collection of artists and performers at the event.

We spoke to Lisa and Jenny as they prepared for their 5th birthday celebrations.

Why did you decide to start Capsule?

Lisa: When I moved from London to Birmingham to go to university, I was pretty horrified at the lack of stuff going on. It was really frustrating because Jen and I used to travel all around the country and even abroad, either to see artwork or bands. We thought why can’t this happen in Birmingham? So we just started writing to people.

Noise Noise Alore
Noise Noise Alore

Jenny: I’m from Birmingham and did a degree in photography at Wolverhampton University. For my studies I spent a semester at the University of Illinois in America. Everyone was putting on shows and exhibitions in their basements and student houses. I was encouraged by that and wanted to bring some of it back to Birmingham.

Lisa: It seemed like there was a really good creative community here, but they didn’t have an outlet where they could show their work or even perform. There was a really bad reputation in Birmingham at the time…there still is a problem with a lack of venues, but then there was also a lack of audience….people were so used to travelling to see things rather than supporting it in their own city.

Jenny: You’d see a lot of Birmingham audience in Leicester, Nottingham or even in London, because shows weren’t happening here. Sleeping in stations was something we did many times, having missed the last train!

When you started did you have a masterplan or anything?

Both: No! Not at all

Jenny: We just started writing to people and we soon realised that it was relatively easy to get in touch with bands and artists by email. So we just asked people if they wanted to come and play or do an exhibition and people were really responsive. We didn’t use the traditional route and go through agents, we didn’t know about them at the time, so we went straight to the artist.

Lisa: If there was someone we really liked who never came to Birmingham, we just wrote to them. We really love Godspeed You Black Emperor, so we wrote to the agent and he was like “Who are you guys? First put on some smaller bands and come back to me.” So we did a few more gigs with artist from Constellation Records – Do Make Say think, Silver Mt. Zion and stuff like that. When we were trusted and they knew we treated people well, always paid and got a good audience, we were able to put on Godspeed. We did that at the Que Club and I think there were about 800 people there, so that was our first big achievement.

So looking after the bands and artists you book is important to you?

Lisa: Yeah, we always try and do things in an ethical way. Our attitudes are derived from DIY culture where the band gets paid first, gets fed and somewhere to decent stay, so it isn’t costing them anything to play. We get the bigger bands to help the more emergent artists that are coming through, so other than playing for ten of their mates in a pub, they can support and band and get and audience of a few hundred people. We try and treat everyone fairly. If you rip people off then your reputation suffers.

You talk about fusing art and music together. How can you do that?

Painting by Pete Fowler, Unabomber exhibition
Unabomber exhibition

Lisa: I did a Fine Art degree and was Vice Chair of an artist led organization. I always found it quite frustrating that you couldn’t bring visual art and sound together, that they had to be quite separate.

Jenny: To put on an exhibition costs a lot of money – so what we’ve chosen to do is to go about it in another way…

Lisa: We commission sonic/visual performances. So for example we had Pram playing with Film Ficciones and they build a soundtrack to his films. We also commissioned a series of beermats, where we got various artists and illustrators to design them, so we could put them in the venue. Because the spaces we work in aren’t gallery spaces, we need about how we can put on visual work.

Can you tell us about the Supersonic Festival that you organise?

"You can’t promote something if you’re not passionate about it."
Lisa Meyer

Lisa: The first year in 2003, we pulled in an audience of 900 people which meant a lot of bands that had never played to more than 50 people automatically had a huge audience.

Jenny: We went to the Sonar festival in Barcelona in 2000 and we were heavily influenced by that. The first time that we went, we were amazed. There were huge crowds and it was set in a major art gallery. It was just so nice, relaxed and civilised.

Lisa: The thing that surprised us was that electronic music has a marginal audience in the UK. The Sonar Festival attracted people from every city in Europe, all of a sudden you have a 90,000 audience. This year we took over a group of small labels from Birmingham, so they could play to a big audience.

How do you decide who to book?

Lisa: It’s almost like Fantasy Football really, it’s who we are interested in and that’s what has got to drive things. You can’t promote something if you’re not passionate about it. We’ve got quite diverse tastes – anything from quite extreme music like Merzbow, to something like To Rococco Rot which is beautiful electronic music. As long as it’s experimental, doing something different and pushing the boundaries, that’s what we’re interested in.

Jenny: Especially with the festival, we sit down and write a list of all the things that would be good, from the big acts, right down to the more emergent acts. We do get sent a lot of stuff – sometimes we book them as support bands. Or a band comes and does a support slot and the next time they play here, they headline.

