Projectraisetheroof's Blog

PhD Thesis Abstract

From ‘No Spectators’ to the Extra-Spectator: Idealized Participation and the Boutique Event


Taking festival culture as its context, this investigation explores a contemporary politics of participation characterized by the rejection of spectatorship. Chiefly concerned with small-to-medium music festivals in the United Kingdom, sometimes described as ‘boutique’, it aims to reveal a niche of events that are culturally aligned with the ideology of Burning Man in Nevada, USA. How far it is possible to claim that the democratized production credited to Burning Man is de-radicalized through commercial appropriation is presented as a question necessary to understanding its socio-political significance in Britain.

Firstly, a theoretical chapter surveys literature from interdisciplinary fields, identifying concepts previously utilized in the interpretation of festival and carnival culture. This analysis exposes the performative differences implied by contrasting carnival types, forming key conceptual frameworks throughout. Following this preliminary, problematizing uniform interpretations of festival audiences as ‘active’ reveals the impetus responsible for the resistance of spectatorship. Through the discussion of its milieu and interpretive discourses, an examination of Burning Man exposes a fusion of participative precepts and praxis. Retaining a set of indicators for extreme participation, a case study investigation of Cambridgeshire’s Secret Garden Party is then undertaken and contextualized with a broader examination of the contemporary festival industry and boutique sector. Underlining the transformation of ‘No Spectators’ into extra-spectatorship, the thesis concludes its investigation with an action research-based analysis of the author’s own festival, Raisetheroof.

These efforts confirm the assumption that Burning Man is active beyond the boundaries of its own official international network. The placement of this event as wholly responsible for similar modes of engagement and production outside of Secret Garden Party is, however, presented as problematic. This study concludes in recognizing a synergy of cultural, demographic and economic factors responsible both for the emergence of the boutique event industry, and the idealization of participation discernable within it.


Raisetheroof nominated for a UK Festival Award!

Awesome – inner city events like Raisetheroof are being recognised for their festival-esque status! Despite the compact size of RTR, the number of votes are worked out in proportion to the size of the event, so, we are actually in with a chance to get through to the next round.

Please vote – follow the link

Raisetheroof nominated for Best Metropolitan Festival

Project Raisetheroof Info

A Participative Project

Project Raisetheroof is based on the principle that the more you involve a community in producing its own cultural events, the more relevant and colourful those events can be. We also believe that there is a lot more to a night out than just a list of bands or DJs. We’re dedicated to reflecting diversity through offering a myriad of different activities, quirks and musical styles.

Inspired by the Boutique festival movement, we’re excited by spaces that erode the distinctions between artist, audience, producer and consumer; and that is exactly what we attempt to create at Raisetheroof. Though we will bring you top-notch live bands, shift your focus from the stage and you will be pleasantly surprised.

Part-funded by the Bradford company Unltd, the Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs, Raisetheroof acts as a volunteer opportunities provider for adults based in the areas of Chapeltown, Woodhouse, Roundhay, Chapel Allerton and Hyde Park. During the six months preceding the event, volunteering opportunities involve the various fields of production that bring together the festival, including the creation of art installations, participating in décor-making workshops and performance art, through to publicity, event co-ordination and marketing.

Currently Raisetheroof is organized by Roxy Yeganegy and Nadine Cuddy, who juggle the task with a part time job, a full time PhD, and printing the local magazine No-TiTLE. Our vision is to set up a financially sustainable social enterprise by 2012, allowing us to continue to produce events that offer value for money, attention to detail, and most importantly, participative experiences.


The following abstract is a work in progress. I will hopefully have a draft of this done by the end of the month. Hopefully this will contain an exploration of the following..

– How are different event spaces revealing of the way artists become distinguished and separate from their audiences?
– How do festival layouts reveal assumptions about a hierarchy of performance?
– Do Boutique festivals alter this hierarchy through a shift in event design, use of space and an increased prioritising of installation art?
– Does this shift contribute to a ‘democratisation of performance’?

Boutique festivals are becoming complex systems of entertainment. Though many adopt a conventional list of features (the main stage, the dance tent, the acoustic tent, etc); the number of ancillary activities and participative installations has proliferated, and the nature of festival experience changed. With the aim of investigating this change, this chapter will explore the connection between the spatial construction of convivial space and the performativity of festival audiences. The shift in style and approach to festival production that is observable (to different extents) at England’s Secret Garden Party, Glade, Standon Calling and Ireland’s Electric Picnic, I will argue lends itself to a mode of experience that is increasingly performative. Spatial geography is one dimension of festival production that is deterministic not only of the physical movement of audiences but, more subtly, of the horizons of expectation that govern participative behaviour. The increased complexity of the British festival has changed audience interaction with the (prescribed) artists on stage, with the contextual space, and with each other. This change is both subtle and discerning of the ‘cultural performativity’ described in Lee Gilmore’s analysis of Nevada’s Burning Man festival, and Vicky-Ann Cremona’s exploration of Carnival in Malta. Employing their theoretical framework, I explore how event design and use of space can both alienate and empower the festival audience.

raisetheroof 2010, get involved!

