Festival to go
A few days ago, the wonderfully sarcastic Trevor Jackson, reported from his booking at Sónar Copenhagen, where he was doing visuals for Kasper Bjørke. His accurate if caustic commentatory on the nature of these huge dance events was spot on: a lot of blah-blah-blah and not so many ecstatic surprises.
Artists who fly from performance to performance delivering a standard show, events lacking a unique character, and an audience which lost its real lust for escapism a long time ago, happily on-board with this boring delivery system. Or to put it in Trevor Jackson’s own slogans: „More Famous Than You“, „In It For The Money“, „Pretend You´re Having A Good Time“ or „The Next Band Is Better Than Us“ .
So there are a few moving parts here. At the core of things is the fact that most festivals are a travelling circus these days. Sónar, the worldwide leading festival for electronic music, with festivals taking place globally between Reykjavik and Bogota it’s a very good example. The other players follow this rule, like Mutek from Montreal, a festival which started as a well-represented slice of the local Northern American electronic scene, but now also hosts events in Mexiko City, Barcelona and Bogota. Or take the little Polish Unsound festival, curated from the heart by its Krakow team every autumn, but that also now shows up in York, London and Adelaide.
Each of these festivals has its own repertoire of artists and takes them with them on these little world tours. Nothing to complain about in general – for the artists these are brilliant things to be involved in, and for the festivals it is cheaper than booking different people everywhere. And so those well curated line-ups of big names make their way around the world to help promoting the mother brand. Of course a few local artists are included here and there to balance the ticket, that’s the professional way.
But to be honest, doesn’t this slightly resemble McDonalds and Starbucks, H&M and Zara opening their stores everywhere in the world? You walk in and try on the same clothes, with absolutely no clue which city you’re in? Do I really want to experience Sónar in Copenhagen? Or Mutek in Bogota? No, I want to travel to those places to feel and explore the real identity of each environment. Just like I did and keep on doing in Montreal during Mutek, Krakow during Unsound and Barcelona during Sónar.
It would be great if all this time, money and effort could possibly be used to support local initiatives, pushing local scenes, promoters, and labels, creating genuine showcases rather than just moving feasts with the same big corporate promoter’s name hanging off them. This would really make festivals something to celebrate, supporting and celebrating our cultural differences and pushing back against the worldwide flattening of everything into one approved corporate experience. Call me naive, I know, but…