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It can be done! – an independent Polish music festival works to benefit the planet

Author: Malika Tomkiel

Participating in cultural events, we very often overlook challenges taken upon by the organisers. From artist transportation to stage design, the process of event production is just the tip of an iceberg. Right now, music festival organisers head asking themselves key questions: Is it possible to produce a festival in harmony with the environment? How do we start a broader, global discussion that will encourage others to make changes? Up To Date Festival comes with an answer. The Białystok-based electronic music festival has undertaken a number of significant changes for the benefit of the planet this year, despite its small financial capacity.

Up To Date Festival is an event that has been taking place in Białystok the heart of north-eastern Poland for 14 years. The festival has been known for its deep connection to the city, including tremendous support of local culture through numerous actions for the benefit of children, the elderly, and groups at risk of social exclusion. Previous editions of UTDF have taken place in different places in Białystok, each year gathering dozens of artists from the techno, bass, ambient, or experimental music scenes from all over the world. This year, however, the Up To Date Festival team have decided to introduce some significant changes. It started by going back to its origins and organising an outdoor edition, in a location unknown to the audience at the start of the event. We called it the Secret Location for the purpose of the festival. It’s a direct reference to the festival's roots the rave culture of the 1990s. With the word 'roots' and the good of the environment in mind, it also turned to implementing new solutions in its organisation. All with the aim of minimising its negative impact on the planet and sparking a wider, industry-wide discussion.

 

The planet needs us to change mindset

Consistently implemented pro-environmental changes would not be possible if it were not for the festival's collaboration with Electrum, a Białystok-based company that leads the way in climate tech and renewable energy. Every year, the festival organisers face a multitude of challenges that are invisible to participants at first glance. Choice of venue is already problematic. Will the loud sound harm animals in the area? Will the construction invade the wildlife originally present?

Another problem is how the artists will get to the event, but also how to encourage participants to choose a low-emission train or bus when coming to the festival. The choice of means of transport may have little impact on the environment individually, but if dozens of people switch from planes to trains and buses, it will start an environmental snowball effect. Next details thought of by the UTDF organisers include doing many of the standard elements of the festival in a 'less orthodox' way: from the production of merchandise, to the serving of water, to the construction of the stages. The production of clothes, the decision about whether water will be served in plastic bottles, and the recycled set design are a number of things that can be done differently rather better. In harmony with nature.

 

How did Up To Date do it? 

Up To Date never says of itself that it is flawless. What they try to show is that even a small entity can look and think ahead, inspiring others to find their own solutions for the planet. One of the most key changes the festival announced this year was the complete abandonment of new merch production. The hoodies, t-shirts, or socks made each year to celebrate a new edition have been replaced by De Luxe clothing in 2023 clothes upcycled from second-hand clothing. 

Ecology and upcycling are De Luxe 

The originator of the De Luxe collection is long-standing UTDF team member Karolina Maksimowicz, who, together with her team, has been searching, embroidering, and reworking clothes since the 2016 edition of the festival, so that they can find their new owners during this year’s festival. In 2023, the idea of selling old clothes was expanded upon with a boutique shop set up on the event site, where it was also possible to customise one's own items.

Over the two days of the festival June 23rd and 24th, 2023 hundreds of people brought their old t-shirts, dresses, skirts, and even trousers and socks to the stand, which were screen-printed or given the iconic UTDF patches! All of this was done on the cheap to show that, very often, what we already have in our own wardrobe is just as good (or even better).  

The festival team also never made it a secret that the stage designs and decorations were always built from found and unwanted things. When you come to Up To Date, don't be surprised to find an old, painted Fiat 126p (a cult attribute that has survived more than a few editions), an old dentist's chair in the chill zone, painted euro pallets, or even, referring to the theme of this year's edition, withered roots brought from the nearby forest. 

