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Character Building: Catching Up With SSE Audio’s Yan Stile

Life after Canegreen, the recent acquisition of Wigwam Acoustics, the current concert/festival business climate, and more...

By Paul Watson February 17, 2014

Yan Stile of SSE Audio

Anyone who has met Canegreen founder and SSE Audio director Yan Stile knows that he’s always got something interesting to say. I was fortunate enough to shoot the breeze with him recently at SSE’s London HQ, just a stone’s throw from the capital’s legendary Wembley Stadium, about life after Canegreen, and the UK audio giant’s recent acquisition of Wigwam Acoustics.

Paul Watson: We’re over a year on now from the London Olympics. How’s business been since?

Yan Stile: Yeah, a shame, the Olympics – we put in a bid with Capital Sound to put together a Meyer Sound system, but we were unsuccessful because we had too many “noughts” after our bid, apparently, so we didn’t get it, which was also a shame as I’d have project managed it. But hey, we were very busy anyway, so it’s all fine… [smiles]

Many people have felt the downturn – not you guys?

Events are still popping up anywhere; I was talking to [Britannia Row’s] Bryan Grant the other day and he gave me a statistic about there being a stadium show every other day in the UK during the summer, and people just don’t have the money to go to all these shows. That’s been my view for a long while now. And how can we expect them to have the money when people are not having pay rises, and tickets are just not cheap?

If you want to come into London to see a show and stay overnight with the wife and kids, you’re going to spend £1,000 [about $1,650 U.S.]; now, wouldn’t you rather just watch it on the telly? A nice, big flat screen, you know? I know of many events that have done very, very badly, and if that’s an indicator with regard to the market, well, it’s not great news, is it? 

So shows aren’t selling out, basically?

There are loads of great venues – in fact, the country’s developing some excellent arenas now and there are a lot of smaller ones too. It’s just that to be a promoter, you need to pass a certain level to make a profit, and if you don’t pass that then there’s no point doing it. And sadly, that’s what’s happening.

But business is thriving for you, surely?

Well, we do an awful lot of events, especially festivals, so yes. We’ve picked up all our festivals again for next year – it’s all about repeat business – and new ones too, but I think festivals have to be built up over a number of years, and we tend to work with those. I still say good luck to the little boutique ones, though. It can’t be easy, and certainly isn’t a surefire way of making a quick buck.

Festivals are still as popular as ever across Europe. I hear people are even opting to rough it at a festival rather than spend that same amount of money on their summer holidays.

Really? Here? Well, what are they thinking?! [laughs] I know people are leaving the UK and going to festivals abroad, and that makes sense – it’s a cheaper ticket, you get guaranteed weather, and you’re sort of on holiday too, aren’t you? There are also events like Ibiza Rocks and that lasts the whole summer; and really, when it comes to European festivals, there are so many options…But in the UK? Well, that’s dedication, especially after we just had the summer of rain!

Talk to me about the Wigwam acquisition; I assume this means you’ve now got the Isle of Wight account?

We have, but remember that was a Canegreen account originally. Mark Ward was the production manager, and we did the first three [of those festivals]. Mark then left and they got Steve Levy in, and he brought in Wigwam; and of course, now it’s 100 percent owned by SSE, then yep, we’ve kind of got it back again, I suppose, haven’t we?

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