Kai Lotze (organizer) from Amphi Festival
Before Amphi Festival, one of the organizers, Kai Lotze, has found time for us to speak about history, moving of the Festival to a new location and many other things. Some ideas that we have discussed are already implemented. I hope that you will find answers for some of your questions in this Interview too.
Reflections of Darkness [RoD]: We did our first interview in 2011, four years ago.
Kai: We did?
RoD: Yes, when I was visiting your office.
RoD: Many changes happened since that time. Last year you celebrated the 10th anniversary of Amphi festival. It started with 4,500 visitors and now reached 16,000. Have you ever thought about such a success? And how did you come up with an idea to create this festival?
Kai: Then first let’s talk about the creation of the festival. It’s the beginning of everything. Actually we had been in this business for many years, but mostly as a booking agency or tour managers, went to festivals with our bands. And there we could notice some organizational shortcomings or things that we would change. So we learnt everything ourselves, because we used to visit festivals from the beginning of the 90s. Yes, in 90/91 there was our first event with PROJECT PITCHFORK. Besides we thought that in Western Germany, if we take it by regions, there are no events of the kind. That time there was only WGT in Leipzig and M’era Luna near Hannover. But the most populous region is North Rhine-Westphalia. Also such countries as Holland and Belgium are not so far from Cologne and even Northern France. And there was nothing. That’s why we decided to start our own festival, try something different, because we noticed that audience may be interested not only in bands. Yes, the program must be appropriate and good enough, but all other things are also important. There must be a feeling of comfort. That was something some festival missed! And everything should begin with the location. For the first year we had a good one – the Amphitheatre in Gelsenkirchen, where Blackfield festival took place. You know it. It was a special location comparing to a hangar or an airfield. And next year Cologne became another improvement, at least because of the location.
For instance, Rhine, Cologne Cathedral and the fact that the festival itself takes place right in the city attracted people who come from other cities and countries. So sightseeing was also helpful to improve a general impression of the festival, because people came not only to see live shows. We began holding the festival there and to be honest, we didn’t think about how big it might be, how many visitors we could achieve. It was only important that we didn’t lose money and everyone who took part at the festival would have fun. Fortunately even the first festival was quite popular and we decided to continue. If people said “nooo”, with WGT, M’era Luna and some local event we had enough, I don’t think that we would have gone on. But thanks to the success at the very beginning we saw that people were interested and realized that the location in Gelsenkirchen we wouldn’t go too far, because the capacity was too limited there and we could make only one stage. But we wanted different stages, big and small. So our attention was attracted by a new location in Tanzbrunnen where the festival could grow, not only with the quantity of visitors, but also because there was a second stage in Theatre and enough space for the market, more than it was in Gelsenkirchen. And the upcoming year we moved. That time we already had 8,000 or 9,000 visitors, so the number had doubled. Of course, we said that we would keep it up. If it was in such a great demand, we started getting a bit bigger every year. Once the stage in Theatre became too small, and we got a chance to add the Staatenhaus. At that time it was still called Rheinparkhalle. The second stage was moved there and in Theatre we could make the third stage, for reading and other things of the kind. So almost every year something new was added. For example, the beach appeared at the second year of holding our festival in Cologne. Then café in Staatenhaus. Almost every year we expanded our concept or territory.
RoD: What is your first impression about the very first Amphi?
Kai: The best impression was that we and all our crew managed to do it! We didn’t have any experience in organizing festivals. Yes, of course, we organized events, club shows or something like that, but to deal with so many bands it was a totally different level. And of course with so many visitors comparing to club shows. It was a great experience! In the evening to watch from above and to see how many people came and everything worked, everything was fine etc. It gave us a proof. It’s always important to see the result of your efforts. It was worthy of working on it and it’s still worthy. It’s great that during a festival day or a weekend you can get a proof of your work! You can realize why you are doing all that!