 

 

Changing transportation 

Bragging about flying from point A to B is slowly starting to get dusted. This is the approach taken by festival organisers, because if artists are not from the furthest corners of the globe, they recommend that they come to Poland by train. When we stop thinking in old patterns and open up to new solutions, very often such a journey can turn out to be much more comfortable and even faster. Thus, about 40% of the artists came to the festival by ground transport in 2023.

Taking care of the planet also means taking care of people: Up To Date Festival 2023 partnered with FreeNow, a company that offers app-based taxi ordering. During the two festival days, each attendee had a dedicated discount to use, which, once entered into the app, securely connected them with a driver and took them from anywhere in the city to the secret location (and back). The festival organisers realise that they can't get every guest to give up their car altogether, but if they can help them get home or back to their hotel safely in the morning, it's worth a try. On June 23rd and 24th, the FreeNow app was used nearly 600 times (on a total attendance of 3300 people), which shows that when you are the organiser of an event, it is worth looking for brands with which you can establish cooperation based on a specific idea e.g. safety, which gives mutual benefits to both entities. 

The course of the event: small things with significant people 

The Up To Date Festival and its organisation would not be possible if it were not for the people. Apart from the organisers themselves, it is a number of volunteers who put all their heart into making the festival site not only a safe space, but also a clean and sustainable one. Volunteers from all over Poland often accompany the festival for many years observing its development, and it is them the youth who are the voice initiating change and inspiring its implementation.

 

 

One such change this year was the introduction of water in glass bottles. UTDF teamed up with a local mineral water producer, so those attending the event were able to purchase water in returnable bottles for symbolic 3 PLN. Bottle return points were available across the festival site, while every other beverage was served in reusable cups a simple but effective solution that has been used for years. Own cups or water flasks were also welcome at the festival grounds.

Do we really care? Let’s talk

An integral part of this year's Up To Date was the conference "DO WE REALLY CARE? #balance #climatetech #responsibility", which expanded on the strategy adopted by the festival and the Electrum group. The leitmotiv of the meeting was a joint reflection on the functioning of music entities in the context of caring for the well-being of the planet. During the several hours length meeting, many questions were asked about how to organise events in times of climate change and rising inflation, which can often provide an excuse for inaction.

The meeting, conducted in English, featured two panels. One was hosted by UTDF’s own Cezary Chwicewski, who discussed the inequalities resulting from the location of events as well as the origin and gender of artists with a host of guests from across the continent. The other put the environmental impact of music festivals under the microscope and was attended by representatives of the music and events industry as well as specialists in implementing pro-environmental changes, moderated by Misia Furtak from Music Declares Emergency Poland. Exchanging experiences and perspectives turned out to be important as introducing actions via small steps and collaboration can bring the best, long-lasting results. The statements elaborated by the invited guests (Grzegorz Stanisławski (Electrum Holding/PL) Halvard Müller (Monument/NO) Paulina Żaczek (Granko Agency/PL) Bartłomiej Arendarski) very clearly showed that technology, and therefore culture, should be approachable to people. It should be created to be as safer as possible for the planet. It is not created to pollute and destroy what we have created –culture is there to take care of nature. The organisers of the events themselves, as emphasised by among others Halvard Müller from the Monument festival, should carefully plan the direction they want to go and how they want to be perceived. The next step is to guide the artists and show the recipients how, in small steps, they can act in a pro-ecological way.

 

 

Post-festival dust-up: UTDF's further plans 

The recent changes have been welcomed by the attendees. The UTDF organisers say it’s the consistency that makes the small, thoughtful moves turn into bigger changes. Right now, the Up To Date Festival is planning its 2024 edition having in mind that 2023 was just the first step. They design next steps consistently thinking about the planet through the whole development process. 

Is there a universal excuse for event organisers to do nothing? Let’s hope that every creator, but also consumer of culture, will now ask themselves this question and turn their gaze in the direction of Białystok.

 

The author 

Malika Tomkiel is an editor, awareness-driven culture and art journalist. She works as a social media and communication specialist for Up To Date Festival.