Ten years ago, Lee Denny’s parents decided to take a holiday. Justly reluctant to arrive home from their well-deserved break to a Project X-style crash site, they left their sixteen year old son with one very important rule: Don’t have a party.
Despite his partiality for adolescent revolt, Lee realised that, this time, his parents were serious. He could tell by the way they delivered this one, solemn commandment. Don’t have a party at the house. Noted. So he didn’t. He held a festival there instead. LeeFest was born.
Fast-forward to 2016, and what began as a mischievous display of teenage resourcefulness has very quickly become one of the UK’s best music and performing arts festivals. Vocal and fiercely proud of its independent origins, LeeFest preaches progressive rebellion; a pioneering force in unearthing new music and a worthy forerunner in a post-digital DIY movement. It isn’t just a great festival – it’s incredibly important, too.
On a solely musical level, it provided the earliest platform for acts including Bastille, Young Fathers, Years and Years, London Grammar and Jack Garratt. This, obviously, is brilliant – but it would be reductive to simply categorise LeeFest as a transitional stepping-stone for young musicians hoping to conquer the big league. Rather, we can bring this back to the festival’s very beginnings, and the notion of wild, daring courage. Playing it safe has never been a template on Lee Denny’s agenda; here is a man who moves to the beat of his own drum, and you’ll be damned if his festival is going to do any different.
This year, you’ll be able to catch Everything Everything, Circa Waves and We Are Scientists, as well as Spring King, Shura and Little Simz. There are also long-overdue headlining slots for Lianne La Havas and Ghostpoet – two of Britain’s most exciting and consistent musicians. There’s glitter wrestling, bomb crater raves, food fights, comedy, dance, yoga, magic and hot tubs. LeeFest is a sanctuary for the creative hedonist, and a necessary pioneer in cultural autonomy.
Want to be a filmmaker? You have YouTube, you have Kickstarter, you have every electronic hardware store in the world that sells cameras. All Lee had was a garden and a fondness for big thinking – now he has LeeFest. For a movement to take shape and thrive, you need someone to take the initial leap. If that someone ends up being the founder and curator of an award-winning music and performing arts festival, it’s usually a good sign for the movement. DIY culture and radical thinking have never been more important. As a festival, LeeFest stands alone in its independence – constantly changing, constantly new.
It’s no coincidence that this year’s helping is titled The Neverland. Lee Denny never grew up – and why should he?
LeeFest takes place on 28-30th July, John Darlings Farm, Kent. Tickets are available at LeeFest.Org
Words by Niall Flynn