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Interview: Klaus Maack (Summerjam) - Part 2

Interview: Klaus Maack (Summerjam) - Part 2

Interview: Klaus Maack (Summerjam) - Part 2

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"I still absolutely love what I’m doing"

Read part 1 of this interview

In Part 2 of our interview with Klaus Maack, the founder of Summerjam, we’re talking about the challenges for festival promoters today, the story behind the engagement of Wyclef Jean and Damian Marley for the jubilee edition, as well as the one act that Klaus Maack has yet been able to get a hold on – besides the legend Bunny Wailer that is.

Summerjam main stage

When did the German Reggae scene start to produce main stage material?

We tried out Max Herre and Freundeskreis in 1999. It was a perfect match, and it opened up the fesival for Hip-Hop. A year later we welcomed this combo from Berlin, I’m never going to forget that. Their name was Seeed, no one hat heard of them yet. I remember our production van being parked right next to the stage back then. We were in the midst of having a talk when they started playing. You could hear the sound very clearly, and after about five minutes we stopped talking and went to the stage to see the band play. Even back then they made this insane sound, something so completely different that everyone knew: all right, something really big is happening here. Even the Jamaicans – I believe it was Buju Banton’s manager who had been standing there with us – knew it, although they did not understand a word. It became clear to me in that moment that, no matter what, there’s no reason to be afraid of the future, partly because of what the German scene has to offer.

Can you talk about booking Wyclef Jean for the Jubilee edition?

We wanted to have some kind of retrospective. The question was where to start? Wyclef Jean is an artist who’s been around from the very start, and who combines different styles in his music. There’s his solo records, the Fugees, his current collaboration with Avado. The man feels at home everywhere, he’s done some amazing stuff with other musicians. He’s just special, an element of surprise that was still missing in this year’s line-up. It was hard getting a hold on him, as he is busy doing all sorts of things. Luckily another promoter from Scandinavia took the opportunity to book him too, which is why we could afford him in the first place.

Are you already thinking about next year’s line-up?

Klaus Maack: Of course. Next year I am going to be on the lookout for something more contemporary. I’m thinking Stromae, Casper [a German rap artist] or Rudimental. Kendrick Lamar would be nice too, although his fee’s going through the roof this year. It still annoys me that Stromae didn’t work out this year. He’s playing the Wireless in London on the 5th so the 4th would have been perfect. We had already figured out all the travel arrangements. But sometimes there are things that you just cannot influence.

These are all proper non-Reggae artists.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult, after all, I can’t be repeating myself. Damian Marley for example was born for a festival like this one. He was here in 2010 alongside Nas, another highlight, just the perfect combination. Damian Marley isn’t just a Reggae artist either. He grew up in America for the most part of his life. His style is very modern; it’s almost Hip-Hop. These kinds of artists are exactly what we need.

Damian Marley was born for a festival like this one. (...) We're still trying to get him to bring along one of his brothers

Of course we’ll always need foundation artists like Bunny Wailer too, they’ll always be part of Summerjam. I’d love to get Manu Chao at some point, it almost happened this year, but we were outside his touring schedule. There’s a movement of true Reggae bands in Jamaica, acts like Chronixx or Protoje. These are young men who aren’t bent on this monotonous, 2-tone, downbeat sound. They include new elements. Fortunately, acts like these are coming up constantly. But there just aren’t enough to fill an entire three-day festival, so there’s no way of getting around also including other music.

Are there any significant changes to the festival concept this year?

Not really, by now everything is routine, isn’t it. We draw conclusions after each festival, of course. We talk to the authorities and the people on site: what went well, what didn’t? One challenge for example, is to place all the toilet facilities on this vast festival site in a way so that everyone, including the supply vehicles, can reach them quickly. There’s always something new you try out here and there, but nothing significant.

Summerjam 2015

The increasing number of festivals, and the competition that arises, as well as the fact that there aren’t enough big-name headliners for all of them are the main challenges for promoters at the moment. Do you face these challenges too?

The programs of many festivals with up to 30.000 visitors are very similar, indeed. On the other hand, it’s not easy for these festivals to just try out new stuff. We get away with it, because for many years we’ve been working on our reputation for offering a diverse Line-up. It wouldn’t be possible if we had to rely on Reggae acts only. But as things stand, we can also add someone like Cro [another German rap artist] or Stromae, who by the way almost confirmed for this year. The variety you’ll see at Summerjam is much greater that at many other festivals.

