I guess we all have our “darker”, rebellious period when going through adolescence. Thankfully, I did not stay in my infamous wanna-be emo phase for too long. Some might say that something even worse happened to me: when I was 13, I got introduced to metal music. I fell in love with a death metal band In Flames, who mark the start of my “heavy” music career. Even though I grew out of metal, In Flames will probably always end up on my “Top 10 fav bands of all time” list, if I ever make one (which I won’t). Nevertheless, being a metal chick until 16 or 17, attending Metalcamp/Metaldays a few times, then evolving into the grunge rebel and eventually rock’n’roll enthusiast, I never thought I would like electronic music. I didn’t know a lot about it, but to me it felt like someone is constantly poking you in the brain. For a long time I simply called it a “tuc-tuc” music.
I remember some older ex-metal friends telling me my time for electronic will come, too, but I just laughed at them. Electro, house, techno, what-fucking-ever… It was all the same to me. But it is well known that metalheads (and moms) are the wisest people on this planet, so they turned out to be right. I started liking electronic music.
I gotta admit, though… I still feel like I am very uneducated in this field and one of my goals was to improve it during my exchange in the Netherlands, the electronic music paradise. And what is a better way to do it than attending one of the biggest electronic events in the world?! Weeeell, actually, I have to disappoint you right there… ADE was incredibly exciting, but it somehow felt like its focus is more on EDM, the commercial side of electronic. Don’t get me wrong, I witnessed some amazing shows at Amsterdam Dance Event and I am sure they had a lot of fantastic underground music as well, but when drawing a line, I don’t feel like I have learned much new about this industry at the festival. (Note: ADE is definitely meant for the more “advanced” audience, not noobs like me who recognized one or two names among 2,200+ artists performing there.)
However, I was lucky enough to attend the ADE University, a special ADE programme that aims to inspire and educate both Dutch and international students who want to be the young music professionals of tomorrow. It consists of a unique 3-day program full of interactive discussions, keynotes and Q&A’s, workshops and speed dating sessions with a wide variety of music professionals from electronic music scene. I am a music nerd and I absolutely love showcase festivals, so I was extremely excited to be a part of this.
The first day was dedicated to innovation in music. We started off with a lecture about transformational festivals. Jasha van der Wel from The Experience Enhancer gave an inspirational presentation about festivals such as Woodstock, Burning Man, Envision, Fusion, Landjuweel and more. She taught us how transformational festivals are not just events where you go with friends to have fun and take too many drugs, but mainly places for self-exploration and personal growth.
These types of festivals also pay big attention to the environment. Labelling yourself as a bio or eco-friendly has become popular among all kinds of industries nowadays. Most of them do it to attract a new target audience or to get more recognition/publicity for being environmentally-friendly, even though they do not genuinely care about it. However, this idea really stuck with me. When I was walking around ADE that week, I was secretly judging everyone for producing so much waste and not caring about it. I got infected with this way of thinking, so whenever I attend some event, I think about their environmental awareness and look for solutions on how to improve it (and well, also tease others with it).
Sustainability Is The New “It Girl”
Later that day I went to the workshop about sustainability, because I feel this has become a very important aspect in organizing all different kinds of events. Representatives of Paradigm Festival in Groningen sat down with the Dutch organizers of Morocco-based Atlas Electronic Festival. This turned out to be more of a panel than a workshop. The whole idea was that this very sustainable Dutch festival gives tips to the Moroccan one, because the Rotterdam team that organizes it obviously doesn’t have a lot of knowledge in this field and their Moroccan hosts even less.
I am not sure where the workshop concept was supposed to come into place, but first Paradigm presented this sustainable miracle of theirs and oh, wow, their game is really strong! Besides the summer festival, they run a club with around 200 volunteers throughout the year. Their festival has eco toilets, which were designed by Art Academy students, they have their own garden so they can feed the whole crew, they fertilise the garden with toilet waste, utilize natural heating produced by their own solar system, use garbage for creating interesting art installations etc. One of their missions is to reuse all the waste. As the reason for going in this direction, they state that it simply seemed logical, like the right thing to do, and I couldn’t agree more! However, they stressed out that for being a sustainable festival you need to own your place/piece of land.
There are countless possibilities to make your event sustainable, you just need to take a look into it, educate yourself and your team. Coming to this “workshop” was the right step for Atlas Electronic towards achieving their sustainability goal. They are a small festival with a great concept, which is not about giving rich international crowd opportunity to only party hard in the wild, exotic Morocco, but they are actually connecting Western scene with the breath-taking Moroccan music. Their vision is not to grow in size, but in platform, so some future steps might include establishing a record label that would help export more Moroccan artists (cheers to that!). As one of the biggest obstacles for a proper sustainability they mentioned the lack of resources, support and knowledge about this in Morocco.
The workshop did not give a clear solution to the problem, though. I think connecting with other festivals in Morocco and collaborating with their small music scene might be a good start. Outsourcing someone with the right knowledge for it to mainly educate people working on these projects could also be very useful. I see uniting key parties and focusing on this issue together as the most logical move in this story.
Social Experience Designer
Another thing I remember from Jasha’s talk was the importance of brand value. We keep hearing this in marketing classes and most of the students (along with me) often couldn’t give less shit about it. And if you are a bit alter-oriented as I am, you would even despise this manipulative crap some companies come up with, goddamnit. However, the modern world is basically spinning around brand values, so we can at least try to create more worthy ones.
