With Montreal being my favorite city, it was a pleasure to speak with Igloofest and Piknic Electronic Co-Founder Nicolas Cournoyer. Both festivals are Montreal staples, attracting thousands of the most fun and cool people from all over. Something these two events have in common is a focus on the overall experience, and though I have yet to witness the vibe of Piknic, I’m familiar with that of Igloofest and it’s one for any festival goer to immerse in.
This was my fifth year attending Igloofest. Now I need to come during the summer for Piknic…
► It’s a different vibe, but it’s a good vibe. Have you been to Montreal during the summer?
Yeah, I’ve been in the summer, but that was before I started going to festivals.
► Piknic is really cool, and you know the open-minded spirit you have at Igloofest, you have at Piknic as well. That’s one point I’m very proud and happy about.
I want to jump back a bit in time to when you started Piknic. What is your background and how did you get into events?
► I didn’t have any experience. In fact, in 2003 it was four friends who started Piknic; as you know, it’s the ancestor of Igloofest. We wanted to take electronic music and get it out of clubs and afterhours and put it outside in a part of Montreal. After a while, we said, ‘Why not take the summer experience and make it during the winter time?’ So that’s what we wanted at the beginning. As for myself, I studied law. I have a law degree; I was a lawyer in Montreal and practiced for five years and decided to quit everything and jump into festival and event organization. I work with the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal; that’s how it started for me, that was my first experience. Of course, when I was younger, I was involved in many things in my hometown like soccer coach, dealing with the league, being a referee organizer, organizing galas, and that kind of stuff so I was kind of an organizer but on a really small scale. So when I started with the jazz festival, I was working in logistics with the maintenance coordinator on the field so I was working with kids doing the cleaning and maintenance of the site during the summertime. But when you’re working for a festival that has two million people attending every year, you learn fast about organizing events. It was in my second year doing that for the jazz festival that we came up with the idea of organizing Piknic. I was just starting in that field and Michel was doing some stuff. We were just four guys who wanted to change the nightlife scene and just came up with the idea of taking electronic music out of its natural environment. The first few years, we were just organizing that for fun because we were all working full time somewhere but after a few years, the event evolved and got more and more people and that’s why a few years after, we started Igloofest. It started really small as well and everything has grown and became a real full time job. We have no degree in school for this, we just learned it along the way. The first few years, we were just having meetings each and every Monday during the summertime about what we could do to improve and do best and keep the experience and the spirit around those ideas and events.
Do you find many attendees come to Igloofest specifically for the overall experience rather than to see a particular DJ play?
► It’s a mix of both. There are a lot of people coming for the bookings of course. When we started with Piknic, the crowd we were seeing was people just enjoying electronic music; for Igloofest as well. There was a lot of prejudice around the electronic music scene, like ‘It’s always drugs and terrible things happen there,’ but people just came to the event of Igloofest and realized, “Hey, electronic music is cool, it’s goofy, you can dance, you can have fun, you can stick together with your friends and can talk with anybody.” The first few years, even though the first ones were electronic fans, then there were many many people who came just for the experience. They heard about it, the new cool thing in town, and needed to try it out. One of our targets with Igloofest was to make people stop complaining about the winter. Go out, find a good reason to enjoy the winter, have a good time, drink, party, dance, and enjoy. Yes, there are a lot of people who come only for the experience, but there’s a proportion of people who just look at the bookings, and this has evolved over the years as now we see the young crowds are more artist-driven than they were before. Before they would just say, ‘Okay, we’re going to Igloofest, just have a good time, go with the gang, have a big meal together, dress up with our flashy winter suit and go out and party.’ It all depends on the cycle, the people, the ages. There are nights with big international artists and other nights the artists are less known. This past Saturday, we had Hungry Music; they’re known but not as known or as big as other artists, but 8,000 people came and had a good time. It also depends where you’re from. Of course artists will lead to bring people from outside the country, but there are some people who come each and every year because they like something unique.
Do you have a separate team of people who work on the experience elements like the Iglooslide, campfires, etc?
► Sponsorships sometimes have brands or companies that already have their own experience settled that they will use in many festivals. You want to team up with brands that suit you and will go toward your craziness in those activities. We wanted to do something original during the wintertime and take some winter classics here and reinvent, as you see with the sumo hockey, miniature curling, and that kind of stuff. We’re not just renting a sponsorship place saying to do what they want. We want something with logic, we want to have a different atmosphere on-site as well. There’s the music, there’s the dance floor, but there’s a lot of experience and activities on-site for people to go back in their childhood and enjoy the winter. It’s not only a hard ticket show where you go see the artist and leave. For us, that’s really important in the end and the spirit of the event. It takes months but that’s one thing we enjoy, to see the result on-site.
Now that Igloofest is done and Piknic is coming, do you get a break?
► Summer stuff has already started. When we finish one year, we’re taking already and dealing with the next because they’re not on the same site. One is in Old Port Montreal and the other is on the island. Of course we take a little break but right after the 2017 Igloofest, in the weeks after, we were doing brainstorms and brought people in to plan the next year. Within the next few weeks we’ll grab some festival goers who came this year and some who didn’t but would like to, and get their feedback.
When can we expect this year’s Piknic lineup to be announced?
► You know, it was a different strategy this year for Igloofest. Usually the announcement is at the beginning of December. Last year, we decided to do it differently. The beginning of October, we announced a name per week or so, but I’m not sure yet if the marketing team would want to do the same with Piknic. Usually the bookings are announced around the end of April, beginning of May, but we may change the strategy because the reaction for Igloofest was really cool and people talked a bit more about the bookings rather than just one shot.