Festivals are one of the most important part of the metal community. They are a place to discover new bands alongside old favourites and the classics. Over the years as metal has changed, festivals have also changed with more and more smaller outdoor festivals appearing as well as the amount of indoor festivals across multiple genres. One festival that has risen greatly in recent years is London’s Desertfest, catering to the UK’s Stoner, Doom, Sludge and Psychedelic fans. Festival organisation and the behind the scenes working of the festival circuit are areas that I have always been fascinated by, so when I got the chance to interview Desertfest organiser Reece Tee I already had burning questions to ask him.
Jack: How did you get into organising festivals/gigs?
Reece Tee: Being a huge music fan and playing in a band myself, I was very aware of the lack of well-run gigs and festivals catering for stoner and doom. I wanted to set something up that really gave a home to the underground scene in the UK.
Jack: What band are you in and how has the experience of being in a band helped Desertfest?
Reece: I play guitar in the band Steak. I think knowing what a small underground band goes through and the passion it takes to persist in a band, I really wanted Desertfest to be there for them, to help them get exposure and give a platform. The festival wouldn’t be there without the bands, so hopefully at Desertfest every band gets the same respect if they are headlining or opening the festival.
Jack: The first Desertfest was in 2012, do you have any fond memories of the first one?
Reece: The best moment for me was the final after party on the Sunday night. The fest was all but done, the crowd was happy, the bands were happy and it just felt like a total success after months of hard work. The after party was packed, and then the DJ played a Steak song ‘The Butcher’ and it went off in there. It was a proud moment!!
Jack: Are you amazed as to how big the festival has grown in such a short space of time?
Reece: I am pleasantly surprised but I always knew there was a big scene. Deserfest linked lots of like-minded people together. Now there are many small fests popping up around Europe and I’m proud that we were one of the first to forge a way. Maybe it was brave or maybe it was stupid, but it seems to have worked out for the moment.
Jack: Some fans have suggested Desertfest should move to an outdoor festival, is this on the cards or are you happy with it being indoors?
Reece: I’m not sure it’s the right time just now for that leap, it would change a lot to make sure you bring 5/10k people to a festival. You would need that to pay for the set up so it’s a huge risk. There is still plenty of growth in Camden that can be done and this year we have made headway by introducing the Prog Stage and Metal Hammer’s Classic Metal Stage.
Jack: Would you say indoor festivals across multiple venues are the future?
Reece: Like I say, there are plenty of venues in Camden that we still don’t use. A street festival has its own unique atmosphere, people can go eat in any of the restaurants, get a proper beer in a glass, have a smoke in the street. It’s great to see hundreds of metalheads taking over the streets, I really like the idea of keeping it in Camden.
Jack: A lot of people think that the time of the big festival such as Download and Sonisphere is at an end due to the lack of big bands that will be able to headline them in the near future. Do you think the time of the big festival is coming to an end?
Reece: It’s difficult because both promoters want a piece of the action, Download and Soni fight it out each year but it’s all driven by ego and profit, they don’t care about what the fans want. In my opinion, in the UK there is room for one big metal festival, so when you split the line-up between two then people need to decide and neither makes enough money to survive. I think there is a change in trend and with fests like Desertfest people can be more particular about what they pay their money to see.
Jack: You have Red Fang and Sleep headlining, what do you like about those bands?
Reece: I love the mix this year between the headliners, both bands I have been chasing for a couple of years so it feels great to get them. We have Sleep; Desertfest was created to host such a band and having them really is stamp of approval in my opinion; then you have Red Fang, a true rock and roll band that could be on the cusp of bigger things. That’s the great thing about Desertfest, mixing up these bands to create a diverse line-up that everyone can enjoy, yet all representing the underground music scene in some way.
Jack: You have Eyehategod and Brant Bjork co-headlining the Saturday, what was the decision behind a co-headliner instead of a straight up headliner?
Reece: We felt that both bands deserved equal billing. Eyehategod are sludge legends and always should top the bill but Brant is a true desert guy that has just released his best album to date in my opinion. He has a band behind him that really rocks harder than ever before. Of course, one will be on after the other and on this occasion EHG will go on last but we felt it was right to give them the same set length as a show of the respect we have for them both.
Jack: What other bands will be your highlights or will you be too busy working to watch the bands?
Reece: We have a great festival team, so on the weekend I like to have beers and chat to the crowd to get everyone’s feedback. That is really important that I can get a first-hand view on how things work so we can make improvements the following year. Plus, I get to see the bands I have booked. For me most of that line-up I will want to see and I will give it a good go!
Jack: This year you also have a metal stage headlined by Angel Witch and a Prog stage headlined by Amplifer, what prompted this inclusion?
Reece: I have always liked the idea of slowly expanding and to do that, the line-up needs to be diverse. Both stages will be totally respected and enjoyed by the Desertfest regular and hopefully will bring new fans to the fest even if it’s just for the day.
Jack: Do you think Desertfest can get bigger in terms of venue size or will it stay about the same?
Reece: There is no big master plan, we are expanding this year and also across Europe. If people want bigger or want more, then we will give it a go.
Jack: How closely linked are you with the other Desertfests such as Belgium?
Reece: Very close. We have partners in Belgium that run the fest, but it is a partner of Desertfest London like all of them and we share in band bookings. It is one of the family.
Jack: When it comes to festivals I’ve always wanted to know, how far in advance do you book bands?
Reece: With more competition than when we started in 2012, we need to start earlier and earlier. Sleep was booked before 2014 fest happened.
Jack: Do bands’ management notify you that they will be on tour during this period or do you approach the bands and they build tours around it?
Reece: It’s a mix, there is a hit list I work to and sometime we need to pay to fly bands in from the US for example, but now the agents and bands know it’s there and many contact us.
Jack: Have you started booking for Desertfest 2016 yet?
Jack: Finally, what would you say has been your favourite moment at Desertfest?
Reece: In 2013, when I played a hand in reforming Lowrider and getting Dozer and Unida out of hibernation. All of those things made it a very special year.