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MONICA: the project soundproofing festivals

MONICA, a European Commission-funded project, is working to repair the often tense relationship between inner city festivals and the communities that surround them, demonstrating how technology can reduce sound levels and enhance safety at large, outdoor events.

The project works with 28 partners throughout Europe, developing internet of things (IoT) technologies to provide event organisers with services to monitor crowd and capacity, detect security incidents and reduce sound levels outside the festival site. The EU Commission funds most of the project, with partners financing the rest.

Italian electronic music festival Kappa FuturFestival is one of the six pilot sites for the research project, implementing technological solutions and indicating their application within a live event situation. Other pilot sites are found in Copenhagen, Lyon, Bonn, Hamburg and Leeds.

IQ talks to Kappa FuturFestival’s Gabriella Botte about the scheme, the technology behind it and the bright future for inner city festivals around Europe.

Can you tell me about MONICA?
The MONICA project is about managing large-scale, open air events using internet of things (IoT) technologies to help organisers to secure events and manage the impact they have on nearby communities.

The idea came from the experience of the +20 Friday Rock evening event held in Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. The city has grown around the park, with concerts held there from spring to autumn, and there have been problems due to the impact of sound on neighbouring houses and security issues relating to crowd control and management.

“In Italy, Kappa FuturFestival seemed like an obvious candidate for the project”

This became a point of discussion and different events started to collaborate, talking about common problems for several large-scale, open air events in Europe.

In Italy, Kappa FuturFestival seemed like an obvious candidate for the project. The festival takes place in a public park in densely populated area in the city of Turin. The event is only for two days but the neighbouring area was suffering significant problems due to noise levels.

Our city represents a best practice within the project as it is the only case in the consortium in which the local authorities, event organisers and scientific institutes are all involved.

How is Kappa FuturFestival involved in the project?
The festival was chosen by the city of Turin and the Links Foundation to become the Italian platform to test the solutions developed by the technical partners.

There are two main axes to the project – security control and sound control. Not every participant is experimenting with venue technologies, but we are, so that encompasses sound monitoring and control, and crowd and capacity monitoring.

The crowd management at Kappa FuturFestival is handled by the local Turin police, but we also work with Kingston University in London.

Kingston University is developing an algorithm to create a sound heat map to detect the flow of people and identify security threats such as overcrowding, fast moving crowds or fights. The idea is for the information to reach the organiser via the fans’ wristbands, signalling where there is a dangerous situation or a fight. We can also give people security information such as the location of exits and direct festivalgoers to them, all through radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology.

It is worth noting that we started on this path in 2015, introducing the cashless system as the only payment method allowed at our festival, replacing cash with a RFID device.

“The objective is to balance the optimal outdoor concert sound and the reduction of unwanted noise in the surrounding environment”

However, most of the work we do relates to sound control. Our Futur stage has been used to test a new sound control system from the Technical University of Denmark (DTU). This system is based on a set-up of sound level meters and additional loudspeakers “contrasting” with the stage audio system before it gets to neighbouring houses. The objective is to balance the optimal outdoor concert sound and the reduction of unwanted noise in the surrounding environment.

We do this using two control desks – one classic desk directed by a technician and another one at the end of concert area. This acts as a buffer at the concert area perimeter and sends out the same sound as the one at the front, so when two sound systems meet, they should neutralise each other.

It appears that the DTU sound system has resulted in a reduction in sound of six decibels.

Last year, we also adopted an amplifier system to diminish the impact of sound from the back of the loudspeaker, as noise was a big issue backstage.

We have learned a lot since beginning, such as the futility of barriers. Sound moves in waves, so barriers are not useful as it’s always possible that the sound will reach it at its peak. We share knowledge within the project in order to adapt these solutions. Going forward, we want to equip all stages with the two lines of loudspeakers.

“For the general public, the main thing is knowing that the organisers are not just there to benefit from the area but that they want to give something back”

Why are such initiatives important for festival organisers, festivalgoers and the general public?
From an organisers point of view, the project makes an event important and credible as a partner. With this kind of initiative, an event can become a major actor in the scene.

For festivalgoers, what’s important here is not so much learning about the project but knowing that organisers want to introduce technology and innovations to improve the experience, to make sure everything is safe and runs smoothly.

Then there’s the question of sound quality. Not everyone is able to recognise if sound is good or not. Organisers often choose the cheapest loud speaker, but MONICA partner events have to get the best material on the market. This is a good assurance to our audience, showing that we are the best and can work with the best technology.

For the general public, the main thing is knowing that the organisers are not just there to benefit from the area but that they want to give something back. Events bring a positive economic impact to a community, but also a lot of negative impacts for those living around and we want to minimise this so everyone can benefit.

Another thing is that we have the possibility to collaborate with important institutions, and it is not often that such events get the chance to do this. For example, this summer, functionaries from the EU Commission will be our guests at the festival to come and see the project. This is significant as these people may not have come to Turin otherwise. This is a way of bringing attention to our city and to the local area.

“The aim is ultimately to find innovative solutions to make large open air events more secure and less invasive to urban environments”

What other pressing issues do music festivals and events face?
Apart from security and sound, I think the environmental impact is a major issue. Our festival takes place in a public park in a green area. 20,000 people amounts to a lot of rubbish. What we are aiming to do is use more sustainable materials.

For this year’s event, we are eliminating straws. We already use biodegradable plates and forks for food and we are running recycling points with the US-based Global Inheritance Foundation as an incentive for people to collect rubbish.

Another thing that we have started doing is using biodegradable elastic bands for production barriers. This is a significant investment as we use a lot of them and the eco-friendly ones cost three to four times more than normal ones. The idea, of course, is to collect everything up after the festival, but this is not always possible so we need to think of additional ways to avoid polluting park.

What does the future hold for MONICA?
The idea in the future is to be able to develop the technology to be sold by partners to the wider events market. We hope that the most accessible technologies will be available soon.

Inner city festivals are still subject to so many restrictions – just think of the difficulties London festivals have, like Wireless Festival which every year faces more restrictions and obstructions from local residents, or Citadel, which moved last year to Gunnersbury Park, and had a nightmare when it came to people leaving the festival. Hyde Park’s British Summer Time strict curfews which has seen previous headliners fined are all due to sound levels and local residents.

Such issues are what this project hopes to eliminate. The aim is ultimately to find innovative solutions to make large open air events more secure and less invasive to urban environments.


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