Music Festivals in Germany Live music and Lifestyle

Heavy-Metal-Fans at the Wacken Open Air Festival 2015
Photo (detail): © ICS Festival Service

Music festivals can look back over a long tradition in Germany. All over the Federal Republic more than 500 festivals take place every year. It is this wide scene diversity that enthralls fans from around the world.

Wacken – the name of a small north German village is known all over the world for being a surprising piece of Germany. The three-day heavy metal festival, Wacken Open Air, which has been taking place every August since 1990, so impressed the Korean director, Cho Sung-Hyung that she made an award-winning documentary – Full Metal Village – in 2006. How can it be it possible, as the central question of the film goes, that it is the supposedly ever so restrained Germans of all people who manage to organise a heavy metal festival, which now counts as the biggest and most famous one in the world with its 75,000 visitors.

Could it be the perfect organisation and the business acumen of the founder that makes the Wacken Open Air festival so typically German. Meanwhile, the brand of "Wacken" seems to have set a trend – there are now metal festivals on cruise ships (Full Metal Cruise) and in the mountains (Full Metal Mountain). The general popularity of music festivals is also a typically German thing – almost nowhere else in the world is the density and diversity of festivals as great as in Germany. There are currently more than 500 music festivals each year, most of them focusing on rock and pop.

Mainstream Rock and Camping Lifestyle

Back in the early 1980s festivals like Rock am Ring and Rock im Park (90,000 visitors) started to emerge. They now traditionally ring in the festival season around Whitsun and in the meantime have become known all over the world. The aim is to combine class with mass, i.e. reach as broad an audience as possible with top headliners from the international rock scene. Since 1997 this approach has also been used by the sister festivals Hurricane and Southside that take place in the north and south of Germany and that have also become the scene's biggest crowd-pullers with audiences of up to 80,000 spectators. Multi-day mainstream rock festivals like these bring younger and older rock fans together. One thing that has become a regular fixture is the communal campsite near the festival location. Live music and camping lifestyle merge into one, camping in the open air provides a welcome relief from working and everyday life.

In the 1990s, the German festival industry hit a slightly bumpy patch, a crisis caused by an overabundance of festivals. Since the millennium, however, the industry has never looked back. The diversity of the festival scene continues to grow. The reasons for this are both global, as well as specifically German. Firstly, the sound carrier crisis on the Internet music scene has led to a radical change in the music market. In the meantime, live performances for most musicians have become an important source of income, as recorded music, as well as downloads and streaming bring in less and less revenue. This is why bands, no matter how popular they are, try to get gigs in the concert business, which in the summer is focused on festivals and is especially lucrative in Germany because of its size.

Unusual ambience

According to the organizers, the attractiveness of festivals also reflects the changed habits of the music fans at home. The younger generation has grown accustomed to a wide range of music available on the Internet and is interested in a wide variety of musical styles. The feeling of not wanting to miss anything in this cosmos full of possibilities, can be provided by a music festival with its many nuances. Moreover, almost all the German festivals now offer a great supporting program of diverse entertainment options – from theatre performances to poetry slams. Although many festivals prefer to showcase a wide range of artists, over the years quite a few have put more effort into developing a specific profile. This is one of the reasons why a lot of younger fans of electro and rock are attracted to the Melt! Festival that takes place in a former lignite mine near Dessau in June. The unusual location in a former open-pit coal mining area with old excavators and steel ruins is also a hit with hip-hop fans who come a month later for the Splash! festival there.

The Parookaville festival for electronic dance music literally has an atmosphere all of its own. It takes place at a former military airport near the Dutch-German border and for a few days a whole village with a church, swimming pool, post office, supermarket, office and marketplace is built. The festival started in 2015 and right from the start became an instant magnet for the 50,000 party animals that go there. In the meantime there are about 150 DJs creating music on different stages.

Audiences at the less commercially oriented Fusion Festival on a former military airfield in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern have been continually growing since 1997. For those people, however, who want to experience electro-sound, theatre and avant-garde art without any sponsors spoiling the show, will have to get lucky – the 60,000 tickets have become so popular that they have to be raffled off.

The range of festivals in Germany embraces all music scenes – reggae fans, for example, can enjoy the Summerjam near Cologne and the Chiemsee Reggae Summer in Bavaria. Nothing much is expected to change this diversity of scene in the near future, because the German live music market - despite the tough competition – remains very attractive. And sometimes the musicians themselves set up their own festivals – in 2013 the successful German indie band Kraftklub organised a music festival spontaneously in their home region. Today, the Kosmonaut festival, held near Chemnitz, is a huge success.