Germany, Europe’s Festival Heartland
Even marginal groups can enjoy several days of live music entertainment in the open air nowadays, from goth (Wave-Gotik-Treffen, Leipzig) to lovers of African music (Africa Festival, Würzburg) to fans of the particular breed of heavy metal bands that dress up as Vikings (Pagan Festival, Frankfurt).
These essentially genre-specific festivals are now chalking up impressive visitor figures of up to 50,000 guests. And because of Germany’s central location in Europe, more and more of these visitors are coming from abroad. The biggest German festival, Rock am Ring, attracts 120,000 visitors a year. Such mass events are often pilloried for commercializing music. However, events with no entrance charge are the exception. Festivals have always depended on sponsors and other partnerships.
The live sector is growingAlongside drinks and electronics brands, telecommunications providers have recently discovered the potential of the numerous open-air festivals for image and marketing strategies. Generous budgets are set aside for booking bands whose music is then sold on the company online platforms.
While CD sales continue to fall, festivals are becoming increasingly popular among young people - and those young at heart. Unlike music files, live performances cannot be copied digitally. Furthermore, music fans are mingling more and more. Young people are no longer merely interested in the music: with many youths growing lonely in front of their computers or listening to songs alone on their iPods, the shared experience of listening to music with friends and unknown people is an increasingly important factor. And festivals offer the ideal setting for this sort of exchange.
Melt! - from underground to mainstreamThe Melt! festival in Gräfenhainichen is a good example of this upwards trend. The event has nearly doubled its visitor figures in the last three years. 20,000 visitors came in 2008, lured by the hippy mix of electronic music and indie rock. The hottest acts from the coolest clubs and medium-sized venues play at the Melt! festival against an impressive backdrop of gigantic bucket-wheel excavators on the Ferropolis peninsula near Dessau.
Because of the huge demand, recently the organizers, music magazine Intro, have been staging acts on the Sunday, the third day, as well. They also make sure they have a headliner like Björk every year. But this tremendous growth has its downside too: the visitors here want to party in a cosy atmosphere. Anonymous mass events are scorned. Yet as the bands appearing get bigger, so do the visitor figures. In 2008 the event organizers said things had gone far enough: they don’t want to grow at any cost, especially not at the expense of their reputation and the quality of the Melt! festival.
Haldern Pop - 25 years of self-made music historyIn contrast, the organisers of the Haldern Pop festival resisted the temptation of exponential growth right from the outset. Even for the 25-year anniversary festival the capacity was limited to 7,000. Musicians and guests really appreciate the family atmosphere of the Haldern Pop festival. It is not the stars that take centre stage here but the festival as a whole. Haldern is considered an institution on the indie scene, known for its independence and for booking rock/pop acts that later go on to enjoy chart success, like Kate Nash for example.
Thus, year for year, curious guitar music fans, including many music journalists, gather at the beginning of August in a small town on the Lower Rhine. They know that their music tastes and desire for authenticity will be well catered for here. There is also a charming legend surrounding the birth of this friendly festival: that it was dreamt up by a few local enthusiasts with slender means who built the wooden fence round the grounds with their own bare hands and converted and old roof truss into a stage.
c/o pop – solutions during the day, hedonism at nightThe c/o pop in Cologne extended the concept of the festival beyond the aspect of live music. When the music trade fair Popkomm moved from Cologne to Berlin five years ago, the organizers of c/o pop mobilised the local electronic music scene and an international network of artists and experts into a mixture of conference, trade fair and public festival. And they did so with great success: c/o pop is now considered, by both the business world and institutions as well as artists and attendees, as an important international meeting point at which pressing issues from the music scene are discussed. Afterwards the participants go out dancing, enjoying the latest pop, club culture, indie rock and hip hop acts.
The c/o pop team has achieved its fine reputation thanks to a carefully selected music programme that follows up on new trends and honours old legends. In 2008, alongside French club stars from the Edbanger label, DAF, icons of New German Wave, appeared. There are also workshops and panels for discussing new strategies for coping with the radical change the music market is undergoing. For five days in August the whole of Cologne and many international guests are on the move. The city’s clearly laid out and diverse infrastructure - with spectacular halls, intimate clubs and the large conference facilities near the Cathedral - is the ideal setting. At c/o pop a festival is so much more than just standing in front of a stage.
Journalist, author and DJ – works for Spiegel Online, WDR 3, Funkhaus Europa, taz amongst others – former editor with Spex. His field of interest is popular culture. Uh-Young Kim was one of the co-founders of the S.O.M.A. festival in Cologne in 1998.
Translation: Marsalie Turner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e.V., Online-Redaktion
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