Monday, 19 March 2012

“The best is yet to come” for Reading Festival

This article was written for my English AS GCE after getting an interview with the head of Reading Festival. Ace, right? After completing the awesome interview, I had to type up what you see before you - enjoy (please?)!

Revealing plans ahead of this year’s Latitude and Reading festivals, Melvin Benn, organiser at Festival Republic, dismisses the past and looks towards the future as he claims that this will be their best year yet.

As Melvin Benn finishes his third coffee of the day, he receives another email on his computer. After last year’s slow sales, this is a man who needs to get it right this year. But the pressure hasn’t got to him quite yet as he thumbs through his packed schedule for the day. He explains how there is rarely a day where he isn’t up before 6am, which only adds to the stress and pressure of the job. He quickly flicks past this year’s line-up, before adding “not quite yet” and turning away from the computer with a wry smile.

The powers that be have already called off The Big Chill due to the presence of the Summer Olympics, and with the absence of Glastonbury this year, will this affect his festivals this year? He doesn’t know. “The truth is, nobody knows really” Melvin shrugs as he suggests that perhaps “weaker” or “smaller” festivals will be hit the hardest. I question whether he believes any of his festivals are one of the supposedly weaker festivals. Almost annoyed at the suggestion of this he quickly disagrees, going as far to say that Latitude and Reading are among the strongest festivals in the world. He also dismisses the view that Glastonbury would help in anyway. “I don’t think it will hinder it but I don’t think it will help it." The Festival Republic organiser kindly orders me a tea, as he ignores another email coming though.

Although he argues his festivals are among the strongest in the world, this doesn’t hide the fact neither of the festivals sold particularly well last year. Reading took 127 days to sell out compared to mere hours of previous years ; Latitude took until the day of the festival itself to sell out. There are two explanations as to why this might have happened: the line-up and the recession. "I think it's a bit of both actually, I think the recession and the line-up might not have been as attractive to the Reading festival goers as some of the other line-ups were or are."

After the hard work and countless hours he puts into festivals year upon year he hesitates to say that Reading wasn't as strong, but after stating so he explains how he plans to rectify that this year. I asked him whether he had gone bigger or for something different this year, with his response that "bigger or better are quite subjective but I'd like to think we have gone more relevant this year." Taking a sip of his coffee, it's clear his experience with his first event of a Margaret Thatcher protest have stayed with him in regards to avoiding answering questions directly.

In 2006 he launched Latitude as a new festival with the eye to add something that he felt festivals were missing. "I genuinely do think it’s a complete innovation in what a festival can be," he proudly states. It has started something different, with it not just being about the music, but with a new focus on comedy and theatre. However, with it not selling out as quickly last year, has he got any plans to correct that this year? He believes it may be down to the unique style being copied now. "They say that being copied is the ultimate praise, and I think Latitude is being copied all over the place now."

I wouldn't blame you at this point if you fancy a tea break, or coffee break, or an alcoholic beverage even. Feel free, but when you're done the second part of my article is below for you

The festival itself is an incredibly special event and he doesn't want to lose that, but he would like to see it grow. Whilst there are no plans for growth this year or the next, there might be in the not too distant future. "Maybe in 2014, maybe 2015 I'd hope it could grow a little more." They recently announced a new agreement for the Latitude site, confirming the festival would run for another 15 years. In times of economic problems, it's good to see this festival won't be affected in the years to come.

Speaking of growth, the internet has soared in recent years, with hundreds of rumours of who will be playing online on a variety of sites. But exactly how much of an impact do these online forum suggestions have on the bands that play? Melvin visibly hesitates whilst looking out of the window before reservedly answering that they do take them into account. "It's quite a complicated thing putting festivals together and we listen and hear the suggestions - and there are some very good ideas." However, the organiser admits that whilst he'd like to have everyone playing that is suggested, there is a much wider picture that tends to be forgotten about. He explained that it's about a much more coordinated curated position, and whether the acts can fit the festival into their own timetable and plans. "It's whether a band can play a particular time, whether they can be in England in July or August. It plays a much more significant part than you might think."

In the past there have been countless suggestions on the sites very own Facebook and forums, and Melvin reassuringly says they are "fantastic actually, I love it." Aside from the musical wish lists, there are also ideas for improvement to the site itself. Fans often forget that the conditions of a festival can affect how much you enjoy the music, and Festival Republic recognises this. "Last year there was some concern about the bridge - the bridge was fine - but we just sat down and thought why not put another bridge in? It's these little things that actually do make a difference."

Reading has been known for its sometimes crazy audience and fans of bands that go to the festival. There have been bands staying on too long and so called “glitzy” stars – but do any of these play on Melvin’s conscience? “Well I don’t think Reading or Latitude attracts glitzy stars. We don’t get Beyoncé’s or people of that sort.” Melvin goes on to argue that the acts are under quite a lot of pressure like most people wouldn’t appreciate, “and if tantrums exist it’s because of stress and pressure rather than because they are over egotistical.” The organiser has also worked hard on keeping the lid firmly closed on any stories that might leak out into the press, and when asked about any tales there are to tell he replies by saying their of course some, but they are “very much locked up and ready to go in a book I think.”

Among Melvin’s unique and interesting views are his dream headliners, or rather his lack of having any. Unlike a fan of the festival that would certainly have their favourites, he prefers to look towards the future. “My dream headliner is probably playing in a pub to 25 or 50 people somewhere in the UK tonight. The best music is yet to come.” Melvin’s phone rings with a reminder of a meeting in 5 minutes time, and he explains how his busy schedule doesn’t bother him. “Life’s a very precious thing and you’ve got to embrace every blinkin’ minute of it.”

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