We can invite old-school acts too, which is another advantage. It’s not happening at all of these new festivals, and I don’t know why. I’m sure it would be possible, but that is up to the promoters, of course. Steel Pulse for example is a band that has been around forever, and many people will be looking forward to seeing them. I’m not sure whether that has to do with the genre or with the fact that we’ve been working like this from the very start. It’s probably the latter.

Do you face challenges nonetheless?

Costs. Always costs. Noise pollution has become a major problem. A few people in the neighbourhood can ruin an entire festival. At the same time, you have to make sure that your audience can enjoy the music at full blast, which is why we installed a PA system with different delay positions last year to make everyone happy. This had our tech expenses surge Meeting all other requirements is expensive as well, let alone paying the artists’ fees. As well as I may be connected with the Marley family; I still need to go through William Morris, a US agency, to get Damian. And they, of course, know that I’m having a huge celebration this year, and that I am in need of certain artists for the occasion.

A few people in the neighbourhood can ruin an entire festival

Still, your connections must be of great use.

Sure. Summerjam is the anchor festival in Damian Marley’s tour schedule. He’s playing a few other shows in Europe this summer. I’m not saying that I put him on to it, but we’ve been on the phone often over this past year, emphasizing how amazing it would be if he’d come. We’re still trying to get him to bring along one of his brothers. The problem is that they’re all pretty busy, especially in summer. Let’s see, I haven’t given up hope just yet.

Do you sometimes still have difficulties reaching an artist? Or are your contacts all-encompassing by now?

Not at all. Many of the new acts especially take care of the booking themselves. Then you’ll have all these new agencies that I first need to research to find out who they’re affiliated with. Who’s the manager? Who’s the agent?

Are the non-Reggae artists sometimes surprised when they get a call from you?

Yes, it’s really difficult getting them sometimes. I’d love to try out many more different things. Kwabs, for example, who are playing this year, aren’t a Reggae act. But their management realized that this isn’t a festival for Caribbean music only, that we present other stuff as well. Plus, our audience has gotten really young over the past years.

Of course you’ll always have bands that don’t know this or don’t want to play within this context because they think it won’t fit. Granted, a lot of these artists need to choose between ten European festivals over the course of one weekend. There’ll always be festivals we cannot compete with. So it’s always a question of the artist’s evaluation and of how his tour’s been routed.

At the end of the day, we’re a festival for urban music, so the artists need to match. And there are a lot out there that do.

It is always a highlight for fans to witness surprise guests appearances on stage. Are you always in the loop about stunts like these or have you been surprised in that regard as well?

You usually know what is going to happen beforehand. It’s a pity you cannot influence it though, because I feel I’d have some great ideas. But at the end of the day I’m in charge of the business aspect not the artistic design.

Although costs are constantly rising, you’ve managed to stay quite competitive as far as ticket prices are concerned.

That’s true. And our price includes camping and parking. This is a result of our internal structures. We don’t have to pay the invoices of sub contractors, who organize camping or parking space for us. We try and keep most of the value chain within our own structures; it makes calculating budgets much easier. We also run our own ticket shop on our website. We sell at least on third of all tickets through that. So we always know how the festival is being embraced.

You once mentioned that you may one day start another festival. Are these plans still going agead?

No, I’ve put them aside for the time being. There’s no reason to start another festival in Germany at the moment. We have so many different ones already. There are good things happening in the Reggae space too, like the Reggae Jam in Bersenbrück, wich has a really familiar feel to it.

I’m an electronic music freak, and I am tempted to start something in that direction, where Major Lazer would only be the beginning. But there’s Melt! Festival already. There’s so much going on, it’d feel forced. There’s no need, there are too many clashes happening as it is.

Speaking of clashes. Why don’t you have any sound system clashes at Summerjam? It’s big thing in dancehall.

I don’t want that happening at the festival. It’s far too polarizing. Battling just to find out who’s better. That may go down in the clubs. But the atmosphere at these clashes is pretty tense, and I don’t like that.

So it’s here’s to another 30 years then?

Jeez (laughs). 30 years. 30 years! No way. The business is becoming pretty intense, not least because of the financial situation we already touched upon: not enough acts, and the fact that their fees are going out the roof. Artists used to play festivals to promote a record. That has changed. Today, they go on tour to earn money. You pay three to four times as much, even for bands that play the afternoon slots.

We’ll see how this develops. At the moment, I still absolutely love what I’m doing. I wouldn’t know what else to do anyways, so I’ll just continue year after year. And once I’m done, maybe someone else will take over.

Any last words?

I hope the people will like our program and appreciate that we’re presenting music from different eras. And I hope the weather will be good.

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