When I received confirmation that I’d be heading to the University of Manchester on the 14th August 2014 to study a degree in Computer Science, never would I have thought that I’d be leaving university 4 years later with an immersive event brand to look after. After a year of studying Computer Science, I decided it wasn’t for me, and switched to a course more suited to my interests, that of Management, Leadership and Leisure.
Like many others, I fell into nightlife with no real idea where it would take me. I came to uni as an indie/alternative music fan and I’ve left as a techno snob. Unpredictable stuff. As many students are, I was sucked into the mainstream during my fresher’s week. I remember walking from Victoria Park to Factory for my first night out, ready to hit it hard. The nights that followed were a blur, I believe I visited 42’s, Sound Control, The Birdcage and perhaps a few others during that 9-night binge, but nothing that memorable.
I wasn’t even acutely aware of The Warehouse Project and the world of electronic music that existed. I’d heard of Sankeys but was never really with a crowd who were up for it. I had nights out here and there throughout my first year, but more so after I switched course and found myself a more sociable bunch.
About a month into my new course, I had secured a job working at Antwerp Mansion. This was mostly bar work, sometimes on the door scanning tickets and whenever Regression Sessions came to town I’d volunteer to man the bouncy castle. I’d say I worked at Antwerp Mansion anywhere from 3-5 times per week at the peak of its popularity, experiencing a variety of music, meeting promoters and gaining an understanding for nightlife.
The success of certain events over others was a clear indicator of the student nightlife market in Manchester. Brands like Triple Cooked and Regression Sessions regularly sold out in advance, offering a transformation of Antwerp’s rugged interior. I worked for Antwerp Mansion for around 18 months, learning what I could, meeting a lot of new people along the way.
My first event was not actually a Trippy Visions, but instead a co-pro with my friend Karl. Curated was a bass house event we held on the 11th October 2016. Considering it was our first event, we did pretty well, selling around 300 tickets or so. We decided to do another in November, of which we sold less than 200 tickets, so decided to give up and try something else.
The Idea of Trippy Visions
It must have been around the end of November 2016 when the idea first came to me. I was sitting in a rather dull careers day for my course, surfing the internet when I thought back to a PSHE lesson at secondary school. I remember trying on goggles that represented the effects of being drunk. A curious thought hit me of what it would be like if there were a room of people wearing these. A quick Google search led me to the Rainbow FX (now The Rave Cave) website, who stocked a wide selection of diffraction glasses and kaleidoscope goggles. I thought it would be a fun idea if everybody in the room had a pair of these on, so I had a look to see if it had been done before.
The only thing similar I could find was an event in Leeds called Sunken, who gave out free diffraction glasses to everybody who entered. This gave me the idea to combine a freebie such as diffraction glasses with decor on par with the likes of Triple Cooked and Regression Sessions. I managed to secure a date at Antwerp for Tuesday 21st March (a day before my birthday) and decided I’d make it into a little birthday party.
Paper diffraction glasses were available for around 20p per pair and a quick google for event decor in Manchester led me to Visual Architects. A final addition to the event I thought was important was some additional lighting. I’d met Malcolm from Skylab lighting at a previous event at Antwerp, and had his business card. He’s very affordable and added a lot of lighting to the event to give a completely different feel to the venue.
I had to wait until student loan day in January to launch the event, solely because the £600 I needed for venue hire was coming straight out of my loan. Karl put up half the money for the first one and together we sat down and made a pretty weird promo video. Around this time was the pinnacle of event reach via Facebook. Seb, who worked at Antwerp and promoted nights such as Rubix Cube, gave me an insight into Facebook advertising. The cost-effectiveness of FB ads at the time was remarkably underpriced, and I don’t believe many promoters in Manchester at that time were taking advantage of it.
