Creamfields: James Barton

United Kingdom United Kingdom | by Tom Fair | 04 July 2006

Creamfields 2006 takes place at its new home at Daresbury Estate, Cheshire, on Saturday 26 August. This year featuring The Prodigy, The Zutons, Goldfrapp, Gnarls Barkely, plus loads of world class DJs, Creamfields is a proven beacon for the modern day dance festival and winner of 'Best Dance Festival' for the two consecutive seasons in the UK Festival Awards.

For Creamfields boss James Barton, the latest home for his flagship festival represents a decade and a half-spanning journey that has courted every twist and turn in the evolution of dance music - from being a DJ in his hometown Liverpool, to watching 50,000 people raving at his biggest ever event in Argentina. VF caught up with one of the most energetic and enthusiastic players in the festival industry to find out why his festival is still Cream of the crop...

Virtual Festivals: Outdoor dance events have changed almost beyond recognition from the Acid House era of the late 80s to the corporately sponsored affairs of today. How does Creamfields fit into that?
James Barton: "I run an event that is predominately dance music but it’s also a regulated event. It’s a well-managed event, so yeah dance music has come a long way since the late 80s. There’s been over 16 years of it now. I think the fact that the sponsors are involved is a factor in any event whether it’s a dance event or a rock event and I think Creamfields and events like that are a testament to the professionalism that we bring to these types of shows. No longer do people feel the need to organise unlicensed events. We as an organisation have never organised unlicensed events. Never. Ever. Ever ever." 
 
VF: How has Creamfields evolved in the UK? Many dance festivals have come and gone, ie: Tribal Gathering, yet Creamfields remains strong, how so?
JB: "I think because we’ve remained true to the spirit of what Creamfields is about, which is providing the best quality music to our audience. We’ve evolved over the last 8 years, we were probably the first event of its kind to include live music into our event. We’ve had people like Gorillaz, Outkast, Beck, the Chemical Brothers, and now bands like The Prodigy and Goldfrapp. So I think Creamfields is a nice mixture of what I feel young people are listening to today and that’s what we’re here to do. We’re here to reflect what we think the audience want to listen to and the fact that the show is still selling out after all this time proves that we’ve done a decent job. I think the event is definitely moving forward, which is an important thing which a lot of other events have failed to do, they haven’t really progressed."
 
VF: Has the change in musical zeitgeist over the last few years had any effect on Creamfields? The supposed death of dance music has led other dance festivals to broaden their music policy, such as Homelands, but Creamfields seems to resolutely stick to its guns. Is this raver idealism or business savvy?
JB: "I think it’s about giving your audience what they want. We’ve made changes over the last few years but we’ve done that subtly, what we haven’t done is lost sight of what the core audience of Creamfields is about and that’s electronic music. Even today the line up that we have is predominantly electronic, I think it’s important that events, certainly our event, has a huge amount of headline acts from the electronic world. The fact that we want to include a band like The Zutons is an experiment. We’re just giving our audience something else to listen to. But what we do is provide that at a loss or detriment to another part of the line up. I think some shows have taken a giant leap when we’ve made subtle changes instead. From our point of view we know the audience might want to listen to different music but the core of the show has got to be electronic. What we’re trying to achieve with Creamfields is that it’s about modern, new music. You’ll never see Coldplay or Keane at Creamfields. But I think there are a lot of great bands that straddle both ends. Could we have a band like Kasabian. Yes, I’d love to have a band like Kasabian at Creamfields. Could we Franz Ferdinand on at Creamfields? Yes, of course we could, because I think the kids that go out and buy a Basement Jaxx album would probably also buy a Franz Ferdinand record or something along those lines. I mean Hard Fi, for instance, would be a great addition to a dance show. They were on at Hi-Fi this year."
 
VF: Creamfields has become an international festival brand over the last few years with parties as far away as Argentina and Russia. This is quite a long way from Liverpool. How has this happened? 
JB: "It is a long way from Liverpool! I think it comes from the identity we’ve created with Creamfields, musically and visually. It’s really, really strong and I think a lot of kids from around the world pick up on that and identify with that. I think the feeling is that there is a lot of heritage and a lot of originality with Creamfields and I think people want to be connected with that. They want the pioneers of this particular section of music and we are, I think, seen as the pioneers. We’re the people who were involved in the development of dance music, super-clubs and super-festivals and that’s enabled us to explore some key territories around the world. We haven’t been successful in every place we’ve been but we’ve been very successful in other places like South America where we’ve been enjoying some success down there for a number of years. I think it’s mainly about finding partners to work with in other parts of the world and sharing our experience and sharing our knowledge of these types of events and sharing our knowledge of how to book a line up, helping them to book a line up, sharing the marketing and literally spending some time in these places where we want to develop the concept. South America is probably the one which is the most successful for us. Creamfields in Argentina is our biggest show with 58, 000 people last year. We’ve got very established shows in places like Spain, Argentina, Brazil and then we have new shows being developed in places like Russia, Poland this year, and Chile. I think it’ll take a few years before you know whether you’re succeeding or not. It’s a combination of how we organise our UK shows and how we manage those international events in their local markets. It’s an understanding of taking what we do here and adapting to the local markets as well."

