A Colossal Weekend

author AP date 03/05/17

Last year, the Danish booking agency COLOSSAL tapped into the rising popularity of niche festivals among European audiences and took the leap to put on what is currently the country’s only event solely dedicated to all things experimental and ‘post-‘. A Colossal Weekend was thus born, and having sold out is inaugural edition, we were of course dying to find out what it takes to put on a successful indie-festival like it. To satisfy our curiosity, we sat down with the brains behind the event, Jeppe Nygaard Christensen & Jens Back — both veterans of the Danish post-rock scene by way of their bands, The Shaking Sensations & Late Night Venture, and of course their work with the COLOSSAL booking agency — and quizzed the two for some 45 minutes over pints of craft beer.

RF.net: Let’s kick this off with introductions.
Jeppe: My name is Jeppe and I’m one part of COLOSSAL. I also work at VEGA and now I also book the Frost Festival, which takes place in February. COLOSSAL has been a big part of my life for seven, eight years now. We’ve done tours for Danish bands in Europe and set up a huge amount of concerts in Copenhagen — mostly DIY and smaller acts. But it’s all based on our love for everything with ‘post-‘ in front of it.

Jens: My name is Jens and I’m the other part of COLOSSAL. Besides that, I work at a library in Nørrebro, at Blågårds Plads, and I’m in the booking group at Stengade. And I play in a band called Late Night Venture, which is kind of how COLOSSAL started; Jeppe still had The Shaking Sensations and both of our bands wanted to tour outside of Denmark, but no one else would book us — so we started a booking agency and booked ourselves!

RF.net: How did A Colossal Weekend come to be? How did you start up the festival?
Jeppe: It has been a dream for many years to make this sort of festival thing — to create space for this kind of music in Copenhagen and to make a room for all the dedicated people, who are in the bands and also like the music, and of course the audience. To be able to catch some of your favourite bands at a really nice venue, dive into this music for a whole weekend with people who feel the same way and be really close to the bands as well.

Jens: We both visited and played at a festival in Belgium called Dunk! Festival, which, I guess, is kind of the first of these post-rock-ish festivals that are popping up all over Europe. We were inspired a lot by that festival and seeing that there is a really strong community around this type of music — people are coming to Dunk! Festival from all over the world, and the same thing is happening with A Colossal Weekend.

Jeppe: Yeah. Basically, I just pitched the idea to one of the bookers at VEGA, Lena, and she immediately said, ’Well, what’s your gut feeling? It sounds really interesting.’ I was like, ’Well, we need to do this!’ to which she said, ’Alright, just go for it!’. Now it’s the second time we do it and it seems very promising this year as well.

RF.net: Do you think that’s a general thing for a new festival concept — to be accepted that easily?

Jeppe: Well, there are lots of festivals and new festivals are popping up all over Denmark all the time. So maybe it’s a trend. These mass experiences seem to be really popular and something that sell tickets as well. I know that the club scene is struggling — the club shows, that is — but all festivals are doing pretty well. And I think that club venues are looking more into being a part of this festival thing. On the other hand, there is nothing like A Colossal Weekend in Denmark — we have more doom and hardcore-style events but nothing like A Colossal Weekend. So I believe that VEGA, as we did, saw an opportunity and an uncovered market that the venue could capitalise on.

Jens: I think it’s also the fact that we’re a genre-specific festival, like Copenhagen Psych Fest and its likes. Because it’s so niche-y, it’s easy for us to reach the audience that we want. And in relation to what Jeppe said, it’s like seeing these streaming services like Netflix taking over from single movies — it’s this binging thing that’s the culture right now.

Jeppe: Also, the thing about presenting bands that people haven’t heard about is something that has a huge value. Putting a program together which has a certain amount of headliners, you know that these guys are going to sell the tickets. But we also want to provide something else, put something else into the scene. Many of these acts that we booked this year and also last year would never be able to sell more than 50-60 tickets if they played alone in Copenhagen. And it’s not because people don’t like them, but there’s just so many gigs going on all the time that you always have to choose. But if you put them all together into one weekend, I think people actually prioritise catching as many of them as possible.

Jens: It makes a huge difference for the smaller bands to be able to play at a festival like A Colossal Weekend — as it did for us when we were invited to play at Dunk! Festival. You get to play for an audience, who you know is very interested in music and the particular kind of music that you play, plus you get to play beside your heroes, so to speak. I really think that it can give some of the smaller bands a big push.

Jeppe: Yeah, that’s what we saw from last year. For instance, LLNN played and after that they signed with Pelagic Records and it’s been going well for them — and Jens and the guys as well: Late Night Venture played last year.