GET INVOLVED – Raisetheroof 2010

We need:

DJS – we are looking for Leeds-based DJs of all genres of upbeat dance music! From 50’s swing to Dubstep, we want an eclectic explosion of music for our second room, as Moonstomp are moving over to entertain you in the main room in between our fantastic selection of bands (line up to be announced this summer)

VOLUNTEERS – From assisting with press in the run up, to creating art installations, we are looking for people who fancy getting involved with an innovative event and acquiring some events know-how at the same time!

ARTISTS – We have a weekly art club KRAFTY SLUTS (the name is from a joke about the breaks DJs Krafty Kuts – promiscuousness is non compulsory) making stuff for raisetheroof and other festivally events, drinking wine and sharing scandalous gossip.

Email about all or any of the above!!

The Growth of the Music Festival and the Commercialisation of Music.

Abstract – wee bit of work for a Music in Context module. My first ever lecture – went alright actually. Was sh*tting myself though!

The Growth of the Music Festival:
Festivals and the Commercialisation of Music.

Kendal Pop Festival - 1973

The contemporary music festival has evolved into a significant mode of music reception in Western popular culture. Since the early open-air Jazz concerts of post-war Britain, the music festival has played an historic role in the development of music audiences, helping to frame distinguishable music subcultures that mix together political, artistic and stylistic preferences. These have, in turn, influenced the commercial production and marketing of music recordings.

The 21st century has seen the free availability of music fuel the appetite for music festivals, whilst the recent decline of profits in the recording industry has repositioned the live performance as crucial to the commercial success of many artists. These factors have driven the formation of a new relationship between the record and festival culture. This lecture will look at the growth of the summer music festival and the festival’s changing relationship to commercial music markets, in relation to examples of festivals taken from a broad range of music genres.

Dreams of Utopia: Idealism, Festival and the Counterculture.

(A presentation I’ll be doing in April I think, if anyone’s interested in getting the slides off me then get in touch!):

Dreams of Utopia: Idealism, Festival and the Counterculture.The Star Spangled Banner - Jimi Hendrix

In 1969, hippie festival culture peaked with Woodstock, attracting close to half a million young Americans. To those that attended, this event was considered to offer far more than entertainment: despite fraught conditions and organizational difficulties the event was for many, an expression of freedom and peace, and for some, a social experiment in alternative living.

This presentation recounts the relationship between the festival and the Counterculture, and recalls the idealism of the era that fuelled the politically potent nature of the festival. It will also take a critical look at the popular remembrance of key festival performances, including Jimi Hendrix’s Star Spangled Banner and Bob Dylan’s performance at Newport Folk Festival, as symbolic.


See the RTR news below….


First, feast your eyes this super video by Silent Cartel that captures raisetheroof performances and odd happenings and spits them out to the awesome Wonkamix by DJM:

It’s been almost five years since the first raisetheroof in Leeds at the Brudenell Social Club, organised with the help of Oblong Community Centre and a Burley Can Do grant of five hundred pounds. Since then we’ve had immense fun upping the game and bringing together a regular urban festival and a mad mixture of art, music and mayhem at Leeds West Indian Centre. We were delighted when our friends at Love Music Hate Racism came on board to help take a stand against the BNP in Ocotber 09 and we hope to continue our allegiance with the campaign long into the future!


You can expect something extra special for our fifth birthday celebration on the 8th of October 2010, Leeds West Indian Centre. We are introducing a third area which extends far into the carpark, and will be dedicated to showcasing the work of visual artists, quirky games and free workshops. With funding bids underway and the likes of Don’t Panic and the Ladybird Project on board, this will be a special addition to the usual roster of mayhem.


In order to keep improving our festival we want feedback and suggestions from anyone who has been to raisetheroof and has an opinion – what things do you want to change, or stay the same? What bands have you enjoyed the most at raisetheroof? Who do you want to see take the stage (or command the decks!) in 2010? Are there any ideas for art installations or quirky features you want to see happen? Let us know and maybe you will – reply here or email


Anyone can input, help out and get involved. We will be hosting open informal meet-ups to discuss the running of the night, email if you’re interested in coming along.


