Stuart Galbraith talks Sonisphere

Sonisphere 2009 interview

published: Thu 4th Jun 2009

Saturday 1st to Sunday 2nd August 2009
Knebworth House, Hertfordshire, SG1 2AX, England MAP
£132.50 for both days, £157.50 with camping; parking £10, day tix £67.50
daily capacity: 60000
last updated: Thu 30th Jul 2009

Former MCP, SFX, Clear Channel and Live Nation promoter Stuart Galbraith is a series producer and director and CEO of promoter Kilimanjaro Live the people who are putting together Sonispheere. eFestivals got the opportunity to interview him about the new two day rock festival being held at Kenbworth with Metallica headlining, and also a series of events this summer in Holland, Spain, Finland, Sweden and Germany.

How is the organising of Sonisphere going for this year?
Good, we're progressing nicely, it's quite a task obviously, because it's not just the UK show, we're going to have Sonisphere's in Holland, Germany, Spain, Finland, and Sweden as well. We're involved in organising all of them.

Both the council, and the police and more importantly Lord and Lady Cobbold are very enthusiastic about the project, and we're moving along quite nicely.

Are the Lord and Lady looking forward to Metallica, and so on playing in their garden?
Yes, I genuinely think they are. The whole family, both the parents and all of the children, are very much into music, and I first dealt with them as long ago as 1996 when I did the Oasis shows there, and they revel in having music on the estate, it's part of their family history.

How easy was it to set up the first camping event at Knebworth?
It's not actually the first camping event, if you go back to the Seventies and early Eighties there were camping festivals at Knebworth, but it's certainly the largest camping event there in modern days.

Have you started with any of the bookings for next year?
No not yet, we'll certainly have an eye on next year, but I think we'll get this year out of the way and then sit down and work out how we move forward.

Are there enough big names out there, to ensure you keep the line-up fresh every year, without resorting to springing the same headliners?
It's a good question, I think there only a certain number around the world that are big enough to headline festivals of this scale. But as more bands like The Killers, Foo Fighters, and Muse, I think the supply chain is being renewed as the old ones are heading towards retirement.

Heaven and Hell's addition to the bill received some criticism from those that said you were changing the festival's ethos to include vintage acts...
When we launched Sonsisphere, we said that it would be a rock festival in the broadest sense that we could make it, and I think you could arguably say that Metallica are also veterans, they have been together over 25 years. Equally you could qualify Anthrax, or Alice In Chains, they have equal rock history.

With regards to Sabbath or Heaven Or Hell they're there on merit. The fact is they have produced one of the best rock'n'roll albums of the year, and have, go I don't know how many, years of of history that merits that they have the space that they have on the bill.

The thought of having the strains of Black Sabbath songs going out over Knebworth park fills me with excitement. I think that will be fantastic.

Is that who you are looking forward most to seeing?
I'm looking forward really to the overall weekend. The plans we have for Knebworth are ambitious and I think that the setting in Knebworth Park is absolutely glorious. It will be a fantastic place to be able to run a full camping rock festival, and I look forward to running festivals there on a similar basis for years to come.

Apart from the music, what else can festival goers expect?
It's always difficult to re-invent the wheel, certainly having been involved in festival organisation for many years, what I'm hoping is that we'll be able to pick-up the good bits and the lessons learnt over the years, and then also try new things as we move forward.

The setting of Knebworth lends itself really, really well to be able to create a full festival experience. We'll have a whole area that really is going to be the hub of the festival called Bohemia, where we're going to have cinema, fun-fair, markets, there will be piercing, there will be tattoos, Guitar Hero, and rock karaoke. There's the Monster energy drink Army Camp Rock Disco, and there's the Bohemia Stage which includes at points over the weekend, comedy, and silent disco. Really all the fun of the festival.

We're running, what I guess could be called, a focus group over the next couple of weeks. We're taking a group of selected fans up to Knebworth to show them what our plans are and get their feedback on it and then try and create something in the picture that the fans say they want to see there.

