Avril Stanley spearheads Body & Soul, the independent summer solstice festival, which celebrates ten years this month.
How does it feel to celebrate ten years of Body & Soul?
We have always had year ten in our minds eye. To have reached this threshold feels fantastic. Being an independent festival comes with its challenges, but to celebrate ten years doing what we love, and to continue to pioneer a unique festival model, is our version of success.
What gets easier in managing to sustain the festival over the years?
Knowing that there is always a moment when you don’t quite know if you have what it takes to get to the finish line – and trusting that you do! We have an incredible team that have been through just about every trial and tribulation possible, so our collective capacity to navigate challenges, and make good decisions allows for a more sustainable festival experience. Each year is better than the previous year – and we now know how to run a very finely tuned event.
What remains the greatest challenge in putting on the festival?
Standing by our principles and ethos that pioneers an independent mind and a cutting-edge soul without compromising on our integrity for the sake of sales! Letting go of acts you can’t quite afford but know are perfect for the bill! Remaining left-of-centre. Dealing with the rubbish left behind – which is in itself getting better with more than 50% of our audience choosing to camp in our ‘Leave No Trace’, ‘Us & You’ campsite.
How has Body & Soul evolved since 2009?
Ten years ago, we created something that didn’t exist in Ireland. Body & Soul was the very first festival to create a carefully curated ‘experience’ for festival goers where the festival lineup gave equal footing to commissioned art installations, culture, wellbeing, sustainability and music. It is built on four key pillars: innovation, incubation, inclusivity and sustainability that hold us accountable and underpin the decisions made and ethos of what we do. That model has served us well and gone on to inspire many festivals across Ireland but that doesn’t mean we get to sit on our laurels.
We continue to fine tune our craft and innovate to keep things fresh. It has never been about selling out, but about attracting a like-minded audience who appreciate what we have to offer and the integrity of the event. There is a confidence that grows over the years, not a cockiness as the industry itself is precarious, but a confidence that our offering is unique.
The ethos of Body & Soul has consistently been about a sense of discovery and a collective involvement. Is this harder to maintain in more affluent times?
Having a unique voice within a cluttered landscape is hard to maintain – as we are a group of friends curating a party, versus big promoters with deep pockets. However, Body & Soul is an independent festival with a small team that is immersed in the creative world – it’s the world we live in, and an expression of who we are. This allows us to collaborate and create with some of the best – be they Irish bands, or installation artists from Burning Man festival, an immersive theatre experience from Cork or an aerial performance from Berlin. The festival offering is an extension of our world and thus produces an authentic experience for the audience.
People are looking for meaningful engagement nowadays – we have always been in that space and will continue to provoke and engage. As well as throwing the best party around, we see our festival as a platform to create social change and weave that initiative through our programming and partnerships in a way that adds to the festival experience and invites people to stop and think, to challenge the status quo. That’s the beauty of steering our own ship. We can get behind movements that matter and give them a voice within contemporary culture.
Which new elements are you most excited about?
For our tenth edition, we are looking for creative interpretations of the theme of RITUAL. The theme inspires our entire programme – occupying the ambiguous ground that lies between reverence and ridicule, faith and belief, the absurd and the stunningly sublime. From the specially commissioned tarot inspired character campaign to celebrate ten years of Body & Soul, to ritual processions; elaborate installations; shrines; and electrical waste temples; the theme is stitched throughout the festival and brings the spirit of Body & Soul alive in an exciting way. It equally encourages people to participate, to engage, to play – and to explore the theme for themselves – at a workshop, talk or as part of our masquerade ball. We create the container – the magic comes from the way in which people contribute and participate in that.
Who remains your dream headliner?
Kate Bush. Always and forever.
What advice would 2009 Avril give to her 2019 self?
Don’t sweat the small stuff honey. Within us all is the capacity to love or fear. Choose which to align to and hang on tight. Beauty is ultimately in the eye of the beholder.
Photograph of Avril Stanley: Shantanu Starick