A series of interviews conducted with festival organisers and artists.
Reinis Spaile of Ezera Skanus
As far as music festivals go, Ezera Skanas is definitely one of a kind. Set in the middle of a lake, musicians play on rafts and people paddle out in darkness then, as the first light appears, the music begins and the listeners drift to find a good spot. It gets very little publicity and is deliberately kept a secret, so for the past few years, the festival has only reached people through word of mouth.
I caught up with Reinis Spaile, one of the founders of Ezera Skanus, to find out more about this intriguing concept and what drove him to transform the idea into a reality.
Me: I absolutely love this idea of a festival on rafts and boats- how did you come up with it?
Reinis: It began as an experiment on how sound travels on the wide water surface, then developed into a space for free creation without any borders or rules. We created it like a utopia that we could all be a part of and find a way to contribute, despite our diverse disciplines — film, design, photography, choreography and music. The end result was a ritual where, in this diversity, we celebrate the sunrise, the beginning of a new day.
Me: Wow! How has it evolved over the years?
Reinis: In 2012, there were more people performing than there were attending, but it has grown significantly since then, with more people choosing it as their morning destination. Many travel from afar to experience this collective dream during sunrise. Every year we develop a new artistic program, which we need to be very sensitive with because the music and set design should respect everybody’s individual experiences. We perceive the music as a soundtrack for the rising light and the rising awareness.
Me: So what different styles of music can be heard?
Reinis: The music adapts to the changing scenery, starting from the minimal instrumental music that is played in the darkness, till the impulsive music at the silhouette phase, and climaxing with spacy music as the sun rises. It interprets the state of sleeping, dreaming and waking up.
Me: How would you describe the type of people Ezera Skanus attracts?
Reinis: People who attend this event vary in age, from young, hyperactive teenagers, to adults and elderly couples and singles. All are united in their desire for a personalised experience. The interesting thing is that they’re all separated by the water because everybody travels in their own boat, yet somehow water connects them and there is a unifying feeling in the air. The audience respects the silence, solitude and nature, and uses this experience as a chance to listen to their thoughts.
Me: What would you say are the most essential items to bring?
Reinis: It is a serious and adventurous trip, so everybody should be well-prepared. The lake is large and the weather can be unpredictable, so it’s helpful to have a light, warm outfit and tea or other hot drinks to stay warm, as well as a proper boat. It is also important to double-check the forecast before leaving home!
Me: How do you want people leaving Ezera Skanas to feel?
Reinis: The best outcome is when people return home confused, asking themselves “Was it real, or was it a dream?”
Me: Have you had to overcome any major challenges for the festival?
Reinis: Every year, the festival faces different challenges, with the greatest being adapting to the ever-changing weather conditions. This is an ongoing relationship; the nature is wild, so we must make sure we listen to it and adjust our plans accordingly.
Me: Any final words?
Reinis: Once I woke up 5am and went to the central park. There was nobody there, but the sight was absolutely stunning and I thought to myself that there should be a million people here at this moment to see the beauty of the sun rising. It is a very calming moment that starts and ends the day in a peaceful way.
Jan Bennemann of Nachtdigital
What began as a party organised by two friends in a small village near Leipzig twenty years ago has blossomed into the much-loved annual open-air gathering, Nachtdigital, a festival which now attracts people from across Germany and the rest of the world.
I took the opportunity to speak to one of the festival’s organisers, Jan Bennemann, to find out a little bit more about how Nachtdigital got started and how it became the legendary event that it is today.
Me: Can you tell us a little bit about the history of Nachtdigital and how the festival first came about?
Jan: Nachtdigital was founded by Michel and Leo, two friends who organised a party together in a small village close to Olganitz, which has been Nachtdigital’s location for the past two decades. They wanted to take their party outside and stumbled over the Bungalow Village in Olganitz, which is a holiday camp for families or school classes. For 20 years now, every first weekend of August, we’ve been turning this camp into a festival for electronic music lovers.
Me: I’ve heard the festival be described as “a party thrown by the children of farmers, for other farmers’ kids.” How is this party now attracting people from all across the globe?
Jan: Hahaha, yes you could actually say that. For many years, the core crew consisted of people who grew up in this area, with some villages containing just 500 houses. Some of our families were involved in farming, especially our grandparents, just to make a living. In the early days, it was a small party with local friends and friends of friends. As the years passed, the word spread; some crew members moved to bigger cities, party-goers told their friends and Michel took his car out every weekend to drop flyers at other events. This is how new people got involved and starting making the journey to the middle of nowhere in East Germany.
Me: What do you think is the special ingredient that makes this such a unique and wonderful event?
Jan: The people who are involved. It is like a big family of 3,500 people, which creates this intimate feeling at the festival — it is truly hard to describe and something you can only experience by being there. Another ingredient is the music. We always have a concept behind the booking, and we pay a lot of attention to the fact that there is something different happening on stage and in the audience, compared to other events.
Me: What has been your own personal highlight since the festival began in 1997?
Jan: It’s almost impossible to pick a personal highlight because every year I’ve been there, something sticks in my mind, and all these wonderful memories are highlights for me. More generally speaking, what amazes us the most is how thankful and happy our guests are, time and time again.
Me: And what have been the biggest challenges?
Jan: The biggest challenge in the history of Nachtdigital was the turning point where we were about to run out of money, which was 10 years ago. To save the festival, one of the founders took out a loan and Thank God he took this risk, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing these words now.
Me: Having read up a little on Nachtdigital, what appeals to me the most is that you aren’t trying to book the biggest and most popular acts, but are instead looking for DJs you wouldn’t see at every other festival. How do you go about selecting these DJs?
Jan: My brother Steffen has been the programmer of the festival for quite some time now. His personal handwriting is always visible in the lineup and he is the main reason you won’t find just a lineup of headliners every year with next to no change. His vision has a big impact on what you will hear at the festival and in the lead-up to it, all he talks about is the ideas he has for artists to book and he always manages to surprise us. Steffen has our unconditional trust.
Me: It seems that, despite increasing in popularity over the years, Nachtdigital has managed to retain its small festival feeling- how have you achieved this?
Jan: We sell about 3,500 tickets but not more. We think having more people would destroy that special feeling at the Bungalow Village and that’s how we’ve succeeded in maintaining the perfect vibe. Still, it has a lot to do with our guests — they make it what it is and honestly, they are just the loveliest people on earth.
Me: What does the future hold for Nachtdigital?
Jan: To grow and attract new people. Holding a festival has become a big business these days, which also has its downsides. With Nachtdigital, we’ve learned that it doesn’t necessarily have to be faster, better, harder, stronger; just keep it the way you like it, as that’s all you need to be happy.
Me: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
We put everything we have into Nachti, please come and see it for yourself!