From Little Acorns to Mighty Oaks - How Chilled in a Field has grown
Reported by Latex Zebra
Submitted 20-07-16 18:21
The saying mighty oaks from little acorns grow applies to many things, from children to events, which is handy because this next interview is about both!
Chilled in a Field began as a small festival some 6 years ago and has now become an amazing, although still personal festival which is getting rave reviews from attendees and the media.
I managed to grab one of the promotion team to throw a few questions at them in the lead-up to this year's event.
OK… Let’s start with the bog standard question: Who are the driving forces behind Chilled in a Field and what do you all do?
There are 5 Festival Directors, an all-female team as it happens, with 2 in their ‘50s and 2 in their ‘40s and we’re all volunteers, doing it for the love.
Tracy looks after anything that involves the legal and compliance stuff - anything involving the council, police, health and safety, security, stewarding. And noise management. Basically, if it’s something we could potentially go to prison over, Tracy keeps us on the right side of the law.
Manoli takes care of the income-generating parts of the festival. Coordinating our bars, trading, food, and ticketing/front-of-house stuff. She recruits our festival crew and keeps an eye on the free activities/workshops that we offer.
Sophie is in charge of music, coordinating the teams who book and manage the live acts and DJs and she runs the stages and sound. She also looks after promotion and marketing, plus the year-long event planning process.
Heather is our queen of production – coordinating the things that turn an empty grass field into a multi-venue event.
And Gill is our team accountant, the keeper of the purse strings.
We have a team of around 10 volunteers who work all year to coordinate individual aspects of the event, and they have their own volunteer teams when the event is on. It takes hundreds of people to make it happen.
Leading on from that… A recent a press release said that Chilled in a Field was born out of the ‘90’s London Party Scene, I think Planet Angel in particular? Can you elaborate on this and how you all met?
We were all around in the early ‘00s at parties like Escape from Samsara, Pendragon, Pickle and Whirl-y-gig. At various points since 1999 we all ran different aspects of Planet Angel and that’s how we all ended up meeting – although I don’t suppose any of us can remember exact times and dates for obvious reasons!
Where was the first Chilled in a Field and what kind of line up did it have? Was it purely dance based or did you have bands as well?
The first one was in July 2010 in a farmer’s field in Hawkhurst in Kent. We had a marquee with a bar and a sound system, some basic décor, plus a tent we’d borrowed from the local school as a chill-out space. We foolishly assumed “if you build it, they will come,” which, of course, isn’t the case. Doubly so if you put your festival outside the school summer holidays… We ended up with around 120 people. Music was dance music of all genres played mostly by the Planet Angel Resident DJs of the day, and our wider circle of friends.
Is there a certain point that you can see yourself settling at in terms of venue size and crowd numbers, or are you willing to just grow and grow?
We’d like to stay as small as possible. It’s hard, to do that whilst staying financially viable. The problem with running a festival is that the cost of the infrastructure is huge and non-negotiable. Even if you use a volunteer-only crew model, you still need to shift a decent number of tickets just to cover costs. I think we’re all guilty of complaining about festivals that grow too fast – the reality is that unless they have access to a free venue and their own kit, they have to.
How many venues have you used in the past? Is moving around something you’re keen to do or would you like to find a permanent home?
A permanent home is the dream! The Hop Farm will be our fourth home, and each time you move you have to start from the beginning in terms of production and relationships with venues and councils. It’s hard work. We moved from our first venue because the owner/manager had a really bad relationship with his neighbours – they threatened to come and cut the power with an axe at one point. Since then we’ve outgrown our last two venues; families need a LOT of camping space.
Any amusing stories (horrifying or otherwise) from your early days of Chilled?
We learned the hard way that you need to outsource some things. In 2010 the local tip wouldn’t take our recycling so we spent 3 hours squashing cans and feeding them one-by-one into the recycling bank in Tesco car park. The exact same thing happened again in 2011… The “organic gourmet street food” we booked in 2010 turned out to be the worst kind of greasy fairground burger van, and it took us a marathon effort running our own kitchen the following year to win back everyone’s trust. In 2013 the venue manager kept turning the music down to below whispering volume – you could literally hold a hushed conversation in front of the speakers. We had people commando-crawling into the DJ booth to try and turn it up. It later transpired that he’d forgotten to get a license for the event…
Many festivals call themselves family friendly… What makes Chilled different from the rest?