Capsule and cake night, March 2004
Capsule and cake night

Lisa: We prefer to put on events, rather than just gigs. We like to put interesting line-up’s together to make people get on a train and come to Birmingham.

Do people travel then, to come to your nights?

Lisa:  For the bigger events like Supersonic I’d say around half of our audience comes from outside the West Midlands and a percentage of those are international. If we put on the specialist events, like for example last year we had Merzbow play – it was the only show in the UK, so people traveled from all over.

Jenny: It’s sometimes quite bizarre that we get that kind of pull for a show. The first year we did Supersonic we were amazed how many people came. We actually got quite a few people up from London who realised that Birmingham wasn’t actually that far away.

Who would you say are the most interesting bands and artists in Birmingham at the moment?

Lisa: There’s tons! I think it’s really important to laud the people that are out there doing it because they are really good ambassadors for those who are just getting started. There are people like Pram, Broadcast and Surgeon who are playing internationally. Equally there are people like Mike In Mono and Dead Sun Rising that are moving up. There’s a lot of stuff bubbling away in Birmingham – it just needs a bit of time to grow.

Pram
Pram perform at Capsule

Jenny: It’s easy to think of bands like Pram and Broadcast as being successful. Pram work so hard, but they still need to be supported in Birmingham. There’s a lot of bands in West Bromwich that are very interesting, because they all mix in and out of each other.

Lisa: Again it’s a DIY thing, where all those people are putting on their own shows now. It’s something that we started off and now there’s this community that has built up around it. We can’t put on every band that comes to Birmingham that we’re interested in, but other people are now putting on their own shows, so it’s like passing on the baton.

So, do all of the promoters in Birmingham work together and know each other?

Lisa: Yeah, because I think you’ve got a jigsaw puzzle which is the music scene in Birmingham and each night has got a niche. So you’ve got ColdRice who put on a lot of rock and roll and garage type stuff. Arthur Tapp does a reallly good thing at the Jug Of Ale, with local bands being able to play there.

Jenny: It doesn’t work if there are people trying to battle against each other, it works a lot better if you’re working together.

Lisa: We’ve worked with Hose of God and other people who are very different to us, but you can find some common ground. It makes for an interesting night that gives the crowd something different to go to.

If someone wanted to do a similar thing to what you guys have done, what advice would you give them?

Lisa: Don’t do it!

Jenny: Get a proper job!

Lisa: It doesn’t pay very well and it’s really hard work - that’s the reality of it. You’ve got to be totally dedicated to it because its not the glamorous rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle at all – far from it.

Jenny: You just have to be really enthusiastic about it. The way we’ve worked is that whether or not we’ve been making money we’ve always been professional and they way we’ve approached it is that it’s a job – whether you’re being paid to do it or not, you’re developing your reputation, so you should be serious about it.

Lisa: A lot of people expect to run before they can walk, you need to build up slowly but surely. You don’t need to put on a show for 500 people straight away.

Is there anyone you’ve always wanted to book that you haven’t managed to get yet?

Lisa: We want to put on The Melvins and also Shellac. We’ve always wanted to put on Saxon too, but then there are two Saxon’s, so which one do you book?

The audience at a Capsule night
The audience at a Capsule night

Jenny:  We thought about getting both of them and making them play off against each other. (laughs)

Lisa: We have already put on a lot of people that we wanted too, which is really exciting. Perhaps one of the more awe inspiring shows that we put on was Fugazi, because they are what got us into music when we were 14….and we were sitting backstage when they were soundchecking and we were like ‘Oh my god, we’ve actually put on Fugazi.’ And then we were sitting side stage when they were playing and there were 700 people there and it was like ‘wow, we’ve really achieved something.’

Jenny: I was taking photographs, but it’s times like that when when you need to just go into the crowd. You almost forget that you’re on stage with Fugazi, it becomes a bit normal, so you to go into the crowd just so you remember you’re at the gig….

How do you think the Birmingham music scene has changed in five years?

Lisa: I think that people have become more pro-active and ambitious. They’re not just playing, but they are putting on their own shows as well and supporting each other. It has become this really good community and that’s encouraging.

Jenny: People are more open to exchange of ideas and talk to one another, which is important for the arts scene to grow. There was always people doing stuff, or wanting to do stuff, but it just wasn’t very visible.

Do you think the gentrification of the city centre might  force the creative people out?

Jenny: Yeah, the problem with venues has reached its pinnacle. There absolutely needs to be more small and medium size venues in the city that put on live music. There are a lot of clubs, but in terms of dedicated live music venues there aren’t so many. There has been a lot of investment in the city, but to keep those creative people there needs to be investment in the arts too.

last updated: 10/12/04
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