VF: Have music policies had to be adapted for different countries hosting the event? (For example: in Mexico, Infected Mushroom (an Israeli psy-trance outfit) sharing a billing with Massive Attack, something that would never happen in the UK) Is it case of adapting the music for the hosting countries?
JB: "It is, and I like that. It seems as though here in the UK you have to be pigeonholed into one particular sector of music whereas we find in other parts of the world we can put other artists up there next to a big name act and I think that’s great. It’s great to see rock bands on the same stage as a big dance act or a big pop band or even an R’n’B act or whatever, whereas I think that’s a struggle here but I do think that’s becoming a little more acceptable here, no longer do you have to stick to one particular sound."
 
VF: Having said that you have The Zutons on this year's line up. Is that Liverpudlian camaraderie or because you feel Creamfields should be more eclectic?
JB: "It’s part of the reason of course. We are a Merseyside based show and 55 per cent of our audience come from the Liverpool area, so having a band like The Zutons on there does appeal, but at the same time I think they’re a great band and I love what they do and we wanted to offer something on the bill this year that was a little bit different to what people wouldn’t really expect from us. At the same time though, The Zutons probably wouldn’t ever be a headline act at Creamfields, it would have to be a Basement Jaxx or a Scissor Sisters or an Underworld. One of those big famous dance acts but, you know, we have a big stage there, we have a big bill that needs to be filled."
 
VF: Dance music is a notoriously fickle creature; the sound of the future is quickly the sound of history. Is it more important for Creamfields to keep its finger on the pulse or to provide simple good fun music that hedonists can lose the plot to?
JB: "Well, I think it’s a fine balance between entertainment and selling tickets. I think you have to strike a balance between booking a line up that will sell tickets but you also have to book a line up that you know will entertain, and when I’m booking an act like Gnarls Barkley onto Creamfields to play at the 7pm slot on the main stage I’m visualising what impact that will have in front of 25,000 people with the type of music they play. When I’m booking The Prodigy to finish off at the main stage I’m visualising what impact that’s going to have, how that’s going to be perceived. But I also have to book a line up that’s going to do good business for us as well. So it’s all about trying to find the right balance, it’s really difficult to book the line up that you always, always want. You’ll always come across a band that you really want but that you just can’t have and that’s the nature of the business. In the past we’ve booked whatever’s been available for us but I think now Creamfields has become a show that a lot of different types of bands would want to see themselves playing at. In terms of DJs, we’ve relocated Creamfields to a new site so we’ve put that into our thinking a little bit in terms of the overall line up. Certainly we’ve had a lot of DJs over the last two years knocking on the door of Creamfields wanting to play. We’ve had a lot of DJs that have been established on the show for many, many years and we’ve decided that we wanted to give that a little change, a little twist this year and maybe bring some new guys in but that would mean we’d have to let a few people down for this year as well, so I think it’s important to strike that balance. You can’t book every DJ under the sun. I think it’s important that the punters do come and they do see a little bit of the main stage and they do pop into two or three different arenas. If you’ve just got too much people just lose it and find it really difficult to find stuff on the day. And financially it’s important that we don’t go too far trying to book every single thing that’s out there, you know?"
 
VF: With a new breed of festivals presenting more underground/eclectic forms of dance music, like The Glade and Big Chill, and bearing in mind their success, would you consider introducing an arena catering for similar tastes? Or are you happy as it is?

JB: "We’re always reviewing it and we’ll never be entirely happy with the way it is because I think that’s complacency. We are aware of some of the new festivals that are emerging, stuff like Bestival, the Electric Picnic in Ireland, stuff like the Glade. They’re all a bit more niche than what we are. But the Bestival for example, we really like what those guys are all about; the line up, the production, and the experience that they create and I think that Creamfields does have it’s position in the calendar and whenever we think about introducing new elements to the show we constantly keep having to come back to “is this what our audience really want?” Do they want us to invest a serious amount of money into a particular concept or would they rather see us spending a bit of money on a big DJ or a big live act, so it really is horses for courses a little bit. At the same time it’s important that Creamfields does respond to what’s happening out there and what our audience wants and we will constantly look at ways in which we can improve the show."

VF: Any surprises for this year?
JB: "There won’t be any major surprises but I hope the main thing that will take people by surprise is how beautiful the relocation of Creamfields is."

VF: What's your best memory of Creamfields?
JB: "My best memory is when I first organised it back in 1999, the sense of achievement that I felt. I was 32 years of age, there were 35,000 people queuing up to get in and the sun was shining. It was a great show and it was just a great day. It was just an amazing day for me, although it was very hard work."
 
VF: What's your best musical memory ever?
JB: "Oh my God…hmmm…I saw Prince in his very first European show in Stockholm when I was about 17 and I thought that was awesome."

VF: If you could have one artist or band to play at Creamfields that are no longer with us who would it be?
JB: "Oh my God, that’s a really, really difficult one. I don’t know because Creamfields is quite modern I can’t think of a band that’s no longer around, but if it was a band that was in existence today it would be U2. Maybe it should be The Beatles but that’s too fucking cheesy! No, no, I’ve got one, I’ve got one. How did I miss this? It would have to be The Clash."

Creamfields takes place at Daresbury Estate, Cheshire, on Saturday 26 August. Click here for more, including to buy tickets.

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