We took a trip recently to LeeFest: The Neverland, the latest instalment of the festival which began as a house party back in 2006.
In 2006, a guy called Lee’s parents went away for a holiday, so one night, Lee and his pals decided to throw a huge house party. So big in fact, that the house party, armed with its own line-up, stage and bar, would become the bedrock of successful festival years later.
Since that infamous party, LeeFest has grown considerably in size, moving from houses to farms whilst collecting a few awards along the way for its eclectic offerings. The festival has also developed into something of a breeding ground for emerging artists over the years; housing the likes of Clean Bandit, Bastille and London Grammar, whilst also maintaining its feel of uniqueness through its clever layouts and house-party-like atmosphere.
At this year’s LeeFest, we caught up with Lee Denny himself – the creator of the festival, to ask him more about the house-party-turned-festival.
How did LeeFest originally come about?
The first one happened ten years ago when I was around 16 years old and my parents were away and on holiday. We wanted to throw a house party, which we obviously thought was a genius idea being 16 years old. We did it once and about 150 people came to the first one, and we had like 10 or so little bands playing at the time.
How did you go about advertising the event back then?
We used MySpace at the time. I think our original page is still there somewhere.
So it started off as a house party, but when did you start using bigger venues and making it more festival-like?
We’ve been at a few places – we held it at my house twice and then down the road from where I live in Croydon. Then we moved to a field at a local school, but then we got kicked out of there because it got too big and noisy. So we moved to a farm, then we outgrew that farm and now we’re here.
What about the equipment, how did you sort that out when you were starting off?
A few of my friends had sound systems and stuff, and a few of them were in bands so had drum kits and amps & stuff. The staging we borrowed from my school…
How did you go about borrowing staging from your school?
It was summer holidays and the caretaker was looking after the place, and we sort of knew him a little bit, so we gave him a case of beer to borrow some stuff. None of us could drive, so we loaded it all into shopping trolleys. There was a train of about ten of us pushing shopping trolleys a mile up the road to my house. It was great fun.
What kind of music did you play back then?
Lots of our friends were in bands or making music. When we started it was sort of the end of garage and the whole ‘home-producer’ thing hadn’t really started yet. People didn’t really have laptops back then. We had one laptop to share and it was an old brick and slow as anything. The whole DJ thing hadn’t really started yet, so it was more bands and live music at the time.
You have a variety of artists from lots of genres, so it’s clear you’re not restricted by too many rules when you book acts. How would you explain the line-up at LeeFest?
When we were starting out – there was a big divide based on what music you listened to, and that would kind of define a person. But we were always into a massive eclectic mix of stuff and really pushed to keep it like that.
So we’ve got people like Frank Carter who are massive in the punk scene, then people like The Two Bears and DJ Luck and MC Neat who are at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. But we like that, offering a variety so people can go and discover something new, meet some new people and it makes for a nice atmosphere. Always eclectic and loads of new music.
We try to book everyone at the early stage of their careers and help them out – people like Bastille, London Grammar, Years & Years, DJ Fresh, all played for us at one point.