After a successful year in 2013, the Electric Festival has returned to the Caribbean island of Aruba in September to offer an eclectic range of live performances from the likes of Lil Jon, Loco Dice, Knife Party, and DJ Carnage. However, don’t be mislead by the entertainment as the Electric Festival also has an important agenda behind it. Accompanying the lineup of internationally renowned artists is its conference. Held in conjunction with the Amsterdam Dance Event, the conference is a meeting platform for representatives of record companies and music publishers, artist managers, agencies and programmers of venues and festivals to reinforce each other and form an optimum networking environment. It highlights a multitude of subjects around the electronic music industry and its Caribbean connection. What can also be missed at first glance is the island’s major role in organizing the event, which is the first of its kind in this region. An interesting symbiosis indeed. We spoke to founder and influential producer DJ Chuckie to discuss the details of this mutually beneficial symbiosis, as well as the festival’s beginning, its cultural approach to the event and its lineup curation.
How did Electric Festival develop?
When I first moved out here three years ago, we threw a birthday party and had people like Akon, Just Blaze and Jasmine V all coming down for the event. It was an overwhelming success. We had 8,000 people attend, and even the local tourist board showed great interest. The outcome was simply amazing and we realized that we had to do something with it. After entertaining various ideas, we decided to create something with more depth and offer a platform to educate people. That’s how the Electric Festival and its accompanying conference came about.
Are you happy on how things went down?
The turnout was amazing. We had 15,000 visitors from all over the world, especially from Latin America and North America — the energy was inspiring.
Why did you decide to add a conference to the music festival and put such a high emphasis on it?
We wanted to include a serious conference, and not just some superficial spin-off. We wanted to band with the right people for this. The initial idea was to create a platform for everyone to have an exclusive conversation on and with this island.
What is the cultural angle of the conference?
The goal was to offer education and insight on both sides of today’s electronic music on a global scale. Besides showing people how to make music, we also wanted to show how to establish a brand and run your own business independently. Even though music is becoming increasingly commercial, there is still an underground culture flourishing in places like Europe. But it’s also people in the region, like in Venezuela and Colombia for instance, also seem to genuinely appreciate underground stuff. So we added that segment to the conference as well and had a good time with it.
It is a hub between North America and Europe where electronic music is very big. There are big electronic scenes in Argentina, Colombia, and Venezuela. We offer a safe environment for people to come together and share knowledge and experiences through the conference — that was the main intention. Even if you look at the past, Aruba was a hub for business. In the 16th century, the Spanish settled on this island but deemed it useless because there was no gold. Then, the Dutch people arrived and understood its strategic importance. I could not think of a better island to make something like this happen. There’s good infrastructure and you have a high quality in service, which is very important. Another great thing about Aruba is that you can pay in US dollars, and when you come here from the U.S., you are taking a domestic flight. Logistically speaking it’s a blessing that there are so many flights coming in and out. Then you add the fact that it has beautiful beaches and a low crime rate…
How is the population of the island involved?
A lot of experts are involved since a project like this is fairly new to Latin America, but we made sure that the local people are also educated in the process, starting from security services to people that build stages. We flew in an expert from Europe but at the same time, we collaborated with the local people. Electric Festival was born in this region, made for this region and built by the people of this region. The locals carry it. It started here. We developed a culture here. We also do a lot of pop-up initiatives that accompany the festival and the conference. We believe in doing smaller things but with a higher impact. It’s one big group of friends that do it for the love of music. We were also very selective with our partners. We’re looking for people that still have that pure drive in doing something they love.
Sounds like the island plays the most important role for the Electric Festival.
We use the island first and foremost as a venue. We rebranded Aruba to some extent and gave it a new slogan: “Creating great moments together.” We also go green. The beaches have nets so all the trash wouldn’t flow out to the ocean, and we do a proper job at cleaning the area around the festival. As a festival this size, you have to set a good example.
What about the Aruban government?
The Aruban government has been very supportive! The tourism authority functions as the festival’s main sponsor. They conducted a research a few years ago and realized that its visitors were getting older and older. They came to the conclusion that they were in need of attracting a younger audience that was willing to spend a little, which led to the electronic music target group. If you are in an all-Inclusive trip, you do not spend on the actual island because you’ve already paid everything to some agency in advance — something the older generation tend to do.
What effect will the festival have on the Caribbean as a region?
The Caribbean islands always look to each other, and influences swap over. So through the festival, local musicians are exposed to new types of music and start to experiment with it. Some of the musicians never even leave the island. They get the full spectrum here which inspires them to create new stuff right where they are. New things are popping up, it is not rare anymore here to find artists that cross over to other genres. They realize there’s another platform available to them as well. I mean, we had Lil Jon and Knife Party sharing the same stage!
So crossover is an angle for you too?
Just look at food. You see food crossing over now, different cuisines getting mixed in together. The beauty of today is that you can mix creative components together to create something new and refreshing. With Electric Festival we promote this type of fusion and crossover. At the end of the day we are just music lovers who love to design it ourselves. We want to be unique with the sound that we create and represent. It starts with the music on stage and goes all the way to the after parties. We cater to everybody. The festival was the missing link for this region to connect everything.
What does the future look like for Electric Festival and Aruba?
The big picture is obviously to establish the festival and its conference, and to become bigger and better, to attract more specialists and have them involved as key speakers. That is really important to us. I believe we are heading in the right direction.