London’s Found Series of one-day festivals has just had its busiest summer ever with five events in four months covering every genre of underground dance music from house and techno to grime and bass, plus old school rave favourites for good measure.
Found Director James Benenson, who had been with the brand since its beginnings hosting nights at Vauxhall’s now defunct Hidden in 2011, looks back over pitching up at four of London’s parks and inviting thousands of revellers to party as he leaves the festival brand to return to the Urban Nerds youth marketing agency he helped start in 2007.
If you told me 10 years ago that a music festival dedicated to garage, grime and UK bass could hold its own and attract crowds in the thousands, let alone be allowed to take place at all, I wouldn’t have believed you.
Born & Bred Festival
The first ever Born & Bred, and first of its type in London. How did the concept come about?
My journey as a promoter started with underground grime and bass brand, Urban Nerds, way back in 2007. Before house and techno I’d grown-up going out to drum & bass nights, later grime and then dubstep. In the past couple of years these genres have really started to hold their own again. I wouldn’t say a resurgence as such, that would be unfair - these sounds have consistently held their own in the background but last year we really started to get the feeling that London was ready to support this music on a grander scale again.
Born & Bred was about giving these sounds a dedicated and most importantly, authentic home on the festival circuit. The festival is committed to music that’s quite literally Born & Bred in the Big Smoke, showcasing the finest London rooted underground sounds, DJs, producers and MCs at a fitting new home in the heart of East London.
How were you feeling the night before? Who were you looking forward to?
Definitely a genuine sense of excitement coupled with amazement. If you told me 10 years ago that a music festival dedicated to garage, grime and UK bass could hold its own and attract crowds in the thousands, let alone be allowed to take place at all, I wouldn’t have believed you. I was really looking forward to Digital Mystikz (Mala & Coki) on the main stage and they delivered an incredible show on the day. The crowd reaction and energy was something else - probably the best I’ve ever seen at one of our festivals.
How did the festival go on the day? Which acts were your favourite act?
Born & Bred’s debut was definitely smooth sailing over all. We’ve used Haggerston Park for three years now, it was previously home to Found Festival, which has since outgrown the site and moved to Brockwell Park. As I said the stand-out feature of the whole thing was the sheer energy from the crowd and the amazing attitude of everyone there. It was all about the music and nothing else. Digital Mystikz smashed it, as did Zinc, as did Newham Generals, Loefah, Klose One…everyone delivered.
What are your learnings for next year?
Next year we’ll be working with some incredible stage hosts, brands who were there for these scenes at the beginning when it all kicked off. The programming will run even deeper with a presentation that’s even more fiercely underground than year one.
2015 marked a key change in Found Festival’s direction towards a brave, underground and authentic line-up seeking to support the most cutting edge in house and techno
Found is now well established as a London house and techno festival, moving to a bigger site at Brockwell Park. What did the relocation mean for you in terms of capacity, production and crowd?
We love Haggerston Park and that’s why Born & Bred has its home there now, but after a couple of years it was time for Found to expand and we’re blessed to have had the opportunity to move the show to Brockwell Park. The site is obviously bigger but the attraction for us was its natural beauty and the expanse of green space that gave Found a proper festival feeling for the first time.
There’s a beautiful copse of trees in the centre of the site which sold us from the first visit. The space also meant we could add new stages and really develop our programming to present a wider, deeper take on the electronic music we love.
How do you keep the line-up fresh? What did you do differently this year?
2015 marked a key change in Found Festival’s direction towards a brave, underground and authentic line-up seeking to support the most cutting edge in house and techno - led very much by Europe. It’s the direction we always envisaged when we thought-up Found Festival originally but I guess we spent a couple of years testing the waters with a range of styles and in year three had the confidence to put across the festival we set out to build in the beginning.
In 2016 the music policy will be a stronger continuation of this year’s shift towards the more underground corners of the house & techno spectrum. People will definitely be surprised, in a good way.
For us, we never doubted the credentials of the pioneers nor the ability of the younger end of the audience to respect and understand these kind of bills.
51st State Festival
You first launched 51st State as a stage at Ceremony headlined by Inner City. Was it always your intention to build on that stage to have a whole festival? Were you confident the audience was there?
We definitely didn’t set out with the intention of building a festival. At the time 51st State was a fitting brand to encompass that musical space that we wanted to fill. That is, a stage that looked to the greatest classic house from Chicago and New York presented by the scene’s undisputed godfathers. Through Found’s four-and-half-year history we’ve never been afraid to turn to the heritage of house. What I mean is that there was a time when many house programmers were afraid of booking ‘classic’ talent, favouring newer acts with more affiliation with the current audience.
For us, we never doubted the credentials of the pioneers nor the ability of the younger end of the audience to respect and understand these kind of bills, wanting to be a part of a scene that’s inspired them but that maybe they missed the first time around. 51st State Festival sold out this year and proved that.
Trent Park was another new choice of venue. How did that work out? Will you be able to return and sort the queuing issues out?
Trent Park is a stunning site and pretty unique in that it’s only 20 minutes away from King’s Cross but offers incredible panoramic views that give the sense of being deep in the countryside. Aside from the queuing issues, we’re confident that once inside the site people had an amazing time. We were the first to apologise for the queuing issues and systems have been reviewed to make sure that experience is improved. We’ve not announced the site for 2016 yet but 51st State will return and you won’t be disappointed!
The vibe in the day has been compared to that of the legendary Southport Weekender which ran for 28 years and dedicated to soulful house music. How does that make you feel?
