eFestivals speaks to LeeFest Presents: The Neverland founder Lee Denny

about the whole kingdom that LeeFest are creating for people to explore

By Scott Williams | Published: Mon 4th Jul 2016

Thursday 28th to Saturday 30th July 2016
John Darlings Farm, near Edenbridge, Kent, TN8 5NP, England MAP
£99 for the weekend
Daily capacity: 5,000
Last updated: Thu 30th Jun 2016

After taking a year out, LeeFest is back for its 10th anniversary, moving to a new, larger site near Tunbridge Wells, LeeFest Presents: The Neverland now has three realms; The Neverwoods, Mermaids Lagoon and Skull Ridge, happening at John Darlings Farm near Edenbridge in Kent from Friday 28th until Sunday 30th July 2016.

eFestivals speaks to LeeFest founder Lee Denny to find out more.

Lee, you've just got back from Glastonbury Festival what were your highlights?
I was only on site for a short time, I was at a small festival we did this year called Camp Wildfire. I was clearing up from that until the Friday evening. So I think I arrived at Glastonbury at about 3am on the Friday night/Saturday morning which was an amazing time to arrive because by then everyone is so into it. You just get thrown in at the weekend. So, I spent my evening hanging out across the top and then down into the South East corner, exploring there. Musical highlights wise, I actually really enjoyed M83 up at the John Peel Stage. It was a really good show, and an amazing light show with really great production, even though there wasn't a huge amount of people there. That made it quite intimate which was quite nice. I also liked Shura who played on the Other Stage, she was really good.

Had you been to Glastonbury before?
I have, I did a very similar thing the year before, so this was my second time. Last year was different though, this was my first muddy Glastonbury, which made it a very different experience. On Sunday night the queues in the mud it took five hours as we had to get towed out of the parking.

Turning our attention to LeeFest, you have a theme this year Neverland, are you intending to keep it themed the same next year, or is this a one off?
It's more than just a theme it's a whole new idea, of a kingdom that we are creating for people to explore. It's something that we've been working on for a couple of years, and it's something that we plan to start off this year and then let it grow more and more, rather than just a one year fancy dress theme or something like that. It very much influences everything from how we use the land, to the music programming and how we put it into to the different venues to fit in with the ideas of Neverland, and the ideas of the different spaces there. It's very exploratory and very much creating those different little pockets that have very different atmospheres for people to discover.

You say it's been a few years in the making, what was the original germination of the idea?
We were kind of looking for the next stage of LeeFest, and what was next in our story, and our creative development. Developing our ideas and ensuring the festival continues to grow, and seeing the different types of people that were coming, that was the cue for it really. There were some important things for us. Firstly that there were three very distinct and different realms to the Neverland – Mermaid Lagoon, Skull Ridge, and The Neverwoods. Each of those has a different vibe, the mermaids are very flashy, drag queen like. The pirates are slightly grungier and heavier and more anarchist types, and the Neverwoods are more crafty, and folky. We have these different types of people coming together at the festival to watch different types of music that we were just putting on in one big space. We decided to push that out and develop these spaces with a visual identity and suitable for the artists who are playing there. We decided to give each tribe of people their own space, and they've got ultimate creative freedom to do their thing but then also the opportunity to crossover and explore the other bits when they're ready.

There was also a little bit of the fact that we had had so much attention over the last ten years of the LeeFest story and the history of where we started, me being younger and how it started, and we were really looking for what would be the next stages on from that. It's not really about the past it's more about where we can take it in the future, and the next steps. It's kind of a nice parallel with people refusing to grow up and the refusing to go down traditional routes into traditional jobs, and the traditional ways of life We wanted to do something a bit different that we believed in and refusing to let go of our childish dreams of creating an amazing festival, and creating something really special. There's a little parallel there with Peter Pan that we quite liked, and pointed at a new direction for us.

I went to the cinema a while ago, to see Star Wars and was surprised to see an advert for LeeFest, how did that come about?
We were approached by Android who were looking for non traditional stories for a series of films that they were making to promote their operating system. They had done with a guy who had started a swimming crew thing and they had come across the LeeFest story somehow, and really liked it, and really liked our ideas of how we were doing something just a bit rebellious, and doing something to bring lots of people together through music. So, they just came to us and asked if they could use the story to make a film about what we'd done. They never told us the extent of where it would be placed, they just said it would go out on YouTube, and we thought it may get a slot on the Shopping channel at half three in the morning or something like that. Certainly not just before Star Wars.  

We're still a very intimate festival we don't want 20,000 people there. It's helped it grow a little bit, but we think it's more about our community and word of mouth about going to the event, and the atmosphere there because that is how you keep a really special atmosphere.

You took a year out last year, did you lose any momentum from doing that?
I think for us internally it was a great chance to have a bit more thinking space to actually look at the new site we were moving into and work out how the Neverland was going to fit into it and all that stuff. It was really important for us to have that time. It also meant we could play around with ideas without too much pressure of having an event imminently, although I did start a new event last summer so I kept that pressure on myself. As for momentum I don't feel we lost anything, we just had some thinking space which was nice.

Festivals do often decide to take a year out, and often don't return for two or three years, you obviously had enough momentum to only take one year out.
 Yes, probably that's because they realise that when they do take a break they are far more shattered than they actually realised. You know that thing where you've been working for ages and you think you are fine and then you take a break and you think “oh my god”, and find you realise it's actually really tiring. With the new event too, I think maybe I have a deep down psychological need to punish myself with extra work.

