Interview with Camp Bestival's Rob da Bank

Interview with Camp Bestival's Rob da Bank

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

by Tat

It is fair to say that there are probably not enough hours in the day for Rob da Bank. A creative tour de force who built on a successful DJ career to launch a popular label before establishing one of the best summer parties and ultimately the most fantastical family festival one could wish for. An open mind for music and a superb creative working partnership with his wife Josie, they take things to another level this summer they prepare to host two Camp Bestivals in Dorset and Shropshire. We were really lucky to grab a bit of time in Rob’s busy schedule to talk about festivals, family and music.

First of all, let’s talk about Camp Bestival, you’ve cloned it - was this a long term goal to bring your family festival vibe further North?

Yeah, maybe it was a dream or a vision after 14 years of having Camp Bestival, and there was a demand from people living in the Midlands, North and Scotland. We knew they loved Camp Bestival but it was hard work for those further afield coming down to Dorset. By popular demand we are hoping that we are doing the right thing and the plan will be to stick at two shows.
Camp Bestival

The festival is set in the beautiful grounds of Lulworth Castle, which many people will already know - what can you tell us about the new site in Shropshire?

It is as beautiful as Lulworth and we are blessed by having two amazing sites with a castle and stately home. Both have got incredible grounds with the Shropshire site hosting a Capability Brown designed garden which is just stunning with rolling valleys and hills and a lake, which we haven’t had before. So we can do things like paddle boarding and wild swimming. 

When you launched Camp Bestival in 2008 with your wife Josie, family focused festivals were certainly quite a rarity. What was the inspiration for you both? 

We started Bestival in 2004 and then had our first child in 2006, so we were only a couple of years into running festivals before we had kids ourselves. We loved running Bestival which ran for 12 years but at the same time we started thinking wouldn’t it be nice to run something more family orientated that was less of a big rave up and more family inclusive event. Something that was holistic, natural with green spaces for those who had been to Bestival but would now appeal to those who had families. For those who haven’t been, they might feel it is just a field of noisy kids but it’s much more than that with group activities like building a pirate ship where you have lots of children with hammers and nails working together really respectfully. There is so much stuff to do and we think it is the ultimate weekend. 

How much of your drive was being a parent and that the Acid House generation were all now getting to an age where they had kids but still wanted to have a party?

Yeah, definitely and that is part of Camp Bestival for the mums and dads who want to party on a bit. It is more sedate raving with music going on until about 1am unlike Bestival and other parties that go on throughout the night, which I loved at the time. I am 49 this month and my days of staying out to rave until 5am are behind me, although I might make an exception for Glastonbury which we have been to about 30 times. 

With such a wide demographic to cater for, how hard is it to curate such a varied and rich line up musically that has something for everyone?

I suppose it is a tricky balancing act but it is what I have done for so long, and it is almost 20 years since Bestival so I have been curating those kinds of line ups for a long time. I am spoiled for choice and I find it harder to pick what not to include than what to include. Josie knows how the festival should look and I know what people want to hear, so it all works well. Some people want to see big pop stars and some want to see grungy guitar bands, so you cannot please everyone, but I think we’ve got it right..

I recall how you replied to an email directly from me and my idea to deliver a DJ set under the name of The Sound of Slumber where I combined children’s spoken word and song vinyl with chill out records. Firstly it appears to me that you’re quite hands on with what you do in that you replied directly to say yes and secondly that you’ve retained your leftfield sense and remain open to new ideas. 

I am and I still feel like a 16-year-old listening to music and we have a 16-year-old in the house who listens to music. They listen to Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead and Chuck Berry which they have discovered themselves. I get to hear the latest grime record or some leftfield hip hop record he is playing at the time as well as some of my favourite artists. Bestival was a great opportunity to uncover new acts to put on, especially how Josie has curated a lot of the circus content over the last two or three years. I think we are both very open minded and even though we are getting older, we cannot just build the festival around what we want for our kids, we have to think what a parent with a three-year-old will want when they come for the first time. 

Rob da Bank
You’re going to be DJing at other festivals like Beat Herder, it must be nice to go to another festival to play records and not worry about whether the whole site is running smoothly?

Yes, 100%. I always try to go to festivals I have not been to before and see how other people do it. I went to Shindig a couple of weeks ago and that was pretty great and reminded me of Bestival in the early days. I have heard Beatherder is an amazing festival and have known these guys for a few years. Glastonbury is always a date in the diary as it sits bang in the middle of mine and Josie’s birthdays. 

