Starting a festival is no small feat as any promoter will attest to. In a frank and open interview, Rob Star of Eastern Electrics tells Festival Insights about how he has overcome venue problems and Police objections to notch up six years of success at the electronic music festival.
How have you created the Eastern Electrics Brand?
“I think it’s really important for any event to have some history, so people can see where the event has come from and the progression that it has made. We always had the intention of creating a festival with Eastern Electrics, but we started small, putting on warehouse parties for a few thousand people, so we could build a brand that people really trusted. This meant that when we put the first party on, we had a very loyal database to sell tickets to and didn’t have to rely on booking huge headline DJs to make the event work.”
Tell us about your experiences and the struggles that you’ve overcome
“I could write a book about the highs and lows of Eastern Electrics and we’ve only been going for six years! The very first event was actually supposed to be on a site on the edge of the city and Shoreditch, but the landlord pulled the plug on it a few months before. Luckily we found a great alternative, that became our home for three years.
“However, the venue curse reared ugly head again for our first festival when we were promised a date at a festival on Clapham Common that MAMA Group was helping to produce. We booked our artists and put the tickets on sale only for the event to be shelved (at this point we’d sold around 5,000 tickets). Luckily we found another site next to the dome in Greenwich – unfortunately the owner of this site went bankrupt only a few weeks after we’d paid him a £50k deposit for the site! This meant we had to pull the whole event together ourselves with very little capital and a police force that didn’t want the event to happen (the date fell on the busiest day of the Olympics and they didn’t want any extra potential incidents to deal with).
“After a lot of pain, stress, struggle and heartache, we finally managed to get the go ahead for the event on the morning of the show! It was sold out a month before, so at least we didn’t have to stress about selling the tickets! It was a great event though and I will never forget being on the stage with Jamie Jones playing as the sun set over the city – it was a magical moment!”
What have been the biggest learning points in your career?
“The biggest learning point was without question the festival last year. As I’ve already said, we pulled off a great event in 2012 against the odds and wanted to repeat that success. Unfortunately we couldn’t use the site at the dome as the license was only granted because of the Olympics. So we had to find a suitable site in London for 15,000 people.
“By Christmas we still didn’t have anywhere, so opted to hold the event outside London at Knebworth House. It’s an iconic venue and only 20 minutes from London on the train, and it also had a 6am license, which we felt was perfect for what we wanted to do. Unfortunately the costs to put on the event on that site were extremely high and the numbers didn’t really make sense for a one-day event (or a two-day event), so we thought we’d do a whole weekend.
“It was a big mistake! The costs of the artists combined with the production and venue costs, meant our break even was far too high in year two. The change of format from a one-day to a weekend was also a difficult step (although lots of people who came loved the camping element).
“Again, there is a lot more to the story than I could write here, but to cut a long story short, we didn’t sell enough tickets over the whole weekend to make things viable (even though we had close to 15,000 people there on the Saturday). This also meant that despite our best efforts to save it, the company that ran the event went into administration. Various things then had to happen to ensure the long-term future of the festival, which I won’t go into here, but in themselves were also very stressful.
“The biggest learning experience for me was don’t grow too quickly too soon and we’re certainly looking at more organic growth at our new site at Hatfield House.”
How have you managed to maintain an element of the ‘underground’, despite being a popular event?
“Since we started, we have always put on DJs who play house, techno and bass-led music, which until a few years ago meant we only ever booked underground acts. With the recent popularity of dance music, that has changed slightly, as acts we have been booking for years have stepped into the mainstream. This also coincided with us making the step up from a warehouse party to a festival, so it certainly helped us to attract bigger numbers to our event. However, we still have a strong musical integrity, our audience trusts us to book acts who will be big in a few years time, not just those that are already popular. We will also be sticking with the musical genres that we have built the event on rather than cashing in on what is popular with the mainstream. We want our events to be as much about the experience people will have when they come to the event, as the DJs they hear play.”
Have you changed the way you promote since you first started?
“We certainly use printed material less than we did a few years ago. I think the printing of thousands of flyers is a thing of the past, although we still do a small run to target key areas.
“Much of our promotion is based around social media and eflyer campaigns. A large majority of our tickets are sold direct to our database and our teams of sellers, and this is how we will grow the festival over the next few years. We are creating a community that loves the brand and is receptive to what we do. We want to grow the festival with those people and for those people, so we do listen hard to all their comments (both positive and negative).”
Why do you think Eastern Electrics has stood the test of time?
“We have always put the party on for the right reason, which is to make sure that the people coming have the best possible experience that they can. We started off with a warehouse party ethos and wanted to continue that vibe through to the festival. We want it to be more than just a few tents in a field, the look and feel of the site is something we really care about, and we also understand the importance of having other entertainment apart from just DJ’s at the event. We’re constantly looking at ways we can improve things both musically and non-musically.
“I think people also appreciate that we have been the first people to give breaks to certain DJ’s at the start of their careers and will continue to do so as the event grows.”
Eastern Electrics takes place on August 2, at Hatfield House, featuring artists such as Art Department, Derrick Carter, Mumdance, Maxxi Soundsystem, Steve Lawler and more. Tickets are £54.50-£99.