Running a festival is no easy feat. Running a successful festival is especially hard, though Extrema Outdoor getting it right.
There are festivals pretty much every weekend across the summer, each one bigger than the last. Battling for the best locations, times and lineups whilst keeping things affordable, not to mention limiting the environmental damage.
One festival that’s been quietly smashing it is Belgian weekender, Extrema Outdoor. Set in a picturesque corner of Belgium, it hosts top of the line house and techno artists from across the world and gives a platform for Belgian DJs/producers to showcase what they’ve got. It was the first event of its kind in the country, holding firm onto their musical direction whilst similar events took a more diverse approach to their programming.
Now in its ninth year, Extrema Outdoor is bigger than ever. Running across three days in June with a line up including Ben Klock, Amelia Lens & Loco Dice on mind blowing stages. It’s guaranteed to get any house or techno head salivating. Ahead of it's lastest edition we spoke with festival’s founder, Ugur Akkus who told us more about the festival’s vision, how it’s tackling the environmental issues and how they’ve grown to be one of North Europe's premier weekenders.
You are the brains behind the popular festival Extrema Outdoor, how would you describe the festival’s ethos?
A huge family gathering with like minded people who are all there for one purpose, the love of electronic music.
There are so many festivals out there, how do you ensure Extrema Outdoor doesn’t get lost amongst the noise?
We were the first house and techno only outdoor festival in Belgium and started in 2011. In that period the most successful festivals had more crossover programming but we always believed in our musical direction, even in very hard financial times, and never changed it. If I look back this was the biggest strength.
Aside from your firm musical direction, what does Extrema Outdoor offer that’s different?
We try to do everything on our own original way. Our full production is made of preserved wood or other waste material instead of plastic banners, our festival is in one of the most beautiful recreational parks with lot’s of nature, beaches and a beautiful lake. We have a lot of side projects beside music but that’s always a surprise and you’ll see it when you get there.
How did you come across such a unique space?
I searched for a suitable location for almost 2 years before 2011 because I made very high standards for myself. It had to be idyllic with natural beauty, water, beaches and believe me this is very hard to find in Belgium! The location is the most important element of a festival. It was very hard to get a license on our location as it’s a nature protected area but at the end I convinced them by promising to hand them the location cleaner as it was before the festival when we’ll clean it up after our weekend. It was a big promise but we've managed to keep our promise for 8 years now.
The clean up is extremely important, especially in a protected area. There’s a huge global effort in reducing our environmental damage, festival’s can be incredibly bad - is there anything that Extrema Outdoor are doing to make the festival / it’s attendees greener?
We do lots of things like a big bakery box that is 100% green energy and our main stage runs on it for the whole weekend. We also have compostable cutlery, hard cups for drinks, waste management and motivating people to use public transportation to name a few. The only difference is that we don’t use it in our sales strategy as a USP, we just get on it with!
What in your mind is the biggest challenge facing festivals and other large scale events?
The biggest problem for the moment is that we have too much of everything so also too many festivals. From the outside it looks very nice to organise a festival but unfortunately most of the new generation of promoters don’t take it too serious and don’t have a good plan before they start. I believe in projects with a clear vision with passionate people behind it but unfortunately we see more and more people doing it with the wrong intentions. A lot of big scale festivals are changing their initial vision when numbers goes down, and once you make big changes there is no way back so the biggest challenge is to stick with your idea. If Extrema one day doesn’t work the way we want to present it, it’s maybe time to retire for me and leave it to the new generation.
Was there a year that really took things to the next level for you? What made that year so special?
It was definitely our 4th edition. We were close to bankruptcy and despite the fact that the festival was growing in attendees every year we hadn’t reached the Break even point the years before. I think the people, the press, our sponsoring partners and all other people involved really got charmed of he way we did things and we felt a big buzz coming up and it really did. It exploded in 35% more sales than the year before and this was a big turning point for us.
How do you go about choosing the line up? What is important for you in putting it together?
We have one rule from day one: 50 % of the line up needs to be Belgian to support our locals and 50% international. From the 50% internationals 50% are headliners and the other half is upcoming talent. This is a perfectly balanced line up in my humble opinion.
This years line up is huge, are there any acts you’re particularly excited for?
I’m really excited for the 12 hours live set by Agents Of Time as this is never been done before.
How do you see the festival in 10 years time?
Extrema is a weekend festival on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and we have sold out the Saturday and Sunday for the last 4 years now. This year we added another stage of 5000 people and it looks like we’ll sell it out again in a few weeks. We started our Friday 6 years ago with one stage as a pre-party day for our campsite visitors with 800 people and last year we had 13.000 on 4 stages on Friday. My biggest challenge in the next 10 years is to make the Friday a full festival day with all 7 stages open and 25.000 people like Saturday and Sunday. This won’ be easy as Friday is a working day but I’m sure we’ll find a way to succeed.
Was running a festival something you always wanted to do? How did the initial idea come about?
I was a club promoter for 5 years before 2011 and my partner from Extrema Holland was scouting me as he was planning to come to Belgium and he was looking for a partner. He proposed me to do it together and was directly convinced cause he had more than 10 years experience. I learned a lot from him but he always gave me the freedom to do it our way in Belgium.
It’s the festival’s ninth year, and it’s grown very healthily. How big was your first festival in comparison to this years event?
We started with 4500 people in 2011 and we are expecting 70.000 people over the weekend this year.
What’s the biggest difference in the festival today compared to the first edition?
Production in general is more on point as we are different budgets these days of course and also the line up is much bigger. We had 35 acts in 2011 and his year almost 170.
How did you oversee the organic growth of the festival?
Our team is still very small with 8 people so we never oversaw what’s coming but I realize our team became more and more professional and was growing the same way the festival did.
What was the biggest challenge you’ve faced and how did you overcome that?
The biggest challenge was the financials after year 3 and luckily our visitors helped us overcome it by believing in our festival and buying their tickets.
If money wasn’t an issue what would you like to do with Extrema Outdoor?
I would give everything for free.
Extrema Outdoors Belgium takes place between June 06 - 09. For full details, line up and tickets head to their website.
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