You could say organizing festivals has become a national sport in our country. It’s safe to say there are not many other countries our size that can offer such an extensive amount of music festivals during the summer months. So what happens when a market is about to reach its point of saturation? A few daring entrepreneurs in the business look for challenges elsewhere. Taken into account the rise of festival tourism (i.e. when people travel to a foreign country for a music festival and add a certain time for tourism activities before or after the event, ed.), it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see a handful of trusted Belgian organizations taking their chances elsewhere. In this article, we linked up with a couple of important examples: the team behind Labyrinth Open in Croatia, the Waking Life crew in Portugal, the travelling caravan of Journey Of Sound and the guys from Pukkelpop, who are quietly co-organizing OppiKoppi Festival in South Africa for the second year in a row. Still looking for a last minute trip to a place that can combine a beautiful location, the sun and proper electronic music from the highest order? Look no further.
- Where? Omis, Croatia
- When? July 11-14
- Known in Belgium for: Labyrinth Club, Extrema Outdoor Belgium
- Organizing abroad since: 2017
- Represented by: Cas Van Heukelom
- Info and tickets: www.labyrinthopen.com
How was last year’s first edition of Labyrinth Open? Any surprises?
"I believe people in Belgium are already quite familiar with our brand, but we weren’t sure that would be the case for other countries; so it was a kind of wait and see situation for us. In the end, the beautiful location and the stellar lineup convinced many ravers from all over, resulting in a successful debut edition. The feedback from the visitors and press was exceptionally positive!"
Is Croatia still the place for electronic music festivals in the sun?
"There’s a reason why many call Croatia the new Ibiza; the combination of unspoiled nature, the sunshine, the boat parties, the relatively low prices and the top notch lineups really transform this country into one of the top summer destination for electronic music fans."
Are there things at the festival you will change in comparison to last year?
"Yes! We will expand the scope of the festival with daytime events (hosted by WoodStock Bloemendaal) and additional activities. Visitors will have the option to enjoy all sorts of stuff, like beach volleyball, wind surfing, football, tennis, yoga, massages, a food market, a merchandise shop, a 1-day music conference and a cocktail workshop. Furthermore, off-site activities like zip lining, rafting or city trips to Split will be made available to whoever is interested. As for the festival grounds: a team of graffiti artists and a team of woodworkers will create improved, exciting and beautiful on-site decoration."
How do you practically manage the organization between Belgium and Croatia?
"We have a Belgian and a Croatian team: the former is mostly responsible for the communication and bookings, while the latter takes on the production, logistics and the local relations. Every week, we have a conference call on which the progress and goals are evaluated."
Do you expect an audience that’s mostly made up of Belgian visitors, or do you also promote Labyrinth Open with local and international music fans?
"We aim to have a 50-50 split between international and regional visitors. Obviously, the lion’s share of the international visitors will be Belgian, as this market is definitely still our primary target audience. This is reflected by our selection of stage hosts: Diep, Decafeina and Exhale by Amelie Lens are all Belgian organizations – but we have invited hosts from Italy, Austria, The Netherlands, Serbia, The UK, Ireland, Slovenia and Croatia too."
- Where? Crato, Portugal
- When? August 15-19
- Known in Belgium for: Moodfamily, Roots Of Minimal, Hertz, Nächtvøgels
- Organizing abroad since: 2017
- Represented by: Jens Van Ruyskensvelde
- Info and tickets: https://wakinglife.pt
How did the first edition of Waking Life last year go?
"The build-up, the festival and the breakdown were all a big, intense blur that went by in a flash. It was only afterwards that we were able to hear people’s feedback. We noticed that the visitors didn’t only enjoy the festival, but that they had experienced something extraordinary; some were even saying it was one of the best experiences of their lives. That was something we really took to heart. It was a really special week for everyone involved."
As this was only the first edition, did you encounter any unexpected issues on-site?
"As we had to make our first contact with local partners and communities, it was a challenging ride; it was mostly a matter of adapting to a different workflow and modus operandi than the ones were are used to in Belgium. By now, most people will know about the unfortunate wave of illness that struck the visitors and personnel, especially towards the end of the festival. Initially, we examined the water supply, the food and any other possible source of infection, but nothing looked suspicious. In the end, we could only conclude that this illness was caused by a gastroenteritis that was brought in by a particular person. In warmer climates it’s easier for such viruses to spread. Other, bigger festivals experienced similar problems in recent years. So as the organization of this kind of event, not only do you have to make sure the infrastructure at your festival is well-oiled, but you have to keep the hygiene-standard as high as possible. Admittedly, this was a lesson we had to learn the hard way. You have to know that eco toilets need more attention and upkeep when the temperatures are really high, you need to maximize the practicality of the bar organization, you can’t put the local services in charge of the waste management, you can’t underestimate the importance of drinking water distribution, etc. This year we are properly prepared to make sure situations like the one of last year will not be repeated."
Compared to other festivals, you guys don’t use visual promotion that much. Is that a conscious decision?
"That’s because we like to keep Waking Life a little bit of a mystery for visitors. We like that our audience finds itself in a new world they have to discover for their selves. That being said, you still need to make sure you convince people to travel all the way to the Portuguese hinterland – something we do by giving a few hints here and there. It’s a balancing exercise though: how much do we give away, what do we give away, what kind of social media promotion and advertising do we want to make, etc."
How are the preparations on the ground going so far?
"Yeah, it’s going great; though It feels like there’s a lot more work now, compared to last year. But that’s most likely because now we have a first year to learn from, so now we’re able to prepare ourselves a lot more profoundly. With no water network at the location, we’re now preparing the works on the terrain to make one ourselves, reaching most areas on the festival site. Additionally, we’re building a new camping shade structure, we’re dealing with the arrangement of transport for 300+ volunteers and 100+ artists, all by working on a spotty internet connection. Lucky for us, we like challenges (laughs)."