Jens: The cool thing was that even at the smaller shows, the rooms were packed. There were no empty concerts and I think that’s a big confidence boost.

RF.net: You touched upon this earlier on, but what kind of audience do you hope to attract for the festival?
Jeppe: Well, first of all, an audience which is dedicated and ready to broaden their perspective on music. We want our audience to want to travel to meet up with like-minded people and experience this event with an open mind. Last year, 40% of the tickets were sold outside of Denmark and we are seeing the same trend this year. We also saw that the bands sold loads of merch, so these really are people who are into it and want to support the scene. That’s the audience that we reach and also the ideal audience for us.

RF.net: How do you go about reaching an audience outside of Denmark?

Jeppe: It’s really community-based: we have different Facebook groups and because we’ve been in this business for so long, we have a huge network of bookers and promoters. And, well, we’ve been touring and sent bands all over Europe, so we’ve just got to know a lot of people. And then also, we have a close relationship with Dunk! Festival and co-book some of the acts.

Jens: … and another one in France: Young Team Festival.

Jeppe: Exactly. And different blogs and media are picking up on this all over the world.

Jens: Of course, when people see on social networks or somewhere that Deafheaven is playing in Copenhagen, and that they’re playing at A Colossal Weekend, they start to wonder what it is.

Jeppe: We really try to make the bands, the management and the booking agents spread the word as well. That’s maybe the best way to communicate this event outside of Denmark: to let the bands themselves talk about it. And actually, the bands are really happy to play these kinds of events because it’s not a regular festival — some of their friends are playing even though they are from different countries, so they know each other and see it as a sort of coming-together. We also have booking agents from some of the other bands coming and they are going to meet each other. Not that we are trying to be Roadburn Festival, but Roadburn Festival has that same appeal: it’s really community-based on all levels, whether between bands and agents or among the audience. We had a really good response after last year and we see that lots of people are coming again, so it’s also word-by-mouth, I guess.

RF.net: Did you expect to sell out the festival last year?
Jeppe: We didn’t really know what to expect the first year. I mean, in our minds we expected it because we thought that it was a killer line-up. And, yeah, we sold out and that was a huge thing for us.

Jens: I think that deep down, we kind of knew that we would probably sell out or at least come close. When you have a band like Cult of Luna, who could sell out Lille VEGA on their own, then you know it’s not going to be that bad.

Jeppe: We knew that it wasn’t going to be difficult and as I said earlier, when I first spoke to the booker at VEGA and she asked about my gut-feeling, I was sure we were going to sell out. That was a sales pitch from me of course, but if you’re asked about your gut-feeling, you’re almost always honest. So we were really sure that we had something good going.

RF.net: Is the sell-out point of the festival basically the capacity of Lille VEGA, then?

Jeppe: We can actually sell more tickets because we have Lille VEGA and the lounge on the second floor, and this year we have a new stage, which is Ideal Bar on the ground floor. Lille VEGA’s capacity is 500 and the capacity of the lounge is 350, and then we have 200 in Ideal Bar. And we expect a flow; last year we sold 600 tickets and only at the Cult of Luna show, it was a bit cramped — but nothing that you wouldn’t have experienced before. So 600 is the maximum capacity that we want to push it to. We know that people want a break every now and then, but we also have to expect that during the headliner sets, everyone will be at Lille VEGA.

Jens: But another thing I noticed last year was that even though VEGA was really, really packed — maybe a bit more packed than at a normal show — the audience was some of the most well-behaved that I’ve ever seen. Everyone was really respectful and there was no pushing or shoving.

Jeppe: So the capacity this year is 600, though the amount of tickets that we sell is a little bit lower because there are always guest lists and such. We are well-covered by press this year, lots of foreign magazines will be here. It’s going to be packed, but it’s going to be nice.

RF.net: Are you expecting to sell out again this year?

Jeppe: The ticket sales have been really, really good the last couple of days, so if it continues the way it’s going now, we’re going to sell out.

Jens: It’s the same as it was this time last year.

Jeppe: But a month ago, it looked really bad, actually, and we were very worried. When we first booked Deafheaven, we thought that it might have the potential to take A Colossal Weekend to Store VEGA — a combination of the big hall and the small hall. But it didn’t really have the effect that we expected, so we quickly decided to do it the way that we did it last year. That was a good experience for everyone and maybe it’s too early to try something new.

Jens: But then we still have Ideal Bar, so we have a third stage now as something new.

