Interview: First Light Festival – Genevieve Christie
We caught up with Genevieve Christie, CEO of First Light Festival CIC, to talk about First Light Festival. Get ready for an epic free festival at the UK’s most easterly point, Lowestoft.
Londoners: get on the train to discover a world of art, beautiful coastline and independent spirit.
First Light Festival | Ness Point & Other Locations, Lowestoft (Near Norwich) | 17-18 June 2023 | Free (some extra events £ and ticketed)
Tell us about First Light Festival. How did it come about?
First Light Festival emerged when a group of Lowestoft people from across the arts, design, business and local authority sectors got together and asked two simple questions: What’s great about Lowestoft, and how do we celebrate that in a way that engages both the local community and visitors from further afield?
Spearheaded by an imaginative, experienced team of directors, and with the backing of East Suffolk Council, a local authority that really understands the potential power of the arts for good, the result was First Light Festival. Our annual festival, now in its third outing, marks the inaugural midsummer sunrise in the UK’s most easterly point through a free access programme of music, performance, science and experiences. It’s a celebration that’s unique to Lowestoft, and could only ever take place in our town.
It’s mainly because of this focus on place that the festival has been truly taken to heart by the local community. It’s a joyous explosion of creativity and togetherness that embraces the carnivalesque celebration of a festival weekend, attracting a hugely diverse range of audiences. As well as a playground of fun, the festival asks important questions about the role of the arts in a town that’s long been underserved. How can creative exploration of science shape the way we see the nature around us? How does championing emerging musicians from the area affect local pride? How can participatory arts breathe new life into the post-pandemic high street?
Are there any events should people book now? Which ones can people turn up for free?
The majority of the festival is free and unticketed, which is one of the unique draws of the event. Where else can you access a weekend of world-class music, performance, wellbeing, science and comedy on the beach for free? We do however offer a limited number of ticketed experiences for those wanting to make the most of the weekend. Wild beach camping in our sand dunes campsite is a major draw from those visiting from further afield.
This year we’re introducing our ticketed Sundown Events, which keep the party going through the night in venues around the town. Tickets for these are still a very reasonable £10, and include the latest show from comedian Robin Ince; jazz legend Pangaea; the official Afterparty with cult DJ Luke Una; Moonlit Soundscapes, an intimate evening of ambient music in a beautiful church, and our iconic Silent Disco, which this year takes an intergalactic twist at our East Point Pavilion home. Tickets can be booked now at www.firstlightlowestoft.com/ticketed
Why should people visit Lowestoft? Tell us about the changing nature of this fishing seaside town.
Lowestoft is an incredible gem of a town. Sitting between the flora and fauna of the Broads and the marine life-rich North Sea, it’s a place of natural beauty, deep historic significance and exciting change. With a long history of industries including herring fishing and net-making, the town is now becoming synonymous with the renewable energies, which combined with an emerging arts scene, provides a real buzz around the town.
It’s Suffolk’s second biggest town, a fact that’s often overlooked, though nowadays Lowestoft is gaining more and more recognition for both it’s unique natural landscape and for the strength of community that exists here. Whether as a day trip from Norwich or Ipswich, or as a base to explore beautiful East Suffolk, I couldn’t recommend a stay in Lowestoft highly enough.
What inspires you when curating the festival and what makes the festival different?
There are quite a few considerations when thinking about the festival programme, and these often highlight what’s so special about the event.
Firstly, we’re a community-focused festival. We have a Steering Group comprised of local cross-sector organisations that guide our direction, and help input on what the Lowestoft community want to see.
Secondly, our physical site is spread across a wide sandy beach which has a huge impact on our curation. We have to think about whether a piece can be danced on sand, how an installation can be moved down from the cliff or the way that sound travels across a wide flat beach. The other unique consideration we think about a lot when curating is the time of day. We operate from noon to dusk, through the night and into dawn.
We try to echo the sun’s journey in the tempo of our programme: Saturday evening could be a midsummer beach party; Dawn is often contemplative, quiet and reflective, while Sunday morning might embrace more of a chilled Balearic vibe. Working with brilliant partners from across music, dance, science, wellbeing and hospitality, there are an incredible amount of factors that shape our programming.
What are your favourite year round haunts in Lowestoft?
Lowestoft really has a buzz about it, with new spots popping up beside much-loved favourites all the time. For my retail fix, I’d take a stroll down Kirkley High Street which has many brilliant independent shops and cafes, Door to the Cosmos being a particular favourite.
The historic High Street to the north is peppered with beautiful old buildings as well as the famous Scores (steep alleys cut into the landscape). For arts, places like 303 Gallery and The Grit are constantly showing brilliant exhibitions, and the latter is home to Books + Prints, a hub of great literature in the town.
When it comes to relaxation, nowhere quite compares to South Beach, whose golden sands and wide vistas are on a good day as beautiful as any beach in the world.
I am Joint Editor at To Do List. I like free, cheap & offbeat London, especially: cabaret, art, theatre, pop-ups, eating out, quirky films, museums, day trips, social enterprise & much more.