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Bestival is Back

Rob da Bank on his amazing line up, the legend of Gil Scott - Heron and what costumes he and wife Josie will be wearing

Robin Hill Country Park will once again play host to the last party of the summer with Bestival capping off what looks to be one of the strongest festival line-ups in recent years. With the likes of The XX, Fever Ray and Memory Tapes all gracing the stages of Rob da Bank’s eclectic brainchild; Bestival is still flying the flag for all things idiosyncratic. Dazed Digital caught up with the leftfield Radio One DJ to discuss embarking on Bestival's seventh year, the importance of being one of the remaining ‘major’ independent festivals in the UK and plans to showcase Bestival in South America.

Dazed Digital: What interests you in putting on a festival?
Rob da Bank: I think it stems from some sick wish for people to have a good time at the cost of everything else. I love to see people having fun and when you’re standing on the main stage at Bestival you can just see this huge pulsating crowd of people discovering music and loving it.

DD: How would you describe the ethos of Bestival?
Rob da Bank: The ethos has always been about having fun whilst trying to keep up the variety which makes us unique from other festivals, in the past we've had bands like Kraftwerk next to the likes of Florence and the Machine and Massive Attack – it’s about getting that mix of old and new; letting go and having fun really.

DD: Who is it on the line-up that you’re most proud of getting?
Rob da Bank: Gil Scott-Heron is a legend, when I first started DJ’ing I was doing a lot of funk and disco stuff and The Bottle and The Revolution Will Not Be Televised were massive anthems for me, so I think that will be a very special performance. I’ve been talking to LCD Soundsystem, for three or four years about coming down, Fever Ray will be doing her only UK festival performance and she is absolutely amazing and Rolf Harris! Which I know will be one of those Bestival moments, I’ve seen him at Glastonbury a couple of times, there’s no-one who knows how to get a sing-a-long going like him – I know the Bestival crowd will be in full voice for that. Jonsi too, Sigur Ros are always a big one on our forums with people asking if they’re coming but they aren’t touring this year so he’s as good as it gets really. The stage show that he’s created for Coachella looks amazing and he’s bringing that to Bestival.

DD: How about all the extra stuff for the festival, Saam Farahmand’s video for example?
Rob da Bank: I’ve been after The XX since the album came out, and they nearly played last year on the cusp of releasing it but it didn’t quite happen, I’ve been at them ever since then to get down. They only wanted to do one or two festivals and I know they’d done this sound sculpture thing and I think it will be one of those things that sums Bestival up, something a bit different. Robin Hill’s actually a country park and they’ve got this mini cinema in it which normally plays nature films for kids but I thought we’d stick the XX sound sculpture in there – so it’s going to live in there for the weekend. It’s great that we’ve got the room to do that, I like the whole voyage of discovery element, you could be walking around and just come across it and get sucked in, there’s going to be loads of stuff like that. They’ll be this new area called ‘Gazebo in the Woods’ which is just a bandstand in the woods that won’t be properly advertised but with special guests and bands on all the time. It’s that kind of stuff that the hardened Bestival-heads will love, being able to discover new things and keep exploring the site.

DD: That’s very in keeping with this years Fantasy theme too – how did you decide on that?
Rob da Bank: The last couple of years we’ve tried to look at big themes, last year was space which has a lot of room for different interpretation and fantasy is in the same bracket as that. In previous years we’ve done jokey stuff like pirates or cowboys and Indians and everyone will can only come as pirates or a cowboys really; whereas with fantasy you can literally come as anything. It’s partly so that people can use their imagination and partly because if people think that it’s a fancy dress party then they’re getting the wrong idea, that isn’t the vibe we’re going for – it’s about people getting into a different persona for the weekend – that’s what the whole fancy dress theme is really about. Escapism is a major part of it, and fantasy is one of the ultimate escapist themes.

DD: Have you any idea what you’re going to be going as?
Rob da Bank: I haven’t actually, my wife Josie is going as a Unicorn but I think they’ll be a few of those. I need to have a proper think – the only thing is because I’ll be at work I’ll need something that I can move around in – there’s been a couple of years when I’ve had outfits and something’s gone wrong on the main stage or there’s been trouble at the front gate and you find yourself trying to leg it up there wearing a jellyfish outfit…which doesn’t look very good.

DD: Are you very hands on during the festival itself then, always on the front line?
Rob da Bank: Yeah, me and my wife Josie and our partners John and Ziggy, we own it outright and we are total control freaks, we do everything – obviously we don’t unblock toilets and replace toilet paper but we are totally hands on. After about seven years it is starting to be less of a stress, I am starting to enjoy it a bit more but it’s our show and if we don’t look after it something will go wrong – last year the sound wasn’t quite right so I spent the whole of Friday trying to sort it out, you can’t take your eye of the ball because things will go wrong.

