In Talks With Chris Jammer: “Totally, that’s our brand. Celebrate heritage and champion the future”

Jesse Williams

By Jesse Williams

Jesse Williams

15 May 2022

For a good chunk of us our largest and most grandiose dreams stay tucked unburst in the sanctity of our thoughts. For some, it goes as far as an hour long group chat discussion which later becomes a recurring topic of “remember when” convos. A minority of us may even muster the courage to try and then fail but for the few who hope to be the anomaly that actually realises their goals, this is the interview for you.

Imagine going to uni in part of the UK like say Cambridge. Whitney Houston (may her soul rest in peace) still dominates the club scene. Well you and a couple of other 19-20 year olds desperate for some contemporary music decide to do something about it, starting first with a club night, which turns into a 800 person garden party and then oh well you know one of the UK’s most popping festivals who manage to book Lil Wayne for his first UK show in 14 years.

We sat down with one of the founders of Strawberries and Creem, Chris Jammer to talk about the journey so far and the one ahead.

Funnily enough me and my friends at uni had the idea to start a festival. It didn’t make it past the hour long “conference” in our Uni house living room though. How did you guys go from that idea, that initial conversation to actually doing it?

I mean so we were running club nights, so we knew we could sell like 300 tickets a week. We thought if we give ourselves three months we’d be able to sell 500 for an outdoor event. As that ticket money came in, we were able to use that to book acts, book land, book toilets all that sort of thing. We had a budget in our head and we kinda worked backwards as the money came in. It was an amateur job the first one but we got the buzz going.

There were five co-founders right?

At the beginning there were four of us, me and Preye were at Cambridge uni, then there was Will who ran the club nights. Me and Preye came in as promoters in our first year at uni and Frazer who was the DJ at club nights. We all just sat together and said right let’s do something outdoors, let’s just do something different and that’s how the idea came about for Strawberries and Creem.

The last couple of years have been hard with the world going through covid, how has that impacted S&C?

It’s just made us be more creative really. 2019 was the last time we did an event before covid and obviously 2020 got cancelled. So we just had to be creative in how we kept the brand alive until we could put on parties again. We dropped this clothing thing, we had “Summer 2020” t-shirts printed for the festival, so we just put “cancelled” on them and sold them online and raised money for charity. Then we did a live stream hybrid sort of party for carnival. We were just doing like little touchpoints here and there to keep the brand alive. It taught us the lesson that we can’t rely on one event a year to make us all our money. We learnt a lot about ourselves.

How do you feel the dynamic of being friends in business together helped you navigate that?

It makes it a lot easier and it makes it all more exciting. I never see myself as working, I don’t mind staying in the office till 23:00 because at the end of the day I’m just with my bro’s. I’m working on something were we all have a shared goal, that comradery makes it easier. We socialise together, we go to events together. Also because our friendship was kinda born out of business we never seem to argue, we all have the same end goals in mind. When we have those disagreements they squash very easily.

We touched on how you’ve had to be innovative, something new for this year is the Imjustbait stage, how did that come about?

So over covid we signed a deal with Sony music to be their first festival property in Europe. It’s the first time we’ve had investment and it just so happens Ants (Imjustbait) has a label WEAREBLK and his office is right next to us in the Sony building. So obviously we see each other, so it came together quite organically. He said he wanted to get into the festival space and into the content game. I said to him to we’ve got a festival already there, we can do some co-branding. We came up with a really mutually beneficial partnership. It’s super insightful to work with him because his numbers don’t lie.

Another big entity you guys have partnered up with or should I say is headlining is Lil Wayne. Isn’t that like a UK or Europe exclusive or something?

It’s a UK exclusive, I think it’s a Europe exclusive as well actually. He’s not been over here since like 2008, so the first show in 14 years. To put that into context he dropped ‘Lollipop’ I think in around that time and the ‘Carter 3’ came out that year. A lot of my age group and anyone younger didn’t really get a chance to see that. It’s our biggest act by a mile that we’ve booked.

I’ve always wondered from someone outside looking in, how do you guys come up with a line up? Is it a committee process or dictatorship or this guy likes House music so you take over that, this guy likes Hip Hop etc etc?

No it’s defo not a dictatorship, we all have our two pence. The first line up that we put together is never the line up that you guys see. Certain artist you really wanna book but those artist don’t work with other artist on the line up, it’s like a jigsaw puzzle putting it all together. Also Preye our co-founder he works as an A&R so he’s in the music industry. He knows what’s happening, when people are releasing projects, who’s gonna have a big album between now and the festival. It’s really helped us grow as a festival, he’s been able to predict who’s gonna have a big summer and more often than not he’s got it right. We booked Skepta in 2014 to play in 2015. In that period he dropped ‘Shutdown’, he was on stage at the BRIT’s with Kanye. He took off and put grime on the map. Year after we booked Kano, he dropped ‘Made In The Manor’, year after that we booked J Hus he dropped ‘Common Sense’, year after that we booked D-Block [Europe]. Even last year we had Central Cee pull up with Kenny Allstar which we patterned before he blew on the charts. We’ve got a couple artist this year like Knucks who’s next to blow. There’s not been many we’ve missed. Stormzy and Dave are probably the two biggest ones we missed on the come up.

You guys place an emphasis on mixing international superstars like Wayne with hometown heroes and the next ones up.

Totally, that’s our brand. Celebrate heritage and champion the future. Booking artist that have had a massive impact on our musical journey. Over the years we’ve booked T Pain and Nelly. It’s all about making sure we’ve got that level of talent but being able to use our platform to bring through up and coming UK talent.

You talked about insight with Preye, now I wanna talk about foresight with how you guys are not located in London. What does being in Cambridge do for you guys compared to other festivals?

Being in Cambridge is an interesting one. The reason we started putting this music on there was because it hadn’t really reached a lot of people in the area. We were kinda able to ride that wave of grime and afro-swing and be the outlet for people outside of London to see them there. Being outside London, it’s a big day out. You can just roll up to Wireless, roll up to Lovebox but you really have to commit to S&C. People are initially scared of that but that’s part of the experience. Leaving the city, that escapism.

This year I noticed while going through the line up there’s a lot of female representation there. Was that something you guy consciously did or was it just a matter of dope artist, pick them?

Bit of a combination of both. Last year were the only festival to go ahead that had a 50/50 gender balance line up. It’s something that we committed to couple of years ago, we signed a Keychange pledge. This year we’re 60% female and that’s not anything we had to do, it’s just the case of like these artist are dope. Like Tems, she’s one of our headliners. She’s had a massive moment and we just believe so much in the music. She had to be on there. Ella Mai’s the same. We have to be strategic about who we’re booking because we wanna be different from the crowd. There are a lot of dope female artist, festivals have been very slow to recognise and show them respect.

Since our phone batteries are running out and we’ve had a fairly decent convo, just lastly what are your plans for 2022 as company? Where do you see S&C going?

We want S&C to be the most progressive festival in the UK on a number of levels. We’re pushing gender balance, we’re the first festival to run a safe space scheme with the UN. This year were looking at hybrid options for festivals, last year we were the first festival to do NFT’s in the world I believe. We’re always just tryna push the boundaries of what a standard festival should look like and just be creative with it. As long as we can keep reinventing ourselves in that way then I think we’ll be good.

Look out for more line up info coming soon and purchase your tickets here!