RF.net: Let’s talk about some of the difficulties of setting up an independent festival. Copenhell, NorthSide and Tinderbox all have big promoters backing them, so how do you stand up against them?
Jeppe: The only way to stand up against them is trying to bypass them. Sometimes they freak out and the bigger agents tell us that that’s not the way to do it. But we know that we need to get a direct contact with the management and the bands to actually tell them about this event, that it’s not a regular festival nor a regular club thing, but something in between. And it is really difficult, because we are definitely competing with the bigger festivals, with bigger agencies backing them — and also Roskilde Festival, which is independent. Because A Colossal Weekend is a two-day event, we are categorised as a festival but…

Jens: It’s an event. But I think that a lot of the bands that we book are flying under the radar of those bigger festivals. I mean, I’m sure Roskilde would have loved to have Deafheaven, but at least in terms of Danish festivals, I don’t think they are that interested in most of the line-up that we have. And we’re like a month before the season really kicks off.

Jeppe: We have nothing near the financial strength as these big festivals and it can be tough to get some of the headliners because they are actually represented by the some of the bigger agencies. Let’s say the Danish division of a big agency is not interested in setting up a gig with a certain artist in Denmark because they know that they cannot sell enough tickets. Then what happens is that they don’t pay attention to these artists when they are offered, and they end up doing a European tour without Denmark. So sometimes we need to convince these agencies that, well, let’s take them to Denmark. And sometimes we need to bypass these agencies and take direct contact. And then, sometimes we have to work with the agencies anyway because they are handling the booking. It’s tough in a way and the other difficulty is that we are not making any money off this; it’s a really tight budget. We spend every cent on the acts and trying to make this event as good for everyone as possible, so it also means that we don’t have the same budget for promotion and stuff like that. And now, when we launched our full program, Roskilde launched their full program, Copenhell did, Heartland did, NorthSide… and they’re all selling out. Royal Arena also just opened up, and you can see that people are spending all their money on festival tickets and really, really expensive concert tickets, and then we are sitting back here, trying to get everything that’s left. But then again, it’s not like we feel that we are being put on the sideline because it’s a different audience — and we know that it’s a dedicated audience, so they will pick up on it.

Jens:  Our ticket is really cheap. I mean, for the price of our festival, you could probably not even go to one concert at Royal Arena!

RF.net: In terms of getting that bands that you want, as you just dabbled in, A Colossal Weekend takes place just before the summer festival season, so we’d imagine that a lot of bands are not touring right now — they’re waiting until June, July to do that. Do you have some challenges that you face in terms of available bands?
Jens:  The good thing about having a festival in May is that we’re right after right after Roadburn and Dunk! Festival is right after us. A lot of these kinds of festivals are placed in May, so there’s a good circle of bands around.

Jeppe: But you’re right: if you want to have the bigger headliners, we are either too late or too early. So actually, for this year’s festival, we started communicating with some headliners that we really wanted right after last year’s festival and we had a good dialogue for half a year, and then when the actual plans needed to be made, they would not be touring in this window. It is really tough but it’s all about starting really early to communicate with the agents and the bands and just making them aware of this event. And I can say that already now, we are dealing with a couple of acts for next year — just nursing them and telling them how nice it is and how much we would like to see them perform and stuff like that. So it’s a lot of work, but…

Jens: Last year, when we had the line-up booked, we already started making a shortlist of bands we would like to see this year.

Jeppe: But then again, as I said before, with Dunk! Festival and this Young Team Festival in France, we actually co-booked some of the acts like Russian Circles. They were not going to tour, but we talked to the guys in Belgium and France and decided to make an offer, since we could guarantee them three gigs. Then they decided to put together a tour, and actually, the same thing happened with This Will Destroy You. So we are working together with the other festivals and we don’t feel that we compete with them.

RF.net: Do you feel that you are competing with any other festivals?

Jeppe: Not really, but we know that some of our foreign audience groups are choosing between Roadburn, Dunk! and Colossal. And I know that some people went to Dunk! last year but are choosing us this year, and the other way around.

Jens: And also, we have SPOT Festival in Århus the same weekend as us. But it’s not a competition — it’s just something that’s going on the same weekend that I’m sure both of our festivals can feel.

Jeppe: Especially because SPOT Festival has put together a sort of metal program this year. So yeah, there’s definitely competition — and we also have the competition with other shows. For instance, Wolves in the Throne Room are playing tomorrow, and we were so close to getting them onto our program. Competition can be seen as… Well, you as the audience only have a certain amount of money to spend on shows, so you have to choose because there is so much going on in the Spring — especially on the heavier side. It is competition but it’s healthy competition.

