Q&A: Berlin’s Fête de la Musique

A chat with the organisers of Berlin’s annual Fête de la Musique

FdM Cafe Brel Alex Laljak

Every June 21st, Berliners celebrate the longest day of the year and the official beginning of summer with a city-wide music festival, the Fete de la Musique.

With performances on 79 open-air stages (not to mention the 26 indoor venues), the street festival offers everything from reggae and jazz, to hip hop, electronic music and klezmer.

Some of the city’s larger venues, like the Rotes Rathaus and the Museum of European Cultures, will host events, as will nightclubs, beach bars, parks and smaller cafes. Performances and concerts are scheduled in almost every district, and a day of music hopping at FdM is not only a great way to hear new music, but an excellent way to explore the city…

When did the Berlin version of FdM begin and who started it?

It started in 1995 when Simone Hofmann convinced the Senate Chancellery of Cultural Affairs to celebrate FdM in Berlin as a European Feast of Music.

What is the general ‘philosophy’ of the event?

Fête de la Musique was founded in France in 1982 with the idea of showing in public how many people are able to sing or play an instrument. It is an invitation to experience live music in all of its diversity, to generously share music with others and in return to pay attention to the musicians and respect their effort. There are no restrictions in terms of style, genre, professional or amateur. All musicians perform without payment and admission is free.

How do bands or artists get to play or apply? Do they have to live in Berlin or come from Berlin?

They don’t necessarily have to live in or come from Berlin. Applications for Fête de la Musique are accepted from January until 21 February. This year there were about 500 applications from musicians. 121 could be placed. 43 stages had our assistance with advice for their program.

We are Waves at Lindenkirche (c) Alex Laljak

How many different countries are represented in the festival?

Musicians or bands from numerous countries – can’t count them all. Last year featured artists from 21 countries: Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Finland, France, Great Britain, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, Senegal, Sweden, Turkey, U.S.

How many acts play each year?

About 700-800 acts, maybe 4,000 musicians, though it is impossible to count, as we don’t know all the casts of the bands, not to mention the number of spontaneous music on the streets!

What makes Berlin a great city to host the FdM?

There’s incredible diversity, it’s multi-national and quite liberal. Berlin is also a green city, lots of parks and recreational areas suitable for street music and open air festivals.

The festival also caters for kids, right?

(c) Kai Bienert

Via a press release in February we asked children to apply and we encourage also applications from schools and kindergardens. The idea is to let children experience music in a relaxed and playful atmosphere, not to enforce any kind of high performance. Despite the beginning of the school holiday on 20 June, there are hot spots for kids in places like the Klingende Museum, Rathaus Friedenau, and Marie’s Bühne in Pankow.

There’s a big classical element also, can you elaborate?

It is improving from year to year, with choirs, and more churches participating in the program, supported by students from the Universität der Künste (Academy of Arts) among other talented musicians.

Where can people find a program?

The program flyer is available throughout the city at various hot spots and also online at www.fetedelamusique.de

Bring your friends – Don’t bring your car!

In what ways does FdM Berlin support music in the city?

All the musicians, singers, ensembles or bands that did not get a place in the stage program, are invited to a day of street music on the 21st of June from 4pm to 10pm. But this event is strictly acoustic. The Fête Company will take over the GEMA licensing for this day. The invitation is displayed on the website and is announced via press releases and social media. The permission form for acoustic music performance in public spaces can be downloaded from the website.

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