The Rise of Discourse Programs at Music Festivals: Are We Hungry for More Than Music?

Reimundo Correa Brieba

Music festivals have long been synonymous with lively performances, pulsating beats, and enthusiastic crowds. However, in recent years, a noticeable shift has taken place, with festivals increasingly incorporating discourse programs into their line-ups.

CTM Festival, which takes place in Berlin as part of the transmediale art and discourse festival, is renowned for bringing together visionaries and experts from various disciplines to engage in critical conversations about the intersection of music, art, technology, and society. Attendees can expect intellectually stimulating discussions that delve into cutting-edge topics, fostering a dynamic and inspiring environment for cultural exchange.

For their 2023 edition, Poland's Unsound has announced a wide range of unique gatherings running alongside its musical program, including a screening of Negativland's 40+ year story documentary, Stand By For Failure, an experimental workshop on sound and speech computation and a discussion of Revolutionary Demonology, merging philosophy, politics, and occultism.

Live podcasts, book readings, and panel discussions have become integral parts of the festival experience, sparking a debate about the motivations behind this change. Are we simply seeking more diverse content, or is it a sign that organizers are compromising on headliners? In this article, we explore the growing trend of discourse programs at music festivals and delve into the possible reasons behind it.

Diverse Experiences Beyond Music

One plausible explanation for the inclusion of discourse programs is the desire to provide festival-goers with a more immersive and well-rounded experience. Music festivals are evolving into cultural events that cater to a broader audience beyond die-hard music fans. By incorporating elements such as live podcasts, book readings, and panel discussions, festivals offer attendees the opportunity to engage with diverse topics, expand their horizons, and explore new ideas.

Community and Connection

Music festivals have always fostered a sense of community and shared experiences. The addition of discourse programs enhances this aspect by creating spaces for dialogue and connection among attendees. Live podcasts and panel discussions enable people to engage in meaningful conversations about various subjects, ranging from music and art to social issues and activism. These programs facilitate interactions and encourage festival-goers to exchange ideas, creating a deeper sense of connection and shared values.

Catering to Different Tastes

Another factor driving the inclusion of discourse programs is the recognition that festival-goers have diverse interests and preferences. While headliners and musical performances remain central to the festival experience, the addition of alternative programming expands the options and allows attendees to curate their own schedules. By including a range of activities, festivals can cater to a broader audience and attract individuals who may not be solely interested in the music but are intrigued by the intellectual and cultural offerings.

Cultural Enrichment

Incorporating discourse programs at music festivals is also a response to the growing demand for intellectual and cultural enrichment. Festivals serve as platforms not only for entertainment but also for exchange and learning. By featuring live podcasts, book readings, and panel discussions, festivals offer unique opportunities to engage with thought-provoking content and to learn from experts, authors, and artists in various fields. This blend of entertainment and education adds depth and enriches the overall festival experience.

Beyond Headliners

Contrary to the notion that discourse programs are a result of organizers skimping on headliners, the inclusion of these programs should not be seen as a compromise. Music festivals carefully curate their line-ups to ensure a balance between established headliners and emerging talents. Discussions, film screenings and workshops add value and diversity to the festival experience, complementing the musical performances and contributing to the overall atmosphere and ambiance of the event. As music festivals continue to evolve, we can expect the integration of discourse programs to become even more prominent, offering attendees a well-rounded and immersive experience that extends beyond the beats and melodies.