What's been your musical highlight of the last 10 years of LeeFest?
I think one was definitely back in 2014 when Rae Morris played, and she was playing inside quite a small tent on the Saturday night and it was actually when England was playing a football match, so lots of people went to watch that but there was a contingent of awesome people who decided to watch Rae Morris instead of the football. She had been that people would go and see the football and not see her show, but the tent was absolutely packed. I think because she had been so worried beforehand, she put on this incredible show. One of those where, by the end, she was crying, and the crowd were crying, and that was really special because of the atmosphere in the tent at the time. I think there's many other much bigger ones with artists that have put on awesome shows and then gone on to incredible things, but that was one that felt real, and got me in the chest.

Looking ahead to the next 10 years, who would you like to headline in the future?
I get asked this a lot, but it's a really difficult one because we are really into the new music thing, and always try to programme a majority of new bands. I suppose if I had to pick someone it would be Jack White, because he's always creating new projects and changing his styles and what he's doing. He must be a very interesting person to work with, and he's always creating those kind of dreamworlds that would fit right in.

Do you think putting a new band on as a headlining act is a risk?
 It's working for us because we are not relying on big name acts, and announcing someone and suddenly selling x amount of tickets. We occupy a much smaller space in the festival market, a much earlier step for those artists who are going to go on one day to that. We are providing the early steps for artists who will go on to major festival headline status. There's lost and lots of fresh talent out there that we can provide those first few steps for.

Having quite a diverse musical line-up has become quite a hot topic, is it something you consciously consider when creating your line-ups?
It's not something we consider in a conscious way, we just try to book great music. There's great music is being made by females, and great music is being made by males, we try not to distinguish. There is an argument that females need proactive support, and within the behind the scenes team promote having a very even distribution of power and creativity. Thinking of our line-up this year we've got quite a reasonably female heavy line-up but it's just a product of people making great music and those people happening to be female. Hopefully we are providing an equal opportunity for people that is not gender or race specific – we're just putting them on because of the achievement of the artists.

How do you go about finding all this new talent?
We have team behind the festival that's grown over the years thanks to people coming to us and saying that they really want to get involved and that they really want to be a part of this, and that they've got these ideas. There's quite a lot of people now involved in the bookings, and there's probably now 3 or 4 of us that do the negotiations and go out to agents. But, everybody from the team is welcome to throw ideas into the pot and also from people that attend the festival as well can make suggestions. There's a whole network of people looking out for great stuff.

Thanks Lee for your time, and I hope that it goes well.
Thank you you too.

LeeFest is headlined by Lianne La Havas, Circa Waves, and Ghostpoet, and has a line-up that includes Everything Everything, Vant, DJ Marky & MC GQ, A Skillz, Midland, Horse Meat Disco, Leif Erikson, Shura, Roots Manuva, The 2 Bears, Little Simz, Spring King, Submotion Orchestra, DJ Luck & MC Neat, Formation, Clean Cut Kid, Loyle Carner, The Big Moon, Big Deal, Beaty Heart, Corey Fox-Fardell, Demob Happy, Dinosaur Pile Up, exmagician, Fort Hope, Get Inuit, Girli, Hannah Lou Clark, Hannah Trigwell, Lazy Day, Miamigo, Nai Harvest, Nimmo, Oscar, Otherkin, Peluche, Queen Kwong, Robbing Millions, Seramic, She Drew The Gun, Skinny Girl Diet, The Pearl Harts, Sophie Little, Tuff Love, Will Joseph Cook, and Wolf Note.

Doffing a feathered cap to Peter Pan LeeFest offers lost boys and girls the opportunity to take a journey into their never-ending party as the festival hosts three distinct realms within The Neverland a truly immersive kingdom made up of three distinct realms, expect surprises and twists at every turn as the festival goes all out to create a completely new experience.

The Neverland playground will also be home to ravers alongside Drag Queens, Glitter Wrestling, regular Paint Fights, secret parties, cabaret, and Gaming Arcades. Mermaids Lagoon is for all those seeking the Club Tropicana high-life of cocktails, sunshine and 80s glam with swimming and massages awaiting at the Holistic Hot Tubs and Tranquillity Spa. Skull Ridge lies in The Neverland shadows - a living embodiment of shadowy fantasies and attractions expect a pounding, relentless soundtrack of bass, grunge and punk - home to Burlesque displays, a Bomb Crater Rave, Adult Cinema and seedy casinos. Corruption and lawlessness are rife and mob rule is ever present in this unforgiving part of The Neverland.. The Neverwoods offers panoramic natural vistas and a place of tranquillity, nourishment and well-being in an ambient forest offering new music, arts and crafts in a no nonsense paradise celebrating good times and joy.

The immersive experience offers a chance to pursue the dream to never grow old with beach parties, Treehouse stages, circus, visual arts installations, campfirea, comedy, craft markets, craft workshops, dance classes, food fights, games & sports, glitter wrestling, hidden venues, kids area, local ales, magic, spoken word, street food, talks & debates, theatre, therapies, and yoga.

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Early bird tickets are priced at £99, and tickets rise in tiers to £120 for the weekend. A teen (aged 13 to 16 years) weekend ticket is priced at £50. Under 12's get in free and must be accompanied by an adult over the age of 21 at all times when on site. Maximum 3 teens or children per adult. Parking is priced at £10, and a live in vehicle is priced at £40.

LeeFest exists on the belief that a festival should be about bringing a community of people together to celebrate the best musicians and artists of the moment and to construct an environment of unbounded creativity. A far cry from the profiteering of some larger festivals, LeeFest is entirely run by volunteers, ensuring that all its revenue is used to build the event and support local charities.

interview by: Scott Williams

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