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Eastern Electrics: Owner Rob Star on the UK’s biggest ever underground dance festival

Marcus Barnes

EE 300x199 Eastern Electrics: Owner Rob Star on the UKs biggest ever underground dance festivalThis weekend one of the UK’s biggest ever underground electric music festivals takes place on the hallowed turf at Knebworth Park. Eastern Electrics is the name of the festival and there are over 100 of the world’s greatest house and techno artists on the bill, providing music over the course of three days.

Eastern Electrics began as a London-based warehouse party and has slowly evolved into a large-scale events brand, with the very first EE festival taking place last summer. This year, it’s bigger, better and in a far nicer location. With just a few days to go until the festival kicks off, I spoke to the main man at Eastern Electrics; pub owner, stalwart of the London party scene and all-round nice guy – Rob Star. Here’s what he had to say for himself.

Why did you decide on Knebworth Park for your location and how did you acquire the site?

I went to the Oasis gig there in 1996, and I went to Renaissance there as well. I remember being at Renaissance and thinking, ‘It’s not too far from London, they’ve got pretty good sound levels here, the location’s beautiful. This is actually a really good festival site’. It stuck with me ever since that Knebworth Park could make a great festival site, so after last year’s Eastern Electrics we were looking for a greenfield site and that was one of the first places I contacted. We met up and the team there were supportive of our ambitions and we got the site – it didn’t happen as quickly as we’d wanted, there were a lot of negotiations, but it was all sorted in time for us to get the tickets on sale by January.

What have you done with the site to personalise it?

We’ve got some of the guys who’ve worked on the dance area at Glastonbury and other members of the Glastonbury team, they’re building a bespoke container stage so people can dance outside until six in the morning. They’re also putting a lot of creative production elements in there – there are lots of trees, which they’re going to dress up and we’ve got a whole area called ‘Electric City’ where we’ll have performers, a roller disco, lots of hidden areas, girls doing make-up – that’s our nod to that more creative element. We’re not going to have just seven arenas, we want to have as many elements as we can that make it our festival.

I have to mention the line-up, was it difficult to get it all together?

There will always be people we don’t manage to get, but we need to save people for next year anyway, so that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s always difficult to get all the acts together, because there are eight of us in the office for a start, then there are all the promoters who all want the best line-ups in their tents of course, then we have to work out who’s available and then deal with the fees… so it’s not an easy process, but it’s probably one of the most enjoyable aspects of putting on an event of this size. We’re picking 130 of our favourite DJs and that in itself provokes its own debate within the organisation of the festival, which is always interesting.

It must be like a dream ticket to you, coming from humble beginnings with the warehouse parties?

It’s a great feeling, which comes with its own stresses as well. It’s come full circle for me because when I came to London, almost 20 years ago in 1996, I worked for Universal who were doing the big Tribal Gathering parties – I was working on those big parties. I remember Daft Punk playing, Underground Resistance had a tent, Kraftwerk played and that was always what I aspired to do, even in those early days. I went to work at Home and Homelands, the Gatecrasher summer soundsystem – so I had a lot of experience working at big events, and that was where I always wanted to take what I was doing. Obviously you can’t start off doing a festival, it’s something you have to build towards – I don’t think it would work to dive straight into it.

What would you say are your key influences in terms of festivals that you’ve experienced yourself?

In the UK, definitely Tribal Gathering. I went to the first one, in Warminster in 1993, I remember driving towards the site around 11 or 12 at night – and we’d already been stuck in traffic for two hours – and we could just hear the bass and then we could see the site in the distance. We just dumped the car as soon as we could, jumped out and walked across all these fields to get there. That was probably one of the last outdoor, all night dance festivals in the UK, that was the start of people putting on big dance festivals. The production values they had and the lengths they went to to get things done, in that era, were amazing – dancers, performers, all those people that added that little something extra to it was what I was really into. Then, going abroad, Burning Man and seeing what they do out there in the desert is a big inspiration. Secret Garden Party as well, seeing places like that and the effort they put into production – that melded with my love of electronic music, events like Time Warp and Sonar, places like that just really led me to think, ‘England needs a good underground electronic music festival’. I don’t think there is something that ticks all those boxes.

What lessons have you learned from your first event last year?

A lot of lessons. Obviously we lost the first venue we had, and the second venue went bankrupt which caused its own set of problems. So this year we wanted an established site that wasn’t going to cause us those kind of problems. The second big lesson that we’ve learned, is getting support from other people – in terms of the production company, we got Loud Sound looking after us (who do Bestival and Creamfields) they’re taking care of the things they really know about like building the stages, liaising with the relevant authorities; the police, the council. Also working with people on the promotional aspect, getting as many people to spread the word as we can and choosing the right partners so they can bring some of what they do to our event – so we’re working with Black Atlantic, krankbrothers, dirtybird, people that we respect on a musical level and getting the marketing right.

I have to say your marketing has been very considered. I haven’t seen any overkill at all, which is unusual in today’s market.

Did you see the Seth video?

Yeah, that’s one piece of Eastern Electrics marketing I couldn’t avoid! That’s was all his idea I heard?

Yeah I went round to his house and I had a series of questions earmarked for him and I showed to him and he was like, ‘That’s boring man, I don’t want to answer those questions’. We had a glass of wine, had a chat and I said, ‘Well, let’s do something fun then’ and he came up with the concept, so we went for it. It took about 10 minutes, it was great.

And it’s sparked a big debate as well…

Oh, always! Anything on the internet, people will have a debate about. Anything people really like, people will really hate as well.

I remember you told me a while back that the London parties are going to come to an end and the festivals will now be your main focus, is that still the case?

I’ve got 10 years of mulletover next year, which we’re definitely going to do something for because it’s been a massive part of my life – but as I get older, I’m going to be 36 next year, I realise I’ve done pretty much every warehouse in London, I’ve done pretty much every club and I’m all about pushing boundaries. So, for me, doing smaller parties in clubs or warehouses is not anything new or different. When I started doing mulletover 10 years ago, I was bored of putting parties on in clubs, I wanted to try new and interesting locations. At that time, the warehouse thing was fresh and new, it was exciting, it was illegal because there were no TENs (Temporary Event Notice) so it was a bit naughty and we grew that and developed it. But, when it gets to a point where you can’t take it to another level then you need to move on and I that’s how I feel about parties, I want to move on and carry on doing amazing outdoor festivals.

So is it your plan to do one big event a year, or do you have plans for more?

Eastern Electrics will be one big outdoor show a year. We’ll probably always do new year’s eve as well, as it breaks up the year and is always a good party, but the festival will always be one big one a year.

Eastern Electrics takes place this weekend, 2nd – 4th August at Knebworth Park – for full line-up information and last-minute tickets, visit their website here.

Follow Marcus Barnes’ www.hoxtonfm.co.uk radio show via soundcloud.com/marcus_barnes

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