August 22, 2015

The Worst Way to Handle Deception

An open letter to the organizers of Dans Dakar

By Scott In Festival, Sweden, Travel

One of the highlights of my European festival tour also happened to be the first stop on my itinerary: Dans Dakar in Stockholm. I had never heard of this constantly evolving festival—it has changed name, purpose, and location many times in its short life—but it was announced that Robyn would be premiering the live show for her new project Robyn & La Bagatelle Magique. Needless to say I was instantly sold. But when I heard that Giorgio Moroder, Beatrice Eli, Gorgon City, Maya Jane Cole, and many others were performing, I knew for sure this would be the perfect musical entrée. Taking place outdoors on the beautiful island of Skeppsholmen—and coinciding with the 20th anniversary of legendary rave club Docklands—this event had all the elements necessary to be an epic addition of the late-summer festival season.

But things started taking a turn for the worst, and fast. I was already irked by a few organizational elements, such as the fact that all communications—from the Dans Dakar website to all their social media accounts—were strictly written in Swedish. I hear you: this is a Swedish event, why wouldn’t their online presence be in Swedish? Trust me, being a born and raised Québécois, I understand language preservation struggles firsthand. But when a festival tries to position itself as an international destination event, you expect a few linguistic accommodations. Hell, even PLAI Festival in Romania—a purely volunteer-run independent festival in Timisoara I’ll be attending in early September—has an English version website with all the essential information.

And things kept going downhill

The emails and press releases started pouring in—obviously all in Swedish—and things weren’t looking good. According to Google Translate, the event’s finances were in shambles, and the prospect of actually putting on the festival were slim at best. Needless to say I was disappointed. But I’m not one to dwell on things that are out of my control (OK that’s a lie, I dwell on them obsessively but I’m over it almost immediately,) and the organizers made promises of alternatives seeing that refunds seemed out of the question.

A closer collaboration with Docklands was in order, where they’d take over the Dans Dakar site to organize a series of daytime events to accompany their nightly bookings—which had still yet to be announced…less than two weeks before the opening of the festival. But I’m nothing if not an optimist—yes that’s a bold faced lie, I’m an eternal pessimist, but just go with it—and I was looking forward to seeing what this unexpected version of Dans Dakar + Dockands would look like. I still had a few apprehensions, but the organizers’ repeated statements and pledges regarding the continuation of this edited edition were keeping me hopeful.

But then, another statement

The organizers of Docklands post a status to their Facebook account, and things went from doubtful to bleak from 0 to 100. For the uninitiated, Docklands was a rave club that opened 20 years ago in Stockholm that has since shuttered while its reputation lives on, leading to the organization of an anniversary party coinciding with Dans Dakar. It all seemed perfect: you could ostensibly spend all day enjoying the killer daytime lineup and keep the party going all night at Docklands. And while the use of its original location was impossible, they were working on revamping a nearby abandoned warehouse, which was arguably a much cooler option.

The status went something like this: “the city is fighting us, they blindsided us, we probably can’t put on the event.” So let me get this right: with nary an artist announcement in sight, no details provided, and a last minute grab at organizing both their own half-cooked idea and a faltering festival, it all boils down to the city?

Don’t get me wrong, I know firsthand how frustrating dealing with bureaucracy and the city can be. It’s a long arduous process that requires you to be quick, flexible, convincing, and most of all creative. It requires a Plan A, Plan B, and just to be safe, a Plan C. But this just felt like they’d found the perfect scapegoat and went with it.

All this reminded me something by boss told me when I was working as the marketing coordinator at Adecco:

You need to under-promise and over-deliver

The notion stuck with me not because it was a novel or innovative one, but because it was so rational and so true. Wanting to oversell ourselves is only natural, especially because we actually believe we can deliver. Which, when the conditions are perfect, you probably can. But let’s be real: the conditions are very rarely perfect, if ever. And I was constantly setting myself up to disappoint.

 

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And this is exactly what the organizers of Dans Dakar and Docklands have done, and apparently I’m not alone in this thinking. By wanting to keep the glimmer of hope alive, they’ve only disappointed us even more. Worst still is the complete lack of accountability, instead launching themselves in an elaborate blame-game. A game where nobody wins, especially the fans who’d already purchased their tickets, and in some cases—OK in my case—moved everything around to make it to Europe in time for this event.

In the end, while I’m obviously sad to be missing both events, I’m still thrilled to be in Stockholm and discover what this beautiful city has to offer. But I can’t help but be deeply disappointed with the frustrating way the cancellation of both events has been handled. Launching tirades against the city and their partners—basically everybody and anybody but themselves—has only worked against them, highlighting their lack of professionalism all the elements that are essential to event planning: adaptability and creativity. Needless to say, I’d be weary of blindly supporting the organizers in the future—if there is one for them.

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