It’s an honour to be compared to such a pivotal event and we’re extremely sad to see Southport go. There are obvious comparisons but we hope that as 51st State grows, that people will see it as a fantastic event in its own light - not better than Southport but different in its own way.
What were your highlights? Will 51st State return next year?
51st State will definitely return. Personally, every single act on the main stage was outstanding, particularly Karizma (who took the warm-up slot to the next level), Dennis Ferrer (who’s mixing and technical prowess is something else) and of course Masters At Work - their closing set was so good that I had no choice but to get front and centre in the middle of the crowd. Elsewhere, Horse Meat Disco were a lot of fun, Dimitri From Paris’ selection was spot on and the energy in the Back To 95 tent was out of this world. It genuinely felt like a garage rave in the scene’s heyday, for all the right reasons.
Armand decided that the world was ready for the 90s vibe again. He was definitely right.
**Your third festival at Finsbury Park. Does it feel like your territory now? **
Finsbury definitely feels like home, it’s great to be able to go back to the same site as everything runs that much smoother.
How did you evolve Ceremony from last year musically and production-wise? The layout seemed to flow really well with the main stage moved more central and everyone seemed to be having a blast.
Last year the main stage arena was upscaled from a four-pole to a six-pole tent. Basically, it housed a couple of thousand more people that the year before. We definitely felt that from a production and layout perspective, it was the best festival we’ve produced yet. The size and width of the site works perfectly and you can walk around discovering new pockets in the same way you would at a larger, countryside festival, without losing the intimacy.
A highlight for me was Van Helden’s classics set which puts smiles on everyone’s faces including the man himself behind the decks. Was it hard to convince him to go back in time to the 90s? What was his feedback?
Armand loved it and so did we. We’d been working on an Armand booking for well over two years but always wanted his debut set for us to be one that celebrated his outstanding and varied contributions to dance music in the 90s, as a producer with many monikers and sounds, reflecting his heritage with the likes of Strictly Rhythm as well as the big room house and number one hits which we all danced to back in the day. Quite late into the programming process for Ceremony it all came together and Armand was finally ready to come with a 90s set. Word has it that following (worthy) praise and encouragement from Disclosure at a show they played together early in 2015, Armand decided that the world was ready for the 90s vibe again. He was definitely right.
The In the Trees stage was an interesting addition encouraging revellers to explore the festivals and providing a showcase for lesser known acts and Found friends. Is this something we might see happen more often at Found events?
We’re still in planning but we certainly hope so. It’s great to be able to support our many friends who are pushing the music they love through intimate parties and labels across London. It was also nice to for the first time put together a smaller, more subtle stage that was quite literally hidden away in the trees. Something we definitely want to do more of.
In 2016 United not only returns but returns bigger and better and more diverse in its programming as we gear up to bring the first United Weekender.
The celebration of rave culture happens on a Sunday and is a real throwback to the 90s era of dance music as opposed to the more contemporary feel of the rest of the Found series. How would you describe the crowd you target for United? Do you approach this festival any different from the others?
The United ravers are very eclectic, spanning all ages and travelling from not just across London but across the UK to experience a really unique celebration of British rave culture that pays homage to some of the finest music produced in this country that’s sadly on the face of it, all too often neglected and forgotten. The real story is that all over the UK there are raves, promoters, DJs and clubbers still celebrating the music in a big way. As with all our festivals, it’s about giving music a home where other festivals have neglected it. The approach is very much the same - above all else it must be authentically programmed and true to the sound, and then the people will come to the party.
**What kind of response do you get from the acts who play United? **
They’re overjoyed to play an event of this scale in London with the music they love in 2015 and that’s all we can ask for. Many of the DJs are legends in their own right, highly respected and experienced and with that comes a humbleness and sense of humility that we admire. It’s a great set of artists to work with.
Two United Festivals down, do you feel much pressure to switch up the acts booked or will you continue with a similar trajectory next year? Will it return?
We will of course be working with many of the same pioneers who continue to deserve a place on the United bill, as their contribution to British rave culture continues to be second to none. In 2016 United not only returns but returns bigger and better and more diverse in its programming as we gear up to bring the first United Weekender - our first two day festival event!
It was all supposed to culminate in a single Found Festival but I couldn’t have dreamt that it would evolve into a series of Festival events.
When you started Found series back at Hidden, did you expect to be here in 2015 with a festival series and regular club nights at top London venues? We always aspired to create a festival that represented the melting pot of the underground electronic sounds that we loved, in a way that the larger festivals weren’t at the time. The original Found Series at Hidden was a precursor to that, and a journey of discovery for us where we had the opportunity to be really daring and put some highly contrasting events back-to-back for 15 consecutive weeks. It was all supposed to culminate in a single Found Festival but I couldn’t have dreamt that it would evolve into a series of Festival events. That first series is now represented of a series of festivals that each tell their own musical story but that collectively showcase the greatest past, present and future in underground music.
What can you tell us about future plans for Found? Any international link ups on the horizon? Found is going to cement the summer festival series and return with a run of incredible events across London. A lot of work is going into improving the experience at all of the events and for now, that’s the priority, so Found’s feet remain firmly on UK soil. Who knows what the future might hold though!
The Found Series will return in summer 2016 with Born & Bred, Found, 51st State and an expanded two-day United Festival. Sign up for the latest news here.
Born & Bred, 51st State, Ceremony and United images by Marc Sethi. Found Festival images by Dan Medhurst.