We are delighted to introduce another edition of our LPS’ NTIA blog contributions, handing over the reigns to a promoter from outside the UK for the first time. Ludovico Esposito, an innovator and inspiring festival promoter incredibly has written a really moving account of his experiences and challenges.
The title of the article is provocative on purpose, but it does show a true, sad reality: it is very difficult to organise contemporary electronic music events in Italy. I am Ludovico Esposito and I have struggled to organise music events in Lecce, Apulia since 2014. This feature aims at narrating how to (try to) make electronic events work. It’s about how to conceptualise an event, place and promote it in specific contexts, intersect event production issues with the legal regulations and so on.
I am of president of Sud Sonico cultural association, a relatively new non-profit institution which showcases music in a therapeutical, recreational and formative approach, through workshops, panels, music therapies, concerts and festivals. In my opinion, the first enemy of my cultural associations – and many cultural operators – is culture itself. Let’s start with the assumption – or better, the fact – that the word “culture” is not trendy upon politicians and the major part of the citizenship. There’s not the culture of culture, so there is no sensibility for what is culture about and what impact it can create. Music, like literature, contemporary arts, theatre and related, aren’t considered culture either, nor are the musicians, technicians, labels, promoters etc. Culture here is absolutely underestimated, as like the perception of working with Culture. There are few exceptions, for instance Classical and Jazz music are more likely to be supported by institutions and medias, but no other notable artistic movements can really break through the Italian provincial vision sadly. Specifically for the contemporary electronic music events, there’s a shared common prejudice for which electronic music is associated to young audiences and drug assumptions.
We, Italian independent promoters, have to deal with several delicate issues when organising events. Every decision brings a consequent impact in short term, real-time and/or long term. Public events involve diverse areas of expertise – no matter if they take place in private or public spaces. Numerous legal, administration and security laws intersect and many times are hard to interpret and/or apply. There are so many details that must be studied and verified before securing an event. I would say that the feasibility check and the coordination with the public key interlocutors are almost half of the work – which of course can get lost if the circumstances don’t look encouraging in advance. I would also say that dealing with the public institutions is the most difficult task of the job, for the reasons I’ve described up above. We have to deal with and (try to) educate the mayor, the council members, the police, the neighbours – we have to act as if we have to disturb and everyone should approve the temporary annoyance. We even have to be thankful for their concessions…and at the end, we always feel lucky for what we do.
On the other hand, I have to admit that the word Culture has been repeatedly abused in Italy and that many municipal administrators are not able to make the difference between a good and a bad project, between a good and a bad project manager, between what to support and what not to…and it’s no news that many Italian municipal administrators don’t have a clue what real culture is. But, these “Italian” dynamics do not justify the fact that sometimes we all feel like we’re struggling against everyone and everything. We struggle to get even the simplest things done, so how to believe in bigger projects? I, as many colleagues in Italy, have to deal with many incomprehensible restrictions that force us to craft, change, remodel, reorganise, or in the worst cases, abandon our own event projects. If in this country, the event planning and organisation work might depend on a public security commission’s mood of the day, how can we feel our work is safeguarded? The costs of the public permissions necessary to open a 200-ppl experimental concert or a 4000-ppl techno festival are both the same, so how can little events operate according to the law? Sometimes it all looks a nightmare but it’s the reality and you try to have a laugh about it.
The category of culture workers does lack of a decent social welfare, too. The retirement benefits are almost nonexistent and it’s been a few years that many are pushing for a reform; numerous people have been involved in the public campaigns involving pop musicians which tried to raise awareness on the topic, but unfortunately we didn’t see any advancement or concrete interest from our ministry of culture yet. In this context, it’s obviously difficult to be defined as an Industry. Sometimes, I feel that my work in culture is considered just my hobby, and I guarantee that this is a common feeling among many Italian colleagues and friends – but I think that’s also part of the game; we choose to operate in a musical niche, we try to change a rooted scheme led by non-knowledge and non-curiosity.
Nonetheless, we all know that culture and music are divine and will always survive in a way or another. I was inspired and have learnt from so many creative and problem-solving people, that I feel like I was in the right place at the right time sometimes. I think that struggling makes you grow – facing and solving unpredictable problems can lead you do the next step in your own mindset. I guarantee that many Italian promoters could unveil incredible stories behind event organisation. One of the most fun stories I lived was in 2014 – we were doing a partially legal techno party and we obviously passed the legal closing timing. It was 4AM and police appeared at the country villa that we turned into a club for one night. My father used to help me with these late night events back in the days; you never knew if you might need an “adult” presence against any “local territory requests”. I rapidly spoke to him and asked him to follow me outside and face the police. They were called by the neighbourhood to look for a rave. The funniest coincidence was that in the same day, it was my father’s name-day birthday so he declared that we were doing a party for him and that “my sons are just playing some music for my friends”. The police apologised for disturbing and went away; the Berghain resident Boris continued to play and we partied until early morning. Normally night events must close at 3AM in Italy, but there is no way to make a night event sustainable if you have to stick exactly to the rules. Italian promoters many times have to take the risk of few conscious yet risky decisions…at the end every dreamer tends to think big, isn’t it?
The most recent event I created was AVANT. I imagined it as a boutique festival that valorises the beauty of my homeland in South Italy. I wanted locals and international spectators to come together for a weekend of togetherness, with avant-garde music, food, nature and architecture in the best indoor and outdoor places. I shared this idea with my friend and colleague Michael Rosen of Digital In Berlin, two years ago. Being an expert in boutique festivals, he’s responsible for the organisation and programming of MADEIRADiG festival for 10 years now. He listened to my idea and took part in the project. We started working on it more than two years ago; we wrote the project and we won a little Apulia regional grant for innovative business ideas. It all started this way..he visited me in Apulia, we enjoyed a few days together and we checked some locations. We had countless calls to coordinate, share visions, take adjustments and find the best solutions for the problems we experienced. Before writing the project two years ago, I tried to picture this festival and I already knew that my craftsmanship attitude needed to reach the biggest level ever to make the festival happen. It was a bit scary but that motivated me to do my very best and even more. At the end, it was just the most challenging idea I wanted to realise. We almost did it. I traveled a lot, to meet potential partners and colleagues, to work on a solid European placement. There were some complications and we rescheduled it one time, but everything was proceeding well, it all looked like our first edition was meant to happen and be nice. Then Coronavirus arrived, we rescheduled it twice more but then we cancelled permanently. We did everything we could to save it but it just didn’t work.
I do feel positive for the future, there must be a light at the end of the tunnel and there will be if you really want to reach it. I also am confident we will find a way to let our passion survive in one way or another. I can’t know how the future will be, but I can try to imagine it by myself or together with my family, friends, dears and favourite colleagues. After all the continuous struggling around, I still feel lucky for what I could create, for what I shared and received back. This energy and the memory of that priceless feeling, the love for music, and the willing to make a dream come true…keeps me focused on the target. I feel able to fly with my feet glued to the ground. Dreaming big, but aware.
If you enjoyed the story please feel free to reach me out and let’s stay in touch. You can follow my projects as follows: my concert series & radio show Xenomorph Sounds, my boutique festival AVANT, my cultural association Sud Sonico and my gastronomy & music summer festival Sagra Elettronica.