Rob Da Bank - making Bestival Camp

The DJ talks Bestival and Camp Bestival

Photographer:Peter Corkhill

29 February 2008

Since launching Sunday Best in February 1995, Rob da Bank’s empire has gone from strength to strength. His boutique music festival Bestival is now in its fifth year, and this summer will also see the launch of his newest venture, Camp Bestival.

Three time winner of Best Medium Festival at the UK Festival Awards, the 17,000 capacity Bestival broke records in 2007, becoming the only consecutive winner of three awards in the history of the annual ceremony. 

Set in the Isle Of Wight’s Robin Hill Park, complete with freely roaming peacocks, the boutique music festival is based on Rob’s vision of how the modern festival should be. Featuring a diverse mix of music across eight stages, you can catch appearances from the likes of My Bloody Valentine and Aphex Twin between the 5th and 7th September 2008.

As if that wasn’t enough to contend with, the Camp Bestival weekender, inspired by British Holiday Camps of the 1950s with a twist, will be taking place at Lulworth Castle, Dorset on the 18, 19, 20 July 2008.

While a quirky and eclectic line-up of live music, comedy, theatre and film, we caught up with Rob to tell us more about Camp Bestival and find out what's in store for Bestival's fifth birthday celebrations.

Virtual Festivals: How are you managing to juggle two festivals now in Camp Bestival and Bestival?
Rob Da Bank: “We’ve just announced the initial line up for Bestival which took up a fair bit of time. We started developing the line up about six months ago and it has been pretty much non-stop since then, trying to get it all together. But it’s coming on nicely and tickets are selling well.”

VF: When was the Camp Bestival concept first conceived?
RDB: “Probably at last year’s Bestival when me and my wife Josie were like, ‘This is quite a mad party we’ve created down here, maybe we should try and do something else with the same team’. We are having our second baby next month and our business partners are having a baby in the summer. So we thought it might be nice to do a festival where we could all actually sit down and relax with the kids for five minutes. Although the festival market is pretty saturated I think there are still gaps, so what we are trying to do is create a festival for people who love camping and also for people who like hanging out with their family and friends. There are already festivals like that. Glastonbury, The Big Chill and Latitude all touch on it in different ways but we’ll be doing something a bit different again. We’re trying to create  a festival where we can all go and sit under the stars, drinking wine and have a banter without worrying too much about who is on the main stage.”

VF: But then you’ve got bands like The Flaming Lips who are guaranteed to pull a big crowd...
RDB: “Yeah there is that, but it’ll hopefully be similar to the Bestival ethos. I always hoped it would become better known for its party than its line-up, so it’s a bit of both really. You couldn’t have the party unless you lay on a pretty good line-up, so you’ve got to put some big acts on. I think it’s a pretty poor show if you can’t come up with a couple of really big names. We’ve also got Chuck Berry at Camp Bestival, who is obviously a bit of a legend and doesn’t really play an awful lot of festivals. This will be his only one in the UK so it’s a chance in a lifetime for all of us to see a living legend. I’m really chuffed with that one.”

VF: Has he ever done a festival?
RDB: “I don’t know actually, that’s a good question. I’ll put my research team onto it! We were made aware he was around after I got an e-mail from a French guy who was organising his tour. I just got back in touch and he said he might be hitting the UK during summer. It was one of those dream booking moments where he just agreed to it immediately.”

VF: There’s a lot of talk on Camp Bestival’s provision for children. What sort of things can people expect?
RDB: “We’re going to have a very high-end kid’s field, a massive kid’s tent with loads of food and activities laid on for them, through to shops where you can buy nappies, dummies and all those kind of things. There will also be loads of kid’s entertainers from the usual clowns and puppeteers to bands who will be performing kid-friendly sets. There will also be a literature tent for the adults featuring spoken word and some of the people from that will be doing tailored story time sessions for youngsters. We’ll also have loads for young teenagers and younger people who aren’t quite up for raving yet.”

VF: Is this all inspired from other festivals like Glastonbury or are you trying to do something completely different?
RDB: “It’s a bit of a mix up really. Its purely from our experience at Bestival, running a great festival and winning awards from the likes of yourself, and realising that everything’s going pretty swimmingly. So it was like “well lets look at how we can move on from here?” In the current festival climate things are moving quite quickly and you can’t sit around. We are still barely making money on Bestival so its not a case of cashing in or anything like that, it’s just a case that we need to keep moving on. I see Camp Bestival becoming a 30,000 to 40,000 capacity show perhaps, depending on whether it feels right. We’ll be starting off with just 10,000 but there’s no reason why Camp Bestival could become big, if not bigger than Bestival.”

VF: Is it selling as you’d have hoped?
RDB: “Yeah. We’ve sold nearly half the tickets but you know, it’s a smallish show to start with.”

VF: That’s how Bestival started isn’t it?
RDB: “It was yeah. In the first year at Bestival (2004) we only sold 6,000 tickets altogether, so it’s a risk. It’s not like we are just sat here saying “yeah Bestival is going well bla bla bla”. We announced this year’s Bestival last week, with My Bloody Valentine confirmed to headline the Friday night and loads of other bands also confirmed. For some people that might not be the kind if line-up they want, so I really do feel that there is a lot of pressure regardless of the success we’ve had to date. Rightly or wrongly, if you look at the fallout from the Glastonbury headline announcement, which some people have questioned, there are ominous signs. Glastonbury is without doubt one of the world’s greatest festivals in terms of its sheer scale and size and number of acts playing and I feel that they are getting it in the neck a bit. So it just shows you can never take anything for granted.”

