There’s a chance you’ve not come across Scotland’s Go North festival before. It has its roots in music, but has grown over the last several years to become the country’s first event to incorporate all of the creative industries.
In 2013, Go North featured a single speaking slot, introducing interactive media and video games to the wider cultural and creative world. In 2014, the festival raised the bar, with a number of games-related events and more than a dozen games companies getting involved.
Go North runs over the course of two days. In 2014, it took place, across the whole of Inverness city centre, with multiple venues, dozens of bands, its own radio station, a catwalk fashion show, secret gigs, government ministers, Hollywood stars, authors, DJs and industry experts of all types.
It’s an incredibly warm and friendly festival. The central registration point in the Mercure Hotel encourages interaction, networking and talking to new and fascinating people – which litter the hotel reception, spilling out onto the pavements and nearby cafes (fine, pubs…)
ScreenHI, the organisation which delivers Go North asked the Scottish Games Network to help them find an exciting games session, as well as companies who would be willing to travel to Inverness and show off their games to the creative industries and every delegate they could lay their hands on.
We even had a chance to talk to Gareth Waugh and Danya Mackenzie from the team at Radio Go North. This is an amazing project which challenges students studying radio broadcasting to run a live radio station with multiple guests and multiple bands across the entire festival.
The games session was one of the most interesting we’ve come across, a cosy fireside chat between Denki’s Gary Penn (official games media legend) and author Christopher Brookmyre, hard core gamer, FPS fiend and games writer.
The session touched on a wide range of topics. From the early days of Doom and Quake, through to Mr Brookmyre’s last novel, Bedlam, which is set inside old school video games. It’s also currently being turned into an actual game, courtesy of Red Bedlam in Brighton.
Gary and Chris explored the idea of narrative in gaming, the opportunities being opened up by new platforms and technologies, the idea of play versus that of toys, how the discipline of journalism and writing are important skills for developers to recognise (and make use of). Questions from the audience sparked discussion on the current levels of innovation and creativity in the UK games sector, versus that of the original home computer revolution.
It was epic. You should have been there. Really, you should. The whole festival is free.
Wednesday 4th of June also saw the first ever Go North games playground. Twelve companies took part and showed off their games to the festival delegates. The playground was right outside the main conference room, so traffic was high and a number of delegates were delighted to find games – playable games – at the festival.
Team Junkfish, Blazing Griffin, Moray College, Guerilla Tea, Dave Sapien, Me & The Giants, Hunted Cow, Hidden Armada, Ludometrics, Quartic Llama and PowerPunch Studios (winners of the Moray Game Jam in March), all took part, demonstrated their games and enjoyed the rest of the festival.
…because Go North doesn’t finish at 5pm, like the conferences and expos you may be familiar with. The festival had an opening party, over 60 bands, playing in half a dozen venues over the course of two days, a film programme and excitement in every direction. The opening party even featured a full on catwalk show, with fashion from some of Scotland’s up-and-coming new designers.
Day two of the festival kicked off with a panel exploring the future of technology – trends of the next ten years. This was eye-opening. Mostly because the future of technology is a sinister and Orwellian place in which technology tracks you, piracy destroys the creative industries and kids stop going outside thanks to Minecraft and texting…
It was… odd. It was also flat out wrong. We took to Twitter to point that out. Luckily nobody on the panel was using Twitter, which should tell you quite a lot, but we’re delighted that technology was included as part of the programme. Next year we’ll push for someone who gets tech to take part, but having a purely tech-focused event at a creative industries event is still a step forward.
The following panel was incredibly interesting and quite unusual. An in-depth look at collaborative co-ops within the creative sector. It included a couple of organisations who act as co-ops and looked at ways in which this infrastructure can benefit companies – a whole range of companies – in the creative world. In small regions like Scotland, or specific industries – such as interactive – working collaboratively and as part of a larger organisation can prove extremely beneficial. We’re already considering how this approach could potentially help the Scottish Games Network.
We stayed for BAFTA Scotland’s panel on pitching, which featured commissioners from Channel 4 and the BBC, along with an independent production company. While it had nothing to do with games, it was a fascinating insight into the process TV production companies have to go through to get new content created. It emphasised to us the differences between the interactive world and broadcast. Television is controlled by the broadcasters. They don’t show it, you’re not on TV. Could this be why so many younger creators are bypassing any notion of working in TV and instead making what they want and getting it out on YouTube?
After wandering the length of the high street, the last session of the day we saw was Meet The Agent. This session focused on publishing (as in books) and featured the genuinely amazing, engaging and fascinating John Jarrold. Again, nothing to do with video games, but some extraordinary insight into the literary market. John highlighted the trends in publishing, the constraints the market faces, the routes into being publisher for new writers and the sheer volume of writing now being received (he gets 30+ books submitted per week). It was superb. It was interesting. It made us think twice about that epic three volume sci-fi epic we’ve been pondering for about 12 years now…
The closing party was excellent. Introduction from Fiona Hyslop (cabinet secretary for culture and external affairs), secret set by SAY winner RM Hubbert (who’s a gamer, yes we said hello…), sponsorship by Innis & Gunn, lots of interesting people to speak to… Then bands. Lots of bands. Some truly excellent new artists and up-and-coming acts. We particularly enjoyed Foreignfox, Cryptic Keys, Angus Munro and Glasgow’s Hector Bizerk (turns out you can do hip-hop with a Scottish accent).
In short, Go North should be a fixture on the calendar of every single participant in the creative industries, whether you work in games, film, music, television, fashion, literature, radio or are interested in doing so. It reflects the fact that Scotland is a truly creative nation and celebrates the diversity and creativity from the youngest new artists, to the most established and successful names.
This year marked the last ever Go North. The festival will be back in 2015, but under a new name, Expo North. However it comes back, we hope it retains and builds on the event’s inclusivity, diversity and fun.
You should Go North. You should also go and check out the festival’s excellent photo albums…