We caught up with Sue Lees (Event Manager) and Chloe Drury (Deputy Event Manager) ahead of LIMF this weekend to find out what it takes to run an event of this scale, what we can expect from the Festival this year and hear more about that Basement Jaxx story…
What can we expect from LIMF this year?
Chloe: Two days of amazing music, bigger and better as always, we like to do things bigger and better each year. We’ve got four stages (Central stage, True School Club House, The Shubz DJ tent and Music City stage) Nile Rodgers, Three Beat @ 30, Disco Classical, Sister Sledge ft Kathy Sledge topping the bill, a fab dedicated family zone, stunning VIP area (sold out Saturday) – it’s going to be an incredible weekend.
We’ve also ramped up the offer from our concessions to elevate our food offer and bring a massive variety of delicious vegetarian, vegan, gluten free options to the field.
What have been your highlights/biggest challenges of running an event of this scale?
Sue: I just love the fact – and this is going to sound really cheesy – but that there is such a family atmosphere down here. The team is just brilliant – made up of Culture Liverpool, Liverpool City Council, Event Design, Tents and Events – all the contractors that join us on site contribute to the chilled atmosphere. It’s really nice to see it all come together. We work really long hours but we enjoy it and actually like being down here.
Chloe: Like one big family!
Sue: This is our happy place!
Chloe: Sue’s said it all but it’s so exciting for us to be in the field, having sold more so many tickets, we’re just looking forward to staging Liverpool’s greatest party at the weekend. Every year Sue and I stand on the main stage and look out into the crowd and see everyone having such a good time, that’s when you say ‘Wow’, this is what we have all done together – which is a really good feeling.
And the challenges..?
Sue: There are many!
Chloe: Many, many challenges! And sleepless nights..!
Sue: it wouldn’t be an event if we didn’t meet some bumps along the way – me and Chloe have had a lot of sleepless nights throughout the week but what is key is that we have an incredibly strong team around us who can respond quickly to the inevitable unexpected and pull it out the bag.
It’s been a game-changer this year with the calibre of the artists we have and this has seen the production go up a level – ticket sales are through the roof which is fantastic but has implications on the operations around it. Everything has really gone up a step this year and I think we’re there, we just can’t wait for the festival now.
Chloe: It’s elevated the whole festival. When we originally announced the line-up, it was absolutely unbelievable – Disco Classical, Sister Sledge featuring Kathy Sledge – everyone was talking about the music. Then we announced Nile Rodgers – if we thought we had gone up a level, we went up again. It will be amazing.
Sue: I think the biggest thing that people don’t realise, is that this is one of several events that we do. When industry professionals come on site, they sometimes ask ‘Which bit did you do?’ and are flabbergasted when we say we do all of it. Culture Liverpool does everything. We have all just come off the back of three major events at the beginning of June and half the team are managing NBWC at the moment so the reality is that there is just one team and this is just one piece of the Culture Liverpool puzzle. This is our normal. People doing a festival of this scale, would sometimes just do that single event for the year – we have to expertly juggle with a number of major events in the calendar to pull this off.
How has LIMF evolved since 2012?
Sue: It was a huge challenge from the very beginning, off the back of Mathew Street Festival, there was a massive pressure on us to redefine a music festival for the city. We learned that the music needed to be the central focus and that’s what LIMF has done – creating an affordable, quality music festival that has acted as the springboard to attracting other festivals into Liverpool.
Chloe: We started as a 6 week-long festival, then it became four weeks, two weeks, two weekends, three days, two days and now back to three with the exciting addition of Cream Classical on Friday. We have refined LIMF year on year – working each time to focus more and more, so what we have now is the very best it can be. But even in our first year, we had incredible artists that put us on the map straight away, including the amazing Damian Marley – that field has never rocked so much!
Why is LIMF still an important part of Culture Liverpool’s major event programming?
Sue: As UNESCO City of Music, LIMF is absolutely central as a festival that offers a line up like we have, 10 hours of music all for £11.
Chloe: And if you grabbed an early bird ticket – £6!
Sue: it is really important that we have a festival like this, which showcases the best of home grown and international talent on the Liverpool stage.
Chloe: When we look at the LIMF Academy which is a yearlong artist development programme that I think is one of the best things that the city has ever seen. Coming from a City Council, it’s truly unique. The number of artists that have come through the Academy to great acclaim is incredible and what the programme does for the emerging talent and for our city is phenomenal.
Sue: It’s also important to note that LIMF is a truly inclusive and accessible event. On Saturday and Sunday, families can bring their own food and soft drinks, enjoy the family zone, dance to the tunes on any of the four stages and have a full day out. We’ve got dedicated family activities, four music areas, world class music and global superstars headlining – people from outside of the city are aghast that we manage to do this and at the cost.
Why is the ‘I’ in LIMF important to Liverpool’s positioning as a city?
Chloe: Liverpool is an international city: global and world class. We know that events like this are key to our status as an international destination – we attract international artists as well as visitors from across the globe. I manage the LIMF inbox and each day receive enquiries from all over the world – just yesterday a family from Australia contacted us ahead of their visit this weekend and couldn’t believe that we had Nile Rodgers on stage. We are an amazing city with an amazing music festival and word is definitely spreading.
How does LIMF differ to other music festivals in the city and beyond?
Sue: Yaw Owusu does a fantastic job in the way he curates the festival by making it so diverse. There really is something for everybody. When you look at the line up for Saturday and Sunday, there is an artist to suit every taste. Managing to secure such incredible line up and make it affordable is a triumph. When you look at the other festivals in the city – which are amazing – they all have their niche market. We try to create an event that has something for everyone, which isn’t an easy task, especially with the scale and quality we deliver.
How long does it take to plan an event of this scale?
Chloe: It takes us around 9 months – straight after the event in July, we have a debrief and begin shaping the following year’s offer. This is around our other major events and any unexpected little bits that might pop up…
Sue: Little?! Like the LFC Champions League Homecoming Parade?!
Chloe: (laughs) yes just the little unexpected things that pop up at Culture Liverpool! As a team, we don’t just focus on one thing at a time which is why planning in advance is so important. We usually have the shape of the event and the team in place by Christmas.
Describe your stand out moments from the last 7 years.
Sue: I don’t know what it was about it but there was a moment when I was standing backstage when Labyrinth was on in 2015, it was dark and everyone had their phones out – there must have been about 25,000 in the field. Labyrinth performed ‘Beneath your beautiful’ and as a stood looking out, my eyes just welled up and it was a real ‘wow’ moment. There have been so many but that really stands out.
Chloe: I have many, some where you just fill up with the magnitude and energy of the moment, but I have to say Basement Jaxx. They were my favourite act to listen to growing up with my Mum and when they performed at LIMF, they invited me to go on stage with them – which I did – dressed as a gorilla!! I danced to that last song with everything I had!
Sue: Even though she was dressed as a gorilla, I knew it was Chloe because of her moves!
As RISE is a season celebrating women, can you share your experiences of being a leading woman in this industry?
Sue: We are led by a woman in Culture Liverpool which is empowering to the team and I think things are moving in the right direction in terms of gender representation in the industry. I must admit however, how often contractors that arrive on site are shocked to discover that two women are in charge. It is a male dominated industry and twenty years ago when I started in the industry, I was very much a rarity.
Chloe: When I was at university, there were more women than men on the course so it’s definitely changing. Looking at our own events team today, we are 6 women and one man which is still a rarity but we’re proud to be trailblazing and leading the way for future female event managers.
LIMF takes place 20-21 July in Sefton Park. Tickets available at www.limfestival.com