Like all festival and music promoters it’s been a dreadful two or so years, how much of a challenge has it been to get things in motion again?

We only had one year away and luckily we were the first out of the gate last year when large events were given the go ahead. We had an amazing year in 2021 and hosted our largest festival as there was just a rush of people who were keen to get out. We had teething problems and learned to do things again but we are back in our stride this year and that is why we are putting on our second festival. Some promoters have not been able to put on a festival for two years and on top of that the cost of living situation is causing a lot of problems. A lot of festivals budgeted for a show in 2019 so for something in 2022 they are seeing all of the costs have gone up a lot. I think it is going to be a big problem for festivals and we have seen a few suffer already.     

There’s a real broad church of DJ acts at the festival with veterans like your old mate Chris Coco, Bill Brewster and Frank Tope alongside DJ Nose It and the Mix It Up Kru who are DJs with physical and learning difficulties. The latter acts must be a great inspiration to children and young adults who face similar challenges, that they can get involved in dance music as DJs, MCs and producers.  

It is great to have our old friends and classic DJs from the past and present come and play, and see Mix It Up Kru come back as I think they have played every Camp Bestival. They don’t get the same opportunities but that does not mean they are not as good DJs and that they cannot select the right records. DJ Nose It approached us a few years ago and said he wanted to come and play which was great. We have a very accessible campsite and we are very conscious of catering for those with disabilities including those disabilities that you cannot see and representing that audience with talent.

What are you most looking forward to at Camp Bestival this year?

Seeing Shropshire and what Josie and her team have created on site as well as meeting a whole new audience. People have different tastes in other parts of the country so I think we’ll meet another audience. In Dorset Josie came up with the idea of hosting the world’s biggest disco dance which will be a genuine Guinness World Record attempt - so that should be quite a spectacle. From the circus to the music, it will all be really great fun but for me it is wandering about the site and seeing everyone have a good time especially after the last two years. It was brilliant seeing everyone on site last year - all open eyed going around with positive energy and vibes - that was great to see. 

Rob da Bank
As an eclectic DJ you continue to champion the cause for horizontal sounds from Trip Hop to Chill Out and Ambient. This is very much epitomised with your Worldwide FM radio show where you have a great selection of guests and themed shows. Clearly, radio remains an important medium to share your music passions?

I love doing my Worldwide FM show but I would say it is my hobby now and not my career. I am probably stuck in the 1980s and 1990s as I grew up listening to John Peel and Steve Wright on Radio One. I am not a snob about radio and I don’t just listen to the cool DJs, I like listening to Radio 4 and Sarah Cox on Radio 2. I love radio and I think ten years ago people thought it was going to decline with the rise of the Web but I think it has gotten even stronger with the likes of 6Music. 

Sunday Best celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, you must be very proud of what you have achieved with the label. Did you ever expect it to be still here two decades later and what’s been the standout moment and release?

As with so many things in my career this was just a happy accident and came about, it was never a game plan to be running it two decades later. Luckily Sarah Bolshi who runs the label and started it with me is very hands on makes the label run, I just keep my ears out for artists that I like. Probably the ones that I am most proud of are Kitty, Daisy & Lewis. They never became household names but I think they were 11, 9 and 7 or a bit older when we signed them. They were child rock’n’roll prodigies who were really talented musicians. They are now in their 20s and all off doing amazing music projects. Seeing them out on the road with their mum and dad was a really fantastic moment. It was never about having Top 40 hits but putting out things we really loved. 

What do you have coming up from the label for the rest of 2022? 

We are going through periods where we sign new artists and then take a breather to focus on their releases. We have this guy from New York by the name of JW Francis who has a new record as well as the new L.A. Salami material. We have some cool electronic stuff coming out on our Silver Bear imprint which has been running for a few years. 

If you could describe the essence of what you’ve done over the last 20 or so years across your different platforms, what would it be in a single sentence?

Selfishly I curate and play what I like with the hope that other people like it too. I think once you start pandering to what other people want then you lose what you stand for. It’s important to stick to your guns, even at the age of 48. 

How do you discover new music these days? 

This is quite pedestrian I suppose, but I am still on hundreds of mailing lists from agencies sending me new music. My kids play new music and if I have any spare time I will go on Pitchfork and I hear lots of great stuff on 6Music and Worldwide. I just keep my ears out like a radar. 

Rob da Bank on Twitter

Rob da Bank on Worldwide FM

Camp Bestival

Sunday Best records

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