Creamfields James Barton talks to eFestivals

Creamfields 2009 interview

By Scott Williams | Published: Wed 6th May 2009

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Saturday 29th to Sunday 30th August 2009
Daresbury Estate, Halton, Cheshire, WA4 4AR, England MAP
weekend tickets £100, day tickets £57.50 - SOLD OUT
Last updated: Tue 25th Aug 2009

Based outside Liverpool, Creamfields is entering its eleventh year of existence. James Barton and partners started the festival as an extension of the nightclub Cream which was hugely popular in the nineties. Holden started the club with a partner in '92. His background has always been in music, in 1988, Barton fell in love with the first phase of dance music becoming a club promoter and DJ, organising nightclub parties, and even managed a couple of bands. eFestivals got the chance to speak to Barton about this year's Creamfields festival.

What made you decide to start Creamfields?
Actually the idea to start Creamfields was Vince Power's idea. Vince was the owner of Mean Fiddler at the time and the operator of the Reading festival an d a number of other things. He approached us and said had we thought about doing an outdoor music event. We would like to do it with you, we have a site, which we can use, and we said of course we'd love to. It wasn't really our idea, it was somebody else's which is a nice little part of the story.

What's your role in putting the event together?
First and foremost, I'm the founder of the business and act as the CEO. But on a day to day level, I deal with quite a lot of the strategy and some of the marketing, I book all of the live bands and my brother books all of the DJs. So, a very hands on role with the festival.

How are plans for this year going?
We're very happy, we're extremely happy for a number of reasons, we've got some amazing ticket sales, we've got off to an excellent start, and we're also very happy and satisfied with the line-up. We think the line-up is exceptionally for the type of festival that it is. We announced the festival a month ago and in terms of organisation everything else has come along on schedule. We've done this for eleven years now, so in terms of organising the festival I think we're quite experienced.

The big difference this year is that we've reduced our ticket prices this year, and we announced that we would be reducing our camping and weekend tickets by £15 on last year, and probably the cheapest festival out there of its kind and we got an amazing response.

Who are you most looking forward to seeing on the bill this year?
I'm actually really looking forward to seeing Tiesto, who is closing out the main stage on the Saturday night, he is probably one of the world's biggest DJs and he's a pretty popular guy, and it will be the first time he's performed that slot at our festival. It's quite a big step for us, usually that slot has been filled by Chemical Brothers, or The Prodigy, Faithless or one of the big live acts. This is the first time that a major club DJ has done that slot.

Talking of live acts, which live acts are you looking forward to seeing?
I'm looking forward to seeing Dizzee Rascal. It's the first time he's played the festival, he's got an amazing new record about to come, we did a show her with him at the end of November last year, at Liverpool University which was a smaller show, which was just amazing, the energy, and the whole performance, everything was just incredible, I'm looking forward to seeing him.

We also have Friendly Fires on the bill I'm really looking forward to seeing them, we have a number of acts, Calvin Harris, and Basement Jaxx is obviously headlining the Sunday and they always do an amazing show. For me it's also about seeing the crowd's reaction and seeing how a particular act is interacting and working with the crowd. I try to see as many as the live acts as I possibly can.

Has anyone really surprised you with how well they have been received at Creamfields?
Yes, there was one band who we booked about three year's ago, and because they're a live band, and we're a dance festival it raised a few eyebrows. We booked them because they're a local band, and that band was The Zutons, and we got it just right in terms of the timing because they were number one roughly around that time with 'Valerie' which eventually got covered by Amy Winehouse. But even then the single was massive. It was really cool to see all these crazy kids, ravers, at five or six o'clock in the afternoon, all getting to a rock and roll band singing 'Valerie'. That went down for us really well, I must say.

Are there any surprises for this year that you've still got to unveil?
There might be a few final pieces put to the line-up in the next few weeks, that we're working on at the moment. We don't have anything to announce today, but there a couple of slots that have to be filled, which funnily enough we were just debating about this morning. So there will be another live act, and maybe another couple of DJs going onto the bill in the next couple of weeks.

Are there any changes to the layout of the festival happening this year?
There will be some changes to the festival, we've decided to move the main stage to a different part of the site, which we are hoping will freshen things up a little bit, after doing the same festival for eleven years it's important. There's a new stage gone in which will be the Mixmag Stage, so there will be few changes. We're hoping that we've been able to improve some elements of the movement around the site, we've put some permanent infrastructure in, built a new road, and that's another reason why we've moved the stage, because we're able to benefit from putting this road around the outer ring of the festival. It will be interesting to see how festival goers like the new position of the main stage.

How do you get feedback about the festival?
We do two things, we obviously encourage from our customers via the website, things like emails. And every two year's we undertake an independent research study asking all of our customers various questions about how they rate the festival in terms of customer experience, ticket price, line-up, marketing, the site, and all kinds of aspects of the festival.

Do you have any particular favourite memories of the festival over the years?
I have a few, probably, if I have to narrow it down to one it would be when we did the very first festival here in Liverpool, going back eleven years now, and at that time it felt like a huge risk, and it certainly felt like a huge undertaking on our behalf. But, when we opened the doors on the Saturday morning, it was a beautiful sunny day and there was 35,000 people waiting to come inside. It was an amazing feeling to get there and get to the point where we were opening the gates, and that festival actually passed off really well without any incident.

There's been a couple of other things, it was really nice to see the Kasabian play the show last year, and Ian Brown play the show last year, and Scissor Sisters about three year's ago when they were number one. We booked them really early, throughout the summer we just wathed them get bigger until by the time they played Creamfields they had a huge crowd and everyone knew all the words, and it was a beautiful summer's night.

Even on this festival we booked Calvin Harris, and we announced him on the line-up and four days later he had a number one. It's either luck of good A&R, I'm not sure which, maybe a bit of both.

