eFestivals spoke to organiser Pete Noz about the Nozstock festival.
First off, for those who don't know the Nozstock festival, how would you describe it?
It's a festival for festival-goers really. We've got a lot or regulars, people who say we've got it right & who come every year. It's not a polished, corporate event, it's very grass-roots. A friend of mine actually described it as cross between the Flintstones and Mad Max, which is somewhere near true because a lot of it is made up of stuff off the farm.
Yes, I'm an ex-small dairy farmer who was forced out of business. We didn't plan to do this, it started as a barbecue in the garden, then a few parties, and then about four years ago we decided to try a licensed event. We only had about 500 people, then it went to a thousand, two thousand, three-and-a-half thousand last year, and we're having a five thousand capacity this year. So it's grown really fast, and we've gone to eight stages now. So it's been amazing how it's gone really. And we've got room to at least double that, but I don't want to at the expense of losing the vibe of the festival. We've got a fantastic atmosphere and vibe here that I've never felt at any other festival, and people say that they haven't, and that's the most important thing. If we lose that we lose everything really.
What are Nozstock's most unique points?
Well it's a job to tell really. I think because it started as a family barbecue with locals, and then slowly over the years outsiders have come in, travelling even from abroad for it now. And it's unique as our house, the actual farm house, is right in the middle of the festival, so people walk round our house, and through our gardens and the orchard at the side. The dance areas are in our old farm buildings and our cattle shed and bull-pen, so it's all very spread throughout our home really. You open our front door at night, and walk straight into people dancing on the lawns. So it's unique in that way and that's what makes it special really because I've not been to anywhere else like that.
There's a few farm-based festivals out there, but with 8 stages that sounds like a great deal going on.
It is, and it's a lot to look after. There's a couple of rock stages, for mainstream people, and we've got the dance areas, comedy areas, theatre, and a kids' area, so theres quite a diverse choice. The music's quite diverse, and there's quite a cross-section of people. There's all our neighbours, the farmers come, and then you've got your dance-heads, and it's quite funny to see them meet really. But they all party together on the night, and it helps create the atmosphere.
I see you've got quite a lot of dance-based acts lined up this year already.
Yes we've got London Elektricity, Scratch Perverts, Dynamite MC, and Andy C. At the moment the dance line-up looks stronger on the advertising than the bands, but I'm still working on bands. If we had our way, the band line-up would be equally as strong, and hopefully by the time I've finished booking the acts it will be. Trying to book the bands is one of the hardest parts of the festival, because there's so many festivals going on, everybody's after the same young up-and-coming bands, or bigger bands that have played these sort of venues. I've got The Buzzcocks for instance, and up-and-coming bands like Red Light Company and Alessi's Ark that a lot of people are after. I'm in talks with seven or eight Red Light Company standard bands at the moment.
So there's more announcements coming?
Definitely! The dance side's full, but there will be another announcement on the band side. I just can't announce them until I've actually booked them, or I'd be hung.
You mentioned a comedy stage?
Yes, we did a little bit last year, a couple of hours' comedy on the Saturday night, and it went down well. This year we've added a complete new tent in the orchard, and it's going to have comedy acts for every single hour that we're open. We're open about thirty hours I think. There's also the theatre, running for about twenty of the thirty hours. We're adding more stuff like that.
How late into the night are you open until then?
Again that's another thing we've got going in our favour. The Friday night we're open until 3am for all the dance area and the bandstand rock stage, in fact all of them bar the main stage which is open until 1am. On the Saturday night six of the eight stages are open until 5 in the morning, so it's very much a ravey feel, party through the night. Most festivals have to finish about 1am, but because we're right out in the sticks here, we don't have quite the problems with noise that you would in a built-up area. And because it's a local thing, all the local farmers that used to come to the fifty-people barbecues accept it really as it's grown with them. It's very popular with the locals, and they do support me to be fair. I have to give them a free ticket mind!
Conversely for those with families or who like a quiet night, how are they accommodated?
We've got a family camping area which is further away than the normal camp but still quite easy to get to. It's down in a bit of a hollow and the dance areas are the other side of the festival, so people can get sleep there if they want to, but I think a lot of the kids are so excited that they don't want to go to bed. There's a lot of stuff for kids to do during the day. We've a wonderland area for them, circus and theatre workshops, and a lot of walk-about entertainers which add to the feel. The whole site's kid-friendly, which is important cos a lot of people who come to festivals these days have got kids.
How are the plans for this year going in general?
Everything's going according to plan. I wish I could have finalised these last few bands beforehand, but apart from that it's going great. The ticket sales are going well. I'll be more than happy with the line-up when it's finished. It's diverse, it's the strongest line-up we've ever had especially in the comedy and theatre aspects, and we've got burlesque this year as well for those that are interested. On the Saturday night we're trying to get everyone in fancy dress as well. Quite a lot came in fancy dress last year, which adds to the festival. We haven't got a theme yet though, it's still under discussion at the moment.