RoD: The most important piece of news now is a moving of the festival. I supposed something like this, because during the last five years Amphi was always sold-out and for me the festival was too hot and too crowded. But why now? After the 10th anniversary to start everything from the beginning?
Kai: Yes, many people think that we decided to move because we wanted to become bigger. But it’s not the reason! We would like to stay in Tanzbrunnen. The reason is that unfortunately we can’t hold Amphi there anymore. We lose Staatenhaus because they want to rebuild it and make a music-hall. Nobody knows if it will be done and when. I mean with “it will be done” it’s clear, but “when” nobody knows. Anyway we can’t use that building. That’s why we lose many thing and the most important one - second stage - where was enough place for several thousands of people. It means that the second stage should be moved back to Theatre, the capacity of which is only 2,500 people. So we would have to make the festival much smaller, with 12,000 visitors, without any third stage and with a small second one. I think, people won’t like it. When you are used to something, you can improve it and suggest something new, but not take away things that people already know and appreciate. Of course, Staatenhaus has its weaknesses. People complained that it was very hot or very cold, very stuffy, very dark there. So on one hand, it may seem good that we can’t use the building anymore, but in that case we will have to make the festival much smaller and we will receive complaints of another kind. Fortunately, the chief of our project, who was responsible for us in Tanzbrunnen, changed his job by chance to Lanxess Arena. And he asked us if we could hold the festival there. Otherwise, I mean it wasn’t the man whom we knew and who knew our festival, I’m not sure that we could move.
To take such a risk, to start everything from the beginning when you don’t know if you will work well together with people there and if they will understand our festival. Lanxess Arena is a large commercial object, which is mostly used for mainstream events. I would not feel comfortable that way. But as our chief changed his job and he knew what exactly was Amphi, what atmosphere was there, how to treat the audience and so on, we decided to work with Lanxess Arena and all the territory there. We take not only the arena but also a bit field where we place an open air stage. Near the arena there will be a market as it was in Tanzbrunnen around a fountain. Now it will be around Lanxess. Nearby there’s a nice building of the city hall, with a great highway, a long way where we can create an atmosphere of a café. There are lots of different objects at that location, not only the arena. Now we have even two open air stages, including the third one which was previously in Theatre. So it remains the same with the stages. The only difference is with their sizes. The main stage is now inside and it's a big advantage comparing to Tanzbrunnen, because it may work till night. For many people shows there finished too early. In Tanzbrunnen we had to end at 10pm because of the loudness. Now it’s not a problem and we can prolong our Saturday program till 2 am. The arena itself has a lot of advantages, for example enough seat places. Of course, you can stay below but in such a long festival day, sooner or later you may want to have a seat. By the way, the old venue was criticized because of that, as there were not enough places to sit. But where could we have them? Our territory was limited, we couldn’t make enough seats for 10,000 people. Arena has 16,000 – 17,000 seats so enough for everyone. The stage inside is much bigger. It was also a shortcoming of Tanzbrunnen because our main stage was too small there. Yes, it used to work for years, but now we have better conditions for bands, we can do absolutely different thing. Also it has better conditions for light.
We could discuss prices for food and drinks. It was also something Amphi was criticized for: in Tanzbrunnen prices were too high. Now it will be cheaper. We can’t control prices as they have their own people there, but at least we could make sure that prices will be cheaper. Also they have more vegetarian and vegan things. Now we cooperate together much better than before. These are small advantages that should be mentioned. So we are very optimistic, happy and of course curious. Nobody knows what people will think. We also don’t know what will be with the atmosphere of the festival there. But we are sure that in any case it’s an improvement.
RoD: About the second open air stage, former stage in Theatre, I can see that one problem will be solved: there won’t be a queue at the entrance. Before not so many people can come to the stage because of a small size of the venue. But don’t you think that an open air stage will miss that special atmosphere? In Theatre, chamber bands always performed and the atmosphere was very important there.
