Fly Open-Air director Tom Ketley plans to fill the Festival gap left by T in the Park

Tom Ketley, Director of FLY Festival
Tom Ketley, Director of FLY Festival
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THERE’s no flies on Tom Ketley, never have been. In fact, you could say he’s a pretty fly guy.

Okay, I’ll stop there, but it doesn’t alter the fact that when faced with rent arrears of £2,000 while studying to become a stockbroker, he came up with a pretty fly idea to pay off his debt.

FLY open air Festival,  Princes Street Gardens, Ross Bandstand

FLY open air Festival, Princes Street Gardens, Ross Bandstand

Now the director of the Fly Oper-Air Festival, the Capital’s twice yearly celebration of electronic dance music (EDM), the 29-year-old recalls, “I came to the Capital to study business at Edinburgh University and couldn’t pay for my Halls, I was about to get evicted.

“This guy at the end of my corridor told me his cousin threw club nights in London.

“He said, ‘He made £2,000 one night, you owe two grand maybe we could do one to cover your rent’.

“We did it in a gay club, GHQ. It was a student night, £1 a drink, called Candy Box and it worked.

FLY open air Festival, Princes Street Gardens, Ross Bandstand

FLY open air Festival, Princes Street Gardens, Ross Bandstand

“We gave away free sweeties, it was really nasty and pretty cheap and cheerful, but it let me clear my rent and get out of university debt free.”

All a far cry from the Fly Open Air Festival, which now attracts 16,000 people over two days to Hopetoun House, South Queensferry, every May and 6,000 over a similar period to the Ross Bandstand in Princes Street Gardens where Fly hold their next event on 21 and 22 September.

“It’s our fourth year in the Gardens and it’s going really well, it’s close to selling out,” Tom reveals.

Indeed the Saturday is already at capacity and there are only 300 tickets left for the Sunday.

FLY open air Dance Festival

FLY open air Dance Festival

The success is down to nurturing local DJs that “we think are talented and believe in”, explains Tom, continuing, “Fly is an electronic music festival essentially for young people in the city.

“It started out in Cabaret Voltaire in the Cowgate, we’ve been there almost every Friday for the last seven years.

“Originally it was a party we threw as students, which became popular and just got bigger and bigger.”

From those early days, a steady 400 people have attended the weekly Cab Vol nights, and still do.

“We are really proud of that, especially as we based it all on local DJs who were friends and became the residents in the club.”

The club’s three original residents, Denis Sulta, Theo Cottis and Jasper James, can now command big fees and are in demand around the world.

“We now have five residents with Eclair Fifi and Big Miz joining the list,” Tom adds.

While the focus remains on local talent, Fly also attracts big names, something they have to do to ensure the Festivals sell.

“I was proud to bring Solomon, probably one of the biggest superstar DJs in the world to the festival,” Tom smiles.

“When he said yes, I knew we had made it. He was the act I had always wanted to book, Jamie Jones is the next one I want to get.”

He continues, “When we started, we didn’t want it to be about big acts coming and sprinkling a bit of magic for two hours.

“We wanted to make it about our talent and because of that a lot of people got behind us and made Fly a brand in dance music for Scotland - they could relate to these guys because they saw them when they were starting out.

“Electronic music is the biggest cultural movement of young people today - it’s what pop and rock was to earlier generations in the 60s and 70s.

“There are loads of different genres, but we try to pitch Fly more melodic, with house and disco, we keep it away from hard techno.”

Putting it simply, he says, “You could listen to the music you hear at Fly in your house.”

The majority attending the Gardens in September will be students from Edinburgh, although clubbers do fly in from all around the world.

“The majority are aged 18 to 30 but a lot of older folk come as well, people in their 50s and 60s who just like house music,” reflects Tom, as he reveals that with the redevelopment of the Gardens he remains concerned for the future of the Festival at the Ross Bandstand.

“Our campaign about keeping Fly in the Gardens was all about ensuring that the culture of younger people is present there as well... and that is definitely under threat.”

The brand itself is going from strength to strength, however, reveals Tom, with plans for a third annual event - a full on music festival with live bands and DJs.

“I want to keep it and grow it in Scotland,” he shares.

“With Rockness being finished, T in the Park being over, The Arches in Glasgow shut down, there is a void that we are starting to fill.

“If we can keep growing it, then a camping festival will be the next step with not just DJs but bands as well.

“I want to do it next year. I’ve found a location that is Top Secret but I don’t know if we have enough time for next year... it might have to be 2021.”

Either way, Fly is soaring.

FLY Open-Air Festival, Ross Band Stand, Princes Street Gardens, 21-22 September, noon-10pm, £75 (weekend), £45 (day), £105 (weekend VIP), £60 (day VIP), https://www.residentadvisor.net/events/1284010

Princes Street safety curtain is not ideal, says Tom Ketley, Fly Open-Air Festival director

IT MAY seem strange but Tom Ketley, director of the Fly Open-Air Festival originally planned to be a stockbroker.

“When I finished Uni, I actually took a job as a stockbroker - it wasn’t like the films, there were no super models and all that nonsense, it was just spread sheets and maths and, although I loved the people I worked with, I knew I couldn’t sit there for the next 30 years of my life.”

Being passionate about his clubbing, Tom quit his job and “went for it”.

Fly Open-Air Festival now employs a full-time staff of four people “and I still have a fair share of spreadsheets to deal with,” he laughs.

It takes six months to plan each event and right now he’s in discussion over the controversial screens that appear every time there is an event in Princes Street Gardens.

He reveals, “The Police and the Council have asked us to put up mesh along the railings, for public safety.

“They call it a curtain and it means you can’t see down into the Gardens, but it is not actually to stop people that haven’t got a ticket from viewing the event.

“It’s just that, if it wasn’t there, the road would be rammed full of people trying to catch a glimpse of what is going on and they might accidentally fall into the traffic on Princes Street.”

He admits, “The solution they have at the moment, I would say, is not the best one.”