Matt Cooper has always loved performing, particularly playing the clarinet and saxophone as part of an ensemble. He attended Birmingham Conservatoire then ENO Operaworks, and has been lucky enough to work with Grange Park Opera, Buxton Opera Festival and Longborough Festival Opera.
Today, he is putting his experience to good use by helping younger generations realise their dreams of performing music. Having been a young artist himself dealing with the struggles of breaking into the industry, he wants to give a platform to young people to be discovered and appreciated.
‘Now that I am fulfilling my passion to sing in incredible productions, I really want to try and support other young artists to be heard,’ Matt tells Culture Trip. ‘A recent article about the headliners at this year’s Reading and Leeds festivals prompted raging tweets such as #musicisdead – well, it definitely isn’t and I want UBOTB (University Battle of the Bands) to be the platform to show this! The standard of the bands really is amazing.’
Interestingly, the festival actually started as a birthday party for Matt’s brother-in-law, Harry, and his in-laws, David and Jo Clancy, located in the breathtaking countryside of Bordeaux, after converting an old barn into a stage.
‘The music business is so competitive and it is difficult to know where to start,’ says Matt. ‘So my in-laws and I have decided to build on their boutique festival in order to set up an international university competition that will act as a great platform for students to come and perform in front of students, tourists and music professionals, get feedback and have the chance to win prize money and recording time in a studio.’
‘It is a beautiful site with 360-degree views, picturesque sunsets in the evening, hay bales and great music. Lots of my friends have performed and represented their universities, creating an amazing boutique festival atmosphere. It is a special event where everyone gets to know everyone else and people hear new music, which is always a good thing.’
This year is special because the festival opens up the French market to the English bands and vice versa. ‘Hopefully in years to come we can open up to more countries. The council of our local commune, Grand-Brassac, has voted unanimously to support the festival and host it behind the beautiful church in the centre of the village,’ Matt explains.
It has taken a lot of time and research to make these festivals possible, contacting universities, bands and talent companies to gain their support. But this year, things are really taking off, as the festival will be collaborating with New Street Records, a student record label in the UK, and Crous Bordeaux, a national French university battle-of-the-bands competition.
‘We have a larger location this year; we’ve set ourselves up as an asso (French charity) and we are working with local producers of food, wine and beer to really root the festival in the local region and culture and promote local produce in the area. We’re also developing an exciting app to help the bands to promote themselves and The Grand Final at their universities.’
The app aims to give a bigger platform to aspiring musicians. The idea is that students will engage with the new app, upload their profiles, share music and events, manage their own gigs and grow their fanbase.
‘We really want to make UBOTB a great success. Growing it from a boutique festival where we know everyone, to one that students, locals and tourists know and talk about, and are willing to travel to, has probably been the most challenging aspect. That’s one reason why we are building the app and have expanded to include French universities – to spur local interest.’
He has high hopes for this year’s festival, working on engaging not only the local community, but also tourist bodies and major companies, in order to promote La Grande Finale and attract a great crowd. It promises to be even more exciting than ever.
‘The highlight is always when the musicians get on the stage and realise how supportive the crowd is: if you think about it, everyone is on holiday, they’ve probably travelled a bit, the setting is beautiful, wild and fantastic, and everyone is in the mood to rock!’
‘It’s those serendipitous moments when musicians from different bands come to play together in a stunning setting which creates special times with the sun going down and moments under the stars with everyone dancing until they watch the sun rise. Last year’s festival was a unique moment where we had The Former Kings play and rock the countryside.’
In the past, the festival has welcomed undiscovered talent including the eight-piece band Grand Majestic, Jack Jenkins and Aaron Heffenham. This year, there’ll be around 12 bands over the three-day Grand Final, including Eleanor Fawcett and Tom Auton, Toby Charles, and Coffee Machine from Tours.
‘The spectacle of UK, Irish and French students coming together for a great weekend of music is an exciting one and we think the atmosphere will be electric,’ says Matt.
The festival will take place from 6-8 July in Le Parc de L’Eglise, Grand Brassac, 24350 France.
Tickets on sale now from ubotb.com