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Montreux Jazz Fest chief maps out expansion plans

Mathieu Jaton discusses the festival's triumphant comeback, potential winter spin-off and his ambitions to strengthen the brand worldwide

By James Hanley on 21 Jul 2022

Montreux Jazz Festival 2022

image © Emilien Itim

Montreux Jazz Festival CEO Mathieu Jaton has told IQ of his global ambitions for the brand following the Swiss institution’s most-well attended edition yet.

Held from 1-16 July, the festival’s 56th edition attracted an estimated 250,000 fans for a bill comprising over 450 free events, along with 70 paying concerts by headliners including Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Bjork, John Legend, Maneskin, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Van Morrison, Stormzy and Diana Ross.

“It was totally amazing, what a comeback! Everything was perfect from beginning to end,” says Jaton. “The weather was exceptional, tickets sales were better than ever and the number of people coming onsite for all the free activities was amazing.

“We had a lot of concerns before the festival about having to cancel due to Covid, but nothing happened. When you have 550 different shows with 3,000 musicians and everybody is on stage, we can call that a miracle.”

A number of artists deviated from their usual setlists to perform special shows for Montreux. Stormzy delivered a one-off anthological gospel-rap performance “because it’s the Montreux Jazz Festival”. Elsewhere, The Smile played new six-minute song Bending Hectic, composed at the festival earlier that day, which continued the tradition of tracks being created in Montreux, from Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water to Prince’s Lavaux.

“It was very clear that 2022 should not be a copy and paste of what we were doing in 2019”

“It’s very interesting for me that after 56 years, the DNA and tradition of Montreux being a bubble of creativity – a place where artists can create and do something special – [is still intact],” says Jaton. “These moments are key, because they are writing the next pages of the history of Montreux.”

The festival – founded in 1967 by the legendary Claude Nobs – entered into a partnership with TikTok on new music initiative MJF Spotlight, which was launched in 2021 to support emerging artists and new music with original content creation and live performances.

“That partnership is very important strategically,” notes Jaton. “We’ve made a lot of effort with the creation of our media company Montreux Media Ventures to regenerate the audience, and that’s what we did. We had brand new artists playing on the free stages and attracting a new audience, and that’s an investment in the future.

“I’m very happy to say that 60% of [festival attendees] are loyal visitors who have been coming for a lot of years, but 40% are brand new visitors and it is very important to have both.”

MJF’s 2020 edition was replaced by a 16-day YouTube event, Summer of Music, while last year’s MJF went ahead in a reimagined, Covid-secure format, with maximum of 600 people able to watch performances on the main stage from seats on the Lake Geneva shoreline. Continuing the hybrid physical/digital format debuted in 2021, 30 shows from this year’s programme were also livestreamed.

This year’s revamped event also integrated features such as the new Lake House venue, which combined cultural and artistic experiences in eight rooms across three floors in the Petit Palais.

“For me, it was very clear that 2022 should not be a copy and paste of what we were doing in 2019,” explains Jaton. “We took all the knowledge we accumulated from the last two years and 2022 was the closing of the circle of everything that we’ve created. So 2023 will definitely be a continuation of what we put in place in 2022, but there will be more innovation to come.”

“We are full of ideas to extend the Montreux brand all around the world”

Jaton also opens up on plans to strengthen Montreux Jazz Festival as an all-year-round brand, and teases the possibility of a winter spin-off.

“We will push the button a little bit further, continuing the brand recognition of Montreux 365 days a year with Autumn of Music [festival] in the autumn, with maybe a festival in winter next February, and then the Montreux Jazz Festival in the summer, of course. We are full of ideas to extend the Montreux brand all around the world.”

International festivals will also be held under the MJF umbrella in China, Tokyo and Brazil in the coming months.

“We’re very excited,” adds Jaton. “The expansion of the Montreux brand worldwide is not something new because we had the Montreux Jazz Festival in Atlanta for 15 years,  in Detroit for 20 years, Tokyo for 10 years, Singapore, Monaco, Sao Paulo… We also had the Montreux Jazz Cafe in Harrods for four years in London, and  we also have a cafe that will be in Singapore.

“China, of course, is a brand new market for music, which is very interesting for us. So the goal for us is to have brand recognition worldwide.”

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