Trippy Visions 1st Promo Video
To put things into context, the above video received 102 likes, 226 comments, 19 shared with 7.4k views in total. That was achieved from spending only £150 and it’s success meant the event sold out over a month in advance, a total of 950 tickets. The time at which I started promoting seemed the start of a transition period between physical and digital promotion. Around this time, many promoters could simply put an event on Facebook and sell hundreds of tickets as a result of the organic reach of the page. Many were still using flyers and posters as a primary marketing method and there were multiple street teams knocking about on a daily basis represent the likes of Voodoo Events, Factory, Orderly Conduct etc.
If you’re a promoter and you don’t understand the power of Facebook ads, even now still, you’re going to struggle to sell tickets. As soon as you’re granted access to the Facebook page of a venue, you have, to an extent all of their event customer data for the last year. I could simply create a custom audience of all those who had clicked going or interested on an Antwerp event in the last year, and there I had it, the perfect audience to advertise to. I’ve demonstrated this in more detail in my ongoing event marketing series on YouTube.
With the event sold out, I had plenty of time to plan the decor. I wanted something custom built for the event and Visual Architects came up with a big pair of glasses, backlit by LED par cans. This along with some stretch canopies and lasers provided by Skylab would make a good first event.
The 21st March was hands down one of the most stressful days of my life. When you’re the point of contact for the DJs, door staff, photographer, videographer and anyone else involved in the event it’s exhausting if you’re not used to it. Being almost 22 and having the responsibility of 950 people is quite daunting. A lot of my friends came to the first event, which made it difficult as I could only have a 30-second conversation with each of them before I’d have to dart off and see somebody else.
The music was a mix and match of everything, dubbed as Curated vs Audio Academy on the lineup. I’m glad we had a load of photos taken, everybody’s looking pretty young when we look back at it. Trippy Visions has always been a platform for individuals to come together and have the opportunity they wouldn’t normally have. This extends to the DJs, decor team, photographers and videographers. Many of those involved have used it to help launch their own endeavours.
It’s fair to say the first event was a roaring success. It made a decent profit and set us up nicely for the next one. It was a draining experience though, I remember being asleep by 7pm on my birthday the following day. I could happily retire from working the bar at Antwerp, a job which I missed over time, but it had given me the insight and skills needed to put on more events. I’d even managed to get some PR in with the tab, who wrote a generous article in exchange for some free tickets titled “Trippy Visions is the newest night to take over Manchester”.
Let’s do another one
Trippy Visions was only meant to be a one-off event, a birthday party as mentioned earlier, but the obvious demand for this sort of event led me to immediately look towards the next one. I managed to secure another date, a Tuesday yet again on the 9th May. In honesty, if Trippy Visions had started at any other venue than Antwerp Mansion, it would not have been what it is today. The popularity of the venue among students was due to it’s walking distance from Fallowfield, run-down feel and a great selection of events. This meant that even on a Tuesday, I could attract hundreds of students up for a good time.
Around this time was also the start of a new trend. That of event after-movies. It seemed video content was the way to succeed in advertising events. My sister is a videographer and so I invited her to the first event to get a few clips for future use. What’s funny is that I let her go home at around 12:30, before the masses had even arrived, leaving me to stitch together an after-movie of a half-empty venue. Nevertheless it was still decent, and could be used for the promotion of the second event.
Once again the power of Facebook advertising helped me sell 850 tickets, not bad for a Tuesday around exams. 135 reactions, 174 comments, 23 shares and 16k views in total. During a summer of door-to-door sales, I was taught the principle of the laws of averages. In short, you will always convert 1 out of so many people. Whether this be through appointments in relation to doors knocked or ticket sales in relation to video views. For this event, 850 tickets from 16,000 views is a conversion of around 1 in 20. Depending on how good your proposition, this conversion rate will vary.
That’s been my approach for many of the Trippy Visions events that followed and the reason it’s had so much exposure. I’ve focused my advertising budgets solely on social media advertising, avoiding print in any sense. I knew I had an edge with what I knew about Facebook advertising and how effective it was.
For the second event, I had enlisted the help of Visual Architects once again and this time wanted to do something a little different. I opted for hiring in an LED screen for both rooms and had some custom visuals created for it. Everything was running smoothly with the setup for the event, until I had some problem with our visuals file. The file was pretty large and the computer that was being used to run the visuals wasn’t the best. When we loaded in the file, it said as estimate render time of around 9 hours. Meaning the visuals would not be ready for the event.
