“Everything is on a massive slope” – Josie da Bank on the reality of festival design

We speak to Bestival’s creative director Josie da Bank about her events consultancy venture House of Bestival, and the importance of keeping festival design fresh and changeable.

Design set at Bestival 2014
Design set at Bestival 2014

Frequenters of the likes of Bestival, Latitude and Secret Garden Party will know that festivals are no longer purely about music – everything from art installations, theatre and cabaret now hold their place on the fields.

Married couple DJ Rob da Bank and illustrator Josie da Bank set up Bestival in 2004, with the aim of creating a festival that celebrated music and design in equal measures. Since then, creative director Josie has been producing massive, themed installations for the event, including a nautical HMS Bestival ship and an India-inspired Bollywood temple.

Now, alongside co-promoter Ziggy Gilsenan, she has launched events consultancy House of Bestival, which will offer the festival’s plethora of props up for hire, and will create bespoke installations for companies.

We speak to Josie about the aspirations for her new venture, how travelling inspires her festival artwork, and the difficulty of designing on sloped ground… 

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Josie da Bank, creative director, Bestival

Design Week: Why did you decide to set up events consultancy House of Bestival?

Josie da Bank: Over the last 12 years, I’ve commissioned and collected lots of amazing props. There’s this enormous storage space on the Isle of Wight full of things that only get seen at our festivals three times a year. I’d like to start getting my designs out there a bit more, as well as make some income from them.

We’ve set up a prop house as part of House of Bestival, where we can hire out our props to other companies, events and festivals. They might want to borrow anything, from 1,000m of bunting or festoon lighting, to the giant mirrorball we created last year – or we could commission a new prop especially for a client.

Giant disco ball at Bestival. © Victor Frankowski.
Giant disco ball at Bestival. © Victor Frankowski.

DW: What else will the consultancy do?

JdB: We’re going to produce events for companies – for example, if they wanted to have a festival-themed summer party, a winter-themed indoor event with character, or if a brand wants to produce an unusual, quirky activation for a music festival.

I’m hoping to design a brand new set for somebody, like The Port – a ship – we designed in 2013 or the Bollywood temple, which has been at Bestival since its first year. That’s what I love doing. It’s not just about one piece of art, it’s all the different layers which bring the festival to life. The Port wasn’t just about creating a boat – it came with dancers, lasers, pyrotechnics and lighting. We’re hoping to get a big commission and create something amazing for someone.

Chase and Status performing a DJ set aboard the HMS Bestival. © Carolina Faruolo.
Chase and Status performing a DJ set aboard the HMS Bestival. © Carolina Faruolo.

DW: Who are your potential customers?

JdB: Anyone, really, who is interested in the Bestival aesthetic. This year, we’ve done things for Radio 1, Hyde Park, and most recently for Bloomberg. It’s for anybody who wants to put on an event, any brand or magazine that wants to have a launch party, any fashion house hosting a fashion show – it really is an open book.

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DW: Who would you love to work with?

JdB: Definitely a fashion brand – I’d love to see the ship or the mirrorball go up over the top of a catwalk fashion show, and do an event that’s not a music festival!

DW: Why might new clients be interested in your festival aesthetic?

JdB: I think Bestival has a strong identity that people aspire to. For the last 12 years, people have been looking at where we get our props from and trying to replicate them – I often see our look and feel in shop windows a year later. Even though every arena at the festival is very different, it has that same boldness to it. A big part of that is our love for textiles, I think that’s really apparent from our style – I’ve sourced fabric and bunting from all over the world.

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DW: What are the challenges of designing for festivals?

JdB: The biggest challenge for us at Bestival is the ground – there’s no flat ground, so everything we design is on a massive slope. We have to design around this, so for example, when you look at the port, you’ll see the bow is much deeper than the back of the boat.

Another challenge is expense – the festival needs to come to life in the evening with lots of strong lighting, which is really expensive. Also, it needs to be really original and exciting for people. There’s so much competition these days with festivals and set pieces. I like to keep things changing – every year, we have two or three new installations.

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DW: How can you keep things original?

JdB: Robbie and I are forever travelling around, seeing new things and coming up with ideas. I think travelling makes ideas come to life. I thought of The Port from just simply going to work every day across the River Solent and seeing the docks in Southampton and Portsmouth. The Bollywood temple was created as a result of going to India and Bali a lot. For this year’s Bestival, which starts on 10 September, I’ve made this big robot, after visiting New York last year and seeing them in shop windows. So I find it easy because I’m always seeing things from all over the world.

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The Bollywood tent at Bestival

DW: What has been your favourite festival installation to create?

JdB: The Bollywood tent is always going to be a favourite of mine – it’s just grown really organically and has been in the show since its first year. It’s very textile heavy and full of colour, and everyone loves it in there. It’s always changing a little bit – this year it evolved into a big temple that we took to Toronto for our first overseas show, and it now lives over there. I’d never take it out of the show.

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DW: Why do you think that design at festivals is so important?

JdB: Personally, I’m a creative person and I’d find running a festival really boring if I didn’t create installations. There’s a lot of competition in festivals, and things need to change and stay fresh. Dancing to a DJ isn’t just about watching them on a black stage anymore – it’s about the whole experience. With The Port, even if you didn’t like the music, you could just stand there and lose an hour watching the laser and light shows. It’s about coming across new installations and new experiences that you wouldn’t get in every day life. Of course, not all festivals follow that ethos. 

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DW: Do you draw inspiration from design sets at other festivals?

JdB: I don’t really go to other festivals because I don’t have time but I definitely draw inspiration from textiles books. I really love patterns and attention to detail. The team I work with are also quite inspiring – we all bounce off each other with ideas. With having three children, I don’t get time to go to galleries – maybe when they get a bit older I can start going down some new angles.

DW: What would be your dream project to work on?

JdB: I’m excited for my idea for next year’s Bestival, which I can’t reveal. I’m also excited to start taking Bestival overseas – we took it to Toronto earlier this year, and we’re hoping to expand that journey.

Design set at Bestival
The Bollywood tent at Bestival 2012

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