Ha! This is the first question the local police will ask us when we meet them for the first time. One of the reasons we do the festival is so that our friends-with-kids can enjoy a proper party. For them to want to come, we need to make it easy for them. We have separate camping fields for “night owls” and “early birds”, meaning children aren’t woken by late-night revellers. All of the family activities, workshops, games and performances are completely free, meaning parents can save their cash for cider. There are free hot showers for everyone and this year we have loads of proper permanent flush toilets, including priority toilets for children. We lay everything out so that parents can see the whole entertainments space from their campsite, and we have a wristband system that means children can’t wander off site unaccompanied. We’ve won several awards for our family-friendliness, which isn’t bad given that 3 of the Directors don’t have kids.
What do you have in place for those that don’t have kids, how do you convince them it won’t be a terrifying mass crèche with booze on the side? (Or is that exactly what it is?)
Like I say, 3 of the 5 directors are child-free. The great thing we’ve noticed is that the children keep to themselves. It’s like there’s a completely separate festival going on at knee height. We think that the quality of the music – which this year includes Billy Daniel Bunter and 2 Bad Mice – speaks for itself. We take music very seriously, which is why we have a FunktionOne rig in the dance bar. The late night silent disco woodland rave is also strictly adults-only and, our tequila, whisky and rum-tasting sessions are a popular annual fixture. Most of our workshops – including swing dance and hulahooping, are for adults as well as kids (and they’re free to all). Our ale & cider festival bar boasts over 20 ales and ciders, cocktails and bubbles. And, the separate campsite thing ensures that those of us who like to party late and sleep all morning aren’t disturbed, so we can sleep in til lunch time.
You run as a non-profit organisation… What kind of challenges does this raise in terms of knowing what acts you can book in terms of ticket sales or do you book as you go along?
Like any promoters, there are always anxieties about ticket sales. It’s definitely worse as a not-for-profit festival as our margins are really tiny. People leave their ticket buying until the last minute, usually after we’ve had to pay for the venue and infrastructure. We budget based on a forecast of sales, then book from there. Sometimes we have a little surplus at the end, and sometimes we don’t. It’s a bloody nail-biter year after year.
We do work hard to give people of all ages and backgrounds the chance to get experience in the festival industry. Some of our crew have gone on to set up their own events-related businesses, and this year our main stage will be run by a crew of local disadvantaged young people.
How much of your own time do you give up for this?
We were trying to work this out recently. We reckon it’s around 10-15 hours a week each, plus most of the event weekend itself, which makes it an all-consuming mega-hobby. We give the key crew a small token contribution towards their expenses, us included. I think some people think that we pay ourselves big bucks from the event – it works out to be around 59p an hour before tax. Bearing in mind most of us fit this around full time jobs, it’s miraculous we have social lives at all. It helps that none of us have young children.
So… Tell us about this year’s Chilled in a Field please?
29-31 July, at The Hop Farm in Kent’s fashionable Paddock Wood.
3 days of excellent dance music, live music, and free fun and shenanigans for all ages including glitter wrestling, tequila tasting and an all-night silent disco woodland rave.
Our cheaper-than-the-pub ale & cider festival bar will have you rosy-cheeked and up for anything.
With Billy Daniel Bunter, 2 Bad Mice, The Ting, The Egg and Tankus The Henge plus takeovers by Lost Dawn, Acoustic Chemistry, Alumni and Strictly Productions.
Adult weekend tickets are £99 (children £25) Adult day tickets start £25 (children £10)
I was first introduced to Chilled in a Field last year, and lovely it was! Musically it was very mixed with bands and DJs; what do you look for in an act when booking for Chilled? Will you always try and have a good mix of bands and DJs or could you see yourself leaning more in a certain direction?