Jasha talked about how crucial it is to define our values, experience, vision, mission, brand-fit and most importantly – to ask ourselves WHY are we doing what we are doing. She reminded us we should always think about the purpose whenever we are creating something. If you do not like the purpose of it, then fuck it, it is not worth it! Jasha’s work title, for example, is a “Social Experience Designer”. Pretty dope, right? What transformational festivals are striving for is creating something that gives people true value and a life-changing experience that they can carry on even after the event. Jasha is doing just that.
The Ultimate Festival Experience – The Faces That Fit
So we have learned that it is all about the experience. This debate continued with the second panel of ADE University, where they hosted Ide Koffeman from the largest Dutch concert promoter Mojo Concerts that also organizes the iconic Dutch festival Down The Rabbit Hole. He was accompanied by Artur Mendes from the famous Portuguese Boom Festival and Juan Arhau Jr., the representative of Elrow – a crazy Spanish party organization.
New festivals are popping out every season and the market has become overcrowded. Panel’s host revealed that there are around 3000 festivals in the Netherlands, sometimes even 15 of them happening on the same weekend in summer. The audience decides who survives, so festivals are looking for different ways to distinguish themselves and stand out from the crowd.
Erlow parties are known for its incredible club decorations and exclusive locations that leave them with sold-out events. Alice In Wonderland-theme festival Down The Rabbit Hole has become one of the most attractive indie festivals in the Netherlands with a unique concept and great line-ups. But my vote has to go to the amazing Boom Festival. I do not think this Portuguese diamond needs a special introduction. It is for sure one of the most awakening European festivals. I have never visited the festival, but I have heard a lot about it from people that had an honor to be a part of this always evolving celebration (a special shoutout to Gea and Klemen, ehe). Artur explained that the Boom team usually travels for a few months to see what is happening around the world and then they work from (waaaait for it…) a feeling of perspective. It is all about the combination of a highly spiritual, yet very grounded, human experience.
Panelists also discussed how the festival audience has changed in the last decade. Visitors definitely expect much more from the event than ever before. There has to be a full service providing festival-goers with a complete comfort. Uncomfortable sleeping-bags in half-broken tents and stinky dixies are somehow not a part of the festival spirit anymore. However, people still want these events to be their switch button from the real world. Attendees are (or at least like to believe so) open-minded creatures, so they also seek for a message behind the event. They want to celebrate awareness, community, free spirit and similar concept that are often forgotten in the fast living world. But if we draw a line, all three panelists agree that one of the most significant shifts in the festival experience is a so-called “continuous crowd”. People want to get involved with organization, they want to contribute and participate. They have become an active party-goers and want to co-create the whole experience.
So how does the future of festivals look like?
Artur the Boomer thinks festivals will keep bringing people together. The level of interaction between organizers, brands, artists and audience will only increase, but we have to be careful that these occasions don’t become a privilege of the rich. When festivals are looking for ways to be more original, they can often include things that higher costs of production, therefore tickets get more expensive, therefore the festival becomes unaffordable. He also notes that it is very important to have a team that believes in the project and has a heart at the right place. Ide Koffeman adds that future improvements in the festival industry bring more innovations and even higher quality of a wider programme. Nonetheless, Juan comments that it is not all about the money and big artists. New generations still want quality music, but at the end of the day, it all comes back to the personal experience. The evolution of festivals seems to be bringing new, different experiences and other activities that tell stories, engage with people and let them be creative in other forms of art as well.
ADE University definitely engaged young to-be-professionals. I think it has a strong purpose, backed up with well defined vision and mission, clear brand-fit, only more sustainability is missing in their story. We were given a lot of opportunities to ask questions, discuss topics with panelists and meet all sorts of people from the industry. Yet, ADE students did not seem to be too enthusiastic about it (at least not until the last panel with the Dutch DJ/deep house producer and the Netherland’s golden boy Sam Feldt, who obviously had some fans in the audience). I honestly thought Slovenians form the most awkwardly silent crowd when it comes time for questions, but now this Slovene girl drowned out the whole space and got “crowned” for the best questions/comments of the day. My big mouth finally worked in my favour and they literally chose me as “the best student of the first day of ADE University”. I got a free ADE beanie, he. It originally costs 15 eur, so I’m good.
I personally also enjoyed one of the last panels about how to start a club from scratch, explained by founders of Shelter, a new international club with strong local roots that threw its opening (and sold-out) party at ADE. But writing about Amsterdam’s new fancy club does not feel appropriate for this article at the moment. Even though I have not learned a lot about the electronic music industry at ADE University, I took along a lot of new knowledge in different fields, met amazing new people who I stayed in contact with and got hooked on ADE. It was for sure a great introduction to the whole festival and I would love to attend this youth conference again.
I was working the rest of the festival, but I got a chance to pop at to two panels of ADE Pro programme. Like I said at the beginning, I am a sucker for these kind of “trainings”, but ADE University was special. It was more intimate than the regular ADE conference, it felt more personal, relaxed, friendly and engaging. The location and a beautiful decoration also helped in creating a magical atmosphere. My experience here confirms panel discussions from the first part of the programme. ADE University formed an environment that all of my past music gurus would approve. Metal chick, grunge rebel, rock’n’roll enthusiast, alter worn and electronic freak – they would all find something they like. After all, we are the active, open-minded party-goers, right?