Over the weekend of June 20-22, Medway hosted the first Töne Festival, billed as a meeting of Sound and Light. Organised under the aegis of the School of Music and Fine Art at the University of Kent, the Festival boasted performances and installations across various venues in Medway, including internationally renowned artists such as Tomoko Sauvage and Oliver Coates. Interviewed for the Medway Messenger, artistic director Claudia Molitor said that the Festival was a “huge success”, boasting some “truly memorable performances”.
However, this did not correspond with my own experience, and it was evident on social media that other Broadsiders had had similarly negative experiences. I had bought a ticket for the Saturday evening DJ set from Helen Sharp and Radio 3 cult legend Max Reinhardt. At £18, the tickets weren’t cheap, but we were promised a special screening event and ‘ripping’ DJ residency, in addition to free cocktail and canapés upon arrival.
Saturday June 21, the longest day, was a glorious day and it was with heightened expectation that my friend, Neil, and I set off via taxi to the Historic Dockyard. It was, however, upon arrival at the venue for event, The Galvanizing Workshop, that things started to unravel. As we decabbed, there was a palpable air of confusion as to what was happening. Flashing our tickets, we were directed to another space about 400m away which we duly marched to. This space was devoid of anyone or anything, certainly not the backdrop for a ripping DJ set. Feeling deflated, we retired for refreshment at the Ramada hotel.
Thirty minutes later, we returned to the original scene and there was, by now, a melee of people, but little or no organisation. At no point were we asked to produce tickets and I didn’t see anyone else showing proof of purchase. There was a drink and food stall with a plastic glass of wine costing £3 and pizza £4 a slice. Helen Sharp was conspicuous by her absence. Footfall was poor and there can only have been 25 people at most, swallowed up by the cavernous surrounds.
Eventually Max Reinhardt did attend and played a signature set crossing the boundaries of space, time and genre. That said, nothing could compensate for the uneasy feeling that we had been mis-sold the experience. I was intending to simply file under ‘bad night’, until reading the comments of friends on Facebook who had had equally disappointing experiences. One fellow attendee, having also purchased a £18 ticket for the Saturday evening, wrote that, aside from an installation at Fort Amherst, the Festival was “disappointing”, and the lack of organisation, coupled with the haughty attitude of the performers represented a “wasted opportunity”. Similarly, Natasha Steer (aka Creatabot), whilst again lauding the Fort Amherst installation, found other performances “aloof” and “cliquey”.
I wrote to Max Reinhardt asking for his impression of the evening, but, as yet, have had no reply. I also wrote to Claudia Molitor and received an immediate and very fulsome apology for my experience. Dr Molitor continued that others had complained about the Saturday night and its poor organisation. She ascribed the shortcomings to the Festival being overly ambitious, with simply not enough bodies to ensure its smooth delivery.
Overall, it seems that the conception of Tone was admirable, but its execution was, at times, below par. So what lessons for next year? My opinion is the programme was too busy and there were insufficient numbers to sustain it over the three days. Secondly, the artists need to be much more engaged with the thriving arts scene which we have in Medway; perceived Metropolitan cliquey-ness has no place in Medway’s accessible arts scene. If the directors of the Festival are mindful of that, then there’s every reason to hope that Tone 2015 can be a stunning success.
Words: Guy Jordan