Is Counterflows Scotland's most expansive music festival? Its curators certainly think so

Alasdair Campbell and Fielding Hope talk about the past, present and future of their inclusive, experimental and web-like music festival

Dedicated to unearthing the avant-garde, vibrant and wonderfully eclectic, Counterflows has been a highlight of Glasgow's music festival calendar since 2012. For this year's event, they'll be taking over venues ranging from the Queens Park Bowling Club to The Art School for four days of experimental, international and underground music.

2018's packed programme of innovative works and multidisciplinary acts include a new collaboration between Chicago's Footwork founder RP Boo and the UK's avant jazz radicals Seymour Wright and Paul Abbott; 'Transversal Time', Rhodri Davies' new ensemble commission; and a series of interventions by Edinburgh outfit Usurper.

From the first iteration of the festival, curators Alasdair Campbell and Fielding Hope have had a clear mission statement: to create an inclusive and collaborative space within Glasgow's art and music scene, where audiences can enjoy a diverse programme while celebrating radical approaches to creativity. 'In setting up Counterflows in 2012, the main premise behind it was to develop a platform for music that looked at the social aspects of performance and art that over many years has sort of become secondary to what happens on stage,' Campbell explains. 'Also, we wanted to bring back some fun and humanity to the proceedings, making "experimental" or "marginal" music feel less like a sterile, snobby boys club. So it was important to develop a festival that engaged properly with the audience, the city and the surroundings as much as the artists themselves.'

'One of the areas that we wanted to challenge was inequality,' Hope continues. 'Better gender and racial representation was a big part of what we want to achieve. Things haven't really changed in our mission over the last six years, but our focus on what we do has intensified.'

The sheer variety of music and art on offer throughout the four days is just one example of what sets Counterflows apart from the many festivals that pop up in Scotland during the spring and summer months. 'There are no other festivals in Scotland putting on the breadth of music that Counterflows represents,' says Hope. 'There are lots of shows throughout the year but there is no other concentrated showcase of this music represented at any other festival. It also is a festival that represents the bringing together of international, Scottish and UK artists and collaborations. One of the key aims of Counterflows is to increase the potential for artists, not just helping them reach audiences but also to encourage nourishing experimentation and collaboration. Counterflows commissions a lot of new work and collaborations that might never happen otherwise.'

As the festival's curators, Campbell and Hope spend a great deal of their time looking ahead, researching and planning, all the while challenging and questioning each decision they make to ensure that every element of the festival is the best that it can be. For Campbell, the curation is all about making connections between the varying components or strands that make up the final programme.

'We like to see the programme itself as a complex web-like structure, where disparate elements (the artists performing) can be threaded together in a way that highlight their originality and potential common ground. We see the venues in Glasgow and the movement between each of them as some sort of topography of this web.'

'There are no other festivals in Scotland putting on the breadth of music that Counterflows represents'

RP Boo
'We initially look at new projects, commissions and collaborations that excite us, and then see how we can make them happen financially and practically,' adds Fielding. 'Then we develop ideas and themes that we may drop or eventually don't like. We'll talk with artists, look for new venues and community spaces, talk with our peers, pose questions to ourselves and visit other festivals. Then the festival slowly forms.'

With such a strong series of festivals behind them, both Campbell and Hope understandably struggle to pick out one defining moment. But among their favourites are Mark Ernestus' Ndagga Rhythm Force and Clara from last year; Heatsick's collaboration with Golden Teacher and Joe McPhee a few years back; Noura Mint Seymali and the first appearance of the Counterflows' dance circle, and the first time duo of Mette Rasmussen and Zeena Parkins.

'There have been so many beautiful, joyous, hilarious moments from past festivals,' Hope says. 'We like to think that it's a festival that conjures up a melange of emotions and makes audiences leave feeling overwhelmed, stimulated, and inspired. That said, explosive moments of joy on the dancefloor are something that the festival has earned a reputation for.'

So with such interesting and noteworthy past appearances and performances demonstrating Counterflows' affinity for curation that is as broad and disparate as it is progressive, what does the future hold? 'Every year we feel like the festival is refining and intensifying itself,' Campbell confidently notes. 'It can only get better.'

Counterflows, various venues, Glasgow, Thu 5–Sun 8 Apr.

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