We talked to Deb about her favourite clubs in ’90s London, how she met hubby and ATP founder Barry Hogan under saucy circumstances, why they’ve yet to enjoy a honeymoon, and how she’s managed to merge a love of film into a (mostly) music-based career. She also had a thing or two to say on ATP’s “no assholes” policy (Butthole Surfers, Killing Joke and Black Lips have all been put on the blacklist in the past), how the festival landscape is changing, and who she’d like to see reunited on an ATP stage in the future.
What were you studying before you came over to London from Australia in 1999?
I studied Commerce at the University of Melbourne. I found it a bit dry though, so I took as many film subjects as I possibly could.
Did the music scene in Australia inspire you, or was it London that kickstarted your passion?
I was very much into the music scene in Australia; however, it wasn’t until I got to England that I started working in music. I promoted a couple of album launches and helped some Australian bands get shows here, and after a couple of years at a television station I started working for Rock Sound magazine.
Have you ever been in a band yourself?
I’ve never been in a band, although I did start learning the bass once. I’m also a mean and lean recorder player, and know my way around three years of organ. I’d like to start a one-woman band showcasing these various valuable skills, but sadly I don’t have the time or excess fingers.
Who were you listening to when you first came over?
As I recall, I came over with a minidisc player with The Boatman’s Call by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and This Is Hardcore by Pulp.
What were your favourite music venues at the time?
I used to go to the Monarch all the time, to Kitsch Bitch every Wednesday at Madame JoJo’s, and then, in the years after that, to Poptones at Notting Hill Arts Club.
You worked for a TV channel, a music magazine and on various music videos before meeting Barry at the start of 2004. What were those experiences like? Did they set you in good stead for your role at ATP?
Working for the TV channel was a great job – it was a movie channel and part of the job was watching films and organising catered screenings of movies. Rock Sound was a great experience because, alongside the marketing and advertising, I was film editor, so I got to satisfy my passion for cinema. In retrospect I’ve managed to pull film into every job I’ve done, including ATP, where I look after the film side of things!
We’ve heard that you met Barry in a burlesque club (ooh la la!) and that his seduction technique involved offering you a job with him and luring you on a first date by promising to show you the Bob Dylan documentary ‘Don’t Look Back’. True?
That is all true. I was dressed as Pocahontas and he was dressed as Barry.
What do you reckon you’d be doing career-wise if his charms hadn’t worked?
I think if I hadn’t met Barry and become involved with ATP I would be a knife thrower in a circus.
How would you describe the ATP experience to someone who has never been?
ATP is like living in a convenient village for a weekend with 5999 other people who are all interested in similar things to you. You can wake up in the morning in a bed, have your own shower, use your own toilet, and then stroll over to catch a band or a film, have a swim in the waterworld or a drink in the pub. It’s a very civilised way to attend a festival. Even I’ll Be Your Mirror, which doesn’t have the accommodation aspect, still has a lot of the community feeling of people all together with a shared love of music, film and art, often centered around the curator and their taste.
You run the ATP Recordings label and look after the cinema, TV and extra curricular activities at ATP. Can you tell us a little about each of those roles?
Running the label was something that happened naturally. Barry was completely overworked when I met him, and taking stuff off his plate was just a relief for him. It soon became the main focus of my work, especially when we weren’t directly working on events. As I say, I have always found a way to bring film into my work and looking after the cinema and the TV has meant that tradition can continue. Booking that side of things and organising the non-music events at ATP is an exciting part of what I do.
What makes your role difficult?
Operating a small business is always hard. It can be a rollercoaster ride that often brings more scary moments than joy, and you never really get to switch off. Barry and I have been married five years and we still haven’t had a honeymoon, because there has not been one point in the past five years that we thought we could afford to be out of contact for a week.
What makes your role rewarding?
Walking around an event that you have helped put together and seeing everyone having a great time is pretty rewarding. Or some of the nice emails and words we get from fans and bands after the event – people who show their appreciation for the hard work you’ve done can make all the difference in the post-event blues.
How do you and Barry work as a team? Do you share tasks and projects, or do you each take care of separate aspects of the company?
We both have distinct roles within the company, but we talk about everything. It’s great to have your own responsibilities but also have a sounding board as sometimes just articulating problems is enough to help you resolve them.
Do you feel your gender has affected the way you are treated in the music industry? Has it been a help, a hindrance, neither, or both?
I have never felt being a woman has especially hindered how I am treated, but I do acknowledge that working with Barry means that if either of us feels there is any gender prejudice the other can step in and deal with the offending person – but it happens just as much both ways.
Festivals are changing. There are more of them happening in the UK and more of them cropping up abroad. Rising costs and competition means organisers need to work hard to keep their events interesting and innovative. How does ATP stay on top of the game?
To be honest, it is getting harder and harder. We always try and maintain the standards we have set for ourselves and stay true to the policies we set out with, but the world is changing and at some level we also have to change with it. Walking the balance of how to change without compromising your original values is a challenge.
One of the things that makes ATP stand out is that the line-ups are chosen by significant bands or artists. Is there ever any quibbling over acts that your curators pick, or do they have your full trust?
There are definitely acts that a curator chooses that Barry will ask them to think twice about. We have a “no assholes” policy at ATP, and if someone has been an asshole in the past and gets chosen by a new curator we’ll definitely warn them off choosing them.
You’ve had everyone from Nick Cave to Sonic Youth curate, and also feature a lot of empowering female acts such as Sleater Kinney and The Breeders. Is getting fair gender representation on the ATP stage important to you?
Having good music on the stage is important to me and there are amazing artists out there who happen to be female, but first and foremost are amazing artists.
The nature of the festival means that underground artists get access to a big audience. Are there any particular bands you feel ATP have helped to successfully launch?
There are certain bands that we have been with from an early point, and playing or curating ATP has come at a time that harnessed their popularity and, I hope, helped it along. Bands like Deerhoof, Les Savy Fav and even Explosions In The Sky and The Dirty Three – I hope they feel that we came along at a good time in their career. And in return it’s been fantastic to be able to put in bigger and bigger rooms at the event.
In 2007 and 2009 you allowed ticket holders to curate the line-up. Will this happen again any time soon?
Not as planned. It was an interesting idea but not without faults as the voting system needed tweaking even as we went along as it was too top heavy. We responded to feedback the second time, which was mostly kids complaining about the same bands playing ATP, by installing a rule saying no-one who had played before could play, but people complained it was too hard so halfway through the campaign we had to start allowing some repeat performers. I think people got an idea of how hard it is to be a curator after that.
ATP has helped to reunite disbanded outfits such as Slint, My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus Lizard. Are there any other bands you’d like to see back together on the ATP stage?
I’d love to see Afghan Whigs together again, and in particular them performing [their 1993 album] Gentlemen. There are more bands I’d love to see of course, but that would be telling!
Tell us why you’re most proud of ATP.
I am proud about the many amazing events we have done around the world – in America, Australia, Japan as well as the UK. I am proud of the family we have created of people who work on the events and those who always come to events.
What advice would you give to other young women hoping to follow in your footsteps?
Get involved. Volunteer, write about what you love, stay up to date with current news in the industry you’re interested in, go to a million gigs, promote your own shows, be together, don’t be an asshole.
Weekend tickets for I’ll Be Your Mirror have now sold out, but day tickets are still available here. See you there?
Stream/download a free mixtape featuring members of the lineup, put together by Portishead.