With one month to go to London, we got to talk with Reece Tee, founder of the Desertfest Festival. Reece is also a musician, member of the band Steak (in the picture, playing in Reverence Valada 2016) and even though they’re playing in the festival, that wasn’t what drove this interview in the first place.
If you’re familiar with this megalithic festival, going on it’s 6th edition already, you know it’s the european epicentre of all things stoner doom sludge. With headliners such as Sleep, Slo Burn, Candlemass or Bongzilla, you know excellence is in the smoked infused London air.
Tell us who you are and what’s your role on Desertfest crew.
I’m founder of Desertfest and promoter of Desertfest London.
Can you define how music came into your life? First as a fan and then as work.
Firstly I was huge Pink Floyd fan as a boy, I loved The Wall and then spent my lunch money every week discovering their back catalogue. I went to see them 3 nights in a row in 1994! I guess the whole Kyuss thing really drove me to the underground scene and then I found the music business within reach. It really inspired me to make a mark because it seemed achievable.
How came the idea to build a festival of this kind in London?
We were promoting shows around London in 2009 and with all the Roadburn bands touring around April it seemed to make sense to put them all together but we also wanted a different vibe, we wanted to celebrate London’s music culture and Camden has the venues and the vibe to make something really special.
First London, then Berlin and Antwerp, and now Athens. How came up the opportunity to “franchise” the brand? Can we expect more cities in the family near soon?
The other Cities are more of a partnership than a franchise really. We work with very trusted partners in parts of Europe that enhance the band rather than fight against them. We get a lot of offers to do more but the combination of the right place and the right partner is very important. We have a few things up our sleeves so watch this space…
Desertfest Antewerp’s promotor told us last year that “each chapter of Desertfest finds its own vibe and character”. How do you define London’s one?
London really is a celebration of the musical history of the place. Iconic, historic venues that have housed the best bands that have existed. The Roundhouse and the likes of Hendrix and Floyd, The Underworld with the likes Nirvana and Queens. This along with the buzzing streets of Camden Town make London a very unique experience.
I personally have the impression that, generally, promoters in the UK build lineups almost only focused on a british crowd. For example, sometimes headliners that are only headline material in UK. But, since the beginning, Desertfest always had lineups that appeal to fans from the entire world. Do you agree with what I’m saying? Was that your intention from the start?
Yes I see where you’re coming from and that again sets us up slightly different to Berlin or Antwerp. It’s important that people feel like they have a choice and not attending the same festival when they go to another Desertfest. We know what works in London and therefore line ups will look slightly different. We have always had a strong fan base from overseas so other people seem to like it too, but as promoters we need to consider what a band will sell in the individual territory and one band that works in London may not work as well in another city.
Do you have data on the percentage of tickets that you sell outside of the UK? What are the most represented countries? Do you have also data on tickets sold to Portugal last year?
I’m sorry I can’t say how many from Portugal at this moment but on average we sell about 30% of tickets from overseas and I love that feeling of everyone coming together in London to celebrate great music.
Do you think that Brexit will be a setback to you? What are you planning to do about that?
As it stands we need to get visas for bands outside the EU. Maybe we soon need to have visas for all overseas bands which would be a shame and costly, but we are not panicking until we know what will really happen. Politicians can go fuck themselves as far as I’m concerned, we concentrate on making a great festival and that won’t change regardless.
So, this year Desertfest will have a new main stage on Sunday, in the Roundhouse. It’s a big growth from the Koko. Tell us more about the festival’s growth and your plans for the future.
In Camden we are lucky enough to have such a rich choice in venues so its a great opportunity to grow the festival organically. The Roundhouse was always a dream and now we have got to the point were it can happen. The most important thing for us is that the atmosphere is right and so we will just see how it goes, no stress, just do whatever is right for the festival. The Koko is a great venue so don’t rule out that it will be back in 2018.
Last year you had big Post-Metal names headlining a day. You are also betting carefully in Black Metal with bands like Oranssi Pazuzu last year and Wolves in the Throne Room this year. Do you think there is inevitable the opening to other genres for the growth of the festival, without leaving the underground?
We put line ups together that are eclectic but all have a flow. If stoner is your thing we will make sure you can hop to see one band after another, same for doom, we have always done that. Think back to Kvelertak, Boris and Spirit Caravan in 2014 it was a total mixed bag. There is so much crossover between bands too, I guarantee that a fan of Wolves in the Throne Room will be into Sleep so the mix works. The name Desertfest was a nod to that whole Palm Desert scene and people got really over excited that we was just a desert rock festival, that’s never really been the case. Hellfest isn’t in Hell right?
What are the not so obvious bands in the lineup that you personally think that are going to be a blast?
Turbonegro will be amazing. I knew it would split opinion but in London we have aways tried to inject some fun and Turbo are just another one of this bookings. Sunday is bit more serious and what an experience Sleep at The Roundhouse will be but Saturday is all about the rock n roll and having fun.
To end, our typical question. What are your favorites 2017 (or 2016) albums so far?
For me Asteroid III and Greenleaf, Rise Above The Meadow are great releases of 2016 but there is loads and I feel bad leaving them all out!
Last message to Portuguese fans who are thinking to go to Desertfest.
To all of Desertfest’s Portuguese friends, come to London and have a blast you won’t regret it…
You can find here our dedicated playlist, with some not-so-obvious names, and bellow the live report of the 2016 Desertfest London edition.