With September drawing closer, Robin Hill on the Isle of Wight will once again play host to four days of hedonism, escapism, and one of the most expansive and desirable lineups of the festival season. The man in charge: Rob da Bank. Since founding the club-night-turned-record-label ‘Sunday Best’ almost twenty years ago, his affection for the eclectic and the creative has fuelled Bestival over these past eleven years. As our excitement builds, we spoke to Rob about what’s on site this year, the return of Chic, and a really fucking big disco ball.
Last year was some birthday party, how are you planning on topping it?
We try and top it every year, and we never really stand still. At HQ especially, as soon as one festival goes we’re plotting the next one, or even before that! Since it was its tenth birthday we tried to give it a special vibe, but to be honest we sort of do that every year. But we’ve got some big stuff planned, obviously a whole lot of different acts and headliners and then loads of stuff on site. Many new structures, we never keep it the same every year. It’ll be a whole new ball game really.
You keep getting bigger but maintain such a loyal base of goers, how do you balance expansion with loyalty?
Yeah, people think we keep getting bigger but we don’t. We got a lot bigger annually for quite a few years and then we stopped about four years ago, at about 65,000 people, so we actually haven’t got any bigger in the last four years. The site has expanded because we want people to have more space, but if anything I think we’re going to get smaller in the future. I sort of miss it when it was a tiny bit smaller! But yeah it’s a juggling act, there’s a lot of people with a lot of different tastes. If it was 10,000 capacity festival, you’d almost be able to narrow down what you were doing band-wise, but it’s really tricky to get the balance right for everyone when you’ve got 50,000+ people coming on to the site. But I think the last couple of years particularly we’ve got it pretty spot on. I think big headliners but then a really big lift of new bands, that’s how we do it musically, the old and the new working hand in hand, and then having shedloads of things for people to do on site. That’s the key to Bestival; you don’t have to watch bands if you don’t want to, there’s loads of other things to do.
Having seen the festival grow so much, where else would you like to take the event?
It’s a good time to ask that question! We’re right now talking about a show in Canada, a show in Ibiza, possibly a show in England, maybe London. This isn’t all straight up Bestival, but it’s the Bestival brand. We’ve had so many offers over the last ten or so years, but we’ve kind of turned most of them down because we don’t want to do it unless we have absolute certainty that we can deliver it. I think we’re finally at the stage where we’re thinking we could expand it a little bit. Watch this space!
Now that a significant chunk of the lineup has been released, who are you most looking forward to seeing this year and why?
It’s a difficult question, because I book nearly all of it, so I want to see everyone really. But if I had to pick a few, definitely Foals coming back to Bestival and headlining. I think people have complained in the past, not about Bestival but just about festivals in general, that it’s the same old headliners. I don’t think we’ve ever had the same old headliners at Bestival, and this year having Foals headlining – this new, younger act – is really important for us. We’ve had Elton John and Stevie Wonder, Chic are headlining as well, but it’s really important to let newer bands break through. So Foals headlining the Saturday will be really cool. Then, all of the smaller, up-and-coming acts: The Amazing Snakeheads, Caribou, MØ, I could go on and on really, there’s hundreds of them
Which tunes from the past year do you think we will be hearing from DJs?
I suppose the house sounds and garage sounds are going to be big still this summer. It’s starting to wane a little bit, but you still hear a lot of it, like Gorgon City and Route 94. But then things like Major Lazer are still really big at festivals, it’s about that more tropical vibe. And then that new track by Ten Walls called Walking with Elephants, I think that will be one of the big tunes at Bestival this year. That’s one of the newest ones I know, and it’ll be sticking around all summer for sure.
So last year we had Lionel Richie’s head as one of the centrepieces of the festival site, how's the disco ball coming along?
It’s good, actually! We just had a planning meeting on it yesterday, and we’re putting out a little picture on Thursday to tease people a little bit more. It’s not a joke, it is actually happening, it’s gonna be there! It’s our biggest build since we built the port last year. So yeah it’s a huge challenge (not for us, we’re just paying someone to do it!) as it’s apparently very tricky to make. Ten metres big, I keep thinking it’s smaller than it is, but if you actually stand in a ten metre cubed room you’d see how bloody massive this disco ball is going to be. It’s going to land in Bestival at Robin Hill and it’s going to be lifted up in the air just before Chic come on, revolving around and spraying everyone with disco light. I’m very very excited, if a little bit nervous.
That sounds great! And what other new things can we look forward to discovering on the Bestival site?
There’s loads, we’ve got a new reggae stage called ‘Reggae Roots’. We’ve not had a specific space dedicated to that style before, so that’s coming. We’ve also put more into the Ambient Forest, so there’s the Disco Shed, lots more film content, more weird and wonderful walkabout people to creep you out in the middle of the night. Tomorrow’s World is changing, getting even more green and eco stuff down there. The port is going to get a lick of paint and a re-rub for the Desert Island Disco theme. I think that most of the site, apart from maybe the Bollywood Tent and the Mainstage, will get a little tweak in some way.
What did Nile say when you asked him and Chic to headline this year?
He’s delighted, I mean we’ve got a special kind of relationship with Nile, because he credits us with giving Chic a new lease of life four or five years ago when we started booking them for loads of shows. This kind of re-invigorated their live presence at festivals. And obviously with the whole Daft Punk thing they have become a household name again. Nile loves the festival and he’s always wanted to headline it, so I’m really honoured that he’s doing it. I think that they’re one of the best live bands in the world at the moment, they’re just so tight, and if you like funk, if you like disco, if you like house, then they’re the band to beat really.
If you only had 4 records, what would you play at the Desert Island Disco?
Probably Donna Summer ‘I Feel Love’, that’s just a classic. An old one by a band called Nature Zone called ‘Porcupine’, it sounds disco but it’s sort of very early disco, and I absolutely love that record. A new disco record by Todd Terje, probably ‘Ragysh’, but I mean I could choose a lot of different records that he’s done. And then probably a Chic record, ‘I Want Your Love’, because although I never push music onto my kids as they’re still young, for some reason they love it, and not because I was playing it a lot, it’s just become their anthem on the way to school. So it feels good on many levels for me, that track.
Lastly, any costume tips for this year?
Just be experimental and think outside the box. I think people who haven’t been before might think it’s all about little things from a fancy dress shop, but it’s more about just making it yourself. There’s a DIY kind of ethic to it. ‘Desert Island Disco’ doesn’t need to be just a grass skirt or a palm tree, you could be a grain of sand or something pretty off the wall. People love walking round and checking out each other’s outfits and really trying to guess what they are. I think some people almost feel like, not quite put off, but a bit scared that if they’re not in fancy dress they will stand out, but that’s not the case either. It’s more to do with just getting stuck in and being creative.
Words : Josie Roberts