To combat this, I decided to use some software on my computer to compress the video file, to make the render time quicker. I did this and then the file loaded in pretty quickly. It was only until about an hour before the event that I realised the software I’d used to compress the video file was a trial version, and the maximum length of a video was five minutes. It was too late to re-edit everything meaning we’d have only the first 5 out of 90 minutes of visuals to use, so we had to have these on loop for the whole night. Not to mention, we couldn’t get the LED screen upstairs to work via my laptop. It was pretty disastrous but not many people noticed.
The glasses were a great USP and people would regularly take photos and videos during the event. This was free advertising for Trippy Visions and is a key factor in how the awareness increased very quickly.
3 minutes of Tommy Gray
With the success of the first after-movie, I decided to hire in somebody more professional to take care of filming. Visual Architects put me in contact with Jay Bannister who came along and got some pretty good 4k footage. This event was shortly after I’d met Dan Needham at the first Teletech, one of his earliest clients. I don’t know what happened but I went a bit all out on trying to get content for this event. All in all, I think there were 3 videographers and a photographer.
Freshers Week 2018
I’d never done a fresher’s week event, with the first two Trippy Visions being in March and May respectively. It’s fair to say that for promoters, fresher’s week is like Christmas. Thousands of new students coming to the city with their student loans fresh in their bank accounts and ready for a good time. I didn’t really know much about Leeds at the time, but through a connection, I was put in contact with the manager at Church, and by some coincidence, I was offered the Saturday night of the Leeds fresher’s week. I also managed to secure the following Monday at Antwerp Mansion, the first day of the Manchester fresher’s week.
Church is easily my favourite venue in the UK. The high ceilings, huge stage, incredible lighting and considering the shape of the room, impressive acoustics collectively make it perfect for Trippy Visions. Not to mention a VIP balcony overlooking the room and the prime location close to the University of Leeds campus and student halls. Unknown to me until closer to the date, Mint Festival was occurring on the same day. This is a large festival held on the outskirts of Leeds, which conveniently finished at 10pm, meaning there was an influx of people looking for an after party.
An effective social media campaign for our first trip to Leeds caused excitement amongst the students. We managed to sell 1700 tickets for the event, making it the most successful Trippy Visions to date. Our Manchester event was equally successful, selling out both floors of Antwerp Mansion. It’s safe to say that during the events, everything ran smoothly, with no hiccups that I can remember. However, during the setup for the Leeds, about two hours before we were due to open, the steel cable that was used to hang all the pyramids off (photo above) came out of the wall. Consider this, there were around 40 on these very sharp, mirrored perspex pyramids hanging at least 10 metres above where the crowd would be.
Without any warning, the whole lot came crashing down and missed where I was standing by about a metre. If that had happened during the event, it would have seriously injured a lot of people and easily would have been the end of Trippy Visions. It was almost a blessing in disguise, but since then, I’ve been hesitant about hanging anything above the crowd. These pyramids and the infinity hexagon stage were all created once again by Visual Architects and were quite impressive. Ella and Jess from Sense in Dimensions created the decor for room 2, featuring a shiny mirrored booth.
Ben Hale filmed and edited the after-movie for Leeds with Dan Needham filming and editing the Manchester event. We had some good content for the future and things were looking exciting.
November 2017 – New tour, new cities
With the success of the fresher’s week events, I was ambitious to take Trippy Visions to new cities. At the time I believed the success of those events was attributed more towards Trippy Visions as a brand instead of the fact is was fresher’s week. My formula for marketing the event worked well when adapted from Manchester to Leeds and I believed expanding to any other city would be equally as straightforward.