Was Bohemia always a part of the festival right from the start?
We'd always planned to have Bohemia, and the initial plan was just to run the stage late at night. But to be quite honest, the thought process we went through was, 'Well hang on a second, we've paid to put this all in there, the set up is going to be there. Rather than have it sitting there empty during the day, we might as well put some bands in there.' And that's exactly how it came about.

So the stage will be running at the same time as the big guns on the main stage...
Yes, the whole idea of Sonisphere was to run two stages that run alternately. What we're trying to do with Bohemia is to recognise the fact that any point in time there may be something on the main stages that's running that doesn't necessarily capture people's attention. Although we've got all these other things going on in Bohemia, the idea was to put on some new bands that are musically different from what's going on on the main stages. So, we're not, hopefully, setting up clashes, but setting up an alternative if somebody perhaps doesn't want to watch, say Anthrax, at that particular point in the day.

The times that I've gone to Knebworth my main memories have been of burger vans and long traffic queues, are these likely again?
What you shouldn't confuse Sonisphere with, is the events that have taken place at Knebworth before. firstly, we're less than half the size of a normal Knebworth audience, Knebworth normally has an audience of 125,000 people, all of whom are trying to get there by car that morning, and leave there that night.

Having run,what used to a one day event at Donington, Monsters Of Rock, and converted it into Download, or created Download which is multi-day. The traffic plans are completely different, as are traffic plans for Knebworth spread over the four days that we're there. I don't think we'll have any significant traffic queue issues whatsoever.

In terms of the layout and concept of what we're doing it's completely different, we're using different areas of the park than that which the normal concert uses.

Are you still using the big bowl like amphitheatre?
The big bowl is actually where Bohemia is, and the main arena is up towards the top of the hill, off to one side, we hope that in the next few weeks we'll actually publish a little sketch diagram of how it's laid out, we've just got a few things still to sort out.

In terms of the catering, it will be normal festival catering, the fact is at a rock festival a lot of people do want to eat burgers, good or bad as that is. But we'll also have cafes, we'll have world food, and we'll be putting together as road a range as we can, and indeed it relates to the lessons that I said we've picked up over the years that we've run stuff. In the bad old days of Monsters Of Rock, or the good old days depending upon how you view them, it used to be exclusively burger vans, and then as the festival developed at Donington the catering options got broadened out, and that will be reflected at Knebworth.

And what about the drinks you'll be offering, will it just be lager, cider, or will there be beer?
There will be ale there as well, for those that want to drink it, but then again the vast majority want to drink lager, and cider. So we try to please everybody.

How are the other festivals you are doing coming along?
Good, we're involved in the UK with two others, one is Wakestock which takes place in North Wales and is a mixture of contemporary music and wakeboarding. It's the tenth anniversary, increased capacity, and headliners such as Moby, and N*E*R*D*, Calvin Harris, Tinchy Stryder, and what we think is a brilliant line-up this year. Certainly, the customer seems to think so because we're way ahead of ticket sales that we've achieved in previous years and looking forward to a great weekend up there actually.

And there's Bloodstock, again much smaller than Sonisphere, very niche, very hardcore rock.

Bloodstock has a good metal line-up I'm surprised you haven't crossed more of it into Sonisphere.
Sonisphere we are trying to keep as a broad rock event, where as Bloodstock is pure metal, again ticket sales at Bloodstock are ahead of that which it has had in any previous year, so we're very pleased with that.

So you're not being affected by the credit crunch, which has been cited as the cause of some festivals this year cancelling, but it's not effecting you at all?
Nope, we seem to be fine to be quite honest. I think it varies around Europe, we've got some Sonisphere's which have done very well, and literally sold out the day we went on sale (Finland), and we have others which in their first year are selling progressively, which to be quite honest is more what I'd expect.

The other thing about the credit crunch is that it will mean that festival goers have less money to spend in their pockets when they are at festivals, are you considering this aspect at events this year?
I think we'll find out through the summer,I don't know if we're going to see people spend as much at festivals as previous years. What I do know is that I think one of the reasons that festivals seem to be doing well, is if they have a great line-up, and they represent very good value for money. Even if you're spending £130 on a weekend ticket, the fact is that what you actually get to see for that ticket price, by comparison to paying to go and see each of those bands individually, it's massive value for money.

