You cannot escape that Rockness is in town and the anticipation is building. The reality that Kasabian, Chemical Brothers et al will be making their way to Dores in the very near future is starting to sink in. But with the anticipation we had a few questions that we wanted to ask the Director of the Festival, Jim King and to our great pleasure, he managed to take some time to speak to us…
How important was winning the NME Best Small Festival award?
JK – It was a really tremendous award to win and when you consider that it was in the same category as Bestival and Lattitude it just shows how highly regarded the festival is. Winning high profile awards from institutions like the NME helps raise the profile of the festival with bands, sponsors and festival goers who might not have known that much about the festival before so its very nice to have won.
How important is Inverness and the surrounding areas to Rockness?
JK – I think its very important. Festivals are defined by many things but none are more important that the location and the crowd and in The Highlands we have the very best of both. With so many festivals to choose from, you can see bands and djs pretty much anywhere and so to make the experience stand out from the other shows it’s really important that people value the festival itself and not just the music and entertainment.
James Mackenzie and the Aquascene are the local act that have currently been announced, can you tell us about what stands out about James and Co.?
JK – They’ve played the festival before and so we were aware of them already but I think they’ve been developing in a very positive way in the last 12 months. They do the essentials well with good song writing and instrumentation and I think James is also strong vocally. I’m really looking forward to seeing them live again.
Can you tell us a little about why (at this point) there has been a reduction of local acts this year?
JK – If I’m being honest i don’t really keep a tally and don’t want there to be some kind of quota per se as the bands chosen are selected on merit. We do have the new band initiative and these acts are about to announced. What’s great is that we had over 300 bands entering so the response has been incredible and this is from all parts of the UK so it shows the appeal the festival has now. The majority of these bands are from Scotland though and several are from the local area.
There have been a number of additions to the layout of the festival this year, is there any particular new stage or innovation that you are particularly pleased with?
JK – I’m excited about the whole festival if I’m being honest but stand out things for me are the Rock n Roll Circus Arena. I think there are some really exciting bands booked to play there. Smoke Fairies, Jamie Woon, Lucy Rose, Yasmin are very talented acts.
Thinking about the headliners how did you come up with the line up that you did, and how do you understand the response to them?
JK – This is a very good question. RockNess is set up to represent a wide music spectrum and our headliners have always followed that. Punks and Manics, Fatboy, Razorlight and Editors. Leftfield and The Strokes, Prodigy, Placebo and Biffy. We said last year that we wanted to have a really big rock band play the festival and that admittedly does narrow that market down to only a handful of acts who hadn’t played before and who can deliver an amazing headline performance. For me Kasabian are the biggest UK rock band of the moment and so I’m delighted that they agreed to perform. The Chems are pals and RockNess legends after their performance in 2007 and Paolo is arguably the most important singer songwriter of his generation to come from Scotland and is hugely popular. Paolo’s booking admittedly caused a bit of controversy when we announced but he takes us to an area that we haven’t perhaps been before. He always features highly in the ‘acts that you want to see next year’ research question after the festival so the silent majority are clearly delighted! I also think you have to look at the ticket sales for this year to see that we’ve got most of it right though. We are set to have the busiest RockNess for years.
How do you balance and manage the conflict between the expectation of festival goers and the reality of booking bands in a very competitive market?
JK – Again, great question. We have a lot of research from the customers about what they want to see at the show and we place a great deal of emphasis on this when we are booking the festival. You are always going to piss someone off unfortunately though as customers will understandably have a clear choice of acts that they want to see headline. When you multiply that up from 1 person to 35,000 people it throws up hundreds of different combinations of acts that people want to see perform but the reality is there are very few acts who are actually available on one particular weekend in June. We then have the issue of an extremely aggressively competitor wanting to stop any band playing any other festival. So we have to weigh up all of these considerations and push hard on the bands that we think we can get that will sell us the right amount of tickets, satisfy as many of our customers as possible and who are hopefully available in June. It’s not easy!
Are there any acts lower on the bill that fall into the category “ones to watch”?
JK – The whole of Rock n Roll Circus. There are lots of great acts there.
What are your hopes for the festival over the next few years?
JK – Just to keep going and to keep enjoying it. I really love the show, the area, the people and the work itself. I love that we have such as great relationship with the village and that we operate the show so closely with them. I’m sure we could sell more tickets if we were closer to the bigger cities but that’s not what we’re trying to do. Yes we want to be successful and this is a business bit we’re very fortunate to be able to hold a festival in The Scottish Highlands at such an amazing site and that excites me more than any other location in the UK.
So many people said we’d never be able to do it. That it was too far north, the bands wouldn’t want to play and people wouldn’t travel. I love the fact we (us and the people who come) have proved them wrong. Bands want to play this festival and that’s down to the reception they get from the crowd and that they enjoy such a wonderful experience in the Highlands
Thanks once again to Jim for some cracking and honest responses to our questions.