Just before Christmas eFestivals had a chance to exclusively interview Bestival festival organiser, DJ, and industry spokesman Rob da Bank about his plans for this year.
How do you think the industry has fared this year?
Up and down really. Some people are probably pretty miserable at the end of the year, and not feeling too happy about it, and other people are a bit more positive. I'm probably in the middle, I'm probably less positive than I was last year, but still pretty positive. From the outside people will probably think we have had a fantastic year, and made it through easily, but it's definitely been the most stressful year for us since we've launched, and it's definitely not been an easy one for us.
I hear you have a new event planned for Seattle, is that correct?
The trouble with me is that I talk to people about various different things that may or may not be happening, and they come out as definite. The truth is there's nothing planned, I am hoping we will be doing something in North America in the next year. We've really been working on doing something in North America or Canada for the last few years, and we've had a lot of great offers, but so far everything just hasn't fallen into place. As of now, we have nothing firmed up in the diary. But, at one point we were looking there (Seattle), at other stages we have been looking elsewhere in the States.
In the last five years we have had a lot of offers from other territories, including Australia, Asia, China, America, but the trouble is that everything is in such a great state of flux in the UK that we just can't take our eye off the ball in the UK at the moment. It's a shame because I'd love to be shooting around the globe doing other festivals, but at the moment I think we need to concentrate on here in the UK.
The American market seems to have really taken off, and they're created a really packed commercial festival calendar over there in the space of a couple of years.
Yes, definitely, I'm a regular visitor to Coachella, and I've been watching the other shows that are going on out there with interest, and I think a festival would do really well out there. But much like bands, there have been lots of bands who have gone over there thinking 'right lets conquer America' and the ones you think would do really well have done appallingly, and the ones that you never saw coming would do really well. It's very uncharted territory, going over and doing something there may not necessarily prove to be a success. I think there will be even more festival events, I'm sure they will come, but it may be a bit rash of us to do one at the moment.
Has it made it harder for you to book American acts, with a full outdoor summer calendar now available Stateside?
Yes it does, in the last couple of years getting hold of talent, has become harder. With us, a lot of bands start their US tours in September, which is around the time of Bestival It's either really good news or really bad news. So bands are either about to come off tour, or they are coming over from the States. We're right in that transitional period. It's definitely harder to get bands, but that's definitely a global thing, as there are more and more festivals right around the world, not just in America and the UK.
But I'm used to that after 10 years, I like the battle to get talent in, and it's always brought into sharp focus at this time of year, every year, when people start to get their line-ups nailed. It's always now where things start falling apart, or it starts gelling. You make your booking plans earlier, and it's now when you find out whether any of that is going to work or not, it's a bit of a lottery.
So, have you found out if you've been successful?
(Chuckles), It's public knowledge that I confirmed the Sunday headliner on the weekend of Bestival this year. That's good, and that's another iconic act, that will hopefully be as good as Stevie Wonder was. The rest of it is up in the air really, I haven't got lots of offers out on headliners. I've got two offers out on two headliners that I really want, and I'm waiting to hear back from them, hopefully in the next week.
I would love to come out with the full line-up be the end of January, but we'll have to wait and see, if it doesn't fall into place, then I know I will have to hold back. The Bestival line-up is pencilled in for the end of January, but in previous years we have gone out with one, or two headliners, but I'd love to come out with all three then. We haven't done that for years, but equally I'm not going to book a headliner just to fill one of those headliner slots so we can announce them. I'd rather wait, and we'll announce if we're able to announce, but I don't want to miss the boat. I don't want us to be holding back when everyone else has announced, or people will be going to other shows.
I'm not too worried about that, and I know that by January I'll be more bullish. Next year is our tenth birthday, we have a strong line-up. We had a cracking year in 2012, full strength all weekend Stevie Wonder, The xx, blah blah blah, it couldn't have gone better over the actual weekend. I feel confident we delivered our best show yet, and I think a lot of people will be wanting to be coming back. However, I think all festivals at the moment are feeling a bit vulnerable at the moment.
What of Camp Bestival, how is the line-up going for that one?
Yesterday I managed to sign the Saturday headliner, it's a really good indie headliner, that should appeal to all the indie heads, and the mums and dads at Camp Bestival. We've confirmed the Saturday second headliner which is a bit of fun, I've got to choose my words carefully here, as I can't give actual names.
It's difficult with Camp Bestival there's so many different angles that I could go down. Last year there was the big 70's thing with Earth, Wind, & Fire, and Chic and all that lot. That went down really well, and then we had the Happy Mondays, and it's so difficult as there's a part of me that would like to go a lot more left field, and be cool. But I think a lot of people come to that festival for fun and let their hair down.
I'm trying to tick a lot of different boxes every year, and it's like bingo trying to keep everyone happy, and appeal to the kids, whether they are 3 years old, 13, or 23 you have to tick those boxes.
How do you try to tick the boxes, do you think of a musical genre, or a theme and then find acts that fit it, or does the headliners you've got pick the theme and the line-up?
Last year was the only time that I thought, let's have a night that's Saturday night fever. But I sort of am thinking of repeating that in a way. The Friday will be indie, and alternative, the Saturday will be a bit more fun with a party night, and the Sunday hopefully epic, in a finale sort of way. I'm roughly looking at it like that. This year, because everybody brings a child with them, the evenings see one or other of them looking after the kids in the tent. It worked out that Friday night was dad's night, and Sunday night was mum's night, not in a sort of '18-30s wahey it's mum's night, come on everybody' but equally it went down quite well, because dads sat around the campfire on Saturday with the little babies and the kids, and the mums all went out on the razz, as the dads had done on the Friday. But, equally the line-up might not fall that way, and the whole thing might be a bit more random.