Kai: Yes, you are right. Now the program itself will be different. But check out bands playing on the third stage. You can’t see them live too often. So it will be a special stage, with a program different than it was in Theatre.
RoD: Ok. Then another question about the location. I was looking for a long time but couldn’t find a place for autograph sessions. Will they happen this year or you haven’t decided yet? Or you don’t plan them at all?
Kai: Actually autograph sessions are planned. We also asked all band who wanted to do it. We can’t make them do it. But most bands wish to give autographs. We are not sure with the place yet, because we need to coordinate everything with the authorities. It’s a special use of the territory, like never before. Of course, in Lanxess events take place all the time, but this time we will use it along with open air places and stages. There are a lot of security terms, which must be taken into consideration: evacuation routes, allocation of visitors, etc. No one knows for sure those routes and we need time to find that out. But first we need to simulate a situation and suppose where could be narrow passages, as we can’t make autograph sessions in such places as a crowd there could block something. Everything must be considered in advance.
RoD: And now question which may be interesting for young bands, who wish to play at Amphi. How can they do it? Because at your page it’s stated that you contact bands yourself. Which criteria do you look at choosing this or that band for the festival?
Kai: Criteria are numerous - it’s hard to say in general. First of all, the festival line-up must be diverse. There must be powerful bands, even if many people say that they saw such bands very often. But we get wish lists with certain bands which may interest our audience, even if they often play at Amphi. Of course, these bands make our basis. Besides we try to find some exotic bands. This year we have a lot of bands who never played at Amphi. It’s always underrated that we have a big percentage of bands that never performed here before. After ten years of the existence it’s not so easy because the dark scene is not infinite. Yes, we try to find new bands. Our team is big and we discuss bands and for which stage they will be more suitable, if it’s not quite clear. We make a list of bands to send them requests. Many bands may not be available for these dates and play somewhere else. It’s like we say that we will take this or that band for the festival and we immediately get them. First we need to know what bands are available for our dates and which of them want to play. Some say “no, we make a break in our live shows” or “one of our members is pregnant, so we don’t play now”. There are hundreds of reasons why we can’t get a particular band. And it’s hard to make an interesting program.
RoD: If I’m not mistaken, in 2010 there was something like a contest for newcomers. Do you want to make something like that this time?
Kai: You mean the event which took place on Friday in Theatre? Yes, it was a newcomer contest. But we were disappointed with the feedback. It makes no sense when only few people are ready to come to watch performances. At the same time they say “Invite more new bands! Invite more new bands!”. Often someone discovers a band which is interesting for that person and their friend, but is not known to other people. So nobody will come to see that band. It’s hard to attract visitors when you say – we are making a stage for newcomers or a day for newcomers. I know many festival try to do it in this or that way, but quitted.
RoD: M’era Luna still makes such thing.
Kai: Yes, they take only one band from newcomers for their line-up. Of course, we do the same. But we don’t call a newcomer contests, it’s a newcomer by default. So we have something of the kind. But without any announcement like “Here’s our Amphi-Newcomer!”
RoD: A question about merchandise. Amphi always suggests a wide variety of merchandise: T-shirts, lighters, umbrellas, and so on. And of course Amphi compilations. Who is responsible for them, for the design? How do you choose songs for a compilation?
Kai: Amphi compilations are made in cooperation with Out of Line. They make everything themselves, create a tracklist, ask bands and take care about all the things. It’s a kind of outsourcing, so to say. Of course, they discuss everything with us, which bands should be included in a compilation, but mostly they do everything according to their taste. As for T-shirts and other stuff, we work with designers, who make their suggestions. We give them a certain direction and they suggest their variants, then we in our team discuss everything and decide what to choose, what may be interesting to visitors, what they would like to buy.
RoD: And now to the subject of innovations. Many festivals include in their programs fashion shows or photo exhibitions. Have you ever thought about including something like that to Amphi program?
