Sensoria – showcasing Sheffield’s musical and creative talent

Sensoria, an independent festival exploring the intersection between music and film, begins in Sheffield today. Festival goers can expect art exhibitions, film screenings and live music at unique venues across the city.

Jarvis Cocker at Sensoria, photo by Pixelwitch Pictures

Jarvis Cocker at Sensoria, photo by Pixelwitch Pictures

As this increasingly popular Sheffield festival enters its sixth year, Sheffield Unchained talks to the founder, Jo Wingate, about the birth of Sensoria and her desire to encourage and support local creative talent.

Sensoria was born in 2008 when director Jo Wingate got fed up with the lack of festivals in the UK celebrating the crossover between music and film.

“I was working at the Showroom Cinema at the time and I knew the Showroom had previously run a festival called Soundtracking and that at the same time a music and film festival had been running in Manchester called Showreels. However, both of these festivals had stopped running and I just couldn’t leave that gap in the UK music and film scene for any longer.

“I nagged the Showroom to bring back Soundtracking until Ian Wild, the Chief Executive, got sick of my nagging and told me to just start my own festival.”

With a background working in independent cinemas in Manchester, Nottingham and Derby, Jo began to create a UK festival that would celebrate and encourage the intersection between music and film.

Taking a leap

After knocking on doors and spreading the word about her idea, Jo found plenty of support from colleagues and friends, but no funding.

However, with help in kind from local companies such as Designers Republic and individuals such as the composer Nigel Humberstone from In The Nursery, Jo launched the first Sensoria in 2008.

In this audio clip Jo talks about the brainstorming session in the Grapes Pub:

After a successful year running Sensoria as a brand, Jo ‘took the leap from the Showroom’ and set up Sensoria as a not-for-profit company.

A UK festival

Sensoria prides itself in being an innovative and risk taking festival which strives to provide access and raise aspiration. Whilst they focus on showcasing Sheffield talent, Jo believes they also come from and therefore attract a national and international perspective.

Carmen Ghia, photo by Pixelwitch Pictures

Carmen Ghia, photo by Pixelwitch Pictures

“As well as providing a platform for Sheffield talent, we also bring in what we think are very interesting multi-disciplinary or quite maverick artists. People who cut across different platforms such as performance artist Laurie Anderson, musician and artist Bill Drummond and in our first year we had the musician Jarvis Cocker.”

Jo explains that when they began as a brand it was an instinctive decision to call Sensoria ‘The UK’s festival of Music, Film and Digital.’

“When we first set up we were actually the only festival in the UK who were carrying out and celebrating that intersection, so it seemed quite natural to call ourselves a ‘UK festival’ even though we were only based in Sheffield.

“Other similar festivals have cropped up since then, which is great because it means people have taken notice and are now celebrating and exploring the intersection between music and film for themselves.”

Not just a festival

In their second year Sensoria became involved in other projects that brought together music and film. They were also successful in securing funding from the Arts Council and the British Film Institute (BFI), as well as council funding.

They began delivering Creative and Media Diploma workshops and started Resonator, an education project showing young people what avenues were possible in the festival industry.

Sensoria event

Sensoria event

Sensoria also began Uncommon People, a project with Sheffield University, which created an ever-growing digital map and family tree of musical talent in Sheffield.

Uncommon People, which Jo describes as ‘a labour of love’ was developed further this year to create a Music Map App.

“The original Uncommon People was a family tree, a timeline and a band A-Z. However, this year we teamed up with Dr Matt Cheeseman at The University of Sheffield to create the Music Map phone app which offers tours based on the musical talent in Sheffield.”

At the moment users can choose from tours based on Pulp, Arctic Monkeys, Cabaret Voltaire, the Human League or Richard Hawley, who also adds his own commentary.

In this audio clip Jo explains how the Music Map App came about:

Discovering Sheffield

Sensoria attracts a mixture of people who are interested in the various subject matter at each event. Jo said that admissions have grown from 2,000 in the first year to 11,000 last year. She said 70% of attendees come from the Sheffield region and the rest from across the UK and internationally.

“Our audience depends very much on what the programme looks like each year. We have a local emphasis, but an international spread, with fans often coming from all over to see their band doing something a bit different from what they normally do.

“We also cut across all sorts of music genres and one of the things I love about Sheffield is that it has so many styles of music and we like to celebrate that.”

All Sensoria venues are independent this year and allow for site-specific experiences. Jo said that exploring urban landscapes and placing an experience within a certain context is part of their desire to inform and challenge their audience.

Black Gold of the Sun at Upper Chapel, photo by Alex Keegan

Black Gold of the Sun at Upper Chapel, photo by Alex Keegan

One of the venues for Sensoria 2013 is Edward Street Park, a regenerated area that has recently been developed as a public space.

“We’ve tried to have a whole day of activity at Edward Street Park that starts with fitness activities, then moves into a street party, then dance demos and then a film screening in the evening. We even let the local residents vote for a film they wanted to be screened and they chose Greece.

“So it is a range of activities that show how the space can be used. I just hope it gets used in the future, as it is a nice public space in an area that many people don’t know about.”

Dive-in or Drive-in

Two other unique venues for this year’s festival, which continues until Sunday 20 September, include a drive-in at Sylvester Street Car Park on Sunday where the cult classic American Graffiti will be screened.

Jo said she is particularly looking forward to the drive-in as they have wanted to do it for a while and have finally been able to organise one. She said they also liked the setting of Hathersage and decided to host a dive-in at Hathersage Outdoor Pool in honour of the 25th anniversary of The Big Blue.

In this audio clip Jo explains how the The Big Blue will be screened with underwater speakers so that swimmers can watch whilst enjoying the pool.

A champion of independents

One of Jo’s constant inspirations for Sensoria is the independent music scene in Sheffield. Jo said that their underlying theme this year, ‘history in the making’, reflects the fact that there are so many people making interesting things across different art forms and mediums.

Jo explains what she calls ‘one of the beauties of the city’.

Jo, born and bred in Sheffield, believes that Sheffield is ‘stubbornly independent’ in comparison to other northern cities.

“It has a different feel to it really and I do quite like it for that. Sometimes you have to slightly scratch the surface to know what is going on and a lot of people say it doesn’t sell itself that well.

“But I think that when it does come to selling itself, it needs to be as a champion of independents because that is what it is all about and that is the great beauty of it. I think it has a different sort of beauty to it compared to other cities”

Jo said that it is this ‘independent beauty’ specific to Sheffield that motivates her to keep Sensoria going despite the admin-heavy and sometimes ‘unglamorous’ side of organising a festival.

In this audio clip Jo talks about what keeps her going:

To see the full Sensoria 2013 programme go to: