This is what you need to know if you’re going to organise a festival
Who wouldn’t want to run their own festival? We asked Alan Beeby of Hackney Wonderland how to get started.
The UK festival boom means there have never been more opportunities to check out new music and drink until you pass out. Equally, there’s never been a better time to put on your own event. But how easy is it, really? Cherry Cola Club promoter Alan Beeby launched one-day event Hackney Wonderland last October; this year the festival returns with an expanded line-up performing at four venues around London Fields. He gave us his tips for starting out in the festival game.
Build your profile
Unless you’ve got a suitcase full of fifties stashed under your bed, you’ll need to work your way up from small events – building a reputation with booking agents and audiences while stashing some money aside along the way. Beeby was a hairdresser at Pimps & Pin-ups in Spitalfields and used to create playlists for the salon.
After he was asked by a client to play a club night, he quickly moved on to throwing his own parties. “Six months later I thought: I’m going to pack in hairdressing and have a go at being a promoter,” he recalls. Everything else flowed from there. “You need a start-up fund,” he says. “And some sort of fanbase. You can’t do it on a whim.”
Find a venue
You could host a festival in your own house but the downsides are pretty much limitless. At best you’re going to be finding gak residue in your en-suite for months to come and at worst some teenager will try to set fire to it. No, you definitely want to find somewhere else to host it. Beeby explains what he looks for: “Good toilets. A decent sized stage. And I always have to hear the sound before booking a venue.”
Book your acts
Until you’ve established a reputation up there with Glastonbury and Burning Man, a solid line-up is how you’re going to sell your tickets. Unfortunately, this means dealing with booking agents, making it one of the most difficult parts of putting on a festival. Beeby says he’s spent years cultivating relationships. Until you reach that point: “You just have to hound them until they recognise who you are.” Patience is also key – don’t be surprised if you have to wait weeks for an answer.
Pay attention to the detail
Still, the line-up is only half the story. Experienced festivalgoers will know only too well the feeling of getting so pissed you miss all the bands you came to see. As promoter, it is your job to facilitate this inevitable if somewhat illogical scenario. We asked Beeby about the most important aspects of a festival. “Preparation and organisation,” he says. “I’ve been to festivals before where you’re queueing for hours.” In essence, having to wait more than five minutes for a beer is inexcusable. These are the kind of things that no-one notices when you get them right and everyone notices when you fuck them up.
Offer something different
More people are going to festivals than ever before, but there are also more of them. Ergo, the competition is increasingly fierce. Unless you’re offering something fresh, you’re unlikely to make it past your first year. Whether it’s the line-up or the overall experience, think about what you’re doing differently. For Beeby, the focus has always been on the music. “It’ll be a line-up people won’t find anywhere else,” he says. This year that means headliners Carl Barat & The Jackals share the billing with Tom Vek and Toy, with other acts that include Japanese acid punk band Bo Ningen and new ravers The Sunshine Underground.
Hackney Wonderland takes place on 10 October hackneywonderland.com