This August, Rakettnatt will once again grace the pavements of Stortorget for the first time since its debut success last summer. Featuring regularly amongst the headlines of Nordlys and iTromsø, you’d be forgiven for thinking this music festival was a long-established summer event here in Tromsø. Yet, despite humble beginnings that date back over a century, Rakettnatt is just getting going – and what a start it has had. I caught up with Rakettnatt CEO Katrin Blom and asked her to give us the low-down on the ins and outs of organising the festival, the story behind it, and her hopes for its future:
Who developed the concept of Rakettnatt?
KB: “The festival concept was devised by only four people just a year and a half ago, and went by the name of «Polaria Music Fest and The Hidden Secrets of The Barents Sea». The plan was to hold the event in the old Mack building, which has a capacity of around 4000 people. We were hoping to use visual effects and 3D mapping to transform this huge space such that it would simulate being under the ocean, with special focus on the microscopic plankton that represent the foundation of life in the Barents Sea. The idea was to celebrate this bloom of life with a music festival. Unfortunately, the deal we had with the building’s owners fell through at the last minute and we had to relocate. The city council were kind enough to let us use the main square, «Stortorget», and we were able to successfully pull off a one-day festival going by the name of ‘Polaria Music Fest’. Of course, we couldn’t maintain the original underwater concept and instead, after acknowledging that Stortorget was actually the perfect location for a fantastic urban music festival, we were ready to devise a new concept. What’s more, we found ourselves in close proximity to Tromsø’s very own mascot, «Raketten» (The Rocket)…”
(FYI: this rocket-shaped hotdog stand and bar was designed and created by 18-year old Margaret Løkke way back in 1911, and is very dear to every Tromsø local)
“…That being said, we decided to take the concept all the way from underwater to outer space! Tromsø is not only the space capital of Norway, but also one of the most prominent space-tech suppliers in Europe, so both the name and theme were super fitting. Furthermore, it gives us a universe-worth of interesting visual and conceptual content to build on – for sure the most fun part of creating something like this”.
Aside from its centrality, why hold Rakettnatt in Stortorget?
KB: “Stortorget is a cosy, urban space with a number of bars, restaurants and cafes nearby (all included in the festival area). What’s more, the gentle slope ensures all attendees gain an excellent view of the main stage, whilst our beloved Tromsdalstinden creates the perfect backdrop. Each year we explore different ways to make use of the space and this year will be opening a techno club inside the basement of the old shopping mall, ‘Veita’”.
Several Norwegian artists have been extremely successful internationally, do you have any fear of losing them from smaller events like this?
KB: “Not really. Most of them appreciate playing at home and as long as people keep buying tickets we can afford to pay the price.”
Ticket sales certainly aren’t a concern. Based on last year’s sales, organisers anticipated that tickets would be snapped up roughly three weeks prior to Rakettnatt this fall, (iTromsø, 2016). They were far from wrong. When the student stipend appeared in bank accounts last Friday, a mad rush for tickets saw them sell out by Saturday afternoon.
There are three requirements that artists must meet in order to occupy a spot at the festival. They must be fresh, new and possess strong live performance skills, whilst performances that get the crowd dancing are favourable (iTromsø, 2016). These reasonably relaxed ‘rules’ means Rakettnatt can still maintain diversity, thereby appealing to a wider range of musical tastes. This year, that ranges from Karpe Diem’s strongly political tone, to the softer melodies of Aurora and Matt Corby. Contrary to the preference for new music nonetheless, this year the hosts will make way for a comeback by 90s pop-icons, Tungtvann.
Last year, Rakettnatt kept it personal, with only home-grown Scandinavian artists gracing centre stage – the return of Tromsø’s own ‘Röyksopp’ sending the crowd into overdrive. This year, however, the festival branches across the pond to welcome its first international headliner, indie-pop group Bastille. This four-piece band of versatile musicians hails from London and has experienced international success with well-known tracks including ‘Pompeii’ and their most recent release, ‘Good Grief’. Their assortment of re-mixed and original tracks, in combination with a selection of popular featuring artists, means Bastille have something to offer for most. As if this wasn’t enough to satisfy the majority, a quick foray to the southern hemisphere brings Matt Corby to the mix. Let’s hope a soothing acoustic rendition of ‘Brother’ is on cards. Nonetheless, despite this taste of the exotic, Scandinavian singer-songwriters will continue to predominate this year, and what a treat it will be. Female soloists Dagny, Aury and Aurora will appear on Friday, interspersed with Swede Veronica Maggio and Karpe Diem, whilst Astrid S will join Matt Corby, Bastille, Bob Hund and Tungtvann on the Saturday.
How many people does it take to ensure the two-day program runs smoothly?
KB: “It takes one full-time manager and three to four part-time members (year-round). However, close to August the crew will grow to around 50 people, with an additional 350 volunteers helping us make it happen in the days running up to and after show-time!
What makes you proud of Rakettnatt?
KB: “This little baby we worked so hard to bring to life has grown into something with a life of its own. The people of Tromsø have welcomed it into their hearts and this has generated an air of positive energy that may well send Rakettnatt in directions we never imagined!”
What hopes do you have for the future of the festival?
KB: “We hope Rakettnatt continues on its positive path, including all of Tromsø in its celebration. On this last weekend in August, we want to make the city vibrate with music and life. Eventually, we’d like to include more stages spread throughout the city centre and possibly extend the festival over more days. Presenting high quality up-and-coming artists of international standard is key, yet at the same time we want to stay ‘playful’ – that is by far the most important thing”.
(Organisers have secured a generous grant from the Troms county fund and cooperation with city businesses and DRIV (iTromsø, 2016) will likely help accelerate Rakettnatt’s success.
Lastly, aside from music genre, what makes you so different from Bukta?’
KB: “Access to real, flushable toilets!”
So, whilst maintaining a typically Scandinavian air of minimalism and elegance, Rakettnatt flirts with the extra-terrestrial, a subtle hint at an ‘out of this world’ musical endeavour in-keeping with its ‘rocket-themed’ inspiration. Last year’s festival goers tweeted relentlessly about the ‘parallel music universe’, with the event discussed for days and weeks to follow. Photos from last year illustrate the stage designers’ ability to create a set that further awakens as the sun disappears, maintaining the aura of the festival in both daylight and darkness. It’s clear that the festival organisers are nothing if not ambitious. Aiming to become ‘northern Norway’s best festival’ (iTromsø, 2016), I for one am excited to watch this one-of-a-kind musical enterprise continue its transition from hot dog stand to one of the most highly anticipated events north of the polar circle.
As one fan tweeted last year, perhaps those ‘post-Rakettnatt blues’ will be felt by many very soon.