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“It’s important to be a role model”: Øya gears up for 20th year

Norway’s Øya Festival will next week mark its 20th anniversary with the biggest event to date, according to festival founder Claes Olsen.

Øya Festival (Øyafestivalen), held since 2014 in Tøyen Park, Oslo, has sold out every year since 2004, when it was headlined by the Streets and Air and attracted 38,000 visitors. For 2019’s event, on 6–10 August, the Øya team have boosted capacity to 20,000 per day at the festival site – with more than 100,000 visitors expected over the course of the event, including at Øyanatt (Øya Night) club shows at venues across Oslo.

“We’ve had record sales this year,” says Olsen, who reveals full-week tickets sold out before the summer. “Saturday day tickets, with Norwegian headliners Karpe, sold out before Christmas,” he adds, while “Wednesday, with the Cure, James Blake and Blood Orange, sold out months ago; Friday, with Robyn, Christine and the Queens and Girl in Red, sold out weeks ago; and we only have a few hundred tickets left for Thursday, with Tame Impala, Erykah Badu and Sigrid…”

Part of the increase in capacity for 2019 was necessitated by soaring artist fees – 30% over the last two years alone, reckons Olsen – but it has enabled the festival to book arguably its most impressive international line-up yet, complemented by a strong contingent of Norwegian talent.

Olsen, who is also Øya’s lead booker, attributes the festival’s run of back-to-back sell-outs to “believing in our own profile” – booking acts the team want to see, rather than “desperately chasing trends” – as well its progressive attitude towards the issues of the day, including sustainability and gender parity among staff and performers.

“It’s important to think about the future and not be too nostalgic about our history”

For the third year in a row, Øyafestivalen has a gender-balanced bill (49% women this year, 48% in 2017–18), which “proves that we can sell tickets with lots of amazing female acts all over the line-up”, says Olsen, who adds that 65% of the festival’s volunteers are female, along with more than half of its staff. (As is Øya’s CEO, Tonje Kaada.)

Olsen says that while festival bookers “spend a lot of time talking about this issue” (gender parity), it’s “not too difficult to manage it, or to sell tickets or anything. There’s still a long way to go, but we’re heading in the right direction – there are more and more female artists coming through and, especially among the Norwegian acts, there are a lot to choose from.”

As for staff, Olsen says even 20 years ago, “as a group of friends doing the festival voluntarily alongside other jobs, it was important [to us] to be a professional organisation and always recruit the best people – and naturally lots of them were female. But you need to be conscious of it and not overlook it; it’s important to be a positive role model and get new people on board, rather than scaring them away from getting into the music industry…”

On sustainability, meanwhile, the festival has been run on completely renewable energy since 2009, and all food is organic, with almost 40% of the 100,000 portions of food sold being meat free. Additionally, all food packaging is compostable, all beverages are served in reusable cups – a reduction of 90% in plastic use since 2016 – and over 60% of the festival’s waste is reused for new products.

The event’s “environmental- and climate-friendly operations, food and drink that’s gone far beyond sausages and beer, and social consciousness in addition to all the music” were among the factors that impressed Superstruct Entertainment, James Barton’s private equity-backed festival group, enough to invest in Øya in 2018, Olsen’s fellow co-founder, Linn Lunder, told DN.

“We always recruited the best people, and naturally lots of them were female. But you need to be conscious of it”

How has that deal – which saw Øyafestivalen and Superstruct invest in each other, with Olsen and Lunder acquiring an ownership interest in Superstruct – affected, positively or otherwise, Øya 2019? Not much, according Olsen, who says the first year has been “mainly been getting to know each other better, with new festivals coming aboard”.

However, he expects the Superstruct network – which now includes Denmark’s Down the Drain, Flow Festival in Finland and several ex-Global events in the UK, among others – to include “more collaboration in future years”, especially in coordinating artist booking.

Other than handing out a big 20th birthday cake to the first people on site, Olsen says Øya’s 20th year – unlike, say, Glastonbury’s 40th, which saw festival founder Michael Eavis join Stevie Wonder for an impromptu rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ – will be a low-key affair.

“We’re keeping it a little bit quiet; we don’t have it on the posters or the ads, for example,” he says. “We feel like it’s important to think about the future and not be too nostalgic about our history – and I don’t think people really care that much about it when they’re buying tickets anyway. Besides, every festival is better than the last year anyway…”

Øya Festival 2019 takes place Tuesday 6 to Saturday 10 August.


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