Most bands couldn't organise a music festival if their VIP passes depended on it, but someone's got to do it. Sophy Grimshaw meets the masterminds behind Europe's best summer fests
WAY OUT WEST
SLOTTSSKOGEN CITY PARK, GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN Headliners include:
Kanye West, Robyn, Fleet Foxes, Pulp
TWO-DAY PASS, SEK1,395 (€155), PLUS BOOKING FEE
JOEL BORG, HEAD OF PR
In his role for Swedish music promoters Luger, Joel Borg helped to found Gothenburg’s Way Out West festival in 2007. Based at the company’s Stockholm HQ, Borg continues to play a key role in booking bands and organising the festival every year.
How important is it for Gothenburg that the best-known Swedish music festival is based there, rather than in Stockholm?
“Gothenburg’s city authorities are very keen on having big cultural events in the city and they really understand the importance of music festivals. They help us out a lot with making Way Out West go smoothly, and they want Gothenburg to be known as a music city with great entertainment. Gothenburg is really forward-thinking with environmental issues, too – in fact it’s one of the best cities in the world when it comes to being environmentally friendly, and that is really important to us at the Way Out West festival as well.”
How did the festival get started?
“Way Out West grew organically out of the tours that Luger has been putting together since 1991, which have been getting bigger and bigger. We also have a one-day festival in Gothenburg called Where The Action Is, which is 28 June this year with Coldplay, Glasvegas, Bright Eyes and Brandon Flowers playing. Way Out West was something new, but it was also a very natural progression for us. In a lot of ways it’s a really calm festival. There’s a fantastic crowd atmosphere, without that festival causing any big problems or issues for anyone.”
Which artists are you the most excited about for the 2011 festival?
“We’ve got Kanye West confirmed and that’s very fun because he played the first festival in 2007, the year [his third album] Graduation was released. His career was beginning to really take off and he became one of the biggest and most important acts. It’s great to have him back again.”
What are your plans for the festival this year and in the future?
“We always try to make it a better festival every year, in terms of atmosphere and what the environment of the festival around you is like. And hopefully in the future we can bring in more different cultural aspects, such as film screenings as well as music. We’d like you to see a whole spectrum. There’s already a clubbing side to the festival, Stay Out West, which is bigger than ever this year.”
Any favourite performances?
“Often I don’t have a lot of time to see all the bands I want to, because I’m working, but when Neil Young was here, for instance, that was magical, and luckily I saw that. And I particularly love seeing the newer bands that are playing the festival for the first time. A lot of people who come to Way Out West get to see bands they have not heard before, and which they love, and that is awesome.”
"There's a camaraderie. It's tribal... At a festivel, everyone is your friend"
Festival Internacional de Benicàssim
NEAR VALENCIA, SPAIN
Headliners include: The Strokes, Arcade Fire, Arctic Monkeys
FOUR-DAY TICKETS FROM €175, PLUS BOOKING FEE
VINCE POWER, OWNER
Vince Power has a reputation as a “hard man” of the UK music industry, but we found him rather charming. He founded the Mean Fiddler group of venues and festivals, and now owns Festival Internacional de Benicàssim.
How did you become the person behind the Benicàssim festival?
“In 2005 I sold my company Mean Fiddler, which owned Glastonbury, and Reading and Leeds, festivals. I wanted to promote music outside the UK, so I bought the Benicàssim festival. I’ve been promoting music for 20 years or more, but this was a new country with new rules and it seemed like a good challenge. It was a festival that had already been going for a few years and had a strong UK fanbase because a lot of British bands play. You can go with friends and go to the beach and see bands, and the Ryanair flights are low-cost, so it’s good value.”
How did you get into music promotion?
“My family are all musicians in Ireland, they are performers. I never really had any voice or anything. I liked the idea of organising shows and gigs, so I started The Mean Fiddler club in 1982, and that’s what started it off. I wanted to work in music. I took the plunge – and it’s gone well!”
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to start a festival?
“You need to be single-minded, to believe in yourself. When you’re a success, everyone will be your friend, but it’s sticking with it on the way there that is hard. If others are negative, you need to stay positive.”
Which performance at Benicàssim has been a highlight for you?
“When Leonard Cohen played in 2008. He’s one of these gods of music, like Bob Dylan, so having him play the festival was really special for me.”
What makes people fly to another country just to go to the festival?
“There’s a camaraderie. It’s tribal, in a way. You’re with friends and you meet new people. At a festival, everyone is your friend. That’s refreshing.”
Will Benicàssim keep going in years to come?
“Absolutely, it will do well for the foreseeable future. Whether I’m still there in 10 years, who knows, the festival may change ownership – but the festival is bigger than any one person.”
Headliners include: Suede, Primal Scream, The Drums
FESTIVAL TICKETS, INCLUDING CLUB XBERG AND BERLIN MUSIC WEEK, €89, PLUS BOOKING FEE
HILARY KAVANAGH, FOUNDER
Festival promoter Hilary Kavanagh splits her time between Germany and her native Ireland. She founded Berlin’s first major indie-dominated music festival in 2005. It takes place in aircraft hangars and the airfield at Tempelhof airport.
How did you get into promotion?
“When I first moved to Berlin I was working for both an Irish charity and an Irish brewery. I was used to putting on music events for them, and dealing with local clubs and promoters. I organised a gig by the band Ash, which sold out, and I got the music promotion bug.”
Why did you start Berlin Festival?
“I was always leaving Berlin to go to [indie] festivals abroad, and the question kept coming up, why isn’t there a festival like this in Berlin? So being naive and crazy, I decided to start a festival, with a guy called Conny Opper who used to run this great club in Berlin called Club Rio.”
What were some of the obstacles you faced when starting a new festival?
