Interview: Julia and Angela Martin, founders of Cro Cro Land

‘We wanted to start a new chapter of music events in the borough, that supports this grassroots music, while also keeping gender equality, which is so important, at the heart of what we do, making this part of Croydon’s new music legacy.’ Says Julia Woollams, co-founder of South London’s newest edition to the music festival calendar, Cro Cro Land.

Croydon native Julia and her Croydon-adopting pal Angela Martin are set to launch the new multi-stage south London indie-music festival this spring with a careful eye on issues right at the heart of the music industry.

The bill is wide-ranging and inclusive, featuring cult favourites The Lovely Eggs and Brighton’s indie-rockers Blood Red Shoes, alongside newer talent like Tiger Mimic and Arxx.

With gender equality at its heart, the founders aim to bring guitar bands back to the birthplace of punk.

The festival will take place across three venues in Croydon’s new event hub, Urban Xchange, and we sat down with Julia and Angela to find out more about their new venture…

What are your respective backgrounds, prior to founding Cro Cro Land?

Julia: I’m a graphic designer and branding consultant, and I work mainly with arts, cultural and charity clients. I also co-founded the Croydonist, which is an online cultural magazine celebrating all the cool and quirky things in our hometown.

Angela: I’m from the band Bugeye, I’ve been a musician for a number of years, and I’ve also organised club nights as well as live music events in small venues. In my less rock’n’roll life I’m a marketing consultant. Julia and I actually run a creative agency together. In case you hadn’t already guessed I’m the other founder of the Croydonist.

What inspired you to create Cro Cro Land?

Angela: The fact that a number of grassroots music venues are closing and opportunities for new bands are becoming fewer, was one of the reasons we felt compelled to do something. But it was also seeing the amazing work that various independent blogs, promoters and managers – people from all walks of life – have been doing. It’s like the most amazing new music movement is taking place, so we wanted to get involved and help. We found the likes of John Kennedy from Radio X, Loud Women, The Zine UK to name but a few, very inspiring.

Julia: There’s all that, but we also wanted to create a phenomenal event for the community, and beyond, which was on our bucket list before we turn 40!

Why did you decide to hold the event in Croydon, and how important is the location to the event?

Julia: Croydon has been the victim of a number of venue closures over the years, despite it having the most incredible music history. For example, it was the birthplace of punk, dubstep, and today, some of the biggest names in grime come from the borough. So, we wanted to start a new chapter of music events in the borough, that supports this grassroots music, while also keeping gender equality, which is so important, at the heart of what we do, making this part of Croydon’s new music legacy.

The festival will take place at Croydon’s Urban Xchange, one of the few venues in the area, how important do you think grassroots venues are in supporting new talent?

Angela: Everyone has to start somewhere. All the great artists from Janis Joplin to The Rolling Stones and the newer artists like the headliners on our bill, all started in small venues. If you don’t have these spaces to hone talent, then how does anyone progress? It just becomes an industry that’s completely dictated by ‘who you know’ and the privileged few.

What is the main aim of the festival, and what do you hope to offer audiences?

Julia: Gender equality across all aspects of the festival and creating an event that is safe and inclusive. We’ve carefully selected the lineup to showcase a diverse range of guitar bands that are the most exciting to emerge from the UK in recent years, some of which you’ll be able to catch at an affordable price before they are playing Wembley…

Over the last couple of years South London has become a wellspring for new talent, nurturing acts like Shame, Goat Girl, and Big Joanie – not to mention a host of grime artists – do you think the tide is starting to turn for the music scene south-of-the-river?

Julia: I think there is a mixture of things happening at the moment from blogs to promoters and artists coming together to create a new version of the music industry. The talent has always been there, it’s just perhaps that artists have not had the outlet to spread their music until more recent times.

Angela: There’s also a real spirit of reclaiming a right to perform and enjoy live music. The political climate and uncertainty has inspired people to have a voice, not just in music, we can see this in the number of marches and demonstrations taking place across the UK. Sometimes we need to be thrown into a shit-storm to motivate ourselves – to get up and do something, say something, be something.

How was the process of curating the festival and getting bands on board?

Julia: It was a beautiful collaboration of band’s submissions, promoter recommendations, and Angela’s art of persuasion.

Was it difficult to strike a balance between the draw of established acts like The Lovely Eggs and showcasing new talent?

Angela: Not really because it’s a festival bill of bands at so many different levels, but all are accomplished in abilities to write awesome music. Some have big followings, and some have small followings and the idea was to mix them all up, not reveal stage times, and promote the day as a whole, rather than just focus on the bigger names. Everyone gets a shout out at Cro Cro Land.

What were the challenges of creating a brand-new festival?
Julia: The list is long and quite arduous when you’re talking logistics, but it’s all coming together, you’ll be pleased to know.

In line with PRS Foundation’s Keychange initiative, gender equality is at the heart of the festival across the bill and crew. How much real progress do you think is being made for gender parity in the industry, and what impact do you hope festivals like Cro Cro Land will have?

Julia: I think things are changing but not as quickly as we would like. Having vote100 last year has helped tremendously in bringing gender equality to the fore, as well as the #Metoo campaign and the work done by organisations such as yourselves. Female musicians are rapidly increasing, that’s for sure. We’re also seeing more women take on roles as promoters, organising events, starting their own publications, so it’s impacting at various levels in such a positive way.

Angela: However, we still see underrepresentation of women in many areas of the industry such as the tech sector, and people in guitar shops. It’s always a guy who thinks I’m buying a guitar for my boyfriend – ironic on two levels! Also looking at festival billings can be a little depressing when you still see so many ignoring the vast talent of female musicians out there. We hope that Cro Cro Land can help set an example as the norm to have such a gender balance and it not be a gimmick. And the more people who make that an important part of their events, ultimately creates a ripple effect.

How do you feel about the health of guitar-based music in the UK specifically, and the industry in a wider sense?

Julia: The UK’s a strange one, it seems that there’s only room for one genre to ever be big at any one time, so it’s a bit of a case of swings and roundabouts. Everything’s cyclical really, much like the regeneration of Croydon, but it certainly feels like guitar music is breaking through again, which is thanks to the grassroots community.

Angela: Guitar music never really had a downtime in the UK, it’s that the avenues supporting new music have been somewhat reduced, so we’ve had to find new ways to break through. Big labels and publications seem to expect bands to have already made it before they’ll get involved. It’s almost like scouting out talent has disappeared from their agendas, which is a shame.

Cro Cro Land takes place on 6 April at Urban Xchange, Croydon.

For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit crocroland.co.uk