As well as dates for Church and Antwerp booked in for November, I secured a weekend date for Underground in Liverpool and for LAB11 in Birmingham. At the time, 4 events in 10 days sounded like great fun, but it’s something I don’t plan on repeating. I had the date for Antwerp Mansion set for the 7th November, but due to the closure of room 2 because of safety, I decided to move the event to Hidden at short notice. As a kind gesture, I decided to book 4 coaches for anybody who bought a ticket to get free travel to Hidden, as the extra distance for many meant extra costs. Unfortunately, only one of the coaches were used and the other three a waste of money.
The tour was lined up as
Tuesday 7th November – Hidden, Manchester
Thursday 9th November – Church, Leeds
Saturday 11th November – Underground, Liverpool
Friday 17th November – LAB11, Birmingham
Visual Architects were unable to provide decor for this tour, so I instilled the help of Jack Phillips, who worked for Visual Architects previously, and Sense in Dimensions to design a new stage. We incorporated projection mapping onto a mask and some other facets which were lit up. The four venues for the tour were pretty different so we had to adapt to each one with the setup. Hidden had no stage and was a two room event, meaning we had to split up the decor. For Church we had the main stage and used their in house LED screen for room two. We originally planned to use the two rooms at Underground but due to ticket sales we opted for one. Underground has no stage, and we had to build the decor into the dancefloor. LAB11 was two rooms, with us having to adapt to the main terrace and using some fractured mirrors for room 2.
All went smoothly for the first three events. None of them were sellouts, all doing between 60-70% capacity, but were good parties nevertheless. We’d never had any trouble at a Trippy Visions before, we get mostly a student crowd who are up for a good night. Unfortunately at LAB11, on the final stop of the tour, the event was ruined by a few individuals. Just at peak time, out of nowhere somebody was punched in the face. Only a few people have seen this video, but I thought I’d share it as it’s the darker side of promoting that many people don’t see.
You take it personally when somebody is hurt at your event, whether this is through violence or drug misuse. The security team at LAB11 were poor that night, there was no security watching the main room and I had to personally run to the front of the venue to get the door staff’s attention. In the 10,000+ attendees who have visited our events since the beginning, this has been the only negative incident.
The tour wasn’t necessarily a financial success, but important lessons were learned, mistakes were made and we raised awareness of the brand in two new cities. It was time to evaluate what had happened and look towards the next events. Dan Needham had produced an impressive after-movie and we had some very visual content for future marketing.
Trippy Visions 1st Birthday
A year flies by when you work in events. With the competitiveness of dates, you’re always thinking 6-9 months ahead of time, planning everything far in advance. I decided to focus only on Manchester and Leeds for the 1st birthday tour, mainly due to the financial risk involved and the risk associated with this time of the year. I secured Wednesday 21st March at Antwerp Mansion for the actual 1st birthday celebrations along with Friday 23rd March at Church.
Tickets sales were going well for the Manchester event, but on the 24th February Antwerp Mansion put out an announcement stating they had received a closure notice. Many people bought tickets to Trippy Visions in the days that followed, believing it would have been one of the last events to be held there. Unfortunately, I was informed that the event would have to be moved so I once again switched the venue to Hidden.
With Church, I made a mistake with the date, naively I’d booked the event believing a Friday would have great success, but later realised it was during the university Easter break. The lack of students and poor weather made it difficult, with us only selling 700 tickets. Luckily, we had a loyal following in Manchester and although many people requested refunds when we announced the venue change, we still managed to sell out the event.
For these events, I wanted to do something special. I was getting partially annoyed that the paper diffraction glasses we handed out were almost a throwaway item, with them being littered all over the floor at the end of an event. I enquired about something a little more premium and decided to buy in plastic spiral diffraction glasses for around £1.50 a pair to give out for free. I’m glad I did. The look on people’s faces when they try the glasses on for the first time is priceless. It adds another level of immersion you don’t get at other events and is the reason why the event is called Trippy Visions. We also had the phrase “Enjoy Right Now” printed on the inside of the frame, encouraging our attendees to live in the moment.
It’s interesting to think that everybody who’s received a pair of premium glasses from our events probably has the pair sitting somewhere on a bookshelf or desk in their room. I can imagine the conversations that have taken place with new people being introduced to them.
