Harmless Noise

A music blog from Ireland.

Harmless Noise

As music joins technology in the 2013 Web Summit, I met with Rob Farhat to discuss the newest addition, the Night Summit. 

This year the Web Summit technology festival revealed a new aspect: the Night Summit, which features a host of Irish music, with bands, collectives and DJs. Having opened last night, the Web Summit runs from 30-31 October at the RDS in Ballsbridge with 8,000 attendees from the world of tech, 700 start-ups and as the biggest business conference ever held in Ireland, which has a long and enduring connection with software and technology, this Halloween week is like a digital Xmas.

At the weekend, I met with Rob Farhat, the artistic director responsible for putting the Night Summit together. Over quick cups of tea and coffee we fired through a Q&A on music, tech and what’s in store for the future.

Tell us what your week has been like in the run up to the Web Summit kicking off, Rob?

Pretty crazy. We’re in the office from 9am to 10pm pretty much every day so I actually have two jobs. I run the marketing on the Web Summit side and then I’m also looking after the musical arts expansion. Half my day is spent doing marketing stuff and other half is spent dealing with arts. The musical side is still quite new. It’s a taster of things to come. Each venue is sponsored by various companies. Spotify are doing one venue. Microsoft are doing another. Mailchimp and stuff like that. I deal with the sponsors, convincing them that the music I’ve got for each venue is worth having because most of them aren’t from Ireland so they don’t really know. Then dealing with all the apps and making sure everything is right on that front. But yeah it’s pretty mad at the moment.

It’s pretty cool have a tech company sponsoring venues, it makes a change from Big Alcohol.

Everyone in tech that I know is really into music but most of these guys are really busy. I think to really delve into music…to get in to bands past what everybody else has heard of takes a lot of time. A lot don’t have the time to invest in learning about music beyond what’s on the top of chart, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t appreciate once they hear it. It’s a bit of an education at the same time trying to give them something new.

They’re an ideal audience as well. They’re going to spend a long time at their desks.

Exactly. I’ve created a Spotify playlist and stuck up videos of other bands that aren’t on Spotify on our site. They want to just be able to press play and not think too much about it.

I think they’ll be pleased with the bands you’ve picked as well. There are some really, really good names there.

I tried to find a good balance between music that’s accessible but also good and interesting in its own right. In my own personal taste, I’d probably go for more obscure artists if I was running a festival that was just for me, but I’m conscious of the fact most of the attendees are there to go to a tech event so this is just an introduction to the music side of things. Next year we’ll bring in all sorts of other kinds of music. I tried to get as many different genres involved as possible but there are still some that don’t sort of really work in the context of this festival. I couldn’t put classical music anywhere. I’m a classical musician myself, that’s my background and I’d love to involve the Crash Ensemble or there are some really good young music ensembles these days.

Trinity Orchestra?

I used to run Trinity Orchestra myself and we wanted to get them in for one of the closing-out party but it didn’t work because it’s a massive operation, but hopefully next year anyway!

So there are definitely plans for this to go ahead next year?

Yeah. I’ll give you a sneak preview I suppose. In terms of the overall aim of the event it’s not just music but they’re looking to expand. The event will change from being just the Web Summit to the Summit. It’ll plan to incorporate the various different strands so there’ll still be the tech end of it, the Web Summit, but there’ll also be the Music Summit as well which will be daytime talks, panels and workshops on the music industry. Also on Thursday we announced the Food Summit which is a Taste of Dublin style food festival. All these extra stuff for this year are sort of add-ons for the main event but next year they will be stand-alone parts of an overall summit you know?

So you’ll have a whole mountain range of summits!

Exactly. You’ll be able to buy a ticket that gets you into everything, or you’ll be able to buy tickets that just get you into stuff you’re interested in. If someone’s just interested in the music side they can get a night ticket or a music ticket.

How exactly was the idea formed to bring music in?

It’s been a long-term ambition of the founders to expand beyond tech and I suppose they’re looking at SXSW which has the tech and music element. Ireland has such a rich music tradition and it’d be strange not to do it. In the past they’ve had music as part of the entertainment but most tech or business events when they bring in music they don’t put much thought into it. It’s just there, very functional. They bring in a cover band or a boring DJ whereas the guys at the Web Summit want to put more of an effort into it, so they asked me to do it. I wasn’t just going to get easy, bland cover bands or DJs. If I’m going to put together a music event I’ll do it properly.
We’re also doing some visual art this year. We’re working with a few visual artists on video installation stuff at the events, both at the main Web Summit itself and at the Night Summit. We gave a certain amount of exhibition stands to young artists and designers to exhibit their work and then get potentially hired by some of the tech startups, coming in to do design for them. There’s an obvious overlap there. People who graduated from, say, VisComm in NCAD or DIT, they’ve learnt the skills to be able to design apps and websites from an artistic point of view. We have over 700 tech startups coming from around the world who don’t have that kind of background and a lot of them are at the very early stages and are just about able to hire a few extra people or at least a bit of freelance work so a lot of them will be looking to improve their design, make it a little more artistic, so it’s a natural thing to put them together. While we’re bringing in music and art we still want to have some sort of relevance because it’s supposed to be a tech event.

Le Galaxie

Le Galaxie play the closing night party in Meeting House Square on Thursday night.

