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Summing Up – Luke Betts, 31

Summing Up
19 March 2018

Interviews with festival founders

Having been involved in commercial party organising and promotion as a student, Luke Betts founded Mutiny Festival in 2014 and has established it as a 15,000-capacity fixture on Portsmouth’s live music scene, featuring artistes including 50 Cent and Pete Tong. This year’s bill features Craig David and Andy C.

 

What prepared you for the task?

“While studying at Portsmouth University, I worked for Carnage UK, running student pub crawls for up to 3,000 people along the South Coast. As a promoter, I put on house music and drum ‘n’ bass DJ events in 400 to 2,500 capacity venues. I was still a student when I bought my first place – the Lyberry Bar [400] with business partner Alistair Ritchie.

“After selling my share of that about five years ago, I bought and refurbished the Astoria [1,000] with Alistair. We hosted everyone in house and techno from Pete Tong to underground artistes like Dixon, Carl Craig, Darkside and Blackman.”

 

How did you make it all happen?

“In 2013, as We Are FSTVL [30,000 capacity Essex EDM festival] emerged, we wanted to capitalise on our position in the local market. At the time there were no outdoor dance events nearby, although Wild Life [35,000] was starting in Brighton.

“We were already doing 15,000 admissions a week through the venue and student parties and we thought there was a gap in the outdoor sector. In 2014, we launched Mutiny as a 5,000-capacity event in Victoria Park. Going to all the Safety Advisory Group [SAG] meetings with the council, police, fire and medical services was a big learning curve.

“Among the agents, Steve Hogan at William Morris trusted us and knew we put on good 2,000-capacity shows. We could have run it on a shoe-string but we wanted to build an event. On top of a line-up featuring Pete Tong, DJ Fresh and MK, we provided an amazing stage, big LED screens, acrobats and pyrotechnics. Although we sold-out, we lost a six-figure sum.”

 

What has made the festival a success?

“In year two, we’d planned to move to Portsmouth’s King George V Playing Fields, and grow to two days. We ploughed quite a lot of money into planning that venue when, at our next SAG meeting, the chair told us that Portsmouth had won a leg of the America’s Cup and we couldn’t use it.

“So we had five months to find a new venue and create a festival from scratch, including the licensing process, book a line-up and sell the tickets. We had to go hard or go home, so we planned a 15,000-capacity event at Fontwell Park Race Course in Chichester, with camping. But we ended up running before we could walk.

“Saturday sold-out with Snoop Dogg and Knife Party, with about 13,000 on the Sunday. We discounted heavily to get the people in and it was the show I was least happy with: the bars and the cleaning services weren’t good enough. Although I had an investor, Chris Phillips at JDI, I was a one-man-band. It was a real eye-opener on the importance of having a great team.

“We came back into Portsmouth for year three and stripped it back to one mainstage, one big top and the smaller areas, featuring Steve Angello, Groove Armada and Example. This was all about finding the love for the show again, so 2016 was textbook with food, bar offering and toilets all perfect, and we attracted about 10,000.

“By 2017 the market had changed, with Common People [25,000] in Southampton launching the previous year and a lot more events popping up. But we were here to stay in this crowded market and booked a headliner to get us noticed: 50 Cent. We sold 15,000 tickets and saw Mutiny growing the way we expected it to, which is quite an achievement with all the artiste exclusions on South Coast events.”

 

What have been your highs and lows?

“The SAG committee chair telling us we couldn’t have our park in year two was quite a low, and we lost about £1 million over the first three festivals, for which I was liable. I imagined telling my fiancé, ‘Babe, we might have lost the house’, or letting down the investors and the agents who’ve had faith in us – Obi Asika at Echo Location was an amazing supporter when we needed it most.

“Chis [Phillips] says he doesn’t invest in businesses but in the people behind it. We’ve had offers to buy the festival nearly every year and he knows we’re in a good position now, turning a respectable profit. A good investor is more than just a bank. They need to be willing to get in the trenches with you.

“We’re now running the festival we always wanted to run, with a huge mainstage and four dance areas. I don’t get star struck, but when you can bring big names to your home town, it’s really satisfying.”

 

Key Suppliers

Production – PK-UK Events

Site Management – NRCO

Sound – BCS Audio

Lighting – Wolf Lighting

LED Screens – Imag Displays

Staging & structures – Acorn Structures

Security – Vespasian

Toilets – Loos for Dos

Fencing – Wight Fencing

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