This year, Glastonbury Festival had a brand new venue: SAMULA: The Portal. The venue was designed and built by Lucid, a company whose co-director is a woman. It was commissioned by Emily Eavis, co-organiser of Glastonbury, and Kerry Veitch of Glastonbury’s The Common.
Lucid are addressing the negative impact of disposable design and festival infrastructure, making it their mission to lead the way in sustainable stage design. The venue also has a gender-balanced line up of 50% women.
Changing the mould for sustainable festival stage builds
Helen Swan and Chris Carr, co-directors of Lucid, and their team are a design and fabrication studio, with a large workshop on a leafy farm in Kent. They create and build structures and spaces for festivals and events, with an aim to generate audience interaction and immersion, pushing the boundaries of set construction and its integrated tech. They want to end the practice of single-use sets. One-off installations, made using huge quantities of new raw materials, are built for events that last a few days or even hours, only to then be thrown into landfill.
As a replacement for single-use sets, Carr has designed a modular system of steel frames that can be used again and again; these can be flat-packed in storage for later reuse. This system allows them to build sustainable sets, shows and stages with minimal environmental impact; and is currently in use throughout Lucid’s builds, including SAMULA: The Portal.
According to a report by Powerful Thinking [pdf], it is estimated that roughly 23,500 tonnes of waste is produced annually at UK music festivals. Of that, only around a third is recycled and the rest goes into landfill. “Glastonbury-goers can take the Leave No Trace pledge to take all of their belongings home and we believe that, as the people creating the festival, it is imperative to do our part too,” explains Helen.
“My passion for the environment and sustainability stemmed from my childhood – my mother was composting and recycling before anyone was talking about it. Everyone thought she was weird,” Helen says. In the past, Helen ran her own sustainable party company called Eco My Party; totally compostable parties in a cardboard box leaving zero waste.
Sustainable stage design at Glastonbury Festival
The design of SAMULA is inspired by Mexican cenotes: giant, lush, watery sinkholes that the Mayans view as a portal between earth and the underworld. The new venue is filled with greenery and incorporates the trees and plants of Worthy Farm, where Glastonbury has been held for almost 50 years. The structure itself is a 10m high, 20m wide pyramid, concealed from the outside. “In the vein of other secret Glastonbury venues, revellers will only know it’s there by stumbling across a crack in the rock face and walking under the waterfall,” explains Helen.
Building such a structure is not an easy feat, but Lucid use three core design and construction methods to cause as little impact on the environment as possible:
- Modular system: Using an innovative modular frame and bracket system has allowed Lucid to set up their structures at height, with speed, and without crane lifts where none are available. It also allows for easy breakdown, transportation and storage; and for the set to be built upon, year on year.
- Reusable panels: Most importantly, the steel frame panels can be reused and repurposed for new designs for many years, rather than ending up in landfill.
- Sustainable materials: Lucid assess the sustainability of the materials they use from all angles, from the impact of the transport at various stages, to chemical processes in manufacture, to biodegradability to longevity.
Keychange at Glastonbury: “There were no girls, where are all the women?”
Feminist Eavis is an ambassador for Keychange, a talent development initiative which aims to empower women to transform the future of the music industry. In a speech made by Eavis in January this year, she explained that she has been striving for a 50/50 gender balance across Glastonbury’s lineup. Whilst she admitted they were “a little way off,” notable changes are being made.
SAMULA: The Portal is meeting that benchmark with a 50% female line up. Women DJing in the venue include Duchess DJs, Emily Dust, Ngaio, Aleighcia Scott, Ayito, Deep Low Matty Co, Euphonique, Mrs Magoo and more.
However, it is not just the lineup that is challenging gender imbalance in the music and events industry. SAMULA has been designed and created by Helen Swan, co-director of Lucid with Chris Carr. With reportedly only 11% of creative directors worldwide being women, Swan is in the minority. A career that has not been without its challenges. As a cancer survivor with four children, she is now leading a team of creatives and engineers; building some of the largest, and most complex, sets in the festival landscape.
“Growing up, female role models within the music industry were hard for me to find,” Swan explains, “particularly within the traditionally masculine world of building festivals. I want to be seen and heard so that young women can see that there IS a role for them here, that this is as much a place for their creativity and work as it is for men, at all levels.”
A summer of other-worldly stage design and build:
Helen Swan, Chris Carr and their team also designed and built The Valley arena at Parklife Festival, Manchester, which took place on 8th and 9th June.
Currently, they’re making a new stage, The Lighthouse, for the immersive festival Boomtown, 7-12th August, Winchester.