“Generating interest in a festival that doesn’t exist yet! You need to build up that trust with the agents, convince them their band should play your festival. We’ve done that now, and our partners since 2009 are also the owners of Melt! Festival so that’s certainly helped. Finding the right location for a festival is also really key. We’ve got our dream location now, with the main stage outdoors on the airfield, two aircraft hangars, and a silent disco. Plus, it’s near a metro stop. Perfect.”
How do the city authorities feel about the festival?
“The Berlin Senat and tourism office are really behind us. We try to encourage people to come over for a week or five days, not just the festival, so our tickets include discounts on various attractions in Berlin, too.”
Are there any new aspects of the festival for 2011?
“There is something huge: we’re going to expand the festival to also take in 10 Berlin music venues and about 30 clubs. It’s a part of the night edition of the festival called Club Xberg. People can now enjoy the complete club scene of the city for which it is famous.”
T IN THE PARK
BALADO, KINROSS-SHIRE, SCOTLAND
Headliners include: Beyoncé, Arctic Monkeys, Foo Fighters
GEOFF ELLIS, FOUNDER
Geoff Ellis of DF Concerts was key in organising the first ever T in the Park festival in 1994. He was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the UK Festival Awards 2011.
How did T in the Park get started?
“The idea was for the first big contemporary music festival in Scotland, and at that time really only the third big music festival in the UK after Glastonbury and Reading. The music promoters DF Concerts and MCD decided to commit to doing it, along with Tennent’s Lager, who were looking to do something big in music sponsorship. We decided to give it a go! I booked most of the bands for that first year.”
Where does the name come from?
“Tennent’s didn’t want it to be called Tennent’s Festival, they wanted something more subtle. I said: ‘It should be called something like T in the Park, but not that.’ And we asked creative agencies to brainstorm to come up with a name a bit like it. But every other idea just sounded forced, so we decided to stick with it!”
How quickly did the festival take off?
“We started at Strathclyde Park, which is just outside Glasgow, and we were there for three years. In the first year, 1994, we had a maximum of 19,000 per day. We moved to Kinross-shire in 1997, and that’s when the event started to really grow. We’re now at 85,000 per day, and we’re a three-day event.”
That’s quite a success story.
“It is, especially as at the start everybody told us that a big outdoor festival in Scotland would never work. But we got great support from the bands and agents that we worked with in the early days, people like Björk, Rage Against The Machine and Primal Scream. In the first year we also had a little band called Oasis playing, as well as Pulp, Manic Street Preachers and Blur. Obviously there was a gap in the market. Everybody told us that the gap wasn’t big enough to do what we were doing, but we forged ahead.”
Will anything about the festival be different for 2011?
“We’re reorganising the layout of the sites, and the stages will be in different positions to make it more easy to walk around. We also have a new luxury campsite area called The Residence. You can hire a yurt with a double bed with a proper mattress, or you can choose a ‘flatpack hotel’ that has a power shower and toilet. T in the Park is very much a rite of passage for some 18- and 19-year- olds, but as people get a bit older they want a bit more comfort.”
30 JUNE - 3 JULY
HEINKEKEN OPEN'ER FESTIVAL
Headliners include: Prince, The Strokes, M.I.A.
TICKETS, PLN165–PLN426 (€42-€108), www.OPENER.PL
MIKOLAJ ZWOLIŃSKI, FOUNDER
Mikolaj Zwoliński launched the first major summer music festival in Poland – now in its 10th year – through his music events company Alter Art. Heineken Open’er was named Best Major Festival at the European Festival Awards 2010.
Why did you decide that you wanted to start a festival?
“There was no regular, big-scale summer festival in Poland, and it was high time that someone made it happen! The idea was to fill the gap in the music scene in Poland, because a big part of promoting a country’s music scene is summer festivals.”
Had you always wanted to work in music?
“Yes, always. I started promoting music and gigs while I was in high school, and I promoted bands and gigs while I was at university. First of all it was just about pleasure, about being involved in music, but by the time I graduated it had become my career.”
In 2003 you moved the festival from Warsaw to a coastal location. How come?
“The move to a warmer area, close to the beach, has been an important factor in our success. The majority of Polish people who come to the festival come from Warsaw, so it’s nice for them to get away from their city for a break and stay somewhere new. International visitors love it too. It’s only 20 minutes from a city centre, which means you have the choice of camping or staying in a nice hotel.”
What difficulties did you come across when setting up the festival?
“It took about three to five years to establish it enough to see some profit, so it was a bit of a struggle to keep it going at first. It was especially difficult when we were trying to build the summer festival tradition from nowhere – but now it’s our 10th year and we’ve won Best Major European Festival. The music scene in Poland is going from strength to strength, so it’s a completely different world from when we first set out.”
What can people get out of the festival?
“There is just nothing like a live gig, is there? Watching concerts on TV is nothing compared with sharing the experience with other people, and that’s magnified at a festival. The stuff you get distracted by in everyday life can be forgotten for those few days when music fans come together. That’s why people buy the tickets before the line-up has even been announced – they know they will have a good time. Attending Open’er is a definitely a special experience.”
What advice would you give to anyone who is thinking of setting up a festival?
“I always tell anyone who asks me about promoting music that it’s much more than a job, it’s a lifestyle choice. If music means everything to you, and you have the energy, then you can do it. This job can be a struggle, but if you truly go for it then your determination can make it a success. If you make it, and you don’t go bankrupt on the way, then it’s the best job in the world.”
Sound like Summer
More music festivals to jet off to this year. Book your flights online at www.ryanair.com
This new dance music festival on Zrce beach features Pendulum and Erik Prydz. It’ll be a scorcher.
THE GARDEN FESTIVAL
Brought to you by the people behind Zadar’s wildly popular club The Garden (see page 52).
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