Zoo Project Festival: Bringing the spirit of Ibiza to Kent
In around a month’s time one of Ibiza’s big clubbing institutions, Zoo Project, will hold their inaugural festival right here in the UK. The organisers have managed to acquire quite an impressive site, at Port Lympne wildlife sanctuary and they’ve teamed up with some of the biggest record labels/promotion teams in electronic music. It’s shaping up to be a special weekend of fun and games, so I caught up with the festival director, Oli Bartlam, to get the lowdown on the story so far and what to expect from the Zoo Project Festival.
First of all, what’s the concept behind Zoo Project in Ibiza and whereabouts is it held?
The Zoo Project and Channel Zoo take place weekly in an old abandoned Zoo in the hills of Benimussa. The main concept behind The Zoo Project is to Create Your Own Culture. Those who flock to the Zoo in anticipation of an unforgettable experience are able to dance to the beat of their own drums, choosing a lifestyle of love, unity and quality underground electronic music. This September we’re putting on a festival in the UK with 10 other renowned dance brands on an active safari park. It’s going to be awesome!
I see, so how was the original site in Ibiza secured and developed to become a party venue?
Gala Night Park is an old abandoned Zoo located in the hills of Benimussa. Built in 1975 by a Spanish company from Mallorca it opened its doors to the public for the first time as Fantasiland in 1978. Fantasiland didn’t work out, running the zoo all year round proved unprofitable and in 1980 the zoo was closed. Five years later another company bought the venue and Gala Night was reopened as an outdoor event location, minus the animals.
In 2005 a proposal for an underground event called The Zoo Project caught the attention of the Gala Night owners. The Zoo Project was to be a conceptual gathering with its roots firmly in the underground electronic music scene and with an aspiring ethos for equality and unity among event-goers – encouraging participants to communicate and express themselves through music and dance. It’s a place where you can lose yourself and find yourself all over again in an instant, set to an unforgettable soundtrack and the rest is, as the say, history.
When did you decide to create a festival?
We’ve been putting on Zoo Project events all over the world for the past few years and it’s been an incredible experience. We’ve always had such a loyal crowd from the UK, so around about 18 months ago we decided to take the steps necessary to secure our dream location for hosting a festival. In a busy festival market we knew we had to do something different to separate us from the rest of the herd, and because of our previous zoo history in Ibiza it seemed logical to take things up a gear and try to put on a dance festival in an active Safari Park.
We had numerous parks on offer but Port Lympne just felt right! It has over 600 acres of stunning Safari land, and they’ve also won some impressive tourism awards, but most importantly the park is run by a charity called the Aspinall Foundation which does fantastic conservation work in Indonesia, Madagascar and other places around the world. They have recently just launched Back to the Wild Appeal which helps return animals such as Javan langur, Javan gibbons, western lowland gorillas and black rhinos back to the wild, so it’s a fantastic cause that we’re happy to be involved with.
Why have it in the UK and not in Ibiza where there’s a better chance of good weather?
We have orgarnised various events in the UK each winter after the Ibiza season and we have to say that each one has been so much fun that we came to the conclusion that we HAD to do something special for everyone who is based in the UK. We wanted to create a very special gathering that everyone could attend and this meant keeping it local. Yes, weather can be an important factor to any event, but we know British festivalgoers are resilient to it; Glastonbury goes to prove that. So, are we worried about the weather? No, because apart from that, everyone knows there’s an Indian summer coming and we’re in one of the driest counties in England, plus we’ve spoken to the man upstairs and done some wheeling and dealing in exchange for some sunshine…
How easy was it to find the site?
It was actually very challenging, as you can imagine there are only so many Safari parks in the UK that a) are in a great location of the country b) have enough space to hold the festival numbers we intend on doing and c) have the licenses to hold an event of this nature.
How did you go about attracting the various labels/promoters who are appearing at the festival?
Some we have worked with for a number of years, and some this is our first time, but we respect all of them in a big way. We were honest and basically set our stall out. This is our first year, and we obviously don’t want to try running before we can walk, but the artists involved are really important to us.
Anyone who you personally are really looking forward to seeing perform?
Being so involved with the line-up programming, I can honestly say that I am 100% looking forward to seeing each and every artist perform and show the crowd why we wanted them to be a part of this amazing experience!
What’s been the most difficult aspect of setting it all up?
Securing the most amazing location. But it was worth it! It features a historic mansion and landscaped gardens with breathtaking views over the Kent countryside stretching out to the coast. It is also home to the largest breeding herd of black rhinos outside Africa as well as Siberian and Indian tigers, African elephants, monkeys, Barbary lions and many more rare and endangered species.
What sights can visitors to the festival expect to encounter, aside from the animals?
Every single ticket will give you daily access to the animal park. Within the actual festival grounds you would be wise to follow our performance crew’s motto: “Expect the unexpected”. It’s going to be jam-packed full of extraordinary performances, production and people. Think: snake charmers, tribal drummers, paradise bird aerialists, dancers, contortionists, roaming cheeky monkeys etc…
How will you translate the Balearic vibes of its Ibiza counterpart to the UK?
Apart from bringing the sunshine with us, we’ll be bringing the knowledge which we have acquired from running The Zoo Project, Ibiza and we’ll be harnessing it to create the perfect party atmosphere and surroundings, which will surely conjure up some great memories for those who have spent time in Ibiza.
Will there be body painting experts on-site or would you recommend that people do their own beforehand?
There will most definitely be body painting experts on-site, in fact, we’ve already put together a team of our best body-painters in Ibiza and they will be flying over especially for this.
What does the future hold beyond the Zoo Project Festival? Any plans to do more?
Our hope is to make it a yearly occurrence, once you’ve experienced it for yourselves, we’re sure you’ll agree that it’s a must!
The Zoo Project Festival will be held from 14-16 September, for more info click here.
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