How do you answer criticisms that exclusivity deals stop the fans getting more chances to see the bands they love?
I don't know that they do, I think that bands are obviously there to play to as many fans as they can, but they are also there to make as much income as they can, and the level of fees that headliners are now receiving, it dictates and requires that there are exclusivities. I also think that it's good that some level of exclusivity is there, otherwise you're going to end up with every festival having the same bands playing, and they'll all become homogenised. I think it's a good thing.

You have nineteen exclusives is that right?
That's right.

And is that level of exclusivity likely to be continued year on year?
I'd always want to put together that is as exciting as possible, and this year it just so happens to turn out, that we've been able to offer a lot of bands the opportunity to come over and either play as a one off, or do the show as their only summer appearance, and we're very happy to have all of them on the bill.

We spoke to John Probyn, and he said that Sonisphere has had no effect at all on his Download event, how do you see it?
I think there's room in the market place for two rock events, if you look at the days of history, there always used to be a Monsters Of Rock which we held at Donington, and at the time Reading, there wasn't even a Leeds at the time, used to be a rock festival, with just one week apart.

Download now is obviously established as a rock festival at the beginning of the summer, and what I'm hoping to do in the UK is establish Sonisphere as a rock festival at the end of the summer.

But won't the two festivals end up fighting over exclusivity for acts?
I'm sure that we will in exactly the same way that Download has had to compete with Reading, and Leeds, and on occasions V as well for acts, whether it be a headliner or a band further down the bill.

So are you planning on avoiding having the indie landfill, and the dance and things like on the bill?
We'd like it to be as broad a rock festival as possible, because I think the rock church encompasses anything from The Killers, and My Chemical Romance on one side, right through to Slipknot, Slayer, and the hardcore on the other hand. I think there's room in one weekend to have that broad church of music playing at one festival. I can't envisage that we'll ever have Dance or Indie Shoegazing guitar bands, but I do think there are some great rock bands out there that Kerrang write about that Kerrang customers love, and Metalhammer fans love, that are written about in NME. Equally there are bands that are written about in Metalhammer, and Terroriser??? that the NME wouldn't dream of writing about. But I think there's room for all of those on a festival bill like Sonisphere.

You're also in Big Green Gathering, are there any more music acts to be added to the bill?
Big Green Gathering is much more of a lifestyle festival, rather than a festival that is driven by bands and music, so it's not our intention to have any major music announcements for Big Green Gathering, it will have its normal musical offering. It's much more of a lifestyle weekend.

Back to Sonisphere, do you have plans to increase the number of stages or size of the event in the future?
I don't want to grow Sonisphere into something where we make the customer decide what they have to watch. I explained how we arrived at the Bohemia stage, which was a 'well why not?' sort of decision. But I don't think that we will be looking at turning it into an enormous festival that has got five or six different stages. Unless, the customer turns around and tells us that's what they want. But I'm a firm believer that the fan should be able to see every band that we put on the poster, and with the exception of the small bands which we have on the Bohemia Stage that's certainly the case at Knebworth.

How long will it take to get from one stage to the other?
Five minutes,if you think back to the latter days of Monsters Of Rock where we used to run a main stage, and then a second stage just over the hill, it's a similar sort of distance.

Have you got a beer tent in the path between the two of them? As that was lethal in those days.
Yes there will be, and you'll be able to wander between the two of them.

That reminds me, Monsters Of Rock had beer tokens, will Sonisphere?
No, it's a cash bar.

Any plans for Sonisphere to be televised this year?
We're talking about it, but nothing that's locked in at this moment in time.

So, have you got any new festival on the cards for the future?
No, not at the moment, this is taking up all of our time, and we're focusing on this.

Thanks for your time, hope it all goes well.

interview by: Scott Williams

Saturday 1st to Sunday 2nd August 2009
Knebworth House, Hertfordshire, SG1 2AX, England MAP
£132.50 for both days, £157.50 with camping; parking £10, day tix £67.50
daily capacity: 60000
last updated: Thu 30th Jul 2009

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