Shunning the glamour and the hype of the capitals most well known clubs and events the team behind, Picnic brings you a private, intimate guestlist only affair. Their vision is clear: to provide the people that matter with a soundtrack second to none in the capital, a soundtrack that we know is going to entertain and excite.
We caught up with Picnic founders Andy Luff & Tom Ashplant ahead of the brand’s 8th birthday event at Fabric London on March 14th.
EG: Hey Tom and Andy, tell us when and how the Picnic idea initially came about?
Andy Luff & Tom Ashplant: Picnic was originally a side project of an earlier party, Esoteric. This was mainly focusing on international artists and selling tickets to the events and that wasn’t exactly what I (Andy) wanted to be doing. At the time a couple of guys, Ben and Ashley, were helping me to create this new concept, a party that was by friends for friends. We wanted a small close-knit community focusing on the quality of an artist as apposed to booking an artist because they could sell tickets. We were lucky to get ourselves a date, Saturday 24th March 2012, at the (then famous) Victorian Vaults and it fell around my birthday weekend, so we said let’s go for it. Rich NxT and Antony Di Francesco came and played for us. It was an amazing night and Picnic was born.
EG: Did you think then that you would ever get the chance to put on an event in fabric?
Andy Luff & Tom Ashplant: It was always the dream. We were going to Antony’s Lost Souls party in Room 3 on bank holidays and were just completely blown away by the music and the vibe. We had already spent a lot of time in Room 1 but it was always those bank holidays in Room 3 that got us dreaming. We saw what these local guys were doing and we made it our goal to do it as well. We did not expect to be making our debut on Saturday nights program in Room 1. That was something that we thought would only ever be a dream.
EG: Tell us about the days of throwing illegal parties in some of London’s coolest spots, do you have any funny stories you can share with us?
Andy Luff & Tom Ashplant: We did a few good ones. Some stories are probably not suitable for this interview but definitely some great memories over the years. It was pretty tough at the start finding suitable spots. London seemed to be really struggling with venues and licensing at the time. We needed something of a particular style and size and a lot of the cool spots were closing down. Our home throughout the illegal days was the Victorian Vaults and to be honest, it is probably the venue that our crew will always hold the closest. We had a run of 6 parties in there and they were seriously good parties with some great guests! A venue with an anything-goes attitude and right in the heart of Shoreditch. It was like a social club of all your best mates, records and a fat system! Our very last illegal attempted party was a complete nightmare but has a great story behind it. The party had been quiet for around a year and after a night partying at OFF Sónar I and tom drew up grand plans for a relaunch of the party.
Picnic was coming back and we were going for a party in the Hackney marshes. The line up was made up of local DJs, Christian AB actually designed the artwork and was playing himself. The night before Tom had gone to collect the generator from HSS hire and we had pre-ordered it online so everything we thought, was fine. Minutes later a forklift truck driver appeared with something that looked more like a battle tank. The driver’s first comment was; “are you organizing a festival?”. We now had a 750kg generator to power our “mini fezzy”. We then spent 6 hours the next day setting up in the marshes with lights, the DJ booth, a bar, and other props. We knew we had over 300 people coming so it needed to be a big statement. We were ready and had just put the first record on when the first of our guests arrived, the police. They also turned out to be our last. The party was over before it started. We now had to pack everything back up (in the dark) and get out of their sharpish! Not the best start to a reopening. Luckily enough we managed to squeeze into club 512 on the Kingsland road and the show went on! Most of our customers turned out for it and it was a great success. It was then that we made the collective decision to stop the illegal parties and focus on doing legit ones!
EG: Is it more exciting throwing illegal or legit events and why?
Andy Luff & Tom Ashplant: It definitely presented different challenges. Throwing illegal parties were always such a risk because you never knew if the party would happen until the music started playing. There were a few times over the years that we lost a venue an hour before the start and that was very stressful. The whole secrecy aspect of the illegal party’s was exciting but as a whole, I think it’s been more exciting programming nights that were legit because it allowed us to focus more on inviting top quality artists to venues that carried no risk of being closed down. Does it get more exciting than programming fabric on a Saturday night for your 8th birthday with all of your favorite artists? Probably not.
“Good music, good people and good vibes. Sounds pretty cliche but it really was those 3 elements that held Picnic together”.
EG: Looking back, what were your lowest and highest points over the 8 years since launching?
Andy Luff & Tom Ashplant: Where do we start (laughter)?! It’s been full of ups and downs but we feel confident to say there have been a lot more highs. The lowest point of the 8 years would probably have to be about 2 weeks before the August bank holiday party last year at FOLD. On paper, it should have been the highest but if we were both really honest we were extremely worried. We had little to no money left in the funds, we still had all of the artists to pay and when you had booked Melchior for a live set, Vera and Spokenn the fees were not cheap. Ticket sales were slow and it hadn’t created as much hype as we had hoped. I was in the states on holiday at the time and Tom rang me genuinely sounding concerned. I mean we both were, but it was Tom’s words that really brought everything down to reality for me. We were in big trouble and even thought about pulling the plug. It would have spelled the end of us and cost us a fortune. We both managed to scrape the money together to make the event happen and really pushed each other to make it a success. We knew then that it was now or never if we wanted to go onto something special. The party turned out to be a great success and really spearheaded what was to come. The highest point of the journey goes without saying, being the first outside promotor to take over the Saturday night program in fabric’s 20-year history is something we are both massively proud of. People forget that this is an 8-year project that is only just seeing the rewards so its been something in the making for a long time.
EG: On reflection, what do you think it is that grew Picnic to what it is today?
Andy Luff & Tom Ashplant: Good music, good people and good vibes. Sounds pretty cliche but it really was those 3 elements that held Picnic together. We started very small and to be honest, grew very small. But it was organic and it wasn’t forced. We specifically targeted our audience and wanted what was going to be best for them. We knew that if we could keep people coming then eventually it would grow naturally and reach a wider audience. We both still walk around the dance floor all night and chat with our guests, some old and some new. It’s very important to keep building these relationships as its the glue that holds everything together. Without these people, we would have a party. Over the years we have earned their trust so when we want to experiment a little or change a few things around we know that these people will still be there to support us.
EG: What are both of your individual strengths within the business?
Andy Luff & Tom Ashplant: We are very lucky that both of us have separate roles within the company and there is no clash of interests. Andy is very much the music man and a lot of the parties’ core sound has come from his vision and the records he has spent time digging. Tom is the people person, the booker, the networker, he pretty much does everything. But what’s best about the whole situation is that we both have shared interests and work together when making decisions. No decision is left to one person, we talk about everything and agree on a conclusion before taking any actions. We are very fortunate to have each other in this partnership and without one it really wouldn’t flow the way it does! It’s a true definition of the term dream team!
EG: And lastly, what advice would you give to a budding promoter?
Andy Luff & Tom Ashplant: The best and most straight forward advice we would give is to never give up on your dreams! This is a life goal that got us not just to do with parties. Passion, vision and hard work are the perfect formulas for being a successful promoter. Also always stay true to yourself, listen, learn and love 😉