We opted for an infinity triangle stage for these two events. In my opinion, it was a little static in terms of the lighting, something we’d address later on. Nevertheless, we had two great parties and were done for that university year. It was around this time that I decided two tours per year was enough, opting for September/October and March for any future shows. This was mainly due to the student calendar, especially if our events were on a weekday. I could do anywhere up to four events per year, but the timescale of having to create a new concept, as well as cause excitement in the short period between events is difficult.
I also realised that from the atmosphere at the Church event and the Underground event back in November, that opting for just one room is the right decision. Having to hire in double the lighting, plan two stages and then create two different atmospheres is both a financial and logistical burden. It meant letting Karl, Barney and Dan from Curated go, but they respected the decision.
September/October 2018 Tour
My aim was for fresher’s 2018 was to have an event in each of the four cities we’ve previously visited. The focus of these events was to secure venues which all had a stage and a symmetrical room. In the calendar, I had LAB11 in Birmingham, the Monday of fresher’s week, Hangar 34 in Liverpool during the Liverpool fresher’s week. Gorilla on the Monday of Manchester fresher’s week and Church on the Thursday of Leeds fresher’s week. I wanted to also do something big for Manchester and secured a Friday at Academy 1.
Unforeseen circumstances once again disrupted the plans. After weeks of silence, despite the fact I had a pencil in and ready to pay the deposit, Hangar 34 informed me that there was an event which was too similar, even though it was two weeks ahead. I have to assume there was some foul play here, I mean what venue would decide not to let me run an event in these circumstances? There have been some good imitators of Trippy Visions in the past, most notably Specravers at Hangar 34, The Raving Trippy at The Bullingdon in Oxford and The Psychedelic Disco at Concorde 2, Brighton.
I take it as a compliment, whether it’s seeing the promoters for The Raving Trippy tag each other on one of the Trippy Visions after movies long before their first event, or having the promoter for The Psychedelic Disco copy your cover image and event description word for word. It’s funny in the latter case, as I know who it was, someone I’d worked with before, but I won’t call them out on this blog. That’s the promoter game, there’s those who are passionate about growing a brand, putting the visitor experience first, whilst there are others who are out to make a quick buck, plagiarising as they go. I wish them all the best!
With the Liverpool event out of question, I was also hit with the news of a tragedy at LAB11. At the start of September, a 19-year-old collapsed at the venue and died later in hospital. The venue was shut temporarily and I oped to move the event to Amusement 13 for Monday 24th September. The tour dates were the following
Monday 17th September – Gorilla, Manchester
Monday 24th September – Amusement 13, Birmingham
Thursday 27th September – Church, Leeds
Friday 5th October – Academy 1, Manchester
This tour was definitely a rollercoaster. In terms of sales, the Gorilla show did around 80% capacity. Fresher’s week is competitive in Manchester, with many of the new students buying into fresher’s wristbands. Amusement 13 was a disaster, the venue change didn’t help and the University of Birmingham and Birmingham City University have different fresher’s weeks. We’d only sold about 70 tickets and had to shut it down early. Church was a success, selling out at 1200 tickets. And Academy 1 was somewhere in the middle, selling nearly 1000 tickets, but the venue can easily accommodate over 2000 people, meaning the room was half empty. There was a lot of competition on the 5th October, Jeff Mills at Hidden, DVS1 at The White Hotel, Clubland at Victoria Warehouse and many more events.
Apart from Amusement 13, we still had 3 good parties. We decided to pixel map the infinity stage to give it a refresh as well as adding 6 infinity pyramids. The result was very visually pleasing and has given us an idea of what we can achieve for future stages.
Out of all of the 4 cities we’ve held Trippy Visions in, I’d say that in Liverpool, they party the hardest. Back at the November show in 2017, we had a group there until closing at 5am, not something we get in other cities, mainly because we often finish at either 3 or 4am. For this reason and due to the situation with Hangar 34, I was eager to return to Liverpool with our new stage. I managed to secure Saturday 15th December at the impressive Invisible Wind Factory (named for it’s previous use as a wind turbine factory) for our return to Liverpool. This was a risky date, due to it being the end of term for university students as well as close to Christmas.
