You really go inside this mountain. There’s an elevator connecting all the different stations and it’s very exciting.

This words are from Bernhard Steirer, founder and CEO of Elevate Festival and they are kind of a synthesis of one of the most original festivals happening now in Europe. Elevate Festival happens from 1st to 5th March 2017 in Graz, Austria, and it combines electronic music with art and political discourse, and, as if this was not enough, all this happening in the heart of the Alps.

We’ve talked with Bernhard about the idea behind a music festival that transcends music and makes us feel more and more connected to our world.

Hi Bernhard, what can you tell us about the beginning of the festival and the main ideas and goals inherent in its creation?

The festival started in 2005. The vision of this festival, Elevate, was always to put together two hemispheres: On the one hand, political debate, discussions and free speech and on the other hand, contemporary progressive artistic expression and music that embodies the same spirit. This was always one of the key elements of the festival: to bring together and to unite these two often separated parts. The name of the festival, “Elevate”, derives from an elevator which is situated inside of a mountain where will be all the music venues situated in the town. Another aspect about the word is that we also want to elevate and bring up, make things visible. On the one hand, that’s an alternative approach to topics, alternative points of view, other solutions, other opinions, that are sometimes mistreated in the mainstream media. Also, we want to elevate, to empower, to highlight the emerging artists that are not so well known in the mainstream, as well as the subgenres that have emerged and that we considered interesting and relevant.

“We want to elevate, to empower, to highlight the emerging artists.”

How was the decision to open up the debate to political issues as well?

We considered it important. One of the founders of the festival, and one of my partners Daniel, was always interested in this combination of artistic expression in connection with political view points. If you take artists such as Public Enemy in the 80’s or Rage Against the Machine in the 90’s, there’s a lot of artists throughout history there that have always been outspoken. Musicians and artists who did more than just art and who accompanied it with the expression of their political view points. I think this was something that we tried and wanted to do with the festival: to put these two things combined under one umbrella.

How do you see the relation between art and political discourse and what’s the importance of connecting music, art and political discourse in one festival?

From our point of view it’s about creating, to add value. It adds value to both parts of the festival. Even if people don’t have the time, if they just come for the music, they also realize that this festival is not only about entertainment and fun, it’s also about debate and exchange of opinions on a different level. They might end up reading something about the various topics that we discuss at the festival, so this is an added value for them because it creates a different and enhanced atmosphere in the context of the festival. It’s also good for the conferences, for the discourse part of the festival that it’s not only about exchanging opinions, talking and networking. There’s also the possibility to simply enjoy good concerts, a good party night, listening to a DJ that you like and to explore different new genres of music that you have not been exposed to so far. So, it also makes the conference more vibrant and exciting at the same time and this is the thing that we considered important for both hemispheres of the festival, it’s something beneficial for both parts.

“If the people just come for the music, they also realize that this festival is not only about entertainment and fun, it’s also about debate and exchange of opinions on a different level.”

Do artists need to have a politic component in their art to play in Elevate?

It’s not a necessary condition to the artist in the artistic program of the festival to have a political opinion, although it’s appreciated. We look for certain artists and if we want to included them in panel discussions we will, but it’s not a necessary condition, because, from our point of view, this would also limit the possibilities in terms of program in the festival and would change our idea to present a program as eclectic and colorful as possible. So, it’s not like we only book artist that are revolutionary in their thinking. Maybe they are, but they don’t have to be outspoken and political in their view points, it’s not like that.

“We also try to show alternatives and escape routes out of this “filter bubbles” and all of these traditional social networks and systems.”

Can you tell us about this year’s line up and what can we expect from the festival?