Jens: Plane tickets are so cheap right now that if you live in France, you can choose whether to go to A Colossal Weekend or Primavera Sound in Barcelona two weeks later and it makes no financial difference.

RF.net: What festivals, events and concerts do you like to attend to find inspiration?
Jeppe: I’ve been to ArcTanGent in Bristol in England and I’m going there this year as well. They have some of the headliners that we would also like to see but it’s also a really good place to spot talent and see what’s going on in the UK scene. They really have a strong math/instrumental scene. For instance, Vasa, who played at A Colossal Weekend last year, was a band that I saw at ArcTanGent and they did really well. They just… In Denmark, and in Scandinavia in general, some of the bands maybe have it too easy: there’s lots of government funding — if you don’t have a job, you get money from the government and stuff like that — so you’re always able to do different things and you don’t have to do it 100% because there’s always a way out of it. But these bands from the UK are just going into it 100%, spending all of their time in the rehearsal space, and you can really feel that this is something that they mean. Vasa was one of those bands and they’re actually playing at our warm-up show at KB18 the day before the festival this year. It’s just interesting to go and see bands that you don’t know, but with whom you can just feel instantly that these people mean it — it’s a question of life or death for them, and that’s really inspiring. But the again, Roskilde Festival is also always a good place to go — they have really, really great names in the line-up this year, and I believe they are acts that are not that well known but you get to see them on a proper stage together with a lot of other people. So I’d say that Roskilde is one of the nicer places. But I’ve never been to Roadburn, to be honest!

Jens: I’m going to Primavera Sound in Barcelona for a sixth time and the first couple of years that I went, some of the bands there were ones I never thought I’d see — they really pulled out some bands that I thought were long gone. These festivals are being a bit more commodified now — they’re not as special as they used to be — but Primavera Sound is still a really nice place to see bands. One of my favourite parts about that festival is that they have these warm-up days with club shows, where you can see cutting-edge, upcoming stuff from all over the world.

RF.net: Did the line-up for A Colossal Weekend turn out exactly as you wanted it to this year?
Jeppe: Not at all. But in the end, we are really satisfied.

Jens: We would have loved to be able to move up to the big venue at Store VEGA.

Jeppe: We had some really interesting dialogues going on since last year’s festival and I mean, in August, we thought we had maybe one of the sickest line-ups ever. But then, three headliners fell through — and you have seen, or will see all three at other events in Denmark. That was just a question about us not having the money to pay out. It’s better for the agents to place these acts in the big festivals.

Jens: When you get into a certain level, then it’s the agents talking and their biggest concern is their provision.

RF.net: One of them, as you mentioned, was Wolves in the Throne Room.

Jeppe: Yeah, and we had a really strong dialogue with some other, even bigger acts as well. So that’s the level that we’re at. But we’re not seeing ourselves as opponents to these agencies because they are just doing their jobs and I’m happy as long as these bands are playing in Denmark because I also want to see them. But as soon as they’re not playing in Denmark because an agent didn’t want to put them on somewhere, I feel like, that’s just too bad, you know?

Jens: We have a certain amount that we can go up to and if the agent says, ’We got a better offer’, then that’s that.

Jeppe: One band’s fee from Roskilde Festival could be our total budget. But this band might only play for 20% of that fee if it were a club show. So it’s because we are considered this festival thing — which, in my opinion, we are not — that we are asked for similar fees.

RF.net: Do you finance the festival together with VEGA?

Jeppe: Yeah, they are our partner in this one. Not to go into details, but VEGA is covering our ass. But at the same time, we’ve also put a really good program together. For us, at this moment, the main purpose of this event is to build something up and to make the community in Denmark and the surrounding countries stronger. So we are not making any money out of it but in the long run, it could be nice to be able to at least do something bigger.

Jens: But for sure, since we did A Colossal Weekend last year and because we do shows all through the year — also outside of Denmark — we get better offers now. Also, bands that are more known than before are asking us to put together their tours, so we are definitely more visible in that scene now. We’re not making any money from the festival, the event itself but we are definitely benefiting from it throughout the year.

RF.net: In terms of the line-up, what are you looking forward to the most and what are you recommending as must-sees at this year’s Colossal Weekend?
Jeppe: For me… I mean, I’ve seen all of the headliners before and they rock. But Yndi Halda — they’re playing on Saturday. They’re from Brighton and I saw them there once. They did this record 10 years ago and back then, people were like, ’Oh, maybe these guys are the new Godspeed You! Black Emperor’ and then 10 years went by and no one heard anything from them. But then they did this record last year — it’s called “Under Summer” — and it’s really, really beautiful. I’ve seen them live and they’re just amazing — the music is really positive but you still get this melancholy feeling from it. Valerian Swing is another must-see, an Italian band, kicking ass.

