How To Build Your Own Festival – A Chat With The ‘Knee Deep’ Team

Hey Knee Deep, first up who are the team behind the festival?

The core team is…Fred Stuart, James DC, Dominic Pipe, Martyn Jenkin, Scott Smith and Helen Day Cocking. Beyond that there’s an incredible amount of brilliant helpers. It wouldn’t really work without the generosity of all those who give time, we need them all to tell us when we’re being stupid, help carry horribly heavy stuff and make the weekend run smoothly.

What was your involvement with the festival/music industry pre Knee Deep?

We’re still pretty young, all around 20/21 years old. We’ve only really found time to make it through uni (with a few of us finished, others finishing next year) so between us have next to no industry experience, only what we’ve picked up along the way. Still though, we’d love to go into the industry and it’s given us the ultimate entry point. Its pretty scary getting in contact with bigger and bigger acts and their corresponding booking agents and managers, but we’re learning and its becoming more natural all the time. The festival is a vehicle for so many new affiliations; we’ve met tons of interesting and brilliant people who are all doing their own exciting things. It’s been great in that sense.

When did you first start thinking about organising your own Festival?

When we were all around 17/18 we started the stupidest cover band in the world (named Brown Sugar). We played a few local parties and somehow gathered a small following. We soon realised there was literally no venue for bands to play, or at least nowhere that wasn’t a dodgy social club with unhappy members, so we decided to set up a regular band night. Only 11 people came first time around and it was highly awkward, but it soon grew. They were just stupid and fun, learning quickly as it all went on. Really we just messed around, charged peanuts for entry and got everyone drunk. We just wanted to give bands a good crowd and bring the likeminded together.

After a year or so it began to get a bit out of hand and we had to shut our final night down because it was over run. 400 people tried to cram into a 150 capacity hall in the middle of nowhere and it had to stop. It was a bit scary, but the memories stuck with us and it gave us a longing for more. Originally we only envisaged a barbeque and some bands, not really sure how the rest snowballed.
We had a little excess profit from the band nights, but the majority of that headed to charity. Our first year [of Knee Deep] was incredibly simple, with no real costs. We made enough money to make the next year possible, given the ideas we had. We ploughed everything in and were prepared to loose the majority. As it turned out we pretty much lost the whole lot, but it was certainly fun. In hindsight, we probably charged well below what we should have, but we’ve always wanted it to be a wallet friendly festival and that comes at a price (inadvertently shit pun there).

It meant that this year we did have to wing it. None of us could say we weren’t terrified at points. As students we’re skint, unless the event created its own revenue there was nowhere else the money could be taken from. Our budget was fairly high risk, relying on a good response on tickets but perhaps here our naivety pays of, we push things and make them work because we know we have to. It just means our fingers are constantly crossed really. It’s building the line up that’s the killer; it’s almost impossible to keep within budget given all the ace bands we’d love to put on. It doesn’t help that we like to charge incredibly reasonable prices, simply because we want to break the trend of escalating festival prices. And we’ve found that by adopting a DIY ethos (we pretty much build everything ourselves) it really is possible to build something brilliant and cheap.

How do you go about building a line-up for an event of that scale?

We started booking (or at least looking around and emailing) around this time last year, and we’ve already started compiling for this year. January is a big time for bookings, when bands have a vague idea where they’ll be. Really the process continues right up until a month or so before, you always have lots drop out (we had a record of 7 acts this year) so its on going really. We tried to book Temples the day before the festival this year because someone dropped out. Didn’t work surprisingly. Choosing acts is difficult because we all have difference tastes and envisage different things. We kind of of wait for a general consensus really, and send a lot of emails out to fairly pipe-dream acts (Willy Mason was one of those, go knows how we wangled it). There are 2 – 3 of us that really focus on bookings, and we’ve got a group page, which we’ll post to and get a response from the others. The amount of bands that have been posted on that page in relation to how many we book is ridiculous though. We really like to see bands live and until we do, we are always unsure about booking them. This year we saw the mast majority live and it makes for a much better line-up. As soon as you see Islet live, for example, you want to book them on the spot. We like to chat with them at gigs and let them know we are interested, just because it’s a bit faceless to go through email and a booking agent, we like to interact. I remember we saw Monument Valley in Brighton and chatted to him afterwards and he actually thanked us on stage at Knee Deep for taking to the time to say hello, so I guess it definitely works.

The whole DIY ethos is obviously a big deal for you guys, are there any aspects that you’ve needed help from outside companies for?

Security’s really the only biggy that has to be contracted in, along with marquee coverings etc. We run our own bar, our own café tent, soon looking to run our own burgers/breakfast stall and tend to build all the staging, seating, some fencing and all the other bits and bobs ourselves. We find it gives a nicer feel, everything’s slightly imperfect but we hope that’s quite humbling. Means we all work hard for the money punters kindly fork out and people can see that. Equally, it keeps the costs down. The only thing it really eats into then is our time, we have to pretty much dedicate summer to putting it together.

We do a lot of the design in house too (though this year we had a brilliant graphic guy, Will Hibberd, who helped us out) but in the main we put it all together. We self-promote it to; you’ll actual find us out on the street in the months leading up to the fest, jabbering away at strangers who look like they might be interested. As time goes on, we’re getting more and more people on board with the creative side, who are all, keen to build, sculpt, paint and make wonderful things. But typically they are students to, and the materials are recycled, so it’s all still very DIY, something we are really proud of. Reading, Leeds and other festivals of the same type look so staged, as though they just come out of a box and get inflated. We like it to feel personal and genuine.

 Can we expect to see Knee Deep back again in 2013?

Thankfully this year we came away with a positive response, and consequently we’re in a good position for next year. It’s the first time we’ve been able to give money to charity (simply because it’s the first time we’ve had profit) and that feels great. Equally, we have something to fall back on next year, which means less nail biting and more peaceful sleep. Having said that, we’ll still be taking a big risk. We can’t afford to spend anymore than we did this year and certainly don’t have much to play about with. We’ll see what happens really, hopefully good things.

Cool, cheers for all your time, anything else you want to add?

We owe so many people so many thanks. Everyone has been incredibly understanding about our limited finances and the festival effectively relies on goodwill and support, coupled with large does of hard work. Free cycle is a godsend; the festival is pretty much made up of 100% recycled materials.

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