Kai: Yes, we already made a photo exhibition of works by Annie Bertram in the Café. We think about making something like that for this year, just because now we have a highway. But it definitely must be suitable. We have other ideas as now we can use more space than before so it’s definitely possible to make something new. Maybe some rides or amusements. I’m not saying it for now, it’s just like an idea. There are a lot of things common for international festivals abroad, but not for Germany, for example, railways, rope jumping, Ferris wheels in Holland and Belgium. These things are widespread in other countries, but in Germany I haven’t seen them often. But first we need to think if we can do everything right for this year, yet the most important thing is that we have enough space for everything.
RoD: When we talked in 2011, you mentioned that you used national media to promote Amphi, magazines and so on. I think that printed magazines are losing their popularity now. Have you found new ways of promotion? How to do it better?
Kai: Yes, we have a promo budget and now it’s divided now in a different way than a couple of years ago. That time a part for promotion in printed magazines was rather big, now it became smaller. Because as you already said printed magazines are not so popular and not so read now. More and more come through the Internet. Facebook is the main word and from year to year more important. So promotion is going there and in other social networks, internet media. So for these years the focus was moved, but we still work a lot with Street Teams in different cities and countries. They spread our flyers locally and post posters. This field is very important, very close to fans. And we also cooperate with parties. We make pre-parties and many of them abroad. For example, in Eastern Europe. Because a big part of Amphi visitor come from other countries. It’s only Cologne as an airport here, but also Düsseldorf and a flight to Dortmund is also possible. So it’s easy to get here from other countries. And cheaper than go to some backwoods. So the festival is more attractive thanks to Cologne. That’s why we didn’t want to change the city when it became clear that we couldn’t stay in Tanzbrunnen. It’s also because of our foreign visitors. Some of them may stay till Tuesday or come on Thursday or Friday to see the city. For many foreigners it’s an important thing.
RoD: Two years ago you started so-called “Call the Ship to Port” event. Last year there were even two. But this year again only one. Why?
Kai: It was always planned as one event, only on Friday. Last year there was an additional ship on Sunday as a special event for the 10th anniversary of the festival and that’s all. On Sunday the ship was smaller, simply as a bonus. Besides on Sunday it’s much more interesting at the festival itself. We thought about making Friday the third festival day, but our two-day program is very complete. Several years ago we made a survey for our visitors. There was a question if they want the third festival day. The idea wasn’t so popular but anyway we wanted to do something special for those who came already on Friday and this is how the idea with this ship came to us. And people liked it. But from the very beginning it was planned as an event for Friday and it won’t be changed.
RoD: This year you also hold a small festival called E-Werk Ost. Is it a local event? How did you come up with the idea of this festival?
Kai: We organise E-Tropolis festival, first it was in Berlin, now in Oberhausen. I think this it was the 6th festival. We’ve been holding it for a long time and I don’t remember whose idea it was. Anyway we have a partner with which we work in Eastern Germany, in new federal districts to be exact. It’s a concert agency called “Dresden”. Lately we’ve been working with them more and more and this how we came up with an idea to hold a part of E-Tropolis program in Dresden. There is a beautiful location there in Eventwerk, not just a typical venue, but something special. We were there with CAMOUFLAGE within an anniversary show last year and we were impressed that the venue suited an industrial festival, which highly concentrated on electronic. With all the machines an industrial atmosphere is easily created and we decided to cooperate with Dresden in organizing E-Werk Ost. Cooperation 50/50. The idea was appreciated and even if the festival takes place on Sunday, which is a critical day, we are expecting about 2,000 people in Dresden and that is just great for the first time. I think that we will continue working on this project next year, but that will be Friday. So E-Werk Ost will be on Friday and E-Tropolis on Saturday as usual.
RoD: Have you ever thought about reanimating Zita Rock festival?
