In September Gather Festival lands in Stockholm, bringing with it a mix of music festival shows and tech and development conferences. On the musical side of things, acts like Amanda Bergman and Fatima Al Qadiri are booked in to play, while on the conference side of things visitors can check out a talk with Lucy McRae about how technology will chance our bodies, and a panel discussion on the Next Journalism with of Gerard Ryle (part of the Panama Papers team) and Karin Petterson of Aftonbladet. There are also Gather Labs, where people can create and co-create solutions to new and old problems. We spoke to festival founder Jakob Grandin about it all.
So first of all, can you introduce us to the concept of Gather Festival in your own words?
Gather is about gathering people and collecting change. Gathering people from different disciplines in society, culture, science and economics to create a platform that doesn’t just allow these people to meet each other, but can also show real change. That is the true idea and concept behind Gather.
There are other festivals that have conference programmes and things like that, but do you think there’s a big gap in the Stockholm and Swedish festival scene for an event like this?
Yeah, I think so. We’re a wealthy country and there are a lot of businesses here, and we’re really good at packaging our businesses in these disciplines. You have medicine, tech, engineering and urban development too. It’s not often that these are all gathered together in one place. You also have the cultural aspect to it. Most of these conferences end with a party where you lose your tie, and that’s not what we want to create. We know that real change, the real conversation, the real meetings happen outside the conference room, where you actually are a person and are ready to meet someone. That’s how we want to show Stockholm. To organise good meetings and conversations with people, but also in a way you can have fun. Gather is not so different to a lot of other conferences, but what we have added is that we’re going to take responsibility for the conversations here and try and adapt new innovations and ideas to the concepts, so that we can show that this platform actually exists by adding change.
And onto the actual substance of Gather. So the music and the conference parts, we can grasp a fair idea of what happens there. But the Labs part is a little more unclear so I was wondering if you could take us through that part of the festival?
The Labs part was created to give us the result we wanted. Usually the result of a festival is a bunch of statistics of how many people were there, how much they consumed, how many hotel nights they spent at the festival, how many bike rides they took, how many people they met and who they met. We wanted to create a result [that had an impact in the real world], with new ideas and prototypes and companies and organisations created as a result of Gather. Companies and organisations come to the festival with problems that they want solved, world-problem kind of problems. For example, it could be Urban Development, ‘How are we going to work together for a better future Stockholm?’. Which is quite a big question. We put those questions to our Innovation Labs, together with people and our partners who are really good at bringing ideas to life, using everything from psychology to ideation methods. So we’re going to do 12 different labs, where organisations have put together a challenge. And in these labs we will gather new ideas and develop new innovations from that.
You said in the press material that the labs are a measure against passive consumption. So that people wouldn’t just listen to someone else talk about an issue, but instead take the idea and think about how they could apply it themselves.
Yes, the other part of the Labs are the Motivation Labs, where we let people come with their ideas and try and bring their ideas to life. If you are a part of the Labs at Gather you will be part of a process where you create change. Gather is an Open Source platform, so everybody who is interested is coming here and looking into these ideas have the right to take the responsibility and take whatever they want into their own hands. That’s what we want, both in the Labs and in the conversations, that the process might create thoughts and ideas that could come to life. In the long term, I hope people that come here with one mindset might go home with a different mindset. That’s the story we want to create here.
Let’s talk about the themes of the festival. You have five: Democracy, Human vs Machine, Communication, Economy and Urban Development. So what made you guys choose those five subjects as the theoretical building blocks of the festival’s programme?
We talked about the themes for a long time really, what we wanted them to be. After reading a lot of books and articles and looking at the speakers we had lined-up, we decided that these themes had something in common and were matters that were part of everyday discussion in our society. We wanted to focus on the city we were from, on Stockholm. All of these themes are really broad and cover a lot. They feel alive and when we had them up on the whiteboard it felt great to have these topics, and they should interest people across multiple disciplines. These topics are also a challenge for us. The themes have to be contemporary, they have to be things that are on everybody’s lips.
A lot of your conferences discuss technologies that are developing at lighting speed, like bio-tech, virtual reality and so on. Do you think it’s important for us to discuss, learn and philosophise about these developments as they become bigger and bigger parts of our lives?
I think it’s hard to stay away from these conversations. If I look to five years ago, the same kind of conversations weren’t on the table. Today we are so much closer to being a part of the information society. I think that the questions of today, about robotics, about longer lifespans, about biotech, are kind of similar to questions we had before about the afterlife and space. We don’t know what the next five years will look like, so these conversations need to be part of our daily conversations. We need to talk about the risks around these issues and the possibilities. We cannot have conferences that have a kind of carpe diem attitude, where companies stand on stage and talk about how great they are. I’ve seen that happen a lot when you let the companies set the agenda. We have to talk about the risks, but also about the possibilities. We need both sides of the coin.
What do you hope the practical impact of the conferences and discussions you’re having can be? What would be an ideal outcome for you from these conferences and Labs?
From our perspective, we want this year’s festival to be a prototype that shows we’ve created some change, that we have a platform that people believe in. That’s our mission. For others that are a part of the festival, the feeling I want to create is that Gather festival can be something for them, that they get that little extra idea or attention [you need]. We asked people and they said that at a lot of conferences they ask ‘why I am staying here for several hours?’. We hope people will go home from Gather with an answer to that. Then of course from the Labs, we want to create a movement. We want our young entrepreneurs to come out of the festival and have realised what they want to do. We want the companies to meet new young people. We want ideas to come out of Gather, so that when we return in 2018 we can say ‘Look what we created last year’.
And to wrap it up, if you had to pick one personal highlight from the programme, what would it be?
I think the course with Lucy McRae. She hasn’t been here in Stockholm before, and she talks about modern culture of fashion in the context of biotech. I think her speech will be enormous and mind-blowing for a lot of people. She was one of the first people we wanted to book, and I think that talk is going to come alive really well.
Gather Festival takes place between September 14 and 16 at Nobelberget and other various venues. For more information and full program see www.gatherfestival.com
Words: Austin Maloney