Farmfest Interview: “A Big, Defiant Party”

farmfest interview

Depending on who you talk to, you will hear that the music industry is in decline. And while this may be true of the big business side of things, the DIY community, which sprouted in the 80s on both sides of the Atlantic due to disillusionment with the status quo, is in fine fettle.

With the advent of the internet, labels and bands can now be far more independent than in the 80s or 90s. For example, there’s Fortuna POP! in London, which has become a bastion of quality indie pop in its twenty year existence releasing stellar records by the likes of Joanna Gruesome, Martha, and Evans the Death. Or the Bristol/London based Art is Hard Records which revels in releasing music in odd formats (check out their Pizza Club).

It’s a similar story for festivals. While the big festivals still flourish (although while ignoring female musicians), there’s a burgeoning market for more independent, boutique, left-field festivals. There’s Indietracks (they have an owl sanctuary), which is held in Derbyshire and entering its tenth year, and today’s interviewees Farmfest.

Farmfest, staged on a farm in Somerset, was born ten years ago and has simple, but admirable goals. It aims to be affordable (tickets are just £49), genre-defying, while also focusing on arts activities, amazing charities, and local produce. Overblown spoke to Joe Duhig, who runs the main stage at Farmfest over the weekend, about the past, present, and future of the unique, and remarkable independent festival.

Overblown: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us! 2015 is Farmfest’s 10th anniversary. When you started did you envisage that the festival would still be going after ten years?

Joe: No problem! No, we weren’t thinking long term really, there was never a grand plan (I’m not sure there is now!). We’ve always just taken it one year at a time and tried to make it better than the last. It has built up steadily over the years, without us really doing anything to start with to be honest; it was just through word of mouth that we had a good thing going on and we’d have twice as many people turn up each year. We’ve had to do a lot of learning on the job but now after 10 years we’re pretty clued up on what we need to do. That doesn’t mean that there’s never anything new to contemplate each year though!

O:Your line ups are quite eclectic. When you are choosing bands to play, is there any criteria they must fulfil?

J: Thanks, we do strive to cover a lot of ground musically. It’s good for the overall atmosphere when you’ve got different ‘tribes’ of fans coming together and contributing to the good times.  The criteria the acts must meet essentially is one, that we like them and two, that they are good live. We’re very open minded when it comes to listening to all sorts of different stuff and we try to replicate that across the different stages. We’ve developed a good sense of what will work at different times, and what will go down well with our crowd and what might be something excellent that they may have never heard before. And we’re keen to give acts that we love opportunities to headline which they may never get at another festival.

O: Recently it emerged that women are often under represented at festivals. For instance, the Reading/Leeds line-up is nearly 90% men. Is gender balance something that concerns you when you are building your line-up?

J: That is an interesting stat. Balance is a key word in general for us. We try to be as inclusive as possible, and that leads to things like making the ticket price as affordable as we can, encouraging a varied mix of people in our crowd, making sure there’s plenty of stuff for all ages to enjoy and having an eclectic line-up. I think having a lot of different music on offer lends itself to having a more natural gender balance among the acts, we’ve got a pretty strong list of girls looking down this year’s line up, but if we’re not close to 50/50 then there’s always work to be done.

O: What bands are you particularly looking forward to this year at Farmfest?

J: Speaking of which, LoneLady is one act I’m very excited about. I was fortunate enough to have a promo of her first album placed on my desk about 5 years ago and I loved it. I’ve not had a chance to catch her live yet though but it will be pleasure for that to happen first the time round at Farmfest. I’m also really looking forward to Lamb. I caught them at Glasto in ’98 or ’99 and loved it, but I haven’t seen them since! I still can’t quite believe they are coming to play.

O:How do you go about deciding what will be your main charity each year? Why did you pick Send A Cow this year?

J: We have a few charities now that we donate to every year (Dorset & Somerset Air Ambulance, the Batcombe Church roof fund, British Stammering Association) that we do so for various personal reasons amongst the team, but last year we were approached by Send a Cow who were keen to get involved and to develop a partnership where we could work together. They’re based in the same part of the world (Send a Cow was set up by West Country farmers over 25 years ago to work with and help farmers in Africa) and they’d recognised the links between us and it is just one of those things that is just such a naturally obvious fit, we’d be silly not to.  And of course they are lovely people doing great work.

O: What other festivals do you think are worthwhile here in the UK?

J: I haven’t had a chance to get to many other festivals in the last 10 years to be honest! The whole scene has blown up massively in the last decade, it’s great to see and the choice is immense. Glasto is obviously the big mama and whatever your views on what it has become I think every other festival owes Michael Eavis a small debt of gratitude for paving the way. I think any festival that exists to bring people together to have a good time and spread some love is worthwhile.

O: The ticket for the festival is a very reasonable £49. How do you keep the prices down?

J: One of the fundamental reasons that Farmfest exists is to provide an excellent experience but at a price that is affordable and doesn’t alienate people. When you think about what a family of four has to pay to enjoy a festival experience it can get quite astronomical these days. So that is one of the guiding principles that we work to and consider throughout the process. It basically comes down to the good will of a lot very generous people who are prepared to do a lot of hard work for very little financial reward! But there is a choice there as well. We could make the tickets more expensive (and make our lives easier) but we don’t. It doesn’t always have the desired effect though; some people, naturally enough, doubt how good the festival will be because of how cheap it is, which can be frustrating!

O: How will the re-election of the Conservatives impact the festival?

J: Well, I’m feeling positive today so I’ll say that it will bring people together and make them even more determined and empowered to make the change they want to see in the world, and one of the best ways to do that is to have a great big defiant party, right?!

O: What is the ultimate goal of Farmfest?

J: To be a great, big defiant party that welcomes one and all.

O: What has been your proudest moment over the last ten years in relation to Farmfest?

J: If all the bands turn up at the main stage on time throughout the weekend and I make it to our Farmfest Deejays closing party set at 2am Saturday night/Sunday morning with the right records and the right CDs I’m doing well!

Check out the Farmfest line-up and buy tickets.

Don’t forget to follow Overblown on Facebook, and Twitter.