Kai: Yes, we think about it every year. The location is still the same, Citadel is available. In summer there are a lot of open air festivals there. Citadel Music Festival is a conceptual title. So it can be reanimated anytime. But we think that it must be a really suitable program which will differ from programs of other festivals. Not the same bands, yet here the choice is not too big because of the loudness restriction. Also it’s not allowed to begin earlier than 3 pm, not like at Amphi since midday. And unfortunately everything must end at 10 pm. So it’s just 7 hours – enough time for only 6-7 bands. It’s impossible to make the second stage. So only 6 bands. But the line-up must be interesting enough for everyone. Nobody wants to organize a festival simply in order to do something. It makes sense only when there are enough people who are ready to come. Of course, the location itself is very interesting, that’s why this project is not fully forgotten, but there must be a good program. We already asked different bands, but now it still doesn’t work. Obviously we can’t make an interesting program, so it’s better to postpone this project and wait for one more year. So not this year but in 2016 it’s potentially possible. Nobody knows if it will work or not.
RoD: And now my list of questions is comes to an end. Thank you very much!
Kai: Well, we did it very quickly.
RoD: Well not so quickly. Thank you very much for the information. It was very interesting for me and think will interest our readers. It means that we achieved our goal. Now I can only wish you good luck with Amphi at the new place!
Kai: Yes, thanks a lot! This year we need luck! Such change is always a big risk. Many people want everything to be as usual and start complaining but it’s useless because we can’t make it as before. We think that all the advantages of the new location will prevail and visitors will like it there. Of course, no one knows for sure and we are very curious but also optimistic and we hope that everything will be fine. Arena has lodges like football stadiums and big arenas and we decided to suggest a premium package which other festivals sell like VIP tickets. As an ordinary person you don’t have too many chances to attend lodges. I’ve never been there. And now people have a chance to buy their own lodge for this festival. Each lodge includes a toilet, a bar, a wardrobe, where you can leave your stuff. There you have your own seats and the best view of the stage. So you can fully enjoy the festival and if you want to make a pause, simply go to your lodge. We also include in the package drinks and you can drink as much beer, vine, champagne, soft drinks as you want.
RoD: Hopefully it won’t be like the VIP zone at E-Tropolis in Oberhausen. We were there as photographers. Of course there’s a bar there but to buy drink we had to change our money to coupons and there was only one single exchange point. And no one cared if you were VIP or not.
Kai: There’s nothing in common. At E-Tropolis the venue itself is responsible for food and drinks. We are not involved at all. And the chief there decided to make it like at disco bars with coupons, not cash. You can see it often at festivals in Holland and Belgium. We can’t influence it. In Turbinenhalle it’s always like that, no matter if it’s a concert, a disco party or our festival. It’s always with coupons. Usually it works quite well. But last year was our first festival in Oberhausen and they were overwhelmed with the onrush of 3,500 people. Also regarding food as that venue holds only evening events and their audience usually don’t want to eat and don’t buy a lot of food, comparing to the festival when people come to the place at midday and stay all day long, The doors opened at 1 pm and it lasted till midnight if I’m not mistaken. And it’s obvious that everyone must eat something. We said it all to the administration of the club but they still underrated everything. They said “yes, sure we’ll just make a bit more fries”. So something like that. This year everything will be different, the hall is completely rebuilt. Now there are more coupon exchange points. It happened only for the first year and of course something of the kind may happen at Amphi. Certainly there will be things which we could do better. It’s impossible predict everything. But it’s not connected with VIP or ordinary tickets. Lodges have their own hostess responsible only for lodges. They always come and clean everything, bring drinks. Of course places in the lodges worth money and it's clear that if you pay you can expect an appropriate service. It has nothing to do with Oberhausen and its problems. At Lanxess they do it at every event. So it won’t be like last year at E-Tropolis.
RoD: Yes, I’m really intrigued! Thank you once again for the interview and see you at Amphi!
Amphi Festival (25th to 27th July 2015): http://www.amphi-festival.de/
Written by Daria Tessa, Britta Pirkko and Nataly Night (Ukrainian Gothic Portal). The Russian version of the article is available here!