I met up with the director of Rumpus Productions, Santiago Genochio, ahead of partying at the Islington Metal Works on 1 December. I had dusted off my 1940s suit and hit the dance floor (sketching en route, much to the interest of revellers) with an energy that had seemingly been transferred from Santiago and the amazing events he and his team have been putting on for the past 8 years. His interview was a fascinating insight into the art of running successful interactive party events. Five of these have taken place at the Coronet and the 2014 event Frontiers was featured as part of The Melodramatic Elephant in the Haunted Castle play and upcoming art exhibition at The Art Academy Gallery from 9-20 December 2017.
"I grew up on a farm in the middle of a jungle in Brazil. There wasn't much music or partying. I think I had a desperate desire to be surrounded by human beings and to socialise. Adventure and a desire to try something new brought me to England.
I got involved with the Burning Man community in Europe around the early 2000's and from that I started doing events that lead me to forming Rumpus. Rumpus is an indoor festival. We have between 7 and 11 rooms with a very wide range of content from poetry to live theatre, from bands to very unexpected little performances. At normal Rumpus nights we have 1000 people. When we perform at the Coronet we have 2,500. Another way of describing us is over the top, non-stop, tip-top animalistic carnival with magic, music and mayhem.
One of the things I did that helped Rumpus was not to sell cool or sexy. I chose to sell fun. People want to have fun. We have found a way that encourages and allows people to have fun, without self or social judgement. People really want that. They really need that space. One of the incredible things about my job is that in the last hour of the event, people are coming up to me and thanking me for the effect it has on their lives.
I had spent many years working other people's events at the Coronet and didn't dare dream that one day, I would run events at that level. It must be one of the crowning moments of my career. I have a very clear memory of Frontiers in 2014. The circus show was the biggest I had commissioned. We had fire lanterns and a cyr wheel on the stage. I had never booked a cyr wheel before. It's an incredible act with a metal hoop and people stand inside it and the tricks they do are amazing. It was a very proud moment because me and a couple of my crew realised that we had never worked on an event that was so complex and yet it was so straightforward and relaxed. As a producer that is the crowning glory. If you can make complexity simple.
I also remember standing on the balcony watching the circus act with my family who came down to see it. I was just beaming, beaming. And then I suddenly realised what time it was. There was utter panic as I was meant to be on stage myself. One of the crew who was running a room had this sacrificial theme. They had given me the role of being the priest cutting out the heart of a performer. I had to run through the crowd, pulling off bits of clothing as I went and I ran into the room. I leapt onto the stage with the knife and performed the sacrifice without any of the preliminaries. The crew, as well as being performers, were prosthetic artists who have worked on Hollywood films and they had made a very life-like human heart. It looked like it was beating.
This is how the entertainment business works and the model is simple. You put a DJ in front of a room full of people and eventually you have to get a more expensive, a more famous DJ to get more people in the room. But you just keep putting one DJ, one band in front of a load of people. That leads to a very spectator based model of culture. I pay my money. I'll stand in a crowd. I will watch an act. I will receive this. I will be part of a homogenous crowd. But it's places like the Coronet that allow you do something different. There are bigger venues, but they are only exhibition halls. At the Coronet where they have so many varied spaces, we could try out different types of content. That means we could take risks, We could say to a performer, what was that idea that you have never been able to do? Do it! It doesn't matter if it doesn't work, because people can go to another room. But it usually does work. It means we can start breaking this notion of entertainment and culture as something you pay in order to receive. It's sad that the experience of culture today is one of consumption, not one of participation or creation.
We've done really well at running a business in this industry and fulfilling my original goals of being both sustainable and artistically valid. But I don't see any opportunity to fulfil those goals while growing in size without venues like the Coronet. I think we are just back to consumeristic models of culture and I'm very loathe to be part of that process. I'd rather use what we learnt in terms of running a business and supporting small grass roots businesses to do what they do well. This will be a new aspect to the work we do.
The next Rumpus event is New Year's Eve, Plasticine Vs Pleistocene!