Sonisphere 2011 line up booker Alan Day speaks out about Slipknot, Biffy Clyro and much more in our exclusive interview.
Virtual Festivals: How long have you been involved in Sonisphere?
Alan Day: “I was approached when Stuart [Galbraith, organiser] had an idea for a festival called Sonisphere. It actually had a different named before Sonisphere when they approached me, I’m not going to say what it was, but when my boss Stuart Galbraith and John Jackson from K2 agency came up with the idea, I was approached to help book it. So I’ve been involved from the very start.”
VF: How have you seen it change over the years?
AD: “This is the third year of running Sonisphere festival, well the festivals across Europe. I mean in many festival’s case, it takes a long time to build a brand. People don’t just go to a festival because of who’s playing, they go because of the vibe of the event. If they go to Reading it’s not like they say, ‘oh we’re going to Reading’ because of a certain band. They don’t care if it’s Muse or whoever, they go to Reading because it’s a right of passage. That’s also the same with Download, so we’ve had to establish ourself on the festival landscape as a kick-ass festival and three years in we’re now selling out 60,00 tickets so we’re extremely proud. You know it takes festivals many many years to get to that level and we’ve done it in the UK already.”
VF: It seemed like from the word go you had some really big bookings. Was it hard coming into the scene for the first time for booking bands, almost to prove yourself to them?
AD: “Well Stuart and John who work on the festival both worked with likes of Iron Maiden and Metallica and many other big name bands and that’s how we managed to lock them in. Also bands like Metallica and Iron Maiden, they’ve played Reading Festival, they’ve played Download Festival, they’re looking for somewhere new to play and Knebworth is just the perfect place for them to go. Getting the headline acts has been hard work but we’ve able to secure them and also it’s a multi territory offer where you can come and play eight shows around the world, headlining festivals.”
VF: Do you think that’s your unique selling point?
AD: “Well, at Sonishphere yeah. It’s one of the unique selling points and it’s how we managed to get Slipknot to play this year. Slipknot weren’t looking to play because they had lost Paul Gray this time last year and they weren’t necessarily looking to tour but we went to them and said: ‘here’s an offer to play eight of the shows, do you want it yes or no? We’d love you to come and play,’ and they said ‘yes’. Then they fill in a few other things round Europe and they’ve got a tour, so there we go. It definitely helps us sell the festival.”
VF: Because your festival rival is Download, do you ever find yourself treading on each others toes when it comes to booking? Have you ever been in wars over acts?
AD: “It’s not just Download, I think Reading and Leeds is the other one and even things like Wireless. You know, we want to book everyone from Green Day and the [Red Hot] Chili Peppers through to Metallica and Iron Maiden. We have a very broad spectrum. So every year we’re going to be competing with everyone. As is everybody, we’re all going to be competing for the same bands. We just want to put on a kick-ass rock festival when the bands are available. Of course there are some bands that we want, that Download and Reading might get, and there’s some bands that we get that they don’t.
VF: Download received criticism that its line up was recycling acts. Thinking about next year and beyond, is that a worry for you, that there isn’t enough acts to choose from?
AD: “Not necessarily. We’re already looking at next year but we can’t lock anyone down just yet because everyone’s tour period moves around but there’s bands for next year like Soundgarden, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters and Green Day who might be around. Every year people ask where the next headliners going to come from, then you get bands like Kings of Leon, The Killers, Muse, Biffy Clyro. I mean where were these bands five years ago? There is a little bit of a worry but there is always something out there, there are always bands out there.
VF: So of those sort of bands, say a band like Red Hot Chili Peppers, would you be slightly worried about putting them on at Sonisphere?
AD: “Not at all because they’re a massive rock band. We’d love to have them on. I mean we’ve got Biffy Clyro on this year.
VF: What’s the reaction to booking Biffy Clyro to headline been like?
AD: “You do get some metal fans who aren’t happy but it’s not a metal festival. If we were a heavy metal festival we wouldn’t be as big a capacity, we wouldn’t be able to get Metallica or Iron Maiden. You have to have a diverse range of bands to make a rock festival work, to get the numbers in. The only people who have moaned are a few core people on the internet and that’s it, otherwise I think Biffy will have a huge audience. We were never called Sonisphere metal festival, we were always a rock Festival. First year we had Linkin Park and Taking Back Sunday on the main stage. Last year we had Placebo and they never played at Donington. We’ve always tried to mix it up because we want to be a rock festival and not anything else.
VF: So being in charge of the bookings, you love the big bands but there must be a few on that list that you must be particularly proud of?
AD: “Well having the Big Four (Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax) is a huge thing. When we got the phone call in the office that Lars [Ulrich, Metallica’s drummer] wanted to do the big four we were like, ‘really?’ I mean we weren’t actually actively looking to book Metallica this year, we didn’t think they’d be available in the summer and they came up with idea because the Big Four had such a good time on tour. The DVD has just come out and is doing really well so we were like let’s do it whilst it’s still hot. So we’re really proud of that and really proud of getting Slipknot back in. Personally I’m really proud of getting Bad Religion on the main stage of a rock festival because they never play on a main stage at UK festivals. Cavalera Conspiracy is another one that’s slightly different, Sisters of Mercy too. They haven’t played a festival in twenty years in the UK.
VF: And have you got any surprises this year or secrets up your sleeves?
AD: “After Slipknot we have a band that’s called Bat Sabbath in the big tent but I cant divulge who or what it is. It’s an act of some description.”
VF: You should be there to find out then?
VF: So finally in the future, for you personally, what is the main act that have maybe since split up that you want to see and would want to see perform under the Sonisphere name?
AD: “Hopefully Van Halen! And maybe Soundgarden!”
Sonisphere 2011 takes place at Knebworth House, Hertfordshire from 8-10 July and will feature performances from Slipknot, Metallica, Biffy Clyro, Slayer, Motorhead, Bill Bailey, and Weezer.
Sonisphere tickets are on sale now priced at £175 for a four-day weekend camping ticket.