SuperNova: a 4-day celebration of music and technology


Slowly but surely, music conferences seem to be growing in popularity all over the world. One look at the expansive daytime schedules of Amsterdam Dance Event, SXSW, Sonar or IMS and you notice a spectacular rise in the interest of what goes on behind the scenes of the music industry. Belgium’s latest addition to this trend is SuperNova, a collaboration between Flanders DC (a non-profit by the Flemish Ministry of Culture that supports creative entrepreneurs) and (a dynamic ecosystem or scale-ups) that will take place between September 27 and 30 on various locations in the Eilandje district of Antwerp. SuperNova brings to life the future of technology in multiple aspects of living, including music. Whether you want to join a particular workshop or lecture about the future of technology, maximize your networking opportunities or just have a good dance on the after-party, SuperNova has all the bases covered for all different kinds of guests. We sat down with co-organizers Aimee Bacallan and Alec Seynaeve to find out more.

What can we expect at SuperNova, in a nutshell?

"In short, you can expect a 4-day platform for business professionals, entrepreneurs, artists or anyone interested in music, technology or networking. All our activities are divided amongst 6 different self-explanatory categories: conference, tech fair, investor pitching, expedition, talentbuzz and party. Within these pillars, we’re putting some of the world’s brightest minds in the spotlights."

Why did you pick Antwerp? Especially the MAS is an extremely cool location, congrats on that one!

"Antwerp is a smart city that has a thriving ecosystem for startups and creatives. It’s a really healthy environment for businesses, a lot of scale ups are located here. Additionally, it’s the only big city in Belgium where you can find such location like that on a stone’s throw from the city centre. All in all, it’s a great setting for such an international event."

Who is your target audience exactly?

"All activities can be more or less divided in two parts with a different target audience. The first one is for professionals, creatives or people interested in innovation and business, while the second part consists of a free expedition for anyone who likes to think about the future and its technology, showcasing the life of tomorrow in a variety of aspects. The club night takes places on Saturday, which is right in the middle of the two free expedition days and thus will serve as a continuation to the expedition where the crowd will be able to witness the music of tomorrow."

A lot of things within the music industry are still outdated, like the way institutions like Sabam or many big record labels work.

Many of the initiatives of the SuperNova programming are connected to developments in the music industry. Do you see music as an important field in which new technological developments can have an impact?

"Most definitely. A lot of things within the music industry are still outdated, like the way institutions like Sabam or many big record labels work. Although it’s impossible to predict exactly, so many things will have changed within a few years. For example, the impact of streaming or blockchain technology has only just begun to take root."

What about the other way round: do you believe music can be the drive for new developments in the tech world?

"The question we always ask ourselves as part of the scale-up community is: ‘how can we learn from the creative industries and how can they learn from us’? Well, a whole lot it seems. This will also be very much apparent during the expedition in our music pavilion where music-related installations will be available. Developments from the entertainment industry push technology forward all the time. It’s especially interesting to see what happens when companies from music and tech work together. When this happens, ideas from different backgrounds cross-pollinate each other, almost always leading to fruitful results."

Which brands in the music business do you believe are currently at the forefront of technological innovation?

"Streaming really brought the revolution to this industry again, much like vinyl records or CD’s did in their time. It made the business more or less profitable again after a long period in which it was really hard to actually form a viable economic model from the general music consumption habits of people. Music has remained a predominantly offline experience with concerts and parties being more popular than ever and streaming only catalysed this evolution. As far as music production software goes, we believe that the impact of Ableton and Native Instruments cannot be underestimated. It’s because of companies like these, lowering the threshold for people interested in making their own music, that we have such a wide and diverse choice of music nowadays. Music and music technology has never been more accessible than it is today."

Making music production software more accessible is one thing. To have millions of potential artists use your product on a regular basis is another. Which trends within music software catch your attention right now?

"Gamification, which basically means you apply video game theory. For example: apps that teach you how to play the piano by imposing daily goals or presenting chords in a playful way. Trends like these ensure that more people than ever are able to learn new stuff on their own tempo and stay interested. These kind of apps can subsequently serve as a gateway to more advanced software. More and more, developers understand that music is best experienced immersively."

You can see this on music festivals nowadays too: the ‘immersive experience’ is becoming the bottom line for every music event.

"It’s the bottom line for SuperNova too. From the ‘tech fair’ to the ‘experience’ part to the party at Ampere: we aim to make everything as immersive as technically possible. This is also the main reason we opted for electronic live acts as headliners rather than a full DJ line up. It brings the crowd closer to the actual creation aspect of music."

Is there still a place for analogue in the digital future of music?

"It will always have its valued place in music culture, no matter how digital things have become. The masses may be more and more reliant on streaming and such, but analogue hardware remains the point of reference for certain professionals and purists. If the vinyl boom has taught us anything, it’s that digital and analogue will always be inseparable. The artists who merge both formats are the ones who will always stick out."

Who are some of the speakers you are proudest of booking? And why?

"The whole line-up of speakers is quite impressive if we do say so ourselves. As we’re from a scale-up background, it was important for us to invite a lot of entrepreneurs that were once inspired to make something for themselves too. What all these guests have in common is their clever use of data for innovative technology. For example, the entrepreneurial neuroscientist Vivienne Ming found a way to predict epileptic seizures and she is one of the primary advocators of the use of artificial intelligence. Then we have Neil Harbisson, world’s first officially recognized cyborg. He can hear colour and images in the form of sound frequencies. So yeah, we don’t just have dry academic guests, but speakers that can tell an interesting story to everyone."

And what about the artists you booked on the party at Ampere?

"Well, same story. It was important for us to invite artists that have created something of their own. Juju & Jordash for example: not one live set of theirs will sound like the last one. But I guess we’re most proud of our fellow Belgian Peter Van Hoesen, who may well be one of our country’s most interesting artists. He’s a techno legend by now, but he never stops experimenting."

By inviting 4 of the world’s most creative users of keyboards (like Legowelt for example) you reflected the technology-centered core value of SuperNova. Was it a conscious decision to book artists for the after party that are known for their technical abilities?

"Yes, it was. Having artists on the bill with incredible technical capabilities is completely in line with our message at SuperNova. They had to be able to deliver a solid nightclub set, yet innovative and surprising, something a little deeper than just a classic 4x4 DJ-set. We believe we found the right line-up. This is only the beginning though. We can already tell you we’ll be back next year with an even bigger lineup!"

SuperNova takes place between September 27 and 30 at various locations around the Eilandje district of Antwerp. The weekend is open to the public and free. The big party will take place at Ampere on Saturday, September 29, with Legowelt, Juju & Jordash, Peter Van Hoesen and Kong & Gratts.

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