Laurel Collective, In The Woods Festival

Shaun Mooney chats to Laurel Collective on the eve of their annual In The Woods Festival

Kyle Fisher
  • By Kyle Fisher
  • 23 Aug 2013
  • min read
‘Is that the woman who was dressed as a panda last year?’ I’m sitting in a Soho bar with half of art-pop troupe Laurel Collective and Will Evans, head of their label, Tape Club Records. We're reminiscing over fond memories from last year’s In The Woods Festival, which Laurel Collective organise and perform at every year with help from their label and friends.

They're throwing a mixer so everyone that has helped out with this year’s festival planning can meet face-to-face beforehand (the festival continues to grow each year and that requires more helpers than ever before), but I've spirited them away for a few moments to find out how and why the band run a festival each year.

We're chuckling as we recall a punter who radiated the festival spirit last year, donning a panda costume and boombox bumbag. ‘She came all the way from Texas to In The Woods’, says Tim, a festival organiser and close friend of the band. ‘Some people come from Spain, Norway, Portugal’. It’s not hard to see why people come from far and wide, making the annual pilgrimage to a small site nestled in some private Kent woodland.

In The Woods has a fixed capacity of 900, presents some of the best new music (In The Woods can count Anna Calvi, Lianna la Havas, AlunaGeorge and alt-J among its stage alumni) and there is no invasion from big brands trying to peddle lager for £6 a pop. Tickets are very affordable when compared with other UK festivals, and it has received support from The PRS for Music Foundation and National Lottery Trust. And of course, it takes place in the woods. It’s magical, and last year I confidently proclaimed it as my favourite festival ever.

But how does a band get round to starting a festival any way? Will tells me: ‘We never consciously decided, “Let’s put on an organised festival”. We were walking through the woods and said, “Yeah man, let’s put up a stage there”. I've still got footage from 2006, where me and Charlie [of Laurel Collective] were on our own, putting together some crappy bits of scaffolding and some hay bales. That was our original stage. It got a bit more progressive from there…’

And progressed it has. What started as a party soon developed over the years into a bonafide festival, but perhaps by accident. Laurel Collective’s Mark recalls the time he looked over the campsite for the first time: ‘This actually looks like a festival…’

From selling hot dogs for 50p and going around collecting donations in buckets, the band have watched the festival grow organically. They became licenced - with difficulty at first – then began selling tickets, and have seen it grow each year. But Mark tells me he doesn't expect it to get much bigger, which he thinks is actually a really good thing.

‘The site has limited space, and there’s something about that which is a good thing. We all know that it’s such a special festival. You've been, you know what it’s like. What’s special about it is the intimacy of it, and one of the things that helps the intimacy is the limited size. You always want to make things better, improve this, improve that. The idea might always be in your head to sell more tickets, but I think we’re quite lucky in some respects, that even if we want it to be bigger, we couldn't make it bigger. We're skirting around the physical limits of the site with what we can fill it with.’

In The Woods offers punters not just music, but art installations, a pop-up cinema, poetry and spoken word. The line-up is carefully curated by the band, and they play themselves every year. What could be better for a band than lovingly building a grassroots platform from the ground up, then using that platform every year to perform their music?

Mark describes the set-up succinctly: ‘Symbiotic relationship’. His bandmates nod approvingly of that summary. ‘From the first year, we wanted to play. And the next year, we wanted to do the same thing. The profile of In The Woods has risen, and along the years, the profile of Laurel Collective has risen as well.’

Laurel Collective are taking a break from performing at the festival this year for the first time, to pursue writing a second album, but Oli stresses: ‘It’s got to a point now where the festival is the festival and Laurel Collective is Laurel Collective, but the two certainly help each other out.’

The line-up has been kept a secret this year, but the festival has sold out regardless. Being a well connected bunch, Laurel Collective have friends in the likes of Micachu and Kwes, and Charlie had a hand in producing alt-J’s album, so stellar talent is guaranteed to take the stage this year.

The current British festival landscape is dominated by commercial and corporate mudfests, and In The Woods is a far cry from that, a true diamond in the rough. So what advice would Laurel Collective have for another band that wanted to do the same thing?

‘Don't start off too big. Keep it small’ says Will. ‘Don’t follow a business model’, Oli adds. ‘If you're excited about what you're putting on, fuck the money. That will translate to other people’.

But if I was going to start a festival, I’d follow Mark’s advice most of all: ‘It’s the same advice that I’d give a musician [for their musical career], which is just be as real as you can, be as honest as you can, and do what you enjoy as much as you can. Do what makes you happy, because that is worth sharing.’

In The Woods takes place on 31 August 2013. Add 'inthewoodsfest' on Snapchat to get the big reveal of the lineup. Snapchats will be sent Saturday 24 - Monday 26 August. Festival compere John Kennedy will also be announcing the lineup on his Xfm show on 27 August.

Words: Shaun Mooney