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Montreux Jazz Festival chief talks 2024 revamp

CEO Mathieu Jaton speaks to IQ about this year's reimagined 58th edition of the iconic Swiss gathering, which launches today

By James Hanley on 05 Jul 2024

Montreux Jazz Festival

Montreux Jazz Festival (MJF) organiser Mathieu Jaton has previewed this year’s reimagined 58th edition in an interview with IQ.

The Swiss event, which typically draws 250,000 people over 16 days, kicks off today with performances from Jon Batiste and Henry Moodie and runs until 20 July. More than 30 shows will be livestreamed for free on the festival’s YouTube channel.

MJF has undergone a number of temporary changes for 2024 due to construction work on the Montreux Music and Convention Centre Congress Centre (2m2c), home to the 4,000-capacity Stravinski Auditorium, its main venue.

As a result, this year’s festival features a new layout with a new 5,000-cap main stage erected on top of Lake Geneva, and a return to the historic Casino, which will have a capacity of 1,300 and a half-seated, half-standing configuration. The Casino burnt down in the ’70s and inspired Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple.

“It’s a totally different festival this year,” Jaton tells IQ. “We decided to reinvent everything and create something exceptional for this 2024 edition. The main difference is the festival is much larger in terms of distance, because it was concentrated around the Congress Centre before, so the spirit will be a little bit different.

“It will have the same overall capacity, although the stage on the lake is much bigger than Stravinski, with space for [an additional 1,000 people]. We will be out of the hall for two years, but it will be ready for ’26 for the 60th anniversary of Montreux.”

“Our signature right now is to have very powerful double bills”

Each night will offer a carefully curated double bill including Editors & Smashing Pumpkins, PJ Harvey & The National, Jessie Ware & Paolo Nutini, Róisín Murphy & Kraftwerk, Air & Massive Attack, Rag’N’Bone Man & Sting, Raye & Janelle Monáe and Soft Cell & Duran Duran.

“Our signature right now is to have very powerful double bills,” explains Jaton. “It’s not like an opening act and main act, it’s really a complementary double bill, so that’s exactly where we’re going. When we had the confirmation of Janelle, the goal was to make something not only good, but something exceptional that makes Montreux unique.

“With the big open air festivals, you have 10 to 15 bands playing the same night, and you buy tickets because you know you will see something fun. In Montreux, every single person is buying a ticket for a specific night, so it should be unique and exceptional. Putting two acts on with very big production, like Air and Massive Attack, for example, is not easy, but it’s amazing to have both together on the lineup on the same night.

“We are very proud of that stage this year, because it looks totally different from all the other festivals, and that’s what we’re trying to do. The audience loves the storytelling and know they will have an experience that is different from anywhere else.”

Deep Purple will also return as part of this year’s lineup alongside Alice Cooper for what will be the band’s 10th performance at Montreux.

“Of course, their story is very deep with us, and they want to show a little movie at the beginning of their performance to celebrate,” says Jaton, who recently the MJF brand’s international expansion. “Smoke on the Water is really the hymn of Montreux so I could not have dreamed of anything better than having Deep Purple playing the stage on the lake. Even though the rest of the lineup is crazy, one of the first sold out shows was Deep Purple so I’m very happy.”

“Jack White said, ‘Montreux is not like Lollapalooza or Bonnaroo: the music is first, the party is secondary.’ That is a beautiful definition”

The Swiss institution was the subject of a documentary mini-series, They All Came Out To Montreux, which premiered last year and detailed the history of the event and its celebrated founder Claude Nobs, who died in January 2013 following a skiing accident.

“Claude was not a businessman, he was really a music lover,” says Jaton. “So he was not doing a festival to make money, but because he loved music. He loved the musicians and wanted to have them close to them. They interviewed Jack White [for the documentary] and he said that when his children asked him what Montreux is about, he told them, ‘It’s not like Lollapalooza or Bonnaroo: the music is first, the party is secondary.’ And that is a beautiful definition.

“We are not a for-profit company. I don’t have shareholders, so I don’t have pressure for there to be a return on investment at the end of the festival. The only thing I have to do is take the festival into the future – and we’re always thinking of the artistic projects first, before thinking of the budget.”

MJF also includes a free programme, which represents more than 80% of its total offering and will feature more than 500 activities on 15 stages, largely dedicated to emerging artists. Highlight include Kenya Grace, Good Neighbours, Sid Sriram, Marcel Dettman, Jazzbois, Venna, Dargz, Elmiene and Black Coffee.

The prospect of MJF’s landmark 60th edition in two years’ time is also rapidly coming closer into view.

“We’ve started thinking about it,” reveals Jaton. “It’s quite difficult to book an artist for 2026 right now, but we have some ideas and discussions about doing something very special with artists who have become friends of Montreux – the old but mostly the new guys that played Montreux when they were up and coming – because our Spotlight project and Artists Foundation are very important to our programme. So we’re going to work on that, and hopefully some of the big guys will come to the 60th anniversary.”


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