Do you have a good relation with the local authorities?
"Absolutely. Like I mentioned earlier, communication can be a little rusty sometimes, as you might have to wait a few days or even weeks to receive an answer on your question. Then again, we receive a lot of great feedback from the local community in Crato; we heard that Waking Life is a daily conversation topic and that everyone is looking forward to our return. That’s really nice to hear of course."
How many Belgians do you expect to come down? Do you also promote on other markets?
"Contrary to what you might think, Belgian visitors were only the third largest group of nationality on our last festival, letting the German and British crowds in front, closely followed by the Portuguese. This year, we are selling a lot more tickets in Portugal. For us, it’s great to see a significant rise in local ticket sales. All in all, we are very close to reaching last year’s total amount of sold tickets already. This year, our confirmed visitors will come from about 30 different countries; this too is more than at the start of the festival last year."
Journey Of Sound
- Where and When? Lake Balaton, Hungary (July 2-9) – Pula, Croatia (August 29 – September 3) – Paris, France (September 13-16)
- Represented by: Thomas Lambrechts
- Info and tickets: www.snowbite.be/JourneyOfSound
For the ones that have never heard of Journey Of Sound, who are you guys exactly?
"Well, with Journey Of Sound, we organize summer road trips to music destinations in Hungary, Croatia and France. In other words: we are a travelling festival with about 700 Belgians that travel to music events like Balaton Sound or Dimensions Festival, while we make stops in Budapest, Ljubljana or Paris. Belgian artists travel along to perform at our exclusive parties on really cool locations (think an open air event amidst ancient ruins, a rooftop bar over the Parisian skyline or a handful of underground clubs). At Balaton Sound and Dimensions Festival, we even have our own Belgian campsite, equipped with bungalows or so-called ‘hoxels’ for whoever wants to upgrade their camping experience. All our travel companions can enjoy their daily included breakfast, a hairdresser, a style coach, all sorts of workshops, ‘healthy corners’ and our cocktail bar. The bottom line: we take full care of our guests. We even have our own proper stage on a few of our destinations. For example: in the old fort of Pula at Dimensions Festival, we have invited fellow Belgians Lefto, San Soda, Red D, Sheridan, Bjeor, Massimo Mephisto, Thang, Sue Avenue and many many more."
How did the organization of previous editions go? And how are things going right now?
"The previous travels have always gone down really smooth because of our strong team of well-trained ambassadors. An important part of the organization is the logistics of travelling with not just our visitors, but with a large number of DJs, live bands, circus artists and visual artists from all kinds of backgrounds. In the beginning, the actual organization on the ground was something we really had to adapt ourselves to, but profound on-site prospections and a clear line of communication with the local partners have always made sure our trips were a success. This year, Croatia is the newest addition to our program, but the cooperation with not just the local, but the British (Dimensions Festival is run by an English organization, ed.) team has gone down smoothly. As for Hungary; it’s the third time we go there, so that relation is growing in strength each year."
So most of your audience is Belgian, we assume? Or do people from other countries join you too?
"Well yes, Journey Of Sound is a road trip for Belgians, with Belgian campsites and Belgian artists, so obviously our audience is mostly made up of Belgian people; but every now and then some other nationalities join in or a few familiar local faces turn up. Dimensions Festival only attracts about 500 Belgians each year, so our presence will raise that amount significantly. As for Balaton Sound, where more than 10.000 (!!!) Belgians travel to each year, it has become common to hear Dutch and French around the festival grounds."
What’s the craziest things that ever happened on a Journey of Sound trip?
"Last year, we took over a real castle in collaboration with an actual count, just 3 hours from Berlin. This man, with the latest descendent in a Medieval family, was totally down with our story; so his castle became the first stop of our road trip. It was the ideal venue for a proper rave until the early hours; something we will never forget!"
- Where? Nomakanjani, South Africa
- When? August 9-11
- Known in Belgium for: Pukkelpop
- Organizing abroad since: 2017
- Represented by: Frederik Luyten
- Info and tickets: www.oppikoppi.co.za
Many people may not know what OppiKoppi Festival is, or what Pukkelpop’s role in its organization really means. Can you clarify?
"Well, OppiKoppi Festival in South Africa already exists for a long while – and between 2000 and 2007 we had an artist exchange program with them. Now, we’re picking up where we left off more than 10 years ago, and we’re taking our cooperation to the next level. The Pukkelpop crew will provide professional support to their South African colleagues on a technical and promotional level and the artists exchange program will be restarted."
Why exactly did you decide to work together with this festival?
"Just as Pukkelpop, OppiKoppi wants to keep track of new musical talents without losing sight of the big, established names. We're convinced that we can help OppiKoppi to grow into one of the most influential festivals on the African continent."
How is the organization on the ground going? What are your greatest challenges?
"It’s important to make sure every side involved is able to maximize their strengths. OppiKoppi is very familiar with the local work ethics, values, tone of communication and artists – in other words, they obviously know the South African market better than we do. From our side, we can offer experience in the organization of large music events and everything that comes with it. In the end, it’s this symbiosis that makes us able to learn from each other. That takes a lot of time, maybe even a lot more than we expected - because of the distance and cultural differences. But in the end, that’s what makes it exciting of course."
What’s your target audience? Do you market to people outside of South Africa too?
"For now, we are solely aiming to strengthen the local attention to OppiKoppi Festival. Festival tourism definitely is something we want to develop over the long term, especially if you see what kind of a dream holiday destination South Africa really is. But for now, we have other priorities."