New Programming: Music at the Crossroads

(Aus: Strength in Numbers – A Study of Europe Jazz Network by Fiona Goh)

Reiner Michalke, artistic director of Germany’s MOERS FESTIVAL, received the EJN award for adventurous programming in 2015 and speaks passionately about the history of the festival he has curated for 11 years: „This is the only festival of its type in Europe – when it started in 1972, it focused on free improvised music, and my predecessor invited the searchers who were on the edge of creative music, never the mainstream of the music.

The festival was always presenting the edge, but with a very big openness to pop music, rock music and world music but always with a reference to improvised music and a very big respect to jazz music and its history. However, it was never presented as jazz – it was new jazz. That was and still is the idea of Moers: not to look at what is in the middle, but what is on the outside. The ones who are avant-garde, who are nervous, searching, looking, never standing in the same place. This is still the core of the festival.“

The festival underwent a big change in 2014 when it moved from being an outdoor tented festival surrounded by a large crowd of people to celebrate ‚the jazz‘ but not to listen to the music, to a smaller indoor venue focused only on those who wanted to experience the music. The risk in making this change was in losing audience numbers, but any losses have been more than compensated by the quality of experience:

„The audience is the main treasure of the festival because our audience does not come here to wait for big names: they’re expecting new music, new musicians, new faces, new adventurous things and they’re incredibly open to new experiences. For a curator like me, that’s the greatest gift you could have.“

A longstanding member of EJN, Michalke’s international curation is at the heart of his programming: „I travel the world nearly half the year to attend festivals and concerts, as the festival itself is based on the diverse stages of the world. It’s not that the festival itself has an idea – the festival is just a window and my ambition is to be the most open, fastest window on what happens on the stages of the world in creative improvised musics, rock, pop, jazz. To be this fast and to display this in one festival in four days, I try to work like a journalist, rather than an artistic approach – I’m not trying to take a position and prove it through the programme, but instead to see if the music I’m hearing has something to say that’s more important than others, then I try to find maybe the 20 most important things that are being said.“

This ambitious and adventurous programming model complements the atmosphere in the new festival venue, where everyone is there for the music and family audiences with children can feel secure. As well as building and maintaining a more diverse audience, the programme also attempts to balance its layout in terms of gender, heritage, nationality, age and style, to make it diverse in any criteria: „The aim is that if you come to Moers for four days, then you will know what’s happening in the music today. There are just a few festivals in the world where you can find new things and in Europe, the problem is not that there aren’t good curators but the lack of a willing audience. You need an audience that will follow you, that takes what you give and says that it doesn’t need big names. So if I have to say what it is that makes Moers distinct, it’s always the audience: that’s what makes the difference.“