Inspired by Leeds club night Back2Basics in 2006, while studying at Newcastle University, Jonny Edwards ran club nights and live shows for students and then at Digital, where audiences reached 2,000. Relocating to London in 2015 and seeing an opportunity for a festival in a Brixton park, he launched GALA (cap. 3,000) with business partner Giles Napier the following year. The 10,000-capacity 2019 edition sold-out.
What made you prepared for the task?
“Growing up in Leeds had a definite influence on my career path. I discovered Dave Beer’s Back2Basics when I was 18 and the atmosphere he curated there really struck a chord. As soon as I went to university in Newcastle I wanted to start producing shows and booking artistes – a natural extension to my obsession with music.
“I established a solid student event business, with club nights through the week, and a large monthly electronic night called Zap. I also had a pub and an online ticketing company. I made some great friends in the industry and met people I really looked up to, such as Dave Stone, formally of Digital.
“In the seven years I spent there, I learnt a huge amount about promoting shows, working with student DJs, local talent and artistes such as Honey Dijon, Gerd Jansen and Midland. I learnt the full breadth of the operation, from flyering halls to filing tax returns – loved all of it.”
How did you make it all happen?
“In 2015, I decided I needed a change and London seemed an exciting place to be, from the music scene and parties in Hackney, to the new emerging food scene built around night markets. After spending many weekends there, I got the bug for it and made the switch.
“When I first arrived, I was in limbo, I had exited from the various businesses I had in Newcastle, which gave me the time I needed to really consider my next move. I wanted a break from doing club shows and started to look at something singular and more focused.
“The idea for the festival came as I was walking through Brockwell Park in Brixton where there had been an event the previous year. I kept thinking about the culture and the appetite for music in the surrounding area and I felt that a large day festival would have a chance of success there. I made some enquiries, and thanks in part to a reference from Stephen Savage at Newcastle Council, I was lucky enough to be granted a date from Lambeth Council for the following May.
“I met up with Giles Napier, my now business partner, who I’d promoted successful shows with while at Newcastle. Giles quit his Job and GALA was born. We soon found out the task at hand was a very different one to anything we’d previously done.”
What has made the festival a success?
“Giles and I discussed the narrative of GALA at length and what it was we were trying to say through the event. Luckily, we’re both incredibly passionate about the same music and our tastes generally tend to overlap.
“Whilst the festival has grown, we try to always remember the DNA we established at the beginning. It’s important that the changes we’ve made in line with growth, marry with the festival’s fundamentals, as ultimately, that’s what’s brought us our success to date.
“With GALA we try putting the party before the line-up, we don’t encourage social media and we do our best to try and echo and pay homage to the history of dance music, from the artistes to the décor, through to our dialogue with the audience.”
What have been your highs and lows?
“GALA 2016, our launch year and we booked a great selection of artistes across house and disco and we paired it with a really strong F&B [food and beverage] offering.
“The festival sold-out weeks before, but behind the scenes we were very much learning on the job. Come show day, we failed on some basics. Anyone with festival experience will tell you, ‘Bars and toilets’, and both of these were really lacking. We took a lot of criticism which was difficult because our hearts were really in trying to do something great.
“After taking time to absorb things, Giles and I vowed that we would get back on track and work even harder to deliver the event we had in our heads. Our aim was to try and convert those who had complained, into customers for life, by having dialogue with them, gifting tickets where needed, and putting on a top show the following year, returning in 2017 with 5,000 people.
“In 2018 we moved to Peckham Rye and the festival really had a coming of age moment. The production was nailed, the sound was perfect, as was the weather, and subsequently, Wonderland [magazine] wrote, “Word is, due to seamless well pretty much everything – GALA is a contender for the best new summer one-day party”.
“This year will likely be both tough and enjoyable as we move GALA to a two-day event and launch a new weekend festival in July, which we will launch later this month.”