Big Chill's Katrina Larkin interview

festival co-founder talks to efestivals

published: Fri 30th Jan 2009

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Friday 7th to Sunday 9th August 2009
Eastnor Castle, Ledbury, Herefordshire HR8 1RL, England MAP
adult w/e £145; aged 13-17 £60; parking £7.50; live-in vehicles £50
last updated: Mon 3rd Aug 2009

efestivals spoke to Katrina Larkin, the co-founder of The Big Chill which happens at Eastnor Castle in Herefordshire. The festival which offers both families and ravers a diverse range of music including folk, jazz, African, dub, and unique collaborations; as well as art, films, poetry, cabaret and gourmet food.

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First off, for those who don't know the Big Chill festival, how would you describe it?
The Big Chill's been going for 15 years and has had a very organic growth. We've been able to develop from a melting pot of music, art, and fancy dress, and it's become on the one side a wacky state where everything goes, to some really stunning talents on the open air stage. We've been able to take something very small and develop it, and the great thing is because the production side has got so strong, it's really helped develop the festival be a platform for a multi-media styled event.

When you come to the Big Chill, it doesn't matter what age you are and it doesn't matter what mood you're in. You might be asking, do I want to go and dance my tits off all night in the club tent, or do I want to kick back with some friends in the café, or do I want to drink tequila and dance all night on a table in the cocktail bar, or do I want to go into the new chill-out zone in amongst the trees?

It sounds like you're catering for as many tastes as possible.
Yes – As one of the key people at The Big Chill, the most difficult part of my job is trying to describe The Big Chill in a few sentences. It's become its own event, a place of many tribes, where you get very quiet zones and campsites, and then in the north side you get people who come without children and get very little sleep.

The key with the Big Chill is that the people behind it really care about the experience, so we don’t promise things that aren't going to happen. We really build up the respect of our audience who return every year or every second year because they know they can trust us and we look after them. There are hot showers, and we win the toilets award every year, which may sound really boring, but people coming know they're not going to get stressed, and I think that's where the term (The Big Chill) is.

It's not about ambient music as some people may say, it's about eclectic music and having an open mind and really being able to get into the event, because from the minute you arrive, we try to think of all those little things. You’ve paid your money and we're going to look after you. We're also going to become incredibly jealous watching all the fun everybody has.

crowd @ Arrested Development
How long can you be there for?
You can arrive on the Thursday morning at 10am. Bars and cocktails bars are open on Thursday evening along with some open-air cinema screens. Then on the Friday from midday all the stages start, and then everybody has to leave by Monday at lunchtime. The beauty is that about 60-70% of people come on the Thursday, so when the first act goes on stage on the Friday, they're not playing to two people in a big field, they actually have people who've been there, they’ve socialized, they’ve chilled out, they've got their tents up, they've done all the practical things, and they're just waiting, so there's a big round of applause when it all kicks off.

In terms of those who went last year, what sort of feedback have you got?
Last year was an amazing year. The highlight was Sunday night as on my left Leonard Cohen was playing live, in front of me I was watching a 13 foot high wooden sculpture of a house as part of a fire installation burning with fireworks and pyrotechnics, and behind me Benga was DJing in the cocktail bar. You can’t get more diverse than that, it was a bit like, 'pinch me!'

We get stage-fright beforehand, but everything worked, and the response was overwhelming. One in ten people filled in our survey after the event to tell us all the things they liked, what they’d like new for this year. That shows people have a respect for the event and actually care that they want to come back. They tell us everything, including what they'd like behind the bar.

Any particular things arising from that feedback?
Yes, about the car parking. We have a lot of car parks, it's a very big site, and we have four entrances and exits. What we're doing this year is you can pick the car park you want to park your car in and buy tickets so that you can have a really short walk. So for example, the families will go to one car park where it's 100 yards to the campsite. I think there's no other festival that offers as little walking distance and more trolley services up and down the valley for people to get their stuff from cars to tents really easily.

Anything in particular for families?
An awful lot. They have their own café, their own kids' zone, and there are different activities in different areas of the site. For example, The Big Chill night, which is full-on cabaret and naughtiness at night, during the day will become a circus area.

Orbital
Orbital – a great coup – what's the story behind that?
About a year ago, Guy Morley, who programs the open air stage, and is also good friends with Paul and Phil, dangled a carrot in front of them saying "come on boys, come to The Chill, come and do a set" and they were like "oooh we don't know." But they're both big fans of The Big Chill, and they've both come to The Big Chill since Orbital split, both doing their solo projects, so when the time was right for them to get back together, it seemed like natural progression for Orbital to be at The Big Chill.

We're exceptionally pleased to have them. The idea that we're going to be in a field with that laser show and Orbital striking up, I just keep putting myself in that place and going "Wow." It's like a kid looking forward to Christmas.

Basement Jaxx
You also have Basement Jaxx on the line-up as well.
We have, that's going to be incredible. What we love about Basement Jaxx beyond their music is the whole stage show, and on the Friday night in that valley where you can’t see the neighbours, you really feel like you're in this secret land that you've discovered. Everything is just chosen so specifically, so the idea of all dancers coming out, whatever treats they have, is just going to be amazing. It's not like indoors at an event, or a typical big outdoor concert, because the whole setting is unique.

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interview by: Clive Hoadley

Friday 7th to Sunday 9th August 2009
Eastnor Castle, Ledbury, Herefordshire HR8 1RL, England MAP
adult w/e £145; aged 13-17 £60; parking £7.50; live-in vehicles £50
last updated: Mon 3rd Aug 2009


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