Music: An interview with Microfestival co-founder JF Jaspers

 The slow movement has just claimed another victim: doing away with the dinosaur festivals that litter the summer landscape and going instead for a down-home intimate gathering, Liege’s Microfestival is an unrushed version of the original. At least that’s what the founders are aiming for: with only one stage, one tent and a limited capacity of 1,600, nobody’s running around like a headless chicken, forced to choose between gigs listed on a complicated schedule. This year sees the fourth edition of the laid-back mini festival, featuring an international line-up that includes Berlin’s Camera and the American Moon Duo. In this interview, co-organiser JF Jaspers tells us about the joys of the job, and has a freakout about the sudden cancellation by Holograms, who’ve thankfully since been replaced by Spanish garage rockers Mujeres. Whew. 

Belgium already has a dense and celebrated festival scene. Why did it need another festival?

We wanted to create the kind of festival that we would love as festival-goers. The idea was to try not to be yet another dinosaur festival – there are enough of those. All the festivals in Belgium started small but with the success they had they grew and grew. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; Dour Festival was really great this year, for example.

So if Microfestival becomes really successful will you artificially stop its growth?

It’s pretty much still the same as it was in the beginning. The capacity of the festival is actually decided by the capacity of the tent – we want people to be comfortable in case it rains. In the first year we sold 1,200 tickets, the second year too, and last year we already started on the Friday and used a bigger tent. This year we’re doing the same as last year. We do want to stay micro.

You only have one tent with one stage. Why?

We want people to be able to see all the bands and not have to run from one stage to another and then forget what you saw. Even if the line-up isn’t that big we try to get a mix of genres in the large indie galaxy, so to speak. We have kraut-rock, garage, math rock … even though we only have 12 bands so people will hopefully remember them.

The idea was to try not to be yet another dinosaur festival – there are enough of those.

How do you choose the line-up?

There are three of us deciding the programme. Every year in September we make wish-list as a starting point. But we also work a lot as a network: we don’t have a very big budget so for many bookers or bands we’re not really a priority. That’s why a good network is essential. Some wishes we could make reality and others not. And we just got a cancellation: Holograms, one of the headliners, won’t be able to come.

Shame about Holograms. What will you do?

It’s the first time we’ve had to deal with that kind of situation. We’re searching for ideas and still don’t really know. Maybe we have to get someone from the local scene. But I’m sure it will be fine in the end.

How do you come up with these wish-lists you mentioned? 

I check certain publications, websites like Stereogum or Pitchfork… but also via our network and Facebook. We get a lot of offers from bookers. And of course I try to go to festivals and check out bands that could be interesting for us. I was in Austin in March for SXSW. My colleague Yannick is more into the internet and Youtube and stuff like that. He discovered Camera just by accident on Youtube, but then we went to Ghent to check out how they were on stage. That’s quite important. We’re not interested in a band that has just one radio hit.

How do you manage to nab bands that are used to bigger budgets and bigger crowds?

It’s a lot to do with personal contacts. We see a band play live and then we just meet them afterwards and explain them the concept. There’s also a lot of competition between bands, which is good for us. And I think many artists like the different atmosphere at Microfestival.

How important is the Belgian scene for you?

We have three local bands, two from Liege and one from Brussels. We usually also want someone from Flanders but we didn’t really find our ‘coup de coeur’ this time.  There are a lot of great bands here but we really want to put the focus on international bands and then give local smaller bands the chance to play with them and get some exposure. The foreign bands are the ones attracting the audience.

The stage performance is very important. We’re not interested in a band that has just one radio hit.

Microfestival is presented by Jaune Orange, the collective you and Yannick work for. What’s the relation?

We only have one Jaune Orange band in the line-up. Of course we love to fight for our local scene but there’s more to music than that. Jaune Orange takes all the risks; it’s our team organising it, but it’s not an event to promote Jaune Orange bands. That would be boring and not something you could do every year. But of course it gives the Jaune Orange collective some indirect exposure.

What have you learned in the past four years on the job?

I think our biggest mistake was that sometimes we lacked a bit of confidence due to our limited budget. And another thing was that we didn’t realise when me made offers via email and we got a yes, we were obliged to put them in the line-up and there was no way out anymore. This means we can’t work on 10 bands at the same time because we don’t have enough spots. But on the other hand we need to make sure we get enough bands. It’s tricky.

If you could have any three bands for Microfestival, who would you choose?

Since the very beginning we’ve been trying to get Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees, Dan Deacon, and the Fuck Buttons. I just saw Thee Oh Sees for the eighth time at Dour: they’re incredible every time. Them And Ty are really the best live rock bands at the moment. Maybe it will work out for our fifth birthday next year…

From 2 to 3 August
www.microfestival.be