Two years ago Michelberger Hotel teamed up with over 80 artist friends including The National, Lisa Hannigan, Damien Rice, Alt-J and The Staves, to create PEOPLE – a festival event like no other. This summer it’s on again. indieBerlin talks to Tom Michelberger about it all.
Tom and Nadine started The Michelberger Hotel on Warschauer Straße. It felt right. That’s how they go about life: If things feel right they keep on going; otherwise they stop. Running the hotel led to friendships with artists and musicians – including Aaron and Bryce Dessner from The National and Justin Vernon, aka Bon Iver. These friendships became the starting point for PEOPLE; a community of artists and creators collaborating.
In 2016 the Michelberger Hotel closed down for a week to be the home of more than 100 musicians. They rented the Funkhaus and spent the week playing music together; trying out ideas and experimenting with new constellations and creative processes. At the end of the week they opened the doors for a paying audience to listen to the results. They called it PEOPLE Festival and did everything themselves – without sponsors or commercial interests. (Read our review of the 2016 PEOPLE Festival here). And this year the festival is back. PEOPLE is about creative independence and equality – and that is what we talked about with Tom.
No compromising forces on the PEOPLE Music Festival | Interview with Tom Michelberger
indieBerlin: What’s the vision behind PEOPLE?
Tom: It’s exciting to do something that empowers creators. PEOPLE is meant as a tool for artists and creators to take responsibility and give them the feeling that they don’t have to depend on different financial or strategic alliances to work out. We want to support their independence providing a network and direct access to people they want to get in touch with.
The idea manifested during the aftermath of the PEOPLE event in 2016 where we gathered more than 100 musicians to play music and do the PEOPLE Festival. It changed us and inspired everyone involved. This made us want to take the physical environment a step further – more focusing on how to make this inspirational feeling last than expanding it. So the digital platform we’re developing functions as a natural counterpart to the physical environment we created and makes it last.
We want PEOPLE to grow from within the network because we believe independence is the way to go if you want long-term success. Staying independent – mainly financially – is the key to not losing the idea behind the project because there are no compromising forces. This way the idea can grow and develop in a way that works creatively for the artists – and ideally also lets them benefit financially.
Everything influences everything
indieBerlin: What were your thoughts behind showing not only creative outcomes but also creative processes?
Tom: We’re still at the beginning of this project so everything is very raw and new. We had an idea of opening up the very human process of music-making; showing the steps that go ahead of the end products. Normally you don’t have access to what happens behind the scenes. Having that is very inspiring because people can relate to this human process of ideas being born in normal environments much more easily than to perfect performances on stage. It’s accessible. Everyone is equal. To me it’s not interesting going to a normal concert. It’s very rare that you really feel connected and enjoy the moment.
But showing creative processes is not the aim of PEOPLE. It’s rather an element. Over the years so much has happened in the music industry. Technology offers new tools that make it easier to make music and publish it – so we’re constantly inundated with content. Everything influences everything.
A community like PEOPLE will naturally influence how musicians can make music and audiences can listen to music
What do people want and need? Do they want to listen to end products or are they interested in the process? How do we enjoy consuming music? Today structures are changing. There’s no doubt about that.
At the moment our PEOPLE team is very small. Our strategy is to let the community grow naturally – this means the platform grows when someone in the PEOPLE network collaborates with someone outside the network and brings this person on board. That means physical connections lead to digital ones and there is no gatekeeper deciding who can join and who cannot. It’s developing on its own.
Creative freedom for muscians at the PEOPLE festival in Berlin
indieBerlin: In August you’re ready with the second, physical edition of PEOPLE – gathering 160 musicians for one week and showing their creative processes at the two day festival at Funkhaus. How does it work?
Tom: We organise the event and the artists produce it staying in our hotel for a week and using the Funkhaus location. They don’t get paid because it’s their event. The exchange that happens during that week is super empowering. Every artist engaging has the freedom to perform or not perform – we’re not promising anything specific. The festival in 2016 was such a unique experience to many artists that everyone wants to bring someone this year.
indieBerlin: Is there anything you want to say to our readers?
Tom: Yes, come to the PEOPLE Festival!