DJ, festival organiser, industry spokesman, and writer Rob da Bank talks exclusively to eFestivals about this year's Bestival.
I was actually yeah. I'd gone up there the day before a dress rehearsal and while I was doing that it hit home that actually it was quite a rash thing I had undertaken, Whilst I was going through the scripted lines, they were showing me how to jump off it if it actually caught fire before the right time. It was really good fun though, and I think a lot of people appreciated it, so it was definitely worth it.
Are we going to see you carrying out death defying stunts every year from now on?
Personally I'm hoping that someone else is going to take my place in that sort of guise. We've got a spectacular finale planned again for this year. It's a different theme but the guys who made the last one have come up with another huge, amazing fire sculpture which will be a theatrical show throughout the weekend. Hopefully though I won't be on top of it again.
What will be the fancy dress theme for this year?
The theme is Fantasy, it's another big open theme, a bit like space last year which can have a lot of different angles on it. Fantasy is really a fantastic theme, and very open for abuse or to stay faithful to it. From things like Alice In Wonderland through to Lord Of The Rings. I don't want to set too rigid. Fantasy is really kind of goblins, and fairies and things like that. I want it to encompass everything, to have science fiction, and things like that in there. We like to have themes that are open to a lot of interpretations, and people can have a lot of fun with it.
If you do something like Cowboys and Indians then you can't really put any other connotations on it. But with something like fantasy, and especially with bands like the Flaming Lips playing, I think there's a lot of scope for the bands to get involved as well.
What's happened over the last few years is that more and more bands phone us up every year, like Florence last year and MGMT and ask, "What's the theme?" Most of the bands on the main stage seem to be getting involved.
Roxy Music are really up for the fantasy angle, they're talking about that already and what they can do. Brian Ferry's lyrics have always been about living in a kind of fantasy world.
You've said that you have never wanted the fancy dress theme to take over Bestival, do you not think it has already?
I don't want it to become a cliché. I never wanted it to become the reason why people go, or the main talking point of the festival. For those who haven't been will look at it and think "Fancy dress?"and think of it all as a bit of a novelty and a bit plastic, but for those who have been they see the reality is that an awful lot of effort has been put into the outfits whether it's the bands or the crowds. There's some very lateral thinking For last year people came dressed as a space bar from a computer, or chocolate bars like Mars, and things like that. People have a lot with in it.
Are you looking forward to seeing the headline acts?
Roxy Music are actually playing before the Flaming Lips on Saturday night. We're trying to get away from the one headliner thing. Obviously people perceive different acts to be different sizes. This year's Friday co-headliners are Hot Chip and Dizzee Rascal. I very much see it as those two pairs of acts together rather than have one as first day headliner and one as second day headliner. But I know that's difficult for some people to get their head around.
We've just announced Cornershop, Tricky, The Temper Trap, Alex Metric live and more. We've also got DJ sets from Dave Clarke, Erol Alkan, Joker, Adrian Sherwood, and Jack Beats. We've got a lot of old faves and new disco people, that people have been asking to on the forum. This year more than ever I've been listening to what people want.LCD Soundsystem who we've already announced are extremely popular on the forum, and repeatedly asked for every year. It's people power this year that has a lot to do with the line-up. A lot of the acts have been voted for. Hot Chip are one of the perennial faves really, they've played Bestival a lot, they've almost become residents. I'm really pleased with the line-up!
Are any of the new announcements exclusives?
I don't think so no. This year the competition is stronger than ever. I actually felt that it wouldn't be this year, but it definitely is. I started on the line-up really early in September, straight after the last show, and even doing that it has definitely been a lot harder this year. I'm really pleased with the line-up, there's a lot of big acts on there, so I'm pleased with that but it's been difficult. There's only been one or two things that I haven't got that I wanted to get.
Although it's still early days, we've got this announcement and then another one early March, and then we're fully announced. I think there will be more stuff added, but it's a highly competitive year. The Sunday act is definitely the biggest headliner, I'm not saying any more than that.
At Bestival last year you played Elton John at one point and said he'd be at Bestival this year, you weren't being serious where you?
(Laughs) We've had a very brief conversation about it that never really came to very much, but no, Elton's not attending Bestival in 2010, at least not as an artist.
Bestival's main stage is moving, where will it now be?
Essentially the Big Top and the Main Stage are swapping places. I want to put this long running saga with its location to bed now. We hadn't put it at the bottom of the hill because of the terrible weather the year before when that was a flooded area. A lot of drainage work has been done, digging and structural stuff to make sure the bottom of that field can't flood. We're moving the stage to what, hopefully, will become it's permanent home, and is the natural spot for it at the bottom of the hill. Facing up what will be the 'Fantasy Field' this year, and the Big Top will be up at the top.
With close on 50,000 people on site, we need to make sure that our site has got the best possible site lines, the best sound, and you want to be looking downhill onto the main stage. Last year we just couldn't take the risk, but now we've done the work we've needed to, and I'm pretty certain this new layout will work. I'm glad we've moved it out of where it was, so we can have the Afterburner, and the fire field.