DD: Having that much investment in something like a festival, emotionally, must mean you always have to be there?
Rob da Bank: Totally, emotion is a massive aspect of it – any financial element is purely secondary, we only started to break even and make money after six years. It’s like anyone who has a party round their house, you want it to go well, you want everyone to have a good time, you want them to go home happy. There are 46,000 people at Bestival but it’s no different to having thirty people there, you want to make sure everyone has the best possible time.

DD: Bestival originally started as a stage at Glastonbury didn’t it?
Rob da Bank: Kind of, we were doing bigger and bigger parties for Sunday Best and we did a little bit for a festival and then that progressed onto Radio One asking us to do a day of their stage at Glasto, no-one was really doing anything different and we brought Fatboy Slim and Basement Jaxx out, who are household names now but at the time they were just becoming huge. We had them on this quite small stage playing party music as opposed their usual sets and people would be dressed up in weird stuff and that was the seed that started it all really. We did a couple of years of that and then we thought fuck it, lets give it a whirl. I don’t think we ever intended on doing a three-day festival though, it was always supposed to be a one-day party. I remember being on stage during the first one with Basement Jaxx, who I’d managed to cajole into doing it, and just thinking “my god there are so many people!” – but there would have only been four or five thousand, it was tiny just like a big club really but it felt like a huge deal  - and now we’re at 46,000 people.

DD: That’s a big growth too: from 5,000 to 46,000 in seven years….
Rob da Bank: Yeah it’s good and bad – it’s great that we’ve grown and I think we’ve kept the original vibe but at the same time you’re always thinking I don’t want this to turn into Glastonbury with 170,000 people, I want to stay under 50,000 but it’s trying to gage it at the time; when it’s got too big or when it’s big enough.

DD: Do you think you will put a cap on it then, no ambitions of rivalling anything of Glastonbury’s size?
Rob da Bank: No, I feel that we’re very, very close right now to being the right size. Over the last few years I’ve felt that way and even when I’ve expanded it by just a couple of thousand I feel like a liar. I’m not going to say that I’m going to stop until we actually do because it’s just impossible to tell.  And I know it’s a sob story but the if you talk to any independent festivals then you’ll realise how tiny the profit margins are and if you don’t sell those last few thousand tickets then that’s you’re losing money. Bestival costs five million to put on these days and breaking even is obviously important.

DD: Do you get much chance to go to many other festivals in the year?
Rob da Bank: Yeah, I go to as many as I can. I always go to Glastonbury and then I try and do one or two new ones each year – I did EXIT for the first time last year – and I often do Sonar, this year I’m going to Garden Party in Croatia. Over the years I’ve tried to go to them all, some are definitely more up my street than others but it’s good to know what other people are doing.

DD: How much of a balancing act do you find it when booking; choosing between new music that you’ve heard and established acts who you know will guarantee ticket sales but not necessarily be to your crowds taste?
Rob da Bank: Yeah it’s a really big issue, last year we had Kraftwerk, Massive Attack, Elbow – some really big stuff: MGMT, Sea Sick Steve – it all kind of fell into my lap, but this year it has been much more of a struggle. I booked Dizzee really early after seeing him at Glastonbury; festival-wise he absolutely rinsed it last year but it’s still a brave decision to put him and Hot Chip on as Friday headliners but I think it will pay off. We’ve given a nod to some of the older heads with Roxy Music on the Saturday and I’ve always wanted Prodigy to close Bestival. But you have no idea on how difficult the balancing act is, last year when Latitude booked Grace Jones and The Pet Shop Boys there was a real backlash; same when the Isle of Wight booked Neil Young – it’s really difficult to try and be brave at your festival and keep your core audience happy. In the past I’ve booked stuff that perhaps isn’t right up my crowds street, like Mika, Will Young, Scissor Sisters – really in your face pop – and peoples first reaction is: “oh what have you done that for?!” but then they’ll be some of the best received acts. It’s a balancing act and you have to be brave with your line up and not be too snobbish. It’s also keeping an idea on which crowds certain acts will attract. And without wanting to sound cocky about it I think we’ve got the best crowd on the festival scene: very clued up musically, a great mixture of old and young people and if it ever started to attract randoms then I’d really start to feel it.

DD: Where in the next ten years do you want to go with Bestival?
Rob da Bank: We literally play it year by year, we meet all the time but we’ve never had a long-term plan and I think that’s a good thing, it means that we always concentrate on the coming year and try to make it as good as possible. One thing we’ll definitely be doing is expanding it to foreign territory beyond the UK.

Bestival will run from 9th September 2010, buy your ticket HERE

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