Eastern Electrics – Behind the scenes with founder Rob Star
“Continuing our ‘Legends in Dance Music’ series, a series that started with Red Bull Revolutions in Sound – a celebration of UK club culture, we have penned a few questions for ‘Eastern Electrics’ founder Rob Star. Raving in 1992, visiting 80’s Ibiza, starting small and needing a million quid”…
Earlier this week we focused on the electronic music festival – Dimensions, where we highlighted why heading to Croatia is a must for anyone serious about their underground electronic music. Today we bring things back to the UK and focus on a festival that bridges the gap between the underground and the more recognisable side of dance music. A festival that leans more toward – in your face party swagger, than crate digging discovery – Eastern Electrics.
Eastern Electrics, now in its 10th year, has firmly established itself as dance music weekender that 20,000 ravers can’t resist. However when asked if we’d be interested in interviewing festival founder Rob Star we have to admit we had our reservations. Surely it’s just another headline grabbing money maker with fairground rides and tuborg lager. We were wrong…
BBB: What was it that inspired you to enter the unpredictable world of putting on parties, and why did you go from illegal underground raves in unique locations to the less flexible, regulated and financially risky world of Festival promoting?
I suppose we took the underground parties that we did (mulletover) to their logical conclusion. The parties we did in England went overground once we started getting licenses to put them on. Within a few years we went from parties for 400-500 people to parties for 4,000-5,000. This was great, but the parties became a commercial operation (DJ’s wanted more money, venues wanted more money, etc) and every man and his dog also started to do warehouse parties. At the same time we were doing illegal parties in Ibiza, which culminated in a massive party at the Lighthouse in Portinatx (North Ibiza) which got shut down and I got arrested by the Guardia Civil. It seemed like a good time to move on!
Believe it or not, at the time nobody was doing big one-day events playing underground dance music, so in 2008 we made a plan to do one and Eastern Electrics was born! We built up slowly though, doing a series of warehouse events from 2008 – 2011, before launching the festival in 2012. I can honestly say that nothing prepared me for the roller coaster ride that is putting on large scale events. Anyone that thinks putting on festivals is easy, clearly hasn’t done one!
BBB: As DJs we were involved in four festivals that all went bust and were never seen again. Which on the one hand suggests never invite BBB to play your festival, on the other hand it highlights why promoting club nights / festivals is not as easy as ‘If you book them, they will come’! What do you believe are the biggest challenges for a night/festival to become and remain successful (changing trends, competitors, an ageing audience etc.)?
Where do you start?
1) Finances, pretty much everyone wants to be paid in advance these days, so you need over a million pounds just to cashflow a one-day event. If you don’t get the numbers through the door, you won’t last long!
2) Pick a niche, the most successful events / festivals, focus on one area and attract a loyal audience. If there are already several events playing your style of music, it will be an uphill struggle. You need to think of something that differentiates you, it doesn’t have to be the music, it might be the venue, the creative element, the non-musical entertainment
3) Don’t chase the money, you do really need to do this for the right reasons, the audience aren’t stupid! If you love what you do, it will come across in the events that you put on and the money will come later.
4) Start small. I spent 14 years putting on events before I did my first festival and I still wasn’t prepared, you really need to build a fanbase and have a core audience that will become loyal to your brand.
BBB: We have to ask, hope you don’t mind. Why fairground rides at Eastern Electrics? We’ve always felt fairground rides are a bit generic, out of the universal ‘how to put on a festival playbook’. Are we just being music snobs? I suspect we are… If so, what is it that makes Eastern Electrics an essential annual pilgrimage for 20,000 ravers?
How can you not love a fairground ride? My grandad used to own a travelling fair, which my dad grew up on, so fairgrounds have a special place in my heart. In my view the festival is the modern day fairground, but instead of going from place to place, it stays in one venue and people come from far and wide to visit. It’s nice to have a connection with your past and I also love going on the dodgems. I’m sure the rides aren’t top of peoples lists when they make their decision to come though!
BBB: Continuing the raving theme you mentioned in a recent interview that you first started raving in 1992 and that it was only in retrospect you realised it was a golden era for large scale raves [About Time Magazine 2017]. Yet since that golden age, dance music has become a vast and highly lucrative global business. With audiences dwarfing those heady early days. So what is it that modern raves are missing? Should we even use the term rave?
I still use the term rave, but maybe that’s because I’m old, it’s still a great term to describe a party! For me the only major difference between what I do now and the raves that happened in the early 90’s are that the parties now happen all day, where as they used to go on all-night. That’s quite a significant difference though, as things are certainly more edgy at night and you get the whole sunset and sunrise in the morning. For me, there are few things that beat dancing in a field and watching the sun appear slowly on the horizon to mark the beginning of a new day. You can still do this at weekend camping festivals, but not really at the bigger one-day dance music events.
BBB: With all that in mind, if you could visit a particular location, or point in time within dance music history, when and where would you go?
It’s very clichéd, but I would have loved to have been in Ibiza in the late 80’s. I’ve been visiting the island since 1995, but it would have been pretty special to have gone to Amnesia in 1987 and listened to Alfredo playing one of his famous Balearic sets dancing in the open air next to all the freaks, pop stars, ravers, hippies, etc. The crowds in those days seemed so much more mixed and stylish and everything was via word of mouth, nobody was taking videos with their phones, which would defiantly have been a plus!
Thanks Rob for taking the time to talk to us. For the full Eastern Electrics lineup and ticket information hit the links below:
FINALLY… Eastern Electrics host a very special, live-streamed night at the Natural History Museum, where EE faves Skream and Eats Everything will be dropping some cataclysmic asteroid like bombs. Live stream is July 4th 7-9pm via the EE Facebook page.