What festival took you most by surprise this year?
The NH7 festival in Bangalore, India. It was only a couple of weeks ago I went to that. It was a surprise how clued up the Indian crowd were, I don't meant that in a patronising way. I went with a very open mind about what sort of music they might be into, or how up on really modern dance music they were, and they were bang on the money. I played a really underground set, and I fully expected to play a more commercial set, but they were a really cool crowd. It really felt weirdly like a UK festival, I thought it would be very commercial, and it was sponsor heavy, but it kind of worked. There are some festivals, whether in the UK or abroad, where that big sponsor dance thing seems to work, and it doesn't look out of place. I had a great set out there and saw some great acts out there, and I got pretty excited about the Indian market. I know it's been going for a few years, but you can definitely see that that will be one that will kick off. To play the same records out there that I'd play here was pretty exciting.
I'm trying to think of UK festivals that surprised me, but to be honest it was so rainy, and I didn't DJ at many this year. To be honest the weather meant I spent most of the summer planning for it at Bestival, and Camp Bestival. Thankfully it never arrived, and we sort of got away with it.
Does that mean you're now prepared for it if it happens in future years?
Yes, you probably remember when we had that appalling weather in 2008 at Bestival.
Yes, and you are going for a water theme again next year, I'm a bit worried.
(Laughs) Yes, I have had that comment. I'll be fully to blame if it goes wrong. We earned our stripes with that one, and we know how to deal with it when it's appalling weather now. We had everything line-up just in case this year. We had all the trackway, and all the chalk, and everything on standby. With just a week to go an inch of rain fell, and then the weather just broke, and it was an amazing site throughout. But I'm fully ready for it to go to wrong next year. You never know from one year to the next what's going to happen, and you can't really be smug about it. You can't think it will be dry again next year, September might be bad and the rest of the year be sunny. Even the Isle Of Wight, which has always had glorious sunshine, had that really wet one, and every festival has had a bad one now, and everyone is on the same level, and everyone is probably nervous about what weather they are going get year on year.
Do you have any plans to increase the size of Bestival further in the future?
No, there's definitely no plans to increase capacity, it's been at 50,000 for the last few years, and I think what we need to control now is crew numbers, and things like that, that swell our numbers so much. We have expanded the site so much, and we probably expanded the site by a third almost, with car parking and camping. Most people noticed that there was plenty of space to camp and also arena space. We do expand each year to try and make it a bit more comfy, and so people don't have to camp on top of each other.
So despite no increase in capacity you can increase the size of the footprint of the festival?
The great thing about that site, is that it just goes on and on down the valley, and although it involves different landowners each time it gets bigger. There are quite a few people that we work with on it, and they love having it there because it's great money for them, and we get on with them really well. There's still a lot more land down there, but we do feel really comfortable at 50,000 and I think once the industry is running smoothly, we'll be concentrating on moving into other territories rather than expanding the festival at this stage.
Sigur Ros seemed a bit upset last year, did they have cause to be?
I think there were two things, the first was that they wanted to play in darkness, but they knew for months they weren't going to play in full darkness, because Stevie wonder was on, and because it's a Sunday there's an earlier curfew. That was a conversation between me and the agent, they had known they were coming to play in partial daylight, and we had looked at other options. Then they had some technical problems which were nothing to do with us, which browned them off. But, hand on heart, I watched that show from the side of the stage, and it was bloody amazing. Unfortunately, if anyone is just reading their side of it, they would think it was an absolute pile of rubbish, but for anyone who was there it was an incredible Sigur Ros show, and it was one of my favourite shows of the weekend. Apart from a little bit of fiddling around from one of the technicians, you couldn't really tell that there was anything amiss. I think we've learnt from it, and it's a case of ensuring that bands know what slot they're in. But, they did feel bad about it, and we couldn't have done any more, hopefully they'll look back at it and realise that actually it was a really good show.
Any of the acts likely to be exclusive at Bestival?
Yes, the Sunday headliner will be the first time that this artist has played a festival in the UK, and as a UK exclusive too. The Friday and Saturday headliners that I'm hoping for will both be exclusives as well.
As much as possible I try and go for exclusives, and that's part of the luck of where we are in the season, and it all falls into place. But out of everyone that falls into place, there are two or three that fall by the wayside. Every year I have these amazing high hopes for acts that and I really want to play Bestival, and then sadly it breaks down and they can't do that day, and they end up at Latitude, or Glastonbury, or both of them, or anywhere, and so you try and get on with the next one.
What's your success rate like, how successful are you? Do you have to approach an awful lot of acts to get the ones you're after?
Sometimes, I mean The Cure took me eight years of pleading. Sometimes a tours about to finish and it's a good fee. Sometimes from me offering it, it will happen from me offering it quite quickly. Some are not too much heartache, to make it happen. Sometimes it takes years, Kraftwerk took three or four years.
I suppose we don't see how many years that may go into making booking.
Yes, I don't want to say all the people I'm talking to and give the game away.
Aren't you worried about getting drunk and saying who you're after for 2020 or something?
Yes, frequently, I try to turn Twitter off after I've had a couple of drinks just in case. There's all kinds of crazy rumours flying about at the moment about Daft Punk at Coachella, and The Rolling Stones playing Glastonbury. We got told months ago that Daft Punk were definitely not touring next year
, but it keeps the rumour mill going. We'll try and make sure eFestivals gets an exclusive next month, a chance to announce something exciting.