“That is where it’s happening, economically speaking” – 10 Years of the c/o pop Festival

The c/o pop, Germany’s leading pop industry convention, has just celebrated its tenth anniversary. In our interview, its director Norbert Oberhaus talks about influences and trends in the music business.

The c/o pop, which is short for “Cologne on Pop”, was first staged in Cologne in 2004 as a reaction to the relocation of the Popkomm trade fair to Berlin. While its focus was originally on electronic music, the event nowadays presents a very broad spectrum of pop music.

To mark its tenth anniversary in 2013, 80 concerts were held at 40 venues in Cologne from 19 to 23 June 2013, featuring 170 artists and bands from around the world. As every year, the industry was able to discuss pressing issues at a conference held parallel to the festival, the C’n’B – Creativity & Business Convention. In 2013, the c/o pop organizers first staged an event entitled Interactive Cologne, allowing the Internet community to share views and ideas in the run-up to the festival.

Mr Oberhaus, what were your personal highlights this year?

DJ Koze, as far as dance is concerned. Musically speaking, I was particularly impressed by Apparat, Nils Frahm and Aufgang. I found Efterklang very touching – perhaps precisely because I had been somewhat sceptical in advance.

The truffle pig of the music industry

You once said that the c/o pop had much the same job as a truffle pig, allowing people to experience bands in Cologne before they made it big. Who do you think is destined for great things following this festival?

In Germany, Ok Kid should certainly make it into the national spotlight. And I very much hope that Aufgang embark on a successful international career – this is just how I believe contemporary pop music should be.

This c/o pop was the tenth festival. Was it also a success?

Overall, it was certainly another success.

How do you measure its success?

Against a number of factors: the reaction of the audiences and the media response, and not least the satisfaction of the musicians themselves. Everything went as smoothly as could be. Then there is the commercial side – although there is always room for improvement, we can be perfectly satisfied this year.

Can you give us some figures?

I can’t give any final figures as yet. We had a total of 25,000 visitors, plus around 800 professional C’n’B Convention attendees from 25 countries. In addition, 1,200 visitors came to the first Interactive Cologne event, which took place ahead of the C’n’B.

Giving creative and clever answers

What does the Interactive Cologne have to do with the music industry?

Over the years, we simply noticed that the question of digitization has a crucial bearing on the music industry. The Internet economy and the pop business are increasingly interlinked and find themselves up against the same kind of problems. What is more, we get the impression that there is a dynamism in the Internet economy that no longer exists in the music industry. Take the most important industry event, for example – the SXSW (South By Southwest) festival in Austin in the US: it is clear that the interactive section there now attracts significantly more professional visitors than the music section. One might even say that that is where it’s happening, economically speaking.

Which issues dominated both the C’n’B and the Interactive events this year?

The overriding theme was: Being creative in a disruptive world, that is to say finding creative and clever answers to questions raised by a constantly changing world. What will the world of work be like in the future? How does politics intend to respond? What alternative financing models might exist? Which innovations could help us shape them? And which trends outside Europe should we be focusing on to a greater extent?

A rocky but successful road

What are you particularly proud of when you look back over ten years of the c/o pop?

The fact that our hard work and dedication not only allowed us to get the c/o pop ball rolling but also to firmly anchor it in the cultural heart of this city. Back in the first two years we tried to stage concerts at the Schauspielhaus theatre, various museums and the Philharmonie, but the people in charge were simply not interested. Nowadays just about everyone upon whose door we come knocking is willing to cooperate with us. We have succeeded in combining the serious with the light music cultures here in Cologne – that is what I am proud of.

Honestly though, would you ever have thought ten years ago that the c/o pop would last so long?

Definitely not. The founding of the c/o pop was a spontaneous and defiant response to the Popkomm’s relocation to Berlin. There was never a plan for the following ten years – there was never even a plan for the c/o pop to become what it has become today. It was a rocky but successful road. That is quite clear from the fact that the Popkomm has not survived but we have.

What did the Popkomm do wrong and what did you do right?

We made the festival the focus right from the outset, and this is something that still sets us apart even today. What is more, we recognized even ten years ago that conventional trade fair events in the music industry are a thing of the past. The Popkomm’s successor project, the Berlin Music Week, no longer uses the trade fair format, and nor does the Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg. Furthermore, it is essential to have a discussion in the conference section that consistently crosses industry boundaries – this is also something we did right from the start. Our colleagues in Hamburg and Berlin have now followed our lead, thereby confirming that our approach could not have been entirely wrong.

Thomas Winkler
has been writing about pop music, film and sports for nearly 25 years now, latterly mostly for “Die Zeit”, “taz”, “zitty” and “Musik-Express”.

Translation: Chris Cave
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
July 2013

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