Ahead of the festival (June 10-11) featuring The 1975, Aitch and Little Simz, the Mancunian exec is interviewed in the latest edition of Music Week. In an expanded online version, Lord talks tickets, sustainability and backing the North…
This is the third edition of Parklife since the pandemic hit – how has it bounced back?
“It’s strong. Last year, we thought it was our best Parklife ever since it started in 2010. We were one of the first events to get back up again [during Covid in September 2021]. To put it in perspective, that year we sold 80,000 tickets in 78 minutes. I had to check three times, I thought ‘no chance’, but it had sold out.”
Festivals are facing economic and staffing challenges, how are you managing?
“It gets harder every year. That first event back [in 2021], with three weeks to go it was a question of whether we could pull it off, because we just didn’t have the security and we were busing them in from everywhere. That side of it is getting easier, but logistics are a nightmare. The one thing we try to do is use Manchester suppliers and keep it as local as possible.”
What are the key security issues for Parklife?
“We always ramp up security and change the plans every year. [But] you will never ever stop drugs coming into a festival, it’s impossible. So you have to be very upfront about that and try and educate the kids. We do drug testing as well [to provide non-judgemental advice]. Drones hovering and dropping things is one thing we’re now dealing with. People come in with a spade four weeks before you start setting up, dig a hole and bury stuff in there. We’re now cashless and I thought that would stop drugs. But I’m seeing people arrested with their own card machines!”
In your 10th year at Heaton Park, what’s the status of Parklife in the festival market?
“It’s the biggest metropolitan festival in the UK. We never really advertise that because it sounds a bit arrogant. We’re grateful that customers keep coming back and supporting us. I was very worried about the cost of living crisis kicking in. But I’m seeing ticket figures and it doesn’t seem to be hitting festivals. Those bigger moments that you wait for, like the festival or gig that you buy a ticket for six months in advance, I think they’re going to be okay. What we are going to see is people choosing to go to restaurants less or to the pub less - we're going to see people cutting back.”
Do you think that city festivals are the future for the sector in terms of sustainability?
“I think it’s better. Bear in mind we have 80,000 people but I think we only have 250 cars [on site]. We bring everybody in on double-decker buses and the trams, we work very closely with Transport for Greater Manchester to do that. So everybody goes back to their mum’s and dad’s after the Saturday, has a shower, and comes back on the Sunday. Or they stay in hotel rooms and it’s great for the local economy. So we’re better than other festivals, where you have to drive there and it’s camping. We’re a greener festival.”
Parklife is the biggest metropolitan festival in the UK - we never really advertise that because it sounds a bit arrogant
What are the big developments that you’re seeing in live, particularly areas such as augmented reality?
“I'm quite excited about where production’s going at the moment. The Eric Prydz show that we did last year at Parklife was pretty spectacular. Sometimes we'll post a video from the Warehouse Project, and I’ll see the old Hacienda crew [on social media] going, ‘Look at those kids with their phones up, they’re killing dance music.’ But when we used to go to the Hacienda, we didn't have mobile phones - we certainly didn't have mobile phones with a camera. And in the Hacienda, there were a few shitty Par cans [LED lights] hanging off the ceiling. You didn't have a 3D Whale floating above your head!”
You’re staging a gig by Courteeners the day before Parklife. What did you think about them hitting No.1 for the first time this year?
“Spectacular! Fair play to the lads, they’re gods in Manchester. Every time we’ve had them on, they sell out within five minutes. It was the same last year, 50,000 tickets in five minutes. It took them time to get recognised elsewhere [outside Manchester], but it’s certainly happening now.”
With The Warehouse Project, why did you decide to expand the club to Rotterdam next month?
“We’re in partnership with Live Nation, and Denis [Desmond] is really supportive, he’s very keen that we look to expand in other areas. Rotterdam felt right. We’ve got eyes out at the moment in New York, Berlin and a few other places. We’ve been offered so many times over the years to do Warehouse Projects, mainly at festivals, but it’s never felt right doing it in a tent. The venue has to feel right, and we’re actively looking at the moment.”
How has The Warehouse Project recovered after reopening with club events and gigs post-Covid?
“We sold more tickets last season than we ever have done before. I don't think we expected that if I'm being honest. Manchester, from my understanding, is bucking the trend from the rest of the UK.”
Finally, EMI North has launched in Leeds. Do you think that the industry should do more outside of London?
“One hundred per cent, I really welcome that move by EMI to come up here. I think it’s fantastic. That was the Factory Records [ethos], they were anti-London, that was their thing and it worked. We’re still talking about them now. So yes, certainly, we need more things to happen outside of London. If you think about it, it just doesn't make any sense at all.”