Do you have any up and coming acts you'd recommend people hearing?
I think there's a couple of acts on there that I think have the potential to go on to do great things. Deadmau5 is obviously someone who is quite new to the dance world but already is gathering quite a huge amount of interest and a hell of a lot of people saying good things about him.

Then, there's a band out of Manchester called Delphic who have a really great new single. People are saying good things about them, great review in the NME, and they've been tipped as a really strong band.

There's a couple of French guys called Aeroplane, that we really like. We think they have potential to be, well I wouldn't say Daft Punk because they don't actually sound like Daft Punk, but they're very cool and they've got a really great sound.

Then we've got some really amazing exclusive things at the festival. We've got Luciano, a really famous DJ doing his live show at Creamfields this year, which is an exclusive to us. Laurent Garnier is playing live this year, and he's probably never played live at Creamfields before and that could be really, really cool. 2Manydjs are showcasing a brand new live show this summer and again they're playing which could be cool.
There's some stuff which is unknown and then there's some stuff which is a bit more well known but they're doing new things, and we've really tried to bring as much as that as possible this year to make us stand out from the crowd.

Any plans for future years?
Any festival that's been around as long as us, has to evolve, always has to attempt to freshen things up. So we'll always be pushing the boundaries in terms of programming of music. We'll always be looking to bring in new and interesting artists whether they're core producers of dance music, or whether they're rock and roll guys who are making dance music. Last year we stepped out of comfort zone if you like with the addition of Kasabian and Ian Brown. This year we decided we wanted a very focused dance line-up because we wanted to give our audience exactly what they wanted really. Baring in mind that the economy is the way is it, it might be a good time to give people a really good party, as we move forward we're always looking to develop that side of the festival.

This year will only be our second year as a camping festival, again we need to develop that, and consolidate it, making sure that our customers enjoy the camping experience, and make sure we improve the camping experience. The future at the moment is taking some really positive steps forward with what we already have. What we don't believe in here, and I think it's one of the reasons why as a nightclub we've been around for 16 years, and as a festival we've been around for 11 years, is that we don't make wholesale changes to what we do. We take a very considered and measured approach to anything going at the festival and we tend not to panic buy, or go crazy with new ideas. We like to improve the line-up all the time, we also like to improve the facilities, we're also always looking to improve the experience. I think the majority of our audience come to the festival because of the amazing line-ups that we produce every year.

Dance music seems to be making a resurgence at the moment...
I think it's no coincidence that the last time the country was in a recession dance music was born, and that was in 1988 and it came along at a good time when people wanted to go out and forget all their worries, and I do feel as though dance music and clubbing tends to thrive at a time like this, because I do think people need that release at the end of the week. Certainly, we've had a nice run of artists bringing new dance singles out. I do think Dizzee Rascal's new single, 'Bonkers', is going to be huge, it's going to be the anthem of the summer. I think dance music as whole has been going through a revival for the last couple of years.

I think when we're in a difficult economic situation when we are now, people are less prepared to take a risk with their festival experience, and will go to wherever they know they are going to get a good festival with a good line-up and hopefully a bit of good weather.

How do you think festivals are going to fare this year?
Well we've already seen some festivals fall out of the end of the festival market. The explosion of festivals and the popularity of festivals did attract a lot of new festivals into the market place, which I do think were there for a number of reasons. There were a number of festivals, I think, put into the market with people involved who were investors, not really event organisers but people who were very much thinking it looks easy let's make money. It reminds me very much of the club business in the nineties, when it was very popular everybody wanted to own a nightclub. I think the festival thing has gone through a similar situation.

What happened last year was probably a good thing, there was bit of a correction, a lot of festivals lost money, a lot of festivals struggled to sell tickets, and eventually a lot of festivals failed to make it to this year. Now, we're already seeing festivals falling by the wayside and I think where we are very fortunate as Creamfields, is that we have a very strong customer base which stretches back over 11 years, and a really good reputation for delivering a good festival. I think the same as V, the same as Glastonbury, Reading, and Leeds I think when you've been around as long as some of those festivals I think it means something, and I think Creamfields has a very strong base, and we'll do well at times like this.

Unlike last year where we went in to promote the festival in the middle of the initial part of the economic downturn, I think this year maybe two things are happening. I think people are in the position to plan or budget their finances better because they know exactly where they are. But also maybe people have decided I'm not going to go on that holiday, but I'm still going to go to that festival.

Maybe there's less festivals around, and where as the big established festivals are having their ticket sales affected by the new guys, there's less festivals going around. It's no surprise to me that Reading and Leeds sold so well, and so did V, the best festivals around are doing okay.

I think us, as festival organisers, have looked at value for money, what we're offering, and whether it really does represent true value for money. I think a lot of festivals in Europe have been taking customers away from the UK festival scene because they've been able to offer cheaper tickets, with cheaper flights, and everything else. Maybe that's changed, the euro is now effecting that. There's still a long way to go we're still only in May, we'll wait and see how the next few month's shape up.

We feel happy about what we're doing, I know happy is a strange word to use, but we feel as though we've really worked hard on the line-up, and we've offered a really good package in terms of ticket prices versus the line-up and the concept. Where as I think there's other festivals around that haven't, but we have and we feel as though we've done the right thing this year, and that's reflected in the public's response to the festival this year, and also reflected in real strong ticket sales.

Are the worldwide Creamfields events happening again this year?
Yeah, we've got ten and we're about to announce when they are, and where they are. It's been a bit more tough this year, because sponsors play a major role in our international festivals, we had ten last year, and now we are in a position to announce ten again this year.

Well best of luck with them.
Thank you very much, take care bye.
interview by: Scott Williams

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