It's a really exciting addition to Bestival. The Afterburner is getting a bit bigger this year, adding another layer on to that. It's going to have a big main stage on it now.
Will it be the same size as the one at Glastonbury last year?
Yes, exactly, they're only doing that at a few shows, it'll have full live capabilities on it. It'll be a live stage during the day, and change into The Afterburner at night. Last year in the Fire Field we had the Jim Beam and The Afterburner in there, and we needed to shuffle it all around. So, we've done a lot of work to make sure there are as few as possible sound clashes.
You mentioned the crowd of 50,000 - Bestival has grown dramatically over the years, is that it now, no plans to expand it further?
I've stopped saying that we won't a few year's ago, the first three or four years I'd say, "We'll never get any bigger." And then the costs went up, I know we (promoters) all sound like stuck records with, "We need to sell more tickets to pay the bills" but our show costs millions and millions now, and if our show had stayed at 20,000 we could have just stopped there and kept the costs where they were. But, I want to book bigger bands and Josie wants to have things like The Afterburner which cost an awful lot of money, we want to have the bonfire, and none of these things are cheap.
I think the difference between our show and other shows is our creative budget as we call it, which goes towards things like The Afterburner, the bonfire, all the tents that we have handmade in India, that's a huge amount of money. There are other festivals where most of their budget is spent on bands and a bit of infrastructure, but we really have to balance the books on this huge creative budget.
There's more exclusivities, and rivalries, and competition than ever before. Agents treat us much in the same way now that they do the bigger festivals.
At the upper end the market is getting smaller these days, we're the only 100% independent festival in that big league. If you look at the network of how they are all connected it's mad. I don't think people realise all those big festivals are connected by only one or two companies. It's scary in a way that we've got to that size and we're up in that league, but at the same time it's a good challenge.
That's part of the reason why we started Camp Bestival, because we wanted a smaller show where we could do things on a smaller scale for people that didn't want such a big festival. We had to come to terms with the fact that Bestival is a huge 24 hour party, and quite hedonistic.
With us and our partners having children, we needed that balance of a family show that has a different vibe. Watch this space because I wouldn't be surprised if we started something a lot smaller and back to how Bestival started.
So you are tempted to put on another event?
Yeah, I know that market is very busy, but I thought when we launched Camp Bestival we got it bang on the head, and that's been successful. I think we could do something smaller, given that we're all very busy and have a lot of other things on besides the festivals, like the radio, the record label, and all that. We've also got our third baby arriving in May, so busy times. But' we're always thinking about new ideas and new concepts so I wouldn't be surprised if within the next five years we do start something else. The most important thing is that each year we really look at where we are with Bestival and never stop examining it.
I don't want to do what The Big Chill did, which was not watch it's audience, and after 15 years they were at risk, the older people had grown out of it, and there was no one starting to come to it as a new festival. I'm sure Festival Republic will be turning that around, which is great because it's a fantastic festival. I'm glad that someone's going to look after it. That's what you have to look out for. Glastonbury had that shock a couple of year's ago when they didn't sell out until the last minute. That was a shock for everyone, it was like, "woah, if Glastonbury's not invincible, then none of us are."
Are you happy with the general mix of crowd at Bestival last year?
I was very happy yes. I was really surprised how young they were. We've always had a lot 18-25 year olds coming, but I was there when people started flooding in and the first few thousand all seemed very, very young to me. I think I booked a line-up that attracted young people last year. I was lucky with MGMT, Friendly Fires, La Roux, and Bat For Lashes, we had a really great run of people who were on the cusp of being huge, and that combined with Kraftwerk, and Elbow which also kept the older crowd happy. I hit the nail on the head last year with what was our best line-up to date. In terms of getting a young crowd to Bestival, which is crucial, that's what we did last year.
You've visited a lot of festivals over the years which one has been the most different from what you had expected?
I think Sonar, because it's a totally urban festival, and I never thought I'd like an urban festival. I'm not a huge fan of festivals in London parks it never really feels like a proper festival. But, Sonar is in and around a complete concrete building, and still has that complete festival vibe about it. The English festivals are all hugely different, from the anarchy of The Secret Garden to the chilledness of Green Man, and obviously Glastonbury is over arching everything and anything goes. But I'm never surprised by UK festivals. Before I went to T in the Park I knew what it would be like, and it was what I expected. UK festivals do their marketing quite well and you know what you're going to get.
What's been your best memory from Bestival over the years?
I always hark back to the first one when Basement Jaxx came on, as they are still now. they were one of the top dance acts around, I couldn't believe in the first year of the festival with only 4,000 people there we'd managed to snag Basement Jaxx as Saturday night headliner, and I finally felt our festival was underway. I can still picture myself stood there at the side of the stage, shaking, looking out at the 4,000 there and thinking it was such a huge crowd, it's absolutely piffling now compared to what Bestival has become. More recently it's meeting Ralph from Kraftwerk before he went on, and joking about bicycles, in a completely unfunny way, and meeting one of my heroes, and then them playing an amazing set at Bestival.
interview by: Scott Williams
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