This year it’s a five days festival again, but it’s for the first time at the beginning of March. It’s a very broad lineup in terms of music. We have pioneers and people who are quite well known, headliners, like for example Juan Atkins aka Model 500 or Jon Hopkins. Juan is going to play on Saturday as the main headliner in Dom Im Berg and Jon is going to play on Friday. We have artists that are more like bands, as Tropic of Cancer, Jenny Hval or Stephen O’Malley. So, we have a quite broad range of genres again: there’s bass music, house, techno, performing arts… So, we present a quite broad and exciting spectrum of music. There’s also the discourse program that is going to happen in the four days of the festival from Thursday to Sunday plus the opening night where Evgeny Morozov is going to be the opening speaker. The discourse program of this year’s edition is about Big Data, Quantification and Algorithms, so, it’s going to surround topics like surveillance and fake news, but there’s a lot of content provided. It’s not only about one topic, it also addresses the question of independent media organisations, it’s also about self-empowerment, so, we also try to show alternatives and escape routes out of this “filter bubbles” and all of these traditional social networks and systems. There’s going to be a film program provided too and also lots of formats where it’s possible to participate. The audience can make questions and interact with the speakers. Another thing and a new element is that there’s going to be art installations. James Bridle is doing an installation called Drone Shadow in public space, it’s going to be an installation where the shadows of drones are put on the floor outside. In addition to his installation exposed to the public, he’s going to be at the festival too. So, he’s just one example of an artist that has this combination, he is the classic example of an “artivist”: an artist who has as a political view point and also shows that in his works.

Rainbow Plane”, by James Bridle

Why big data, quantification and algorithms as the central topics of Elevate?

We actually decided to use that topic before it became so big, even in the mainstream media. Now, since the winning of Donald Trump was questioned, there was a lot of debate about it, because some people said it was algorithms that let him win this election. At the same time, a lot of the debate is about filter bubbles and algorithms that Facebook uses to strengthen or weaken certain opinions and options that people have when they go to elections. But we decided on this topic before. We, as a festival, we always have been very critique about the big players like Google, Facebook and these huge platforms that we all use nowadays, and we always had a focus on the importance of alternatives to that. Evgeny Morozov is the headlining speaker and also the guy who is doing the opening speech at the inauguration, he is quite prominent best selling author and always very outspoken about these issues.

One of the central topics are the Smart Cities. What can we expect from the speakers about this?

It’s a very mixed panel where we put together theorists, like Evgeny Morozov with activists and theoretics, like Renata Avila from Guatemala, Francesca Bria from Barcelona, Duncan McLaren from the UK, local people and also Josè Luis de Vicente, who is one of the curators from Sónar festival. It’s a really big crossover panel between people who come from political side or policy making, artists and curators, it’s very interesting. So, some of the people are talking about topics and other people give their “outside” opinion on that. All of this people have opinions on the topics, so, they might talk about it for the first time. The idea is to combine people with different backgrounds to approach complex topics from various sides and to create diverse opinions.

“The idea is to combine people with different backgrounds to approach complex topics from various sides and to create diverse opinions.”

What’s the relation between Elevate and We Are Europe?

We Are Europe is a cooperation project between eight european festivals, among them, Sónar festival, Nuits Sonores, etc. The relation between the festivals is a very simple, but at the same time very beautiful, concept that underlies We Are Europe. It’s about exchange, so, each one of these festivals visits one of other festivals and that helps to create the discourse part. There are panels co-curated between the partners and the artistic part of the festival. There’s going to be an artistic exchange. We do a music program together, we exchange opinions about certain upcoming acts, we recommend certain acts for us to work together, artists and labels for years, and each festival is also about giving some insights in the individual hemispheres and background of the festival. So, that’s something that is very important too. In case of this festival edition, Sónar festival is going to present a stage which is the opening night Dom Im Berg, the same venue where the inauguration ceremony took place before. The second element is that there’s a panel surrounding the topic of smart cities and this is also something that was put together in cooperation with Sónar festival.

And the last question, tell us three good reasons to go to Elevate!

One very good reason to visit the festival are the venues of the festival. Most of the music venues are situated inside the mountain that is located in the middle of the city called Schlossberg. These venues are carved inside the mountain and it’s very spectacular and unlike any other festival area, just like science fiction when you enter it for the first time. There’s an elevator connecting all the different stations which was the inspiration for naming the festival Elevate. Also, we have a very diverse music program that is hedonistic and experimental at the same time. It’s possible to explore various genres in a very intimate atmosphere and, at the same time, you have a big room which is the main venue. It’s this diversity that also makes up for the music program of the festival. Also, Graz as a city it’s really picturesque, it’s a really nice and small city which allows to really focus on the festival, because the distances are quite short, so, it’s really handy to navigate. Elevate is not a huge festival with 100.000 people where you get lost, it’s really like a club event that combines different floors and aesthetics in a very compact way. The same goes for the setting of the discourse program which is also very intimate, you have the chance to really get in touch and exchange opinions with the various speakers — it’s also a very good opportunity to network.