Thank you very much! Dance music is incredibly important to us, and is the backbone of the festival. Because we came from the London clubbing scene we’ve always had a rich seam of talented DJs to work with and have added to that roster over the years. We’re really pleased to be in a place where we can book a few big names this year as well. We expect all DJs and crews to be technically awesome, and lots and lots of fun. There’s no point taking entertainment too seriously, but it’s amazing how many people submit a demo with ragged beat matching (vinyl mixes can be forgiven, a bit…). We also try to make sure that whatever tunes you’re into, you’ll find a few sets over the weekend that you love, so we book a big range of artists. We added live music in 2011 and an outdoor main stage in 2014. Live music works well during the day and beautifully as an acoustic addition to the woods. Rob, who is the genius behind our live music programming, manages to find acts of the most incredible quality, with a (mainly) danceable sound.
What kind of feedback to you get from attendees and how do you use that information?
We do a bit of a survey every year to get a feel for what people loved and didn’t love. To be honest, by that point it shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s a cliché but as long as you get the toilets right, people will forgive most things. It’s also important not to give too much weight to a single complaint or suggestion (there’s no shortage of people suggesting that you cater for their exact dietary requirements, for instance) – you’re trying to keep 2,500 people happy, after all. Last year we got 100% positive feedback from all our campers, crew, and performers. That was pretty special.
This is always tricky to answer but are there any dream acts you would love to play for you? Can we expect Kanye prancing about the main stage soon?
We’ve never relied on big names to sell the event – people come back year after year because the music is excellent and we give them and their kids a great time. Working with awesome takeover crews like Alumni, Lost Dawn and Acoustic Chemistry means that we have an embarrassment of talented performers alongside our home-grown talent. That said, if Lisa Pin-Up, AndyC, NOISIA, Luna-C, Jeff Mills, Derrick May, The Liberators, The Plump DJs and Sphongle offered to play for beer and chips, we’d not turn them down, like.
OK, a few quick fire questions now.
Top 5 tunes of all time (Any Genres)
She Bangs The Drums – Stone Roses
Unfinished Sympathy – Massive Attack
Boys & Girls - Blur
JDS – Nine Ways (Plump DJs remix)
Cortina – Music is Moving (BK & dBm Amber Mix)
(bugger – does that mean I don’t have room for Binary Finary?)
Best Event you’ve ever attended (you can say your own)
Chilled in a Field 2014 was very special as it was the first time our little event felt like a “proper” festival. We stood back and said “blimey, look what we’ve created!”.
The Bangface Weekender delivers on music and mayhem year after year. 2015 was particularly good, but there’s always an incredible lineup and a great time to be had.
Top 3 DJs of all time
Lisa Pin-Up – absolute professional, consummate performer, and still at the top of her game
Jeff Mills – I’ve lost hours of my life (in a good way) every single time I’ve seen him play, from dirt railway arch venues to concert halls. He’s a magician.
DJ Tequila Slammer – original Planet Angel Resident, responsible for introducing hard house, breaks and DnB to the club (also happens to be my gorgeous husband).
Thanks for your time, you can now use this space to sell your event and tell everyone why they should come.
For a start, how’s about 15% off adult weekend tickets for Harder Faster users, when you use the promotional code HARDF15 ?
How often do we get the chance to dance to top quality dance music on a high quality rig in the great outdoors with all of our friends enjoying tune after tune knowing it’s not going to be turned down? And, if you have kids (or have friends that have kids) this sort of thing is rare indeed. Add cider, sunshine, tequila tasting, glitter wrestling, late night bass-driven shenanigans in the woods and some of your favourite big name DJs from back in the day… Oh, and the kids will be sorted with free fun and games all weekend, so you can relax and chill the hell out. A small crowd, on a flat grassy festival field, with woods to explore. Loads of camping space, proper flush toilets, and free hot showers for everyone. Just 45 mins drive from SE London. And all for under £85(and even less if you come for the day). Large festivals are a pain in the arse. Come to Chilled in a Field where we’ll play all day, and dance all night.
Images courtesy of Inty Malcom Photography (Paul Stevens), Rachel Otterway Photography and Stature Photography (John Philips). Not to be reproduced without permission.
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The views and opinions expressed in this review are strictly those of the author only for which HarderFaster will not be held responsible or liable.