Jens: I think that Mutiny on the Bounty will be something that will blow people’s minds because they’re just… I’ve seen them a couple of times and they’re just such skilled musicians that it becomes so powerful. It’s really technical, but catchy at the same time. I’m also looking forward to our first straight-up electronic act, Rome in Reverse, which is really interesting, mixing rock-inspired music with laptops. I think that will be a great show, too.

Jeppe: I’m also really looking forward to seeing SUMAC not totally wasted at, what was it?, two in the morning or something like that at last year’s Roskilde Festival.

RF.net: Aren’t they playing pretty late here too?

Jeppe: Yeah, but not that late!

RF.net: So you were one of the what?, ten people we saw at that show, huh?

Jeppe: Yeah, but I have to admit that didn’t see it really because I was simply too tired. On my notebook, I wrote, ’I need to book this! It’s really good!’, though. But another time, another place…

RF.net: What would be your dream-booking for A Colossal Weekend? At the Drive-in?
Jeppe: At the Drive-in? Yeah, that would be something. It’s hard to say… Neurosis would be amazing!

Jens: You have a sweet spot for American Football!

Jeppe: Yeah. Actually, American Football was one of the acts that we were in dialogue with for a long time. And then we were so close to getting them to play Copenhagen in June but it also fell through — they got other offers. And I mean, it would be nice to do Slowdive or something like that, one of those re-union bands. But then again, the agents see the market; they can play festivals, huge festivals and get a lot of money, and then I’m here in Copenhagen saying, ’Well, I can sell 200-300 tickets’, and the ticket price would be 400-500 DKK. So that’s also something that we have to deal with. If we could have booked them for A Colossal Weekend, it could have worked because we have a bigger budget. It’s just one of those bands that… I actually tried to get the deluxe edition of their LP that was re-issued in 2015 and I couldn’t even order it at any vinyl stores in Copenhagen. So that’s how the market for American Football is here. But I heard them on the radio the other day — a band on P6 Beat was playing some artists they were inspired by!

RF.net: Well, apparently John Foged from NorthSide is pretty happy about them. We saw him praising them on Facebook!

Jeppe: They should come here! But alas…

RF.net: Are you planning to expand the festival in the future in terms of the line-up, the genres you cover and the number of tickets sold?
Jeppe: Well, in February we did this thing called ‘Colossal on Wheels’, where we took some Danish acts on the road, and we will do this again. But we might do some single-day events during the year as well — like maybe all-dayers with four, five acts or something like that.

Jens: It was already an idea to use Store VEGA for the festival this year and hopefully, we can do that in future.

Jeppe: Then again, we also have a concept going here, which we are really confident about and the audience seems to like it.

Jens: Yeah, I think people really enjoyed the fact that it was so small last year. It shouldn’t get too big.

Jeppe: Of course, if we manage to book a huge headliner, we have to move up. But you know, it’s like… It’s always nice to see your baby grow up, but it’s also hard!

RF.net: In order to shift the last tickets that you have remaining, what would you say to people that haven’t bought a ticket yet? Why should they buy?
Jeppe: If they know just one band on the line-up that they dig, there will be lots of other stuff for them to take a look at and listen to. There’s a completely special mood at VEGA these two days: people are extremely friendly and open-minded, and it’s just nice to see the bands walk amongst the audience, checking out the other bands, having a good time. It’s something really special for everyone.

Jens: Also, some of these bands that are playing, you will probably not get the chance to see in Denmark in the near future. It’s a really unique event around these parts, so…

Jeppe: And if you want to support the scene, if you have the slightest interest in it — just go there! We want to do this next year and for many years to come, and we need everyone’s support for this. As we said, we’re not in it for the money, we’re in it for the good times!

RF.net: Last year, Tommy’s Burger Joint was there to provide food for hungry festival-goers. What arrangements have you made for food this year?

Jeppe: There’ll definitely be some food trucks outside but inside, we’re not sure if there’ll be anything.

Jens: This year, you’ll also have to go to Ideal Bar for some of the concerts, so you’ll need to go outside anyway. And the weather, of course, will be amazing!

RF.net: Do you have any final remarks that you would like to throw in before we wrap this interview up?
Jeppe: A shout-out for the warm-up event at KB18: Town Portal, Vasa and Matt Jencik are going to play for free on May 04th.

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