It’s been 13 years since Rob da Bank’s Sunday Best team held their first festival on the Isle Of Wight, and if you needed any proof of how much their operation has grown since, please turn your attention to their latest project: Bestival Bali.
Announced last week, the two-day event will see Alt-J and Rudimental headlining, and in the months ahead, the Bestival team will be hard at work piecing together the whole event - plotting the stage times, arranging food vendors, designing the map - all while continuing full steam ahead with plans for their two annual UK festivals.
So just how do they do it? And what challenges lie ahead? Rob Da Bank sat down with HuffPost UK to spill the beans…
Let’s go right back to the start - when did you first have the idea for a Bali event?
It’s not that it’s years in the planning, but we spent a lot of time in Bali a couple of years ago, and someone happened to mention that they might want to do something with us out there. So it all sort of happened in the way that most things happen to us - a happy accident and chance meetings. We’ve got some good partners out there.
We nearly did it last year actually, but it got put off until this year, so it’s been good to get the news out there.
It could have been anywhere. It could have been China, Australia, could have been France but it’s really down to when the stars align. We didn’t kind of sit there and think ‘Bali’, but as soon as we started talking about [having it there], it made perfect sense.
Bali is obviously a beautiful place. A lot of Australians go there, a lot of Kiwis and a lot of British people. There’s a really vibrant local scene too, obviously, and we really want to pay respect to that.
How are you going to find the balance between showcasing the local scene and the acts Bestival is bringing?
The site will be, from the musical perspective through to the food, culture and sights, it will feel Balinese. We’re using local food outlets and we’ve booked Indonesian and Balinese bands like Stars And Rabbit, Ras Muhamad.
I don’t really want it to be some sort of Western kind of rave-up and not really pay homage to the incredible place that is Bali. It’s the island of the gods, it’s got a lot of cultural, historical and religious significance so we need to tread lightly around that as well.
Do you think that audience-wise the festival will attract an international crowd (rather than ‘Brits Abroad’…)?
Anyone who knows Bali knows it can be a little bit Ibiza’s San Antonio, you get a little enclave of “Brits Abroad” sort of bother but we’re open to everyone.
I think the line-up is fairly cosmopolitan and it’s not some sort of mad, mad rave. It’s a really great family, grown-up festival idea. It’s a day festival, there’s no camping. It’s aimed at everyone.
Organising festivals in the UK must be hard enough, what challenges are there when doing it for one that’s thousands of miles away?
The time difference! Also that we can’t just pop down to do a site visit, it’s obviously very far away. I hold my hands up, I haven’t actually been to that site yet either, but I’m confident in our partners there, and our team - we have people on the ground from Bestival working on it.
We really trust our team, so yeah, it’s just about making sure our vision comes to life. We don’t want to turn up and say, ‘This is all wrong, it didn’t look like that in the drawing!’. We’re very thorough and we’ve had plenty of time to think about it all. We’ve only just announced it but we’ve been working on this for a while.
It’s not a huge festival to start with, it’s 5000 people for the first year so we’re not looking to smash it out of the park with 20,000. We’re starting small as we did with Toronto and we’ll see how we get on.
How many people are going to do both Bestivals?
I don’t know! But I am designing a special medal for all of them. [laughs] I’ve spoken to some people on social media who are definitely coming to Bestival UK and then heading out to Bali which, if you’ve got the money and inclination, then that sounds like a brilliant way to spend your September.
The Fyre Festival debacle recently hit headlines, do news stories like that give you nightmares?
Well we’re not Fyre Festival, we’ve been running festivals for 14 years and we’ve done two amazing Bestivals in Toronto, had stages around the world and over 30 of our own UK events. We’re not on some island in the middle of nowhere, we know what we’re doing.
We’re taking major steps and once you get out there, you’ll have a place to get to - nobody is going to get stranded.
Bestival and Sunday Best have a great family vibe and a lot of the acts heading to Bali are part of that. They probably didn’t take much convincing to sign up…
Funnily enough, no! They just agreed to it straight away. At the top end, I think we didn’t have problems, Alt-J were always on the list, as were quite a few of the acts there.
I think bands and DJs get offered a lot of incredible opportunities these days. Alt-J particularly are really excited about the Bali event, they’ve been there and they’re bringing their families along.
I’m so excited, I can’t wait to see George Clint on the beach in Bali.
It’s not easy for festivals to become - and stay - successful in the current climate but Bestival has managed to grow internationally. What has made that possible?
I wouldn’t want to say that we’re absolutely caning it and rolling in ticket sales, it’s a hard struggle and anybody who says it’s not is lying. Glastonbury aside, they’ve got such a great heritage, everyone is in competition and festival markets are up and down. It’s really tough.
Bestival has sold really well and Camp Bestival is having a record year but we’ve been biting our nails for the entire first half of this year. It’s not easy out there and I think after this year, the ones who haven’t really took off are going to drop off but the flip side of that is that there are plenty of opportunities.
I can see loads of potential for Camp Bestival to grow and there could be more Bestivals abroad. We’re not doing Toronto this year but they really loved what we did with Bestival. We’ve had so many offers from all over the place but we don’t want to do stuff unless we’re absolutely convinced it’s going to work out. We’re sticking to our guns and I think people appreciate what we do.
Do you still see yourselves as small players in the festival market?
Yeah, we’re still 100% independent and we run it from our front rooms and a small office. We’re not a Festival Republic or AEG, we are a small-ish operator.
The Association Of Independent Festivals that I set up now has over 60 members, when I go to those meetings and meet some of those guys that are running festivals for 500 people, I think, ‘ok so we’re big!’, but we still run it with that same mentality and attention to detail and we act like we’re small even if the turnover [shows] a different picture. I still feel exactly the same about it as when we first set it up.
Do you have any dream locations for future events?
Crikey! If the Venezuelan tourist board or the Gold Coast of Australia or Ibiza want a festival… It’s just got to feel right.
The great thing about Bali is that it’s a touring hub already, people go there to play and DJ but it doesn’t have a lot of festivals at the moment, although that’s changing. It has a great history, obviously there’s the temperature.
You can’t just go anywhere and think it’s going to happen and to be honest, with everything we’ve got going on, we don’t really need anything else on our plates.
Turning our attention to the UK, Bestival is moving to Dorset this year. What are the challenges involved in that?
It’s sad to be leaving the Isle Of Wight but we’re really excited for the new home for Bestival. We’ve spent 13 years doing Bestival and 10 years doing Camp Bestival [both will now share a location]. I actually love that site in Dorset, it’s great. It’s easier to get to, it has incredible forestland and woodland.
It’s kind of like starting again, I think in a way people will need to get a year or two under their belts and be like, ‘ok yeah, it’s just as good or better’. I’m feeling really good about it, it’s a really big step for us and it’s a couple of years in the making.
We were feeling really nervous about how it was going to go down and how it will turn out but I’m just really excited to build a new site. I think when Glastonbury moves a stage or does something different, it’s exciting and you’ve got change and move on sometimes.
It’s no secret that the competition is fierce and if you’ve got things like a ferry journey, or added cost of any sort, it’s enough to put people off. I live on the Isle Of Wight and I love it but unfortunately, those extra costs were starting to dissuade people, who have limited budgets.
Prince was always the dream headliner, who is on the list now?
There’s lots still there: Kate Bush, Dolly Parton. I’d love to get Stevie Wonder back, he’s absolutely incredible. Al Green. There’s lots of people out there that I’d love to get one day… so watch this space.
Bestival Bali takes place at the GWK Cultural Park on Saturday 30 September and Sunday 1 October 2017. Find out more information and buy tickets here.