You can read and leave your views at our audience participation/events management research blogspot –

first paper abstract!

Modes of Participation at the festival: the cultural contingency of the audience as observer.


Convivial celebrations reveal a wide spectrum of modes of reception: some dramatize the distinction between the audience and the artist and others blur the boundaries. This paper will draw upon indicative examples of festival participation in varying manifestations, from early-modern Roman Carnival through to an anthropological analysis of tribal celebration in Zimbabwe; as well as the author’s own field research at the Burning Man Festival in the Nevada desert. In light of these examples and the opposing interpretations of the audience in the context of the Rock/Pop festival of the 1960s and 70s, the contingency of the audience as observer is investigated.

‘Boutique’ festivals form a new and emergent sector of small provincial events that are reportedly pushing growth in the UK festival industry. As events that offer increasingly diverse aesthetic experiences, the Boutique event may be interpreted as popularizing art forms previously exclusive to the avant-guard. Fuelled by competition, innovative activities available at the Boutique event frequently position the audience as active participant as opposed to passive observer. Whether Boutique events as a contemporary phenomenon constitute evidence for an evolving festival audience, which ultimately points to the democratization of performance, will be explored as a final focus of the paper.

Modes of Participation at the festival: the cultural contingency of the audience as observer.

Latest musings… loads more to come

The active participation of the ‘folk’ in the traditional carnival described by Mickail Bakhtin is often considered the quintessence of carnivalesque social forms . Johann W. Von Goethe’s study of the early modern Roman carnivals of 1787 and 1788 describes the oppositionality of the rebellious crowd as rooted in the raucous pagan Saturnalia. Members of the crowd fulfilled a performative role, inverting gender and social roles with costume and enactment in the context of a festival ‘not given to the people, but by the people to themselves’ . Theorists and historians have shared in a discovery of inversion that is manifested in symbolic behaviour: ‘sex roles are inverted in masquerade with males dressing as females and females dressing as males… [and] masters serving their serfs’ . Significant here is not only the playful opposition to social norms, but also their participatory and performative nature. These oppositions are not ‘portrayed’ through artistic dissemination, from artist to audience but are performed through the action and role-play of a creatively-active audience. It would be therefore be reasonable to deduce that the Bakhtinian concept of a carnivalesque crowd demonstrates a form of audience participation that is highly performative.

However, what it actually means to participate in music culture is unclear when contemporary claims about more subtle forms of participation are taken into consideration. Participation needn’t be an outwardly observable ‘action’. Simon Frith claims that simple observation and listening is itself a performative ‘experience of sociability’, and subsequently he questions the distinction between the traditional conception of performance and the performance of the everyday that manifests itself in popular behaviour, such as joke-telling, anecdotes and the performance of style and identity . The collective experience and appreciation of music and art is seen as participatory in its primary ability to create a shared consciousness amongst participants. Significantly, this takes on a potent and socially catalytic character in the case of politicized music. Steinberg’s analysis of the role of rock music in Serbian student protests observes that music ‘is a participatory practice of constructing a social space… where understandings of collective belonging can be accomplished in the absence of specific impersonal ties’ .

Participation in the arts has also become a key issue in social policy and arts funding discourse and its achievement is claimed to pertain to a whole host of social benefits – facilitating autonomy and inclusion by making accessible the means to achieve cultural empowerment. Some claim that the democratization of the arts is the route to political equality , whereas others question the use of the arts in achieving social aims. Both the sanctity art and an ideal of political independence are assumptions that seem to underpin their claims that participation in the arts cannot and should not be used instrumentally: ‘culture is not a means to an end. It is an end in itself’ .

‘Arts participation’ has been applied to almost all forms of aesthetic engagement, some subtle and others not so. A comparison between the different forms of participation in the carnival setting; observing, listening, performing, role-play, even eating and drinking – throws light on the varied manifestations that can be more usefully classified in terms of, perhaps, the extent of outwardly-observable creativity involved. Thomas Turino’s anthropological work on participative and presentational performance in Zimbabwe provides an excellent illustration and true account of two audience extremes – the audience as passive observer versus active producer/performer. Participatory and raucous celebrations of the Zimbabwean Shona tribe typify the traditional and dominant mode of festivity that existed up until the 1930s. These constituted the active performance of the entire community, whose members danced and sang in a ring encircling a fluctuating collection of drummers that provided a rhythmic backing . The more proficient musicians were expected to keep to a simple and monotonous beat to create an underpinning of rhythm for the less-able of the community to embellish and keep time. The colonialism of the 30s and 40s in Zimbabwe brought with it a new cultural consciousness and an emergent and cosmopolitan middle class. Though the traditionalists continued to uphold participatory celebrations, the fashionable middle class were increasingly attracted to the ‘presentational’ Western concert model that showcased the musical prowess of ‘stars’ whose audiences were ‘still, polite, quiet, attentive, and appreciative’

