With more than 400 musical events of all kinds, Switzerland is certainly a festive country, (even if compared to its French neighbour who has over a thousand, this may seem small fry). Things reach fever pitch in summer when there are about forty events per week between late June and early September. From the Montreux Jazz Festival to the Chant du Gros, from big to small, nearly one in six Swiss municipalities has a festival. Now, the festivals are increasingly planned throughout the year. The Antigel festival in Geneva is for instance celebrating its tenth anniversary this January and February, at the heart of the winter.
These figures have been hinting at oversupply for quite some time, especially because over the last ten years the number of events and concerts in Switzerland has increased by about 85%, while the number of spectators attending these events has increased by only 35%, according to the SMPA, (the umbrella organization for professional concert and festival organizers).
What’s interesting is how many of the smaller-sized events seem to be doing well today, even managing to attract big pop, rock, metal, electro or hip-hop names once reserved for the major festivals. For example, the Tohu-Bohu festival in Veyras (Valais), which programmed Franz Ferdinand in 2017 for an audience of 3,000 or the Venoge Festival 2019 in Vaud, which attracted Prophets of Rage for its 25th edition for 6,000 people.
In recent years, the smaller festivals have professionalised their operations and their budgets have logically grown. International booking agents receive more offers today that allow them to reach their targets more regularly and allow smaller structures to sometimes book big contemporary names, even though the artists’ fees remained unchanged.
Hence the shortness of breath among some major festivals. This summer, for the first time in almost 20 years, Paléo Festival in Nyon had not sold out in July as its doors opened (despite 99% of tickets being sold). Similarly, Montreux Jazz Festival did not achieve its objectives in terms of ticket sales. A decline that the Swiss-French festivals blame on the competing Fête des Vignerons in Vevey (the traditional festival which pays homage to the wine-making world and takes place once every generation. The 2019 edition saw about one million people parade through Vevey on the shores of Lake Geneva for a month).
But the festival tradition in Switzerland remains firmly anchored. In 2019, it even enabled several Swiss-French events to show off their attendance records: from Festi'neuch, Sion sous les Etoiles to Francomanias in Bulle, these festivals remain a place of lively socialization, in spite of the 10% price increase over the last ten years for the big events.
While some in this pressurised market have had to call it a day (Pully For Noise, Electrosanne before resuscitating in 2019), others regularly try their luck (Soulitude in Geneva, Les Georges in Fribourg). Some rely on an original approach so as not to tire their audience: rather than positioning themselves as a general festival, they offer a specialist musical offer (Bad Bonn Kilbi in Guin, Nox Orae in Vevey, Jval in Begnins) or different themes per evening (Venoge Festival, Estivale Open Air). Focusing on intimacy, proximity and coherent artistic programming, they manage to display a cheeky and radiant health.
Others with the wind in their sails have opted for unique events in new places or transdisciplinary happenings not in a fixed location or a single spot, but over an entire territory (PALP Festival in Valais, Antigel in Geneva). A concert in a swimming pool at Antigel, a lakeside show at Kilbi or an alpine concert-raclette at PALP prove to be an attractive calling card. Other events are perched up on mountains or in winter sports resorts for themed sessions that have a penchant for electronic music (Caprices Festival in Crans-Montana, Polaris in Verbier) or for pop-rock (the French-Swiss Rock The Pistes at Portes du Soleil). These unusual musical locations, spurred on by a new marketing approach capable of generating immediate economic activity, are making it possible to avoid the standardisation, the repetition in terms of programming compared to the normal clubs that offer a set of concerts throughout the year.