VF: Why do you think that is? Does everyone think they should be a festival booker these days?
RDB: “Ha ha! I think its fair enough that people have got their own opinions. But when we got the Scissor Sisters and the Pet Shop boys in 2005 some people were saying, “It’s all a bit gay, isn’t it?” And I was thinking, “Well yeah, but great, that’s fantastic!” In terms of Glastonbury it just seems they are doing something different this year. I think Jay Z is going to be amazing and a great booking. I wouldn’t waste the chance to see Jay Z in a field with 100,000 other people. Its one part of a huge picture, and I think that anyone who has been to Glastonbury can appreciate that. Very few people who go to Glastonbury buy their tickets on the strength of the headliners.”

VF: Seen as you’ve now got two festivals, does that make things cheaper in terms of booking bands for both?
RDB: “You’d hope so but not really. There are a few booked for both but it’s not a financial thing, its just because I love what they do; acts like Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip for example. So it’s not huge acts that we’ll book for both but we’ve just signed them to the label (Sunday Best) and there are things that we want to push. It would make sense that they should be in both. I’m sharing talent with Latitude and Lovebox, so it’s a busy old weekend for festivals. Guilfest have moved but they’re around the same sort of time, as are the Larmer Tree and Glade, so definitely choose the easiest weekend to kick it all off.”

VF: Is there going to be a curfew, or is it going to finish at a certain time?
RDB: “Yeah, I’m going to go round with a cattle prod and get everyone in their tents…No, its still like a festival. Things will finish at around 3am musically but people make their own parties as long as the quiet areas and the family campsite are kept under control then people can do what they want. I want everyone to come down, whether they are party people or chilled people, but I think primarily it will suit people who don’t want to be up all night. The kids field and one of the main fields actually open at 9am so its that sort of effect that I’m imagining. By 3 or 4 in the morning the site will be quite quiet. The Bollywood Bar will feature more Balearic music than house music so it will be more relaxed and will finish up at around 3. There’s going to be more rock ’n’ roll, reggae, folk and stuff like that rather than your usual beats. That’s the kind of flavour it is, with very little drum’ n’ bass and techno, although there will be a smattering here and there to keep people alive and awake!”

VF: Switching to Bestival then, are there any plans to change the format of that at all or is it much the same as last year?
RDB: “It’s going to be along the same lines with a couple of new tents which we are working on at the moment. We are shifting things around the site to make things a little more flowing and a few mad things that we are working towards on the site. But in terms of the main structure, the capacity and all of that it will be pretty much as it has been. The feedback from last year told us that we shouldn’t get any bigger, that we have a good live size, a great environment, especially with the sunshine and the fancy dress and that everyone would come back so it’s good to have a breather every couple years and do everything the same and see how you get on. Then maybe we will move it around. We nearly moved the main stage down into the 24 hour field, which would have turned things on its head, and then I thought “why would we?” so we just stuck with it.”

VF: Which has been your favourite year?
RDB: “Probably last year, just from the actual atmosphere. A lot of people have said to me that the first year was their favourite year, but I had a living nightmare because we didn’t know what we were doing! It was totally like URGH! Every year I enjoy it more because I get to relax more. I’m going to have two children there this year so it would be daft if I didn’t get the chance to enjoy it as well. Every year I get to see more bands and let my hair down a bit more.”

VF: There have been rumours banging around about this year’s event. One is that you are going to switch the Bollywood Bar to the Dollywood Bar with a certain miss Parton turning up. Any truth?
RDB: “It’s no great secret that Dolly Parton and Kate Bush have been on my wish list for years now. Every year we get in touch and every year we are politely turned away so, no, there’s no Dolly. The line up this year has been done a little differently because we’ve been concentrate so hard on Camp Bestival, so it’s not all done. We are announcing in three stages, with one of three headliners revealed each time. We’ve already announced the Friday headliner and then we’ll do the Saturday and Sunday ones respectively. I keep looking back on last year and asking myself, “Is it stronger? Is it strong enough?” because I think we’ve been lucky with the Beastie Boys and the Scissor Sisters, who are two huge acts, and let’s not forget the Pet Shop Boys and The Chemical Brothers. But I’m pretty confident. My Bloody Valentine appeal very much to a specific audience, so there may be a lot of people who don’t give a monkeys about that, but below that there is a lot of stuff going on, a lot of older and newer stuff. For example, bands that could be big come September, a cult indie band or two and then other brilliant classic acts with lots of dancing stuff for Saturday and Sunday.”

VF: Finally two festivals might be enough for a dad of two, but will you be heading to any others?
RDB: “They all look good. Definitely Glastonbury, hopefully The Big Chill as I would love to see the Mighty Boosh. I would be at Latitude if it wasn’t the same weekend as Camp Bestival. I had a great time DJing there last year and I would do it again if I didn’t have a certain festival down in Dorset to attend. I’d love to get to more European ones like Exit, for example, as well as things like Green Man, which I haven’t done yet, and End Of The Road if I’ve still got the energy after Bestival.”


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