A Conversation With Reaper Agency UK About Fortress Festival

My involvement in the UKBM scene has been sporadic at best over the past however many years. But it warms this tattered heart of mine to know my home county of North Yorkshire is being darkened with sell-out shows and festivals featuring some of the very best black metal offerings. 

It’s been a while since I’ve interviewed anyone for anything, but the opportunity for a chat with Reaper Agency UK about the upcoming Fortress Festival in Scarborough – yes, Scarborough – was too good to miss. 

I hope you get something from our conversation, and don’t hesitate when it comes to getting a ticket. I wouldn’t be surprised if this twenty-three-bands-strong weekend (featuring the likes of Bölzer, Panopticon, Trivax and Havukruunu) is close to selling out. Reaper’s upcoming JORVIK: Bridge of Destiny set for this coming weekend – 28th, 29th January – sold out a while ago. If you do attend Fortress Festival in June, I may see you there. I’ll have a stall selling wyrd odds and sods. Enjoy the interview.

Well met! Please introduce yourself and your role at Fortress Open Air Festival 2023.

Hi, Katie. I direct Fortress Festival (we have lost the “open air” angle due to the change in location for the event) I curated the line-up, manage the marketing and sales, and sort whatever else goes along with arranging an event like this one!

2023 is (I think!) the first year the festival has happened. What inspired the idea for Fortress and where and when was that thought conceived?

Yes, it will be the first year for the event, and hopefully, one of many. The idea of a large black metal festival like this one has been an aim of mine for quite some time. It wasn’t until the post-covid that Reaper found a lot of success within the industry, so I figured this was the best time to pull the trigger on an event of this calibre. The initial organisation, ideas and band bookings were, strangely, implemented whilst I was on my death bed in hospital! I had a serious accident last year. When life tries to f*ck you, f*ck it back!

I’m intrigued as to how you decided on the bands for the festival. What went into the creation of the impressive line-up Fortress will be delivering?

Reaper has, generally, always leant towards the style of black metal you will find at Fortress; unique underground atmospheric bands that you usually don’t see in the UK. Promoters are usually told that it isn’t a wise idea to only book your favourite bands. But, it seems to be working for me, thankfully. We have been in contact with most of these acts for some time now, and we have hosted club shows and tours for some of these acts over the previous few years. Panopticon, for example, were always my go-to band to headline this event. A lot of things fell into place nicely for Fortress. Every band that I went after were really eager to play this event.

The festival features several UKBM heavyweights. As someone who’s spent more time on the outskirts of the scene than in the midst of it (living abroad and hermitting away with depression), I’d appreciate your thoughts on where the scene is currently and how you hope to see it evolve in the future. 

The UK scene for black metal is really strong atm. It’s an absolute pleasure to be a part of this machine and to be watching it grow at the rate it is going. Like you, I only decided to enter the “scene”, especially online, around 5 years ago. I have always been a big fan of the music since an early age – probably around 16 years old. But I never tried to involve myself in any sort of community. I won’t mention here which band or album it was, but I actually got heavily into a certain UK release in 2018 and I decided it was time to try and get a piece of what was going on here. I haven’t looked back since!

What are your experiences organising gigs and festivals, and what do you think are the key things that need to be in place to ensure a festival – especially one of this magnitude – runs smoothly?

Contrary to popular belief, I am not a fresh face to the industry. I have always been a promoter/event organiser, in some form, since I was a teenager. I would draw up designs and curate festival line-ups in my maths classes at school – and got thrown out for doing so most of the time! Beyond a few fleeting moments of wanting to be an Architect or a Game Designer, I always wanted to work within the live music industry. I have ADHD, so maybe this was one hyperfocus that just wouldn’t go away, but I am glad it didn’t.

