Business Interviews Live Business

Q&A: Jo Vidler, Secret Productions

By | Published on Wednesday 13 June 2012

Jo Vidler

Jo Vidler is one of the team behind the Secret Garden Party, the much loved summer fest frequently championed here in CMU by Mr Eddy TM. But via the Secret Productions company, Jo is also involved in many other arts and music projects as well, not least the running of two other music festivals, Wilderness and, more recently, Glade.

With the latter of those taking place this weekend, kicking off a busy summer for the whole Secret Productions team, CMU’s Chris Cooke grabbed a few minutes with Jo to talk about her career to date, the festivals she manages, and the world of music events in general.

CC: How did you start out organising festivals?
JV: Well, it grew as a natural progression from running and curating small events before I decided to go to university to study. I was on the Art & Event Production course at Bournemouth Arts Institute – yes, you can do a BA Hons in Event Production! This gave me a really solid base and the confidence to move towards bigger events. I was hugely inspired by my visits to Glastonbury and saw its multi-levelled approach as the way forward. Running stages at Glastonbury, Lovebox, Lost Vagueness and most importantly Burning Man naturally led to me wanting to have a more site-wide perspective. I couldn’t think of anything I would rather do, it’s a lifestyle choice as much as anything, but it’s my true passion.

CC: Did you initially see organising festivals becoming a full time job?  
JV: Absolutely… I always planned to run my own festival, I just didn’t think I would be so lucky to be working with the people I am. More than that I would never have hoped to be at the helm of three!

CC: You’re probably best known as one of the people behind the Secret Garden Party. That’s a festival that has really grown in reputation and profile in recent years, certainly it’s not much of a secret any more! How do you keep the house party atmosphere as an event grows in size and reputation?
JV: It is all about the collectives, and having beautifully creative people who put their hearts and souls into the event. The crew is an enormous proportion of the total number on site; we are an ever-growing family. We are very lucky that people love the event so much that they work tirelessly knowing that we will support them to make their dream plans become a reality. We believe that you enjoy a party most when you have been a part of making it, and if you have not been a part of making it, you love to see just how much effort, detail and love has gone in to it from so many different angles. I think this is what underpins its atmosphere.

CC: What’s your current role with Secret Garden?
JV: I am one of four directors of the Secret Garden Party, and apart from the business strategy responsibilities this entails, I mainly concentrate on creative content, spectacles and performance. I also make sure the right people know about it.

CC: The company behind SGP, Secret Productions, seems to have its fingers in many other pies these days. What else does the company do?
JV: Secret Productions owns, or part owns, three music and art festivals all with their own identities and audience. As well as this, the SPL umbrella covers The Secret Emporium, The Secret Arts Foundation and The Secret Forum.

The Emporium pioneers independent British designers, who design and make fashion and jewellery inspired by the costume culture at festivals.

The Foundation is a newly-launched but much-anticipated part of Secret Productions. The foundation was born from the Secret Garden Party, and looks to fund, support and promote installation artists in the UK and abroad. We mainly champion art that is interactive in its approach, participatory in its social stance and emotive in its realisation.

The Forum is our intellectual platform that fuses the arts and academia, putting people directly in touch with leading thinkers and doers in politics, philosophy, business, science, tech, journalism, sociology and activism. These events mainly take place at festivals.

CC: How did you guys come to be involved in Wilderness?  
JV: Wilderness is the brain child of ourselves and the MAMA Group. We really wanted to put on a festival which had the outdoors as its heart and soul. Tim Harvey from Papa, which is a part of MAMA Group, is also a great friend. He came to us with Cornbury Park – the UK’s most beautiful festival site.

After six years of wishing to use it, we finally got our chance. Tim, Jim Whewell (one of the Secret Productions directors) and I sat down together, planned the show with teams from both companies, and thanks to the true belief of Dean James (CEO of MAMA) we launched Wilderness for its first year last year, scooping up the UK Festival Award for Best New Festival 2011. We feel partnerships in new festivals are the way forward and Wilderness is true evidence of this type of partnership really working.

CC: For the uninitiated, what is the ethos and artistic policy of Wilderness?
JV: Wilderness will always be defined by its passions: award winning curators pioneering arts in breathtaking landscapes.

CC: Are there any changes planned for year two?
JV: That is definitely a SECRET!

CC: And how did you get involved in Glade?
JV: Through close friends we have been working with for years, we had the opportunity to sink our teeth into Glade after being avid attendees of the event in the early years.

CC: What can we expect from Glade this year?  
JV: Secret parties in the forest, burning stages, big parades, banging sound systems, bespoke stages and lots of crazy things that you will just have to come and find yourself.

CC: The genres Glade has always championed seem to have really come of age, has that had an impact on the event?
JV: Absolutely but, as we are learning, it is all about staying with the times! Luckily we are still young.

CC: There’s been a lot of talk of this being a challenging year for festival promoters, would you agree?
JV: I would agree, it is a hard year for festivals with over 12,000 extra events going on with the Olympics and the Jubilee.

CC: What do you think are the ingredients for a successful festival?
Great partnerships, creative crews, lots of imagination, and a true love for the arts and music.

CC: How important are the headliners?   
JV: No individual element is more important when it comes to the party; we really view it holistically. The wrong line up would be as jarring as the wrong visual artists. I think we have seen that people view it like this when buying tickets. They buy into the whole concept of our events – a key element of which is the great music.

CC: What would be your dream festival line-up?  
JV: There is so much… you will have to wait and see, but I will say that it covers all art forms…