To add to the pressure, Pro Audio Services, who normally control the lighting for our stage, were unable for the event. I personally took it upon myself, with the direction of PAS, to understand DMX control and how to pixel map LED tape. It was a steep learning curve, but I got there in the end and it ended up being an impressive light show. I even put together a YouTube tutorial of how to do it, as I had to learn the hard way.
We sold just shy of 700 tickets for this event and the weather on the day didn’t help. With Invisible Wind Factory being out of the city centre it’s hard to attract those less willing to travel. It’s funny how much of an impact the weather and geographical location of the venue can have on your event.
This was the 15th Trippy Visions, and afterwards, the team agreed everything came together perfectly. There’s been many problems along the way, issues with lighting, the music not fitting, not the right crowd. It’s set the bar for going forward, and now we’re excited for what the future has in store for us.
The Future for Trippy Visions
I’m playing the long game here. There are many promoters with short term thinking, seeing events as a way to make some quick cash. Anybody involved in Trippy Visions knows I’m not in it for the money, more the legacy. Even now, almost two years in, we haven’t even started. Producing what we do with tight budgets, time pressures and certain expectations has proven a challenge to all of us involved. But as the brand has grown, we’ve created a small but loyal following and a reputation for ourselves.
Since our first event back in March 2017, we’ve sold over 11,000 tickets and held 15 events in 8 different venues across 4 cities. Trippy Visions has evolved from a birthday party into a multi-city event tour, raising the bar each time. Considering what we’ve achieved in less than two years, it’s hard to predict where we’ll be in the next 2/5/10 years, but I’ll set out a vision.
Our next tour is for our 2nd birthday, with 3 shows in March 2019 as follows:
Friday 8th March – Church, Leeds
Wednesday 13th March – Gorilla, Manchester
Saturday 23rd March – Invisible Wind Factory, Liverpool
After this, my ambition is to take our stage to a number of festivals over the summer, raising awareness for the brand. A summer event for our debut in London is something I’m considering, it would be fun to come to the capital and share our experience with a new crowd. I plan on two tours next year, September/October + February/March, wanting to expand to Bristol, Newcastle and returning to Birmingham regularly. The summer of 2020 is where I’d hope to break into Ibiza, putting on a weekly event with some ambitious production. Having a £40-£50 ticket price would allow us to give out premium glasses such at the Wormhole or Bug-Eye Kaleidoscope available from The Rave Cave, and would add a new dimension to the experience.
2019 may also be the year I consider booking headliners for our shows. Up until now, it’s always been a rotation of 5 DJs who were unannounced. We wanted the focus to be on the production, spending for example £3000 on a stage rather than on an artist. This allowed us to sell tickets with an average price of £8-£10, making it more accessible to the student market and allowing us to attract larger crowds. Making this move would still allow our residents to play but we’d be able to attract a new audience at the same time.
When looking further into the future, I have no idea what Trippy Visions will become. I’ve said to many people the idea of augmented reality could be interesting, maybe in 5 years or so when the technology will be ready. Until then we need to keep raising the bar, building more impressive stages each time. I see Trippy Visions becoming something that resembles Elrow on steroids. Although we’re not ready yet, our own festival would be a great move. I’ve tried to discourage phone use at our events, and to be able to enforce this properly at a venue or throughout the weekend at a festival is a personal goal.
But for now, we’ll keep focussing on the near future, adapting and evolving where we need to.
A huge thank you to our residents Tommy, Tom, Jude, Jake, Harry, the decor gang Jack, Ella and Jess. Callum, Ben and Joe from Pro Audio for teaching us what we know and Dan, Kristian and Kris for providing the visual content. A thank you to everybody else who’s helped along the way, people have come and gone, using Trippy Visions to propel their personal ambitions and for a great portfolio piece. Here’s to the next two years…