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Interview with Damnation Festival head honcho Gav

Many of us have little idea of exactly what is involved in putting on an event like the Damnation festival. We caught up with main man Gavin to find out more.

In an increasingly crowded festival marketplace, why should people part with their cash to come to Damnation as opposed to any of the alternatives?

First off, we only charge £27 so even compared to some of the smaller one day events (£40 for Mammothfest for example) we're keeping it as cheap as we possibly can. But more importantly, I believe our line-up deserves support, who else is putting Alcest, Discharge, Maybeshewill, Anaal Nathrakh, Earthtone9, Lawnmower Deth and The Dillinger Escape Plan on the same bill?

And more often than not, the bands fans don't know an awful lot about; The Inbreds, Fukpig, Evile, Man Must Die etc, turn out to be highlights of the event, so in my biased mind Damnation is a no-brainer for any metal fan, especially if you actually live in Leeds.

Damnation is now in its 6th year, how has it developed in scope and scale in that time?

Our first two years in Manchester were great, sold out events, 2007 followed suit in a slightly bigger venue in Leeds and then 2008 went a little crazy with the capture of Carcass' return to the UK. I felt last year's bill, with the likes of Life of Agony, Therapy?, Lock-Up, Electric Wizard, Anathema, Rotting Christ, Jesu, This Will Destroy You etc, was our best yet but without the pull of a massive name, we didn't do the numbers required maintain that momentum.

Behind the scenes there's never been a change of strategy or a new masterplan rolled out, we've stuck to the same principles - despite learning a lot over the years - and if we'd been a little more fortunate in landing a Neurosis, Immortal or Porcupine Tree this year, I'm sure we'd be looking at a 2008 size event again.

Leeds Uni is a great venue (I was first there for Slam Dunk last year, but we'll keep that quiet), It must make your job easier that the venue staff know what they're doing ?

It certainly does. Leeds Uni is a great venue, especially Stylus and Mine which have a real up-close-and-personal vibe about them, and the staff there have always been a pleasure to work with even though we've dragged bands called Desecration, The Rotted and Repulsion through their lovely and respectable venue.

How far in advance are you looking at getting the 'big name' headliners lined up ?

It's a tricky one as the bands we generally deal with don't tend to have the plans in place for the next 12 months and as we're at the smaller end of the independent metal festival scale the 'big names' aren't as ready to commit until they know what their touring plans will be.

However, we always get our offers out there early in the year just to stake a claim and like everything else in life, it's a fingers crossed exercise after that.

You have to be happy with Dillinger and Paradise Lost this year. Will they be headlining two stages, or are they both on the main stage and there are other headline acts to be announced ?

I'm delighted with both bands, would've loved an exclusive headliner to top the Jager Stage but it wasn't to be.

DEP and Paradise Lost will co-headline the Jager Stage now while Discharge will top the Terrorizer Stage.

The poll to find the opening acts for the three stages is a nice touch. How far out were your predictions of who would win :) ?

Far, far out. I thought A Forest of Stars would win the Rock Sound Stage vote because they were the most popular choice with our forum regulars, but No Made Sense and The Construct really went for it before The Construct took the slot.

I had a feeling Diascorium would do well in the Terrorizer Stage vote because those guys know how to get themselves about, so I was a bit closer that time. God knows how the Jager Stage vote will pan out, whoever wins will deserve the slot though.

Fukpig were amazing at Deathfest, was their Damnation slot awarded on the back of that performance ?

Yeah, pretty much. It was just unadulterated chaos when they played Deathfest and as the turnout wasn't spectacular for that event, we thought we'd have them back to take on a fresh and more meaty crowd.

Will they be playing the same stage at Damnation that they played at Deathfest ?

That wasn't the initial plan, but after downsizing the event, yeah, they'll play the same stage... with the likes of Bonesaw, SSS, Anaal Nathrakh and Discharge. It's going to hurt.

One addition that has been, erm, controversial on the forums and Twitter is Panic Cell, did you expect a reaction from 'certain people' ?

I didn't see the Twitter feedback myself but I don't recall any negative feedback about Panic Cell on our forums and if there was it wasn't justified. They pulled a great crowd in 2007 and put on one of the best performances of the day.

I do know what you mean about 'certain' types of fans though, I wish they'd appreciate that 1) the Panic Cell, Therapy?, Maybeshewill, Anathema, Jesu etc fans don't bitch and whinge every time a black, death, grind band is announced for Damnation and almost always, an alternative bands of a vastly different style will clash with the band they hate so much.

Surely only an idiot wants two bands they love clashing?

As the festival organiser do you actually see much of what's happening, or are you too busy running around in the background trying to keep everything running smoothly ?

If everything is going pear-shaped; bands not turning up, those who are there demanding blue-painted dwarves in their dressing rooms and folk getting injured, I have the worst job in the world. However, when everything is running like clockwork (as has been the case more often than not) I don't actually have much of a job at all on the day other than pacing stage to stage, checking my watch and waiting for something to go wrong!

I've been very lucky in recent years to have caught the vast majority of the bands playing over the stages and that's because we have a professional and dedicated team making sure everything falls into place on the big day, so a big thanks to all the crew.

Which of the bands on this years bill are you most looking forward to seeing ?

With absolute honesty? The bands I'm most looking forward to are: Maybeshewill, Earthtone9, Rolo Tomassi, Fukpig, Anaal Nathrakh, The Mire, Discharge, Panic Cell, October File, Alcest, Paradise Lost, The Construct and The Dillinger Escape Plan.

And that's me being ruthless with several others I'd go and check out if the rolled through Glasgow any time soon.

At Deathfest many of us had concerns about how the security on the main stage were dealing with stage divers, as pushing people off the stage is never a good idea. What will the policy be this year ?

We have no control over security policy.

That was a real sour note in what was otherwise a really enjoyable event, I think a combination of the security not appreciating that the 99.9% of the fans were harmless and then some fans just taking the piss, led to confrontation that didn't need to be there.

My fear is that the venue will force a barrier upon us this year like they do at all their other events; Slamdunk, Ghostfest etc so stage diving can't happen and if that's the case, I'll personally be gutted because it's now part and parcel of the chaotic Damnation experience.

CackBlabbath would like to thank Gavin for taking the time to answer our questions, and we probably owe him a beer at the festival :-)

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