I mainly worked at DIY style events in my hometown, club shows, fundraisers etc. In 2017 I managed a live music venue for a couple of years until I decided it was time to really take a good swing at making an events business my main source of income. I found a great deal of success with Scarborough Punk Festival. Which is now in its second year and due to sell out for the second year running at 1,700 capacity. If it wasn’t for Covid halting a lot of plans, we would be in our 4th year by now I guess!

I sometimes have to ask myself what goes into making an event of this scale like this successful. Tbh, I implement a lot of ideas and plans on the fly and hope for the best! But as long as you are organised, totally dedicated to your work and you have built up a strong network of fans along the way, it isn’t as hard as most would believe. Over the past few years I have been lucky to find a business partner that helps with a lot of the organisation behind the scenes. I definitely wouldn’t be in this position if it wasn’t for him.

Which festival you’ve attended would you say has been the greatest in terms of line-up, organisation, location and overall experience? 

Damnation Festival, Leeds. I really adore that venue. I even enjoyed getting lost constantly! It was the only event in the UK that really felt like a meeting ground for all of your friends each year. The best time. I really do miss that place. But what Gav has achieved with Damnation is staggering. Moving to an arena is a great thing to happen for the UK scene, and shows just how strong this industry is here atm.

You’ve teamed up with two phenomenal artists for the artwork and design work – Vojtěch Doubek and Hester Appland. How did you folks come to work together?

I have used both artists for several projects over the years; for different events and for band merchandise and logo designs. They are two of the best artists in the industry atm and I imagine I will use them much more! Thankfully, Hester has actually agreed to be a part of Reaper’s designs and ideas moving forward. So expect a lot more from her.

It’s thrilling to see black metal events in Yorkshire, though I’ve never heard of anything happening in Scarborough! Was it always going to be a beachside festival? How was it finding a venue to host several hundred black metallers? 

Fortress was originally planned to be held at Pealie’s Barn, East Cowton. Far up North in Yorkshire. If you can track down some of the early photos and plans for the festival, you will see why we chose this location. It’s akin to an old Viking settlement. Totally atmospheric. It was perfect for this. But, unfortunately, the venue encountered some planning issues. We were forced into making the move. We wanted to keep the event within North Yorkshire, so Scarborough was the most suitable place for it. We have a good working relationship with the Scarborough Spa. Which is quite the iconic venue in the UK. It also allowed us to raise the capacity by nearly double and we have since more than sold out the original capacity for the event, we are somewhere near 500 tickets sold now.

I haven’t been to Scarborough since I was knee-high. My memories are of riding donkeys on the beach and demolishing knickerbocker glories. What can people who’ve never visited expect, and what would you recommend they get up to in their spare time?

Scarborough is a tale of two halves. It’s f*king full of seagulls, pensioners and crackheads. But on the flip side, it has some of the most beautiful scenery. If you’re keen for a walk with the dogs in the wilderness whilst listening to some depressive black metal, Scarborough is your bag. If you’re looking for a busy, forward-thinking town, just don’t approach this place. The local Council is killing this town.

In your words, what can folk expect from Fortress?

A weekend away in a venue that will very much mirror the south of France in June. A line-up usually seen in mainland Europe, and generally a fucking great time.

I doubt there will be much opportunity for you to catch many performances, but if you could choose one, who would it be and why?

Nah to hell with that! You don’t bring your favourite bands from every part of the globe to your hometown to be sat outside on car parking duty.

I’ll be watching every band. Side stage. Whilst my cronies do the heavy lifting.

Any important information festival goers need to know? Where’s the best place for them to go to keep up to date with festival news?

We have one outlet atm – Reaper Agency UK. We operate from Facebook and Instagram, mainly. But I have been working on creating something new. I can’t say much at this stage about that.

Is there anything else you’d like to throw in before we wrap this conversation up and cast it out into the ether?

Yes. Go hard or die. If anyone wants to get into the industry, then now is the best time to start. I will gladly help anyone that fancies their hand at promoting, booking bands etc. Just give me a nudge. Thanks for the chat, Katie.

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