Participation and the loss of Authenticity

Turino’s account does forewarn against the interpretation of this transition as a loss of authenticity. Despite coming from the West, this new mode of aesthetic experience was nevertheless a true expression of a globally-conscious middleclass. Active audiences have, however, often been equated with authenticity; conversely the spectating audience has been cynically interpreted via passivity and a post-modern loss of community. Marianne Mensil’s assertive typology of festivals and the era’s of their production concludes that the modern industrial city is incapable of producing a genuine festival:

“the city is no more a self-centred, autonomous community; it is a small part of a supra-urban system, the nation… Festive time is not a time of rupture of any logically or symbolically relevant temporal dimension. It does not constitute a separate reality, apt to bring to life events of cosmic dimension. In this context, affirms the author, carnival proper cannot take place… In this new context, carnival changes into something else, structurally different, termed a ‘folklorised festival’. This new event keeps only some of formal characters of former festivals, becoming a “show” with passive spectators, a ‘make-see’ and no more a ‘make-do’”

When the act of ‘seeing’ over ‘doing’ predominates, so too does the emphasis on providing aesthetic stimulation and entertainment for spectators in the absence of an engaged, and engaging, community. And so the ‘folklorised festival’ becomes a Baudillardian simulacra: unreal, existing as no more than a hyper-simulation of history and therefore, one can deduce, significant only in it’s communication of nostalgia for the past. Of course, this interpretation is severe on several counts. Many traditional festivals embody an odd mixture of tradition, ritual, community, tourism, sacred, profane and participation – as Guss’ anthropological account of the Vegetarian festival in Phuket observes, some were there for religious transformation, whilst others, vacationers from the West, were there to watch the spectacle and eat the food.

The politics of participation has also been applied to the pop/rock concert of the 20th /21st century and the Western world. Woodstock has been critiqued for “dramatizing” the separation of the performers and consumers through creating a format of music-reception that encourages the worship of rock stars and the physical separation of the audience from the performers on stage. Confusingly, though, there are others who have interpreted the notorious event as conducive to the exact opposite: a ‘communitarian’ Woodstock ‘with no great spiritual or physical distance between artist and audience’ with a ‘fluid boundary between the audience and performers’. It would certainly be wrong to suggest that the separation of the audience from the performers in the context of the 60s rock concert invalidates the experience of the audience. Though Mensil mentions the 60s counterculture in passing, she glosses over the fact that, for those who partook in festival culture, their very attendance was a significant form of participative alliance to a cultural ideology and anti-war politics. In the words of Steinberg, it was the ‘“aesthetication” of the political message, through the medium of culture, [that] motivate[d] popular participation’ .


Mickhail Baktin

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, ‘The Roman Carnival’, Time out of Time: Essays on the Festival, ed. by Alessandro Falassi (University of New Mexico Press, 1987) p14.

Alessandro Falassi, ‘Festival: Definition and Morphology’ in Time out of Time: Essays on the Festival (University of New Mexico Press, 1987) ed. by Alessandro Falassi, p4.

Simon Frith, ‘Performing Rites’ in Evaluating Popular Music

Christian Lahusen, quoted in Marc Steinberg, ‘When Politics Goes Pop: on the intersections of popular and political culture and the case of Serbian student protests’, Social Movement Studies, 3:1 (2008)3-29 p8

Francois Matarosso, Art, Society and Autonomy, Lecture given at the 49th Loccumer Kulturpolitisches Kolloquium, 18-20 February 2005 at Loccum Evangelische Akademie, Hannover, Germany.

Eleonora Belfiore, ‘Art as a Means of Alleviating Social Exclusion: Does it Really Work? A Critique of Instrumental Cultural Policies and Social Impact Studies in the UK’, International Journal of Cultural Policy, 8:1 (2002), 91-106.

Thomas Turino, ‘Participatory, Presentational, and High Fidelity Music in Zimbabwe’ in Thomas Turino, Music as Social Life: The Politics of Participation, (University of Chicago Press, 2008), p140

Marc Steinberg, ‘When Politics Goes Pop: on the intersections of popular and political culture and the case of Serbian student protests’, Social Movement Studies, 3:1 (2008)3-29 p3.