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Interview with Melvin Benn, MD of Festival Republic

As head of Festival Republic, veteran promoter Melvin Benn is the man behind some of the U.K.’s biggest and most popular music festivals, including the award-winning Latitude and dual-site Reading and Leeds Festival.

Bounce Magazine caught up with Melvin Benn at the Latitude Press Day at Henham Park, to discuss the challenges, rewards and potential pitfalls that come with working in the festival industry, as well as the key to succeeding in today’s hyper-competitive market.

Q: If this is your passion Melvin, is it easy?

Yeah it is, its very much that. Latitude is one of my passions; I have a number of festivals that I love. Reading, Leeds, Download, V-Festival…

Q: Do you go to them all?

I go to all of them!

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Q: What was the very first festival you ever went to?

Reading Festival in 1972, I was just 16 years old. For me, it was about the music, but it was also about learning to be in an environment with other people who share the same passions.

Unless you’re a football fan or a rugby fan, you don’t get the opportunity to mix with likeminded people who share an interest.

To be able to go to into a music environment or a festival, you can share the enjoyment with others. At the time there were only two festivals, which were Glastonbury and Reading, back then people weren’t really interested in festivals.

In 1988 Reading Festival went bankrupt and that’s when myself and my partner bought it.

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Q: Why did you choose this location

for Latitude?

The idea behind Latitude came from the Hay Festival, which is about literature, and as well as music I also have an enthusiasm for reading and writing, and I thought… wouldn’t it be amazing if we could combine the two?  At the time I think my team thought I was crackers…

Q: But it worked?

Yeah it did. I spent three years looking for the Latitude location. The reason I found it was through one of my staff members who grew up near the estate; she called me and said ‘I know your looking for a site and there’s this place near by where I live’. I said ‘oh my god this is the place I’ve been looking for.’ Then I sent my site manager down to have a look and he said there were two problems with it, there was a big lake right in the middle of the site and this wooded area… and I said well that’s perfect! At the time he didn’t have an understanding about what it was I wanted to create, but it works perfectly for Latitude.

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Q: I also have to ask where did the pink sheep come from?

It was a bit of a bonkers idea, but the marketing team came up with it and I said lets have a think about that, and it stuck. My only worry is when the toddlers are here, that they may start to believe you can actually get pink sheep! It doesn’t go down well with the schoolteachers I imagine?!

Q: What act are you looking forward to the most?

I would probably pick John Grant out… I am a massive fan. I’ve seen him a number of times, he’s an extraordinary guy. He speaks more languages than you can imagine!

Q: Thank you for bringing us such a wonderful festival, we are looking forward to it.

Me too!

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Catch the local Suffolk talents playing at this year’s festival – above Oktober.

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