The mud-free festival. And no Portaloos, either

By Jessica Elgot, November 25, 2010
Breakdancing at Fishtank

Breakdancing at Fishtank

Lee Bofkin could be forgiven for feeling a little tense. He is the 29-year-old co-organiser of Fishtank, one of the country's biggest indoor arts festivals, which opens tomorrow. He is visibly on edge. "It could be because I've just drunk a massive mocha, but I'm a pretty excitable person anyway," he jokes.

Bofkin, along with co-founder Lewis Maleh, also 29, and musician Ben Friedman, 30, are staging an ambitious mix of creative arts aimed at bringing new audiences to genres such as street poetry, performance art and sketch comedy- all under one roof.

Bofkin contrasts Fishtank with similar open-air events. "There's no rain, no mud, noPortaloos," he says.

For Friedman, the fact that the festival takes place indoor means there is more control over its atmosphere. "We have a room which is blacked out where we have acoustic music by candlelight. You couldn't do it outside."

Maleh adds: "People come for the day, they come to hear the poetry in the morning, and end up staying to look round the art work. They they're distracted by the breakdancers so they watch them."

Fishtank was conceived in 2009 by Bofkin and Maleh as a creative release from their jobs in the City, and has grown to a two-day event featuring spoken-word poet OneNess, an ethical fashion show from designers Pants to Poverty, plays from Eyebrow Productions and soul music, folk, even flamenco.

Bofkin says: "The festival works because of the phenomenal artists, the talent is overwhelming. They are big names within their own artistic circles. This year we had 50 bands and around 200 artists ask to be involved."

The trio have backgrounds almost as eclectic as Fishtank's acts. Bofkin has a science PhD from Oxford but is also a national breakdance champion. Maleh works in recruitment in the City, while Friedman's day job is in film distribution.

They take the fish theme very seriously. Bofkin says: "The rooms are named things like Aquarium, the Pond, the Pool. We've even given ourselves fishy names, I'm Daddy Mackerel, Lewis is the Codfather and Ben is Salmon Cushtie."

The festival takes place just off Brick Lane. Bofkin says: "The location is obviously ideal, it's urban, it's very East End; it's crucially very cool and extremely multicultural. It's the kind of audience we want to attract."

So what is next for the trio post-Fishtank? "Sleep," all three admit. But Maleh adds: "Then we'll start thinking about the next one."

Fishtank Festival is on November 27-28 at The Rag Factory, Heneage Street, London E1 from 2pm until midnight. Tickets £15.

Last updated: 12:30pm, November 25 2010