There are also music tech startups. There’s one, it was called 45 Sound and they’re now called Fan Footage. They’re recording our closing party which has Le Galaxie and Tieranniesaur, and they’re recording one of the venues on the Wednesday night which has Cathy Davey and The Cast of Cheers. I think they’re also recording the Dublin Gospel Choir who will be closing the main stage in the RDS itself on the last day. There are some other interesting music startups as well, like Soundwave. We’re doing a Web Summit-curated account for Soundwave where we’ll put together a playlist and just have it playing constantly during the event and that’ll be a featured account on Soundwave. As much as possible we’re trying to show an overlap between the arts, music and technology.

Technology has expanded to pretty much everything now.

Absolutely, there’s no industry that it hasn’t disrupted in some way.

With hundreds of businesses exhibiting and many speakers at the Web Summit, are there any that you particularly recommend, perhaps not even music-related?

I think Shane Smith the CEO of Vice Magazine will be great. From the tech side of things there’s a guy called Gary Vaynerchuk, he’s a really impressive entrepreneur. We have one big surprise that we can’t announce till the day itself.

Steve Jobs?

Steve Jobs hologram!

His ghost is making an appearance especially for Halloween!

Who else is there? There’s a lady called Cindy Gallop who founded this website called Make Love Not Porn. It’s basically to get people away from watching the usual horrible stuff that’s degrading to women. She’s been speaking at the Web Summit for the last couple of years and is always received very well. Then there are lots of amazing technical speakers. We’ve got five different stages: the Main Stage, Digital marketing stage, the Cloud stage, the Developer stage and the Library stage. Those last three get more technical but there’s lots of really impressive stuff there.

The whole thing’s going to be live-streamed?

All five stages will be live-streamed, at least four if not all five. People don’t come just to see speakers, a big part of it is the startups that come. We’ve previously had the taxi app Hailo, and Vine came to exhibit at the Web Summit as an early stage startup before anyone knew who they were, last year Vine were at the web summit just a week after Twitter acquired them. Nobody had heard of them yet but then a few months later they were massive. From a tech point of view that’s where the real interest is. To try and spot some of the future big tech apps and websites. Last year we only had 300 tech startups exhibiting but this year we have 700. It’s grown hugely.

In terms of bloggers what would you say is on offer there during the talks? You mentioned Shane Smith, he’s from Vice isn’t he? Are there any other areas of interest for music bloggers here?

Off the top of my head there are at least two different music panel discussions on the future of music and tech. One of them is on the main stage the other is on the Digital Marketing stage. The CEO of Pandora, a guy called Shakil Khan who’s head of special products at Spotify, the co-founder of Soundcloud, but in terms of say a music blogger just for their own interest a lot of the digital marketing stage would be of interest just to learn. There would be other speakers who’d be talking about blogging more generally. We have the main founder of WordPress who’s going to be at it Matt Mullenweg. That’s more kind of on the general blogging side of things, but there’s a huge amount to see.

Are there any future possibilities that you might be getting other bloggers and music acts to work together?

This year since it was the first time, I’ve kind of just been working on the music side of it quietly myself in order to have everything ready to announce a whole music festival in one go just before the event. Now that that’s been announced and people know it exists, next year we’ll have more of an open policy towards the music line-up. There will be opportunities for bloggers and independent labels to work with us and put on their own gigs they curate themselves as part of the summit. Then we’ll also have an open application system for bands themselves to apply to play. I’d be a big believer in that way of putting together a festival. That’s the kind of principle that 10 Days in Dublin is based on, that any musician, band or artist can apply to take part. It’s not about who you know. This year it’s pretty much only Irish acts but next year we’re going to be expanding towards international acts. We’ll be booking more big name headliners ourselves but then we’ll be opening up to more musicians to apply to take part and then for bloggers or labels or smaller festival directors to put on their own gig as part of it. Basically the idea is we’ll take over the whole city.

There’s so much scope there.

Absolutely. Have you been to SXSW before?


Neither have I but from what I gather the whole city is just completely taken over.

It sounds really exciting actually. It’s just the other side of it I don’t think I could handle, so much sponsorship and so heavy in that respect. But don’t get me wrong, I said earlier on it’s cool to have brand sponsorship that isn’t the usual Irish method of using alcohol to get people out to gigs so I approve of it in that respect. It’s the American way of sponsorship that I’d be like…aggh, I can’t really…!

It sounds like there’s a lot of scope to work with music from Ireland here and it’s very close to Hard Working Class Heroes so could this be…I suppose you’re not really in a position to say, but something that could work together?

We have a very different audience with Hard Working Class Heroes, our audience is a majority international and they wouldn’t necessarily come from a music background, they’d be interested in music but they’d be from a tech background. I think the two festivals will definitely compliment each other. They’re not too far away from each other I suppose, Hard Working Class Heroes is start of October, we’re at the end of October. Even just to kind of feed into each other, it’s possible….

We’ll have to wait and see, I guess.

Many thanks to Rob for his time. Tickets are already gone for this year’s Web Summit, which is now underway at the RDS, but you can book ahead for 2014 and get 2-for-1 tickets. And if you’re a small tech startup with big plans, interested in  getting a free stall for next year’s summit, they’re waiting to hear from you.

Check out what’s on offer for the Night Summit on Wednesday 30 October and Thursday 31 October.

The Web Summit on Twitter and Facebook.



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One thought on “Interview :: Rob Farhat Artistic Director of 2013 #WebSummit

  1. Pingback: Photos :: Le Galaxie at #websummit Closing Party « Harmless Noise

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