Chris Jammer on Strawberries and Creem

Tab BNOC and co-founder of the festival talks to the Tab about S&C’s past, present and future.

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Whilst some May Balls are over 100 years old, Strawberries and Creem, the beat-based music festival started only two years ago, is already a firm part of the May week landscape, having famously brought out Skepta last summer.

In order to shed some light on the story behind the event’s meteoric rise, the Tab interviewed one of the driving forces behind the festival: Chris Jammer, 6th biggest BNOC in Cambridge and all-round clubbing hustler.

Hi Chris. What was your role in founding Strawberries and Creem?

I got on board with Creem in my first year, started promoting for the nights and worked my way up to be one of the managers. In early March of that year, me and the rest of the Creem team had the idea to put on a garden party or general spectacle at the end of Easter 2014, which soon became: let’s just do a festival. We managed to turn it round by June, and booked acts such as David Rodigan and Shy FX, though it was much more intimate – 1200 people – than the following years. It went down really well, we realised we were on to something, so we continued it the following year.

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Sure, you may have got that dream Union role, but have you founded a music festival yet?

How difficult was it setting up a whole festival in a few months from March to June?

Well none of us knew what we were doing and had no experience in that sort of thing, so we kind of just winged it, doing things like putting up fences the day before and morning of the event! But we were very good at selling tickets for the festival, even before booking any acts, so we were able to finance it quite well.

What was the motivation for moving beyond just club nights, which had been Creem’s main focus?

Obviously you have the May Balls and the garden parties in Cambridge, but there wasn’t a scene for festival-type stuff before. We found a middle ground, where we could create something relaxed and intimate whilst still bringing the standard of acts you would have at a May Ball.

Do you think the uniqueness of Cambridge as a uni and as a student body helped or hindered putting on the festival?

We managed to play on it quite well, by utilising the contrast between the nice, well-to-do Cambridge stereotype and the rough-and-ready music of grime and heavy beats. That difference has been our main selling point and a lot of people seem to get what we’re trying to do with it.

The Creem club nights usually focus on American hip-hop and R’n’B; why did you decide to focus on British talent and book garage and grime acts for the festival?

Well our music policy changes depending on what we think is going down well at the time. Creem was always about what we liked to listen to, and what we thought was missing in Cambridge, so we liked the UK scene and thought those acts were more accessible to us – at the time we couldn’t book any big American artists. But we have managed to represent our main genres, so last year Stylo G brought the dancehall and Skepta the grime, and Mungo’s Hi-Fi with the reggae.

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‘Conform to Cantab stereotypes, that’s not me’

On the subject of grime and garage – last year you brought out Skepta just as he was properly blowing up, and now that kind of music is really popular with young people including students. To you think this means you’ll be able to support more niche acts and promote depth within the genre as well now?

Well we’ve got about 15-20 acts this year, which goes right down to the more niche, underground stuff which is itself proving to be really popular at the moment. I think we booked Skepta at the right time; by the time he played his booking fee had increased about five times from when we booked him! I think this year the lineup has so much more depth, we’re really pushing smaller underground artists, but you’ll have to wait and see with that.

What does the future look like for Strawberries and Creem? Are you looking at expanding capacity, raising the profile of the acts, or even adding more days to the festival?

Well this year we’re expanding capacity and trying to double our audience. We’re also definitely expanding the profile of acts and looking across the Atlantic to American artists as well. It’s financially feasible for us to expand to two days so that could be a future plan. We’ve got a little niche at the moment, but we’ve also got a lot of room to expand – there are massive plans for the future.

Do you personally have plans to continue working for Cream and the festival once you graduate? Or do you think it should be run specifically by students?

Well one of the co-founders has left Cambridge and he’s still definitely a part of it; the festival’s our baby and we still have massive visions for it. I think us three [the original founders] will always be involved, but our team this year is mainly Cambridge students, and as it grows so will people’s roles within it. I do really think that Cambridge students have so much to bring to it, as that’s our target market.

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There’s a little bit of S&C in all of us

And finally, can you drop any hints about who will be playing the festival this year?

We’re sticking true to our roots, we’ve got legends in grime, legends in garage, the new wave and the old wave. We’re also expanding to something that will effectively blow Skepta out of the water, we’re talking hundreds of millions of views on Youtube. So watch this space…

The lineup for Strawberries and Creem is to be released over the coming week, so look out for more news about one of Cambridge’s most unique and impressive student achievements.