Who are you most looking forward to on this years line-up so far?
The Buzzcocks have created quite a stir, I'm surprised at how much actually, so I'm personally looking forward to them. And then on the dance side we've got Andy C playing, who's the biggest drum and bass DJ in the world. To get him was quite a coup, so it's those two really.
Any particular act that's benefited the most from playing Nozstock in the past?
The local act The Anomalies have played each of the four years. They're the only band we've had back because they're Herefordshire top outfit and they also help us with the festival. They're on Radio 1 and stuff like that, they're quite known, but each year they draw a massive crowd and theyre almost as popular as whoever's headlining really. It's great to see people reacting well to a local act.
The comedy theatre thing worked well. That's why we've pushed it into the whole weekend now. We've also got the coppice area, which is for psy-trance, which is a bit of a culty-type of music, but we've put it in a coppice by a lake amongst the trees. It overlooks the lake, it's outdoors, there's lots of colour and lights down there, and that was very popular as well.
Who are the main acts playing that particular stage?
The Psymmetrix, Toad, Dickster, a lot of psy-trance names really.
What's been the hardest aspect of organizing Nozstock over the years?
The only hard thing is not being able to predict the weather really.
What sort of weather have you had?
Nearly every year has been good apart from one. And that didn't rain until the Saturday night, or early Sunday morning really. That was the wet year of two years ago that everybody had. If it's a lovely hot weekend then everybody has a great time, but if needed we've got measures in place, areas of cover. The dance areas are inside for instance, so you know there's plenty to do if it is wet. People still have a great time because everything's set up for that, to make sure people can stay dry if they have to. But its going to be lovely anyway so it's not a problem!
Tell us some of your favourite memories of the festival.
I'd have to go back to that local band The Anomalies believe it or not, from a couple of years ago. They were on the Orchard Stage, and there was 1500 to 2000 people there, and it finally felt like we'd achieved something. Although it was only a local band it was amazing to see it so packed, with people chanting for them before they even came on.
With all the money and persuasive powers in the world, who would you personally line up as headliners in 2010?
Ooooh I've got to think about that! I'd say... Iggy Pop. How's that? I saw him at Glastonbury a couple of year ago, and I'd never seen him, and I thought I'd just go along to see what he's like, and he was one of the best things I'd ever seen in my life.
You weren't on stage with him during the mass stage invasion were you?
I wasn't only because I'm too old to climb up there. I was actually at the front of the stage and I could have got up there, but I didn't think my back would make it. And I suppose from a dance point of view, a dream would be to do a Leftfield reunion concert.
How do you think festivals in general are going to fare this year?
I think they'll be okay this year. A lot of people say that because of the credit crunch people aren't going abroad, which benefits festivals here, so things will be okay this year. I think in the future, there's an awful lot of festivals about, and I don't know if they can all survive. There's new ones starting up all the time, everybody's jumping on the bandwagon, there's a lot of new people coming to festivals, people come for so long then they want a couple of years off, so I think it's peaking at the moment. Only the best festivals will survive; half of them won't be here in ten years' time. I'm confident that we're so unique, it's a family feel, and we put so much work into it, that we can be one of those. I think the straight white tent, corporate ten pounds a pint festivals will be the first ones to go. People are already getting fed up of that. People want to see that they're getting value for money, and they want to see that whoever is putting the festival on is putting some effort into it rather than just trying to rip you off.
If you compare the quality of entertainment we've got and the hours we're open, and if you could divide all that up, well we're open about 30 hours all weekend which works out at about £2 an hour or 25p per stage. We've got to be about one of the cheapest festivals in the country based on that. A lot of festivals are about 70/80 pounds, they haven't got anywhere near the names we've got, and they're finishing twelve or one o'clock at night, so I think value-for-money I'm confident we're somewhere near being the top one. And we don't charge for car-parking or camping. Plus our beer is done at pub prices, so you're not paying four pounds a pint, it's something like two to two-fifty a pint. That includes local ales and local ciders. We're trying to have as much stuff as local as we can. We run the bars ourselves, we've got cafes, and a lot of our foods are local. We make sure we know what all the vendors are going to charge for their food, and we make sure it's reasonably priced. If people feel theyre being ripped off, theyre not likely to come back.
Any last comments?
Everybody that comes raves about it and wants to come back. We haven't pushed it on the advertising, we're not plastered everywhere; we've done it very much as a word of mouth, grassroots thing, because their friends have told them. I feel that's the best way to go because it gives us a solid base to work from rather than a big push one year to go too big and then you can't sustain it. It's never been about money, else we wouldn't be doing it. We want to get a reputation of a festival that everybody wants to come to, that's good value for money, and be known for that rather than ripping people off. It's worked for us so far, so we'll stick with it.
Great. Thanks for your time and good luck with it all.
interview by: Clive Hoadley
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