Ask ‘the festivals’: Lee Denny from Neverworld on never growing old

"To us, that means remembering that there's always more."

“They should have booked INSERT MASSIVE BAND HERE!”, we all cry. “Why don’t they just put on more loos?”, we ask. Seriously, when it comes down to it, we don’t know much about running a festival. But that’s okay, because we’ve tracked down the people behind your favourite events, and asked them all the questions you’ll ever need to know. (Okay, maybe not the toilet one.) Next up, we have Lee from Neverworld, which takes place this weekend (2nd – 5th August) at John Darlings Farm nr Tunbridge Wells, with Bastille, Tom Grennan, Clean Bandit, We Are Scientists, Declan McKenna, Rae Morris, Ten Tonnes and loads more.

Hey Lee, how’s it going? It must be a crazy busy time of year for you.
Yep! It’s full 15hr days already, but it’s an exciting time as it’s starting to really pick up momentum. It feel’s like three years of very hard work developing the Neverworld concept is starting to make sense; that’s keeping us going!

How’s Neverworld shaping up so far? Do you still have lots to sort, bands to book?
We’ve kept a few slots open for developing artists that we discover in the next few months, but most of the lineup is signed back in Autumn.

How do you go about curating your line-up? Bastille are going to be great this year.
It’s much harder work than you’d expect (at least much harder than I thought when I was 16!). There are over 150 performances now, so it takes a whole team; each person is very knowledgable about their specialist area. We start immediately after the festival; going to meet with agents to see what established artists are going to be up to next year; then we all pick up new music from blogs, from industry networks and going to see shows in London and Brighton. Our lineup has always focused on discovering and supporting new music. We actually met Bastille and Clean Bandit when we first put them on back in 2012, and now they’re coming back to headline, so I’d encourage everyone to come and see the new music in the mornings and afternoons; you never know who you might discover! (Previous discoveries include Young Fathers, Everything Everything, Jack Garratt, Lianne La Havas, Little Simz, Circa Waves, Years & Years).

Can you tell us a bit about the non-music elements you have planned?
We basically started Neverworld by drawing a map; the kind of map that you draw as a kid with all the coolest shit you can think of on one island! So we’ve got a beach with 100 tonnes of pure golden sand, a Vegas strip with drag clubs and cinemas, a forest with adventure playgrounds, cabaret and burlesque clubs and a disused goldmine. Neverworld is split into three realms, each with a very distinct atmosphere and feel; the hope is that everyone attending will experience lots of new things that they wouldn’t in their daily lives and leave feeling enriched! There are 11 stages in total, but we’re keeping most of the details a secret for now.

What prompted the shift from LeeFest to Neverworld?
LeeFest was an amazing story and an incredible start to our community, but we felt it was kind of limiting in the experience that we could deliver to attendees. As we progressed, we started looking for a way to take the atmosphere LeeFest created to the next level.
Festivals are just tiny utopian societies that you build for one weekend; it’s such a crazy idea. There’s not a single remnant from them once they’re gone, apart from the effects they’ve had on the people.
Our guiding mantra is Never Grow Old. To us, that means remembering that there’s always more. Always more to do, always more to create, always more to discover. Neverworld is our attempt to build a space to encourage that; people can experience things they never have before, discover artists they never would have bought a ticket to see live, make friends with people they might never have even crossed paths with!
Internally Never Grow Old is the rationale we spin to finance, so they let us build some really cool shit.

How do you see the festival evolving over the next few years?
I always thought this was kind of out of my hands. Neverworld is a significant, worldwide community now and as much as I can guide it, I can’t really dictate the exact direction. The structure of the three realms was intended to support contributions from lots of different people with unique ideas; hopefully, that leads to lots of cool new developments on the ground in the years to come!
If our previous growth is anything to go by then, it’s going to be a hectic few years for me trying to keep up with it!

What advice would you give someone who wanted to get into putting on events like Neverworld?
I have to admit that a) I still don’t really know what I’m doing and b) The things I’ve learnt really aren’t that glamorous or interesting. My main advice for building anything is to just try something out, cock it up, learn from it and then repeat that process!

Neverworld takes place from 2nd – 5th August at John Darlings Farm, Kent.

Words: Sam Taylor

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