For the last two years, Scotland has finally hit the rock and metal festival map by way of South Lanarkshire’s Les-Fest.
Awarded the best musical event of the year at the Scottish New Music Awards in 2012, this year it’s bigger and bolder being held at Wiston Hall, and with tickets at just £50 for the full weekend including camping, it’s a bargain to boot!
I spoke to one half of the organisation duo, Dave Ritchie about the festival recently, read on to find out all about it.
Please explain how the festival came to be?
At the end of March 2012 news came through that Sonisphere had been cancelled. I had been attending that since its inception with my son and his mates and if anything this had re-invigorated my interest in gigs and Metal. So to hear it was off was pretty disappointing. I had had a few glasses of red wine and said no problem we will put on a gig that weekend locally, invite some bands along and see what happens. We ended up with 2 days and 26 bands and that was it started.
Les-Fest is the name a French translation of ‘The Festival’, or..?
I could talk a lot of nonsense about the village I live in, it’s French connections and all that stuff, but it literally was the Lesmahagow Music Festival and knowing it may be slightly contentious I called it Les-Fest, bought a domain name and that was it started. The name was actually bought the very same night I had had a few.
Les Fest has been going for 3 years now, what changes have taken place over those three years?
Well we have gone from one evening and one day, with 26 bands and one stage, to three full days over 50 bands and 2 stages. We started off in a local venue and have moved to a 50 acre greenfield site and generally just increased our ambition to grow the event.
How many people are involved in the creation/running of Les-Fest?
For most of the year it is primarily me and Fede Valls (Achren Manager) Fede is well connected and knows a lot of people in the scene. He scouts a lot of acts and we have a philosophy where we generally do not book bands until we have seen them live. So Fede is well up to speed with that. A lot of the sadly, necessary admin and licensing and dealing with the police, the council and authorities is left to me. As we get nearer to the event we have a good crew of people that are involved in the build and then of course the removal of all the gear that we bring on to site. So creation wise, just a couple of us.
But running it, we have family – my two brothers are brilliant – friends and fans – all volunteers and all working for nothing. We could not function without them. We also now have a side project and are releasing our first Les-Fest Album this year. So although that is not vital to the weekend it is a great opportunity, to raise some money, as all the proceeds go to The Teenage Cancer Trust and this is all co-ordinated through Gordon Scott at Ouergh! Records
What have been the biggest hurdles so far and how did you overcome them?
Main issue we have had is getting media interest from the London based press and similarly getting the London based agents to take us seriously and deal with us. But we are slowly building relationships, certainly with the agents and managers. All we can do is look after the bands, ensure they enjoy the event and make sure they get paid, fed and entertained. The feedback going back over the border is the best PR we can get. Actually meeting some of these key people at Bloodstock was a great benefit and I think when people meet Fede and me face to face they can see the passion and dedication and know we are doing it for the right reasons.
Your venue looks ace, tell us about Wiston Hall and what fans can expect from the venue, I even see a lake?
Yeah moving to the new site was not planned until 2015, but we kind of had it enforced when the venue we used went into administration. It is a major jump in running costs and to be honest a gamble at this stage in our “career” but if you don’t take risks you don’t move forward. It is a Victorian Hunting Lodge, set in 53 acres and we have hired an additional few acres from the neighbouring farmer for camping and parking.
There is a lake, a few wooden lodges, a tipi village and the scope to expand the event is great. So already we can offer all different camping and accommodation festival experiences. We have brought in our own caterers, a Real Ale Bar, a Jager Bar. Stalls and merchandising and overall again, just enhanced the overall experience. We do genuinely have a USP in that this is the only true Rock and Metal Festival in Scotland in as much as it is a proper, outdoor, camping, eating, drinking and hopefully, sitting in the sunshine event.
With festivals popping up everywhere these days, what does Les Fest offer that others don’t?
We offer a proper, full, outdoor festival feel on a budget. It’s a 3 day event, based on a greenfield site, with everything you would expect at say, Bloodstock, but scaled down. We are family friendly and offer good choices of drinks, food and music and at what we feel are a great price point. We are keen to support the underground scene but we mix that up with a few well known names too.
We also broadly theme our days to cover all tastes. Starting off pretty hardcore and intense on Friday, moving more towards metal and slightly alt on Saturday and then we finish on the Sunday very much down the Classic/Hard Rock vein. You can buy a day ticket; see a dozen or more bands without a clash and all within a theme – so you know what you will get with us.
How has the reaction been by Scottish metal fans to the festival?
Been pretty good so far. We definitely have a hardcore of followers that have been with us since day one and they continue to return. Getting the word out is difficult so we rely on a lot of word of mouth and flyering other gigs. But we attract people from all over the UK; we are only an hour over the border so we get good representation from the North of England
As an organiser do you have a code of ethics when dealing with bands? Have you had any ‘hairy’ moments you’d rather forget..?
We try and treat all bands well and with respect and although our budget can be tight we try to ensure every band gets something, whether that is some expenses for fuel, a few beers or food or whatever, we just think it is the correct way to treat bands. But within the running of the festival, no, no hairy moments! It has all gone surprisingly smoothly. We have over run a bit and asked bands low down the bill to shorten their set to accommodate headline acts and some of them have not taken too kindly to that. But dealing with ego’s can be hard at times. Overall though we have had a great time with some awesome bands and make a lot of new friends.
What is your personal ethos behind the running of the festival?
I am not sure I started with any great plan. But in general terms to provide a platform for new upcoming bands to play to larger and appreciative audiences and to try and cover their costs where possible. I also believe we are offering bands decent exposure north of the border as for many it would not be worth coming up here otherwise. I think we are managing that and many bands come back to play Scotland off the back of making new fans at Les-Fest – that has to be a good thing
What are your ambitions for Les-Fest? To create a Scottish ‘Download’ or to keep it niche?
It will always be relatively niche, but I think both Fede and I would like to see a day – next year or two? – Where we have a few thousand people, every summer, coming to Scotland to watch a good mix of bands over 3 stages. One main outdoor stage, next to the lake and a couple of other stages within marquees. That would be just fine. Bloodstock has a great model; just a good bit smaller would do for us.
How do you choose your bands out of what must be thousands of submissions?
Based on lots of criteria, but if they tick most of the boxes then we will try and get to see them live, no matter where they are. Other festivals are good for us, especially the stages showcasing newer talent and of course we get bands recommended to us by others we know in the industry. Sadly we cannot even reply to all of the submissions as there are so many, that is regretful.
What has been your best/funniest/proudest moment for Les-Fest so far over the years?
Best moment for me would be being presented with a 2nd Birthday Card last year on stage and so many of our colleagues, bands and people in the business had actually taken the time to sign it and wish us well. That was amazing. Proudest moment must be winning an award for Best Music Event after our first year, so unexpected. Funniest moment, usually involves lots of alcohol, hot tubs, fire extinguishers and just general debauchery best leave that one there..
What has Dave Ritchie learned since becoming a festival organiser?
Wow, what a question. Probably to be less opionated on face book and not to post when drunk. I have made a fair few mistakes and many people will not know me or Fede, but we are doing this for all the right reasons and I hope people continue to support us and give us a chance. We are just fans at the end of the day and some times, especially from me my passion spills over a bit. Must make Fede and my family cringe some time.
Scotlands only rock and metal festival, Les-Fest, takes place between 27-29th June 2014 at Wiston Lodge, South Lanarkshire. Head here to buy tickets and show your support for smaller festivals to keep them alive!