Since the outbreak of the Corona virus, the culture scene in many countries has been one of those industries hit the hardest and Germany is no exception to the rule. Especially the independent scene, which does not exclusively work for money but rather out of conviction, seems to have hit rock bottom. As there has not been much money in the scene before the current crisis, people who work independently are facing existential threats right now. Even though we extensively enjoyed cultural programs – can you imagine a world without music, museums, or concerts? – Nobody realized how fragile the industry has been during the last years. Not until now, the outbreak of a global crisis which threatens all of us. Especially the politicians – who always praise support of “culture” like national theatres and museums – did not pay much attention to independent institutions. Are they meant to be a colletral damage of the current crisis? The voices remained unheard for many months. With the beginning of the second Winter lockdown wave those voices got louder and an outcry went through the nationwide culture scene over the past few weeks as the #AlarmstufeRot demonstrations in Berlin and various claims via social media shed more light on the issue.

The critically praised Maifeld Derby festival is exemplarey for the rest of the scene so, that’s why I decided to phone up Timo Kumpf, head of the independent festival in Mannheim and the booking agency Delta Concerts, to talk about the current state of it all. Although the German politicians reacted to the breakdown of the culture scene with initiatives like “Neustart Kultur”, Kumpf does not think the politics provided enough support to him and the entire independent scene.

“This lack of support is nothing new to me. Over the last ten years as a festival organizer, the politicians used to promise a lot, but nothing happened. After the Maifeld Derby 2019, I decided to take a break in 2020. So, the absence of the Maifeld Derby this year is not actually due to Covid. It was a personal decision because of structural issues and the lack of support by the city Mannheim. After I announced the break, the city of Mannheim gave me appreciable support for the first time. But that only happened because there was already a threat. They had to decide whether to give us the support we need, or the festival won’t happen again.”

Existential threat

Timo Kumpf, Credits: Thorsten Dirr

It seems to be the same with the current situation: there is an existential threat that the whole cultural scene in many countires will break down completely and not recover in the near future. And only now, after the danger has already risen to enormous proportions, the politicians in Germany start to slowly realise what is happening to a whole industry on which the existence of many people depends.  It feels like there is no reflection taking place unless it comes to a life-threatening crisis affecting everyone. And even then, politics created some kind of two-class-system where some industries – like the aviation-sector- automatically get more support than others – like the gastronomy or the culture industry – who have to beg on their knees for aid.

I am currently in a situation in which I need to beg for support every year.  The support I could get out of the local politics is only the beginning for me. As I already said: I only got the support because I stood up and said I can not work like that anymore. I do not have the energy to manage a whole festival on my own without any help or revenue. I think my case is comparable to the whole sector: now, in times of crisis, the deficits start to surface. During the last few years, the whole culture scene has been pretty modest and undemanding, but now the existence of many people is in great danger and therefore it is necessary to raise voices and to develop some kind of self-confidence.”

The Maifeld Derby is a very special independent music festival in Germany because it takes place in an area where the target group is only represented by a few people. But still, Timo and his team managed to grow the festival every year and attract people from all over Germany without loosing the independent character. People who attend the festival know that the Maifeld Derby is organized out of love for great music and not for making profit.

We have a pretty high selling of beer at the festival, but everybody knows their boundaries, so there aren’t any passed out drunks. It is a conscious consumption of alcohol, music, and everything else.”

The independence

Keeping the independent character alive is one of the Maifeld Derby’s biggest goals. So, when it comes to the need of having money to finance the festival, Timo and his team always think about new ways of raising it. They do not just look for an agency to fund the festival but rather get the festival’s fans and attendees involved. During the break-year 2020, there should have been a few small festivals with around 1.500 people to raise money for the 10th anniversary in 2021. But as we all know, something bigger came in-between: a pandemic. So, the events had to be cancelled. Later, when the first lockdown was over and the summer came, Timo turned his gaze inward and decided to create a “corona-concurrent” edition with a festival called Maifeld Derby 9 2/3. Instead of 1.500 visitors, there should have been around 25-100 music fans in two venues in Mannheim. But the plans were foiled as the Corona cases went up again and the government imposed a second lockdown in November. Fortunately, the Maifeld Derby crew did not exclusively rely on the planned events and started a crowdfunding-campaign. There have been many different options for people to get involved and to help the festival they love; for example, they could buy different packages with self-made puzzles, socks, shirt, posters etc., could join the Equipe d’amour club for a year or even could book a spot during the festival for their wedding. When talking about the crowdfunding-campaign, Timo admits that the design was too complicated but that it does not matter to him as he prefers a great outcome rather than efficiency.

I was totally moved by the feedback of the supporters. But admittedly, I have been too hung up on perfection. For example, I did not only print a shirt in one colour with one design but rather ordered many different designs and that was too well-meant. I did not get that much money out of it, but I realized that the willingness of people to help is high. Sometimes there were donations from one person so large that I thought they must be crazy. But it make me feel honored and gave me a motivational boost to repay them. Being independent is the biggest strength of the Maifeld Derby festival, so crowdfunding is a good opportunity to maintain the independence. And the cancelled festivals will definitely take place someday.”

New concepts

For the Maifeld Derby 2021, the anniversary edition, Timo already set a date and announced the first acts at the beginning of October. The 10th Maifeld Derby shall take place from the 11th until the 13th of June 2021, with artists like Caribou, BadBadNotGood, DJ Shadow, Sophie Hunger, Sampa the Great and DIIV as headliners. Although it is obviously not certain that the festival can be held next year, Timo and the Maifeld Derby crew want to stay optimistic and positive. Even when cuts must be made, they do not want to give up and instead develop new ideas and formats for the festival. Timo is momentarily planning the Maifeld Derby 2021 without any stages in tents because even if it is permitted to have concerts in tents next year, he does not think that people will feel comfortable in closed environments.

I don’t think that it is possible to have a festival like in 2019 ever again. People are conscious about what happened and there will always be extra care and hygiene in many areas in the future. In my opinion, a Maifeld Derby without tents – which means that the festival must end at 11pm – does not have to be a great incision, although it will change the festival’s core. We always think about ways to keep the festival’s character alive, even in special situations like this one. But admittedly, I do not think there can be a festival under the current conditions. The whole character of festivals gets lost when you are only allowed to be seated maintaining distance to others. It might not seem like it now but I do believe that we can have a great festival in June 2021. Not without restrictions but our audience is mature, realistic, and will adjust to the changes quickly. That is a big advantage.”

Will it ever be the same again? Maifeld Derby back in 2018 (Photo by Florian Trykowsk)

At this moment, no one can predict what will happen next year. We did not expect that a global pandemic was going to ravage 2020. No one could predict that we need to wear a face mask in our daily life and that there will be two lockdowns forcing us to work and stay at home most of the time. 2020 was a year full of surprises and 2021 might be the same. There are many scenarios how the pandemic can develop in the future but at the end of this year nobody can say what will happen. Only one thing is for sure; the global crisis taught us new perspectives on life and there are many things we learned during the last months. Timo has his own view on the benefits of the crisis:

I think that people look at things with distance now. They do not take things for granted but instead they appreciate the things they have more. Something unexpected on which you do not have any influence can always occur. Therefore, you should see the amazing things happening to you as a privilege and enjoy them more.  With a global crisis going on, you realize that you are small, and that is a good thing. To conclude: just have fun to do things and be grateful for them.”

Even though Timo Kumpf and his Maifeld Derby crew were hit pretty hard by the current crisis in the form of an existential thread, they try to make the best out of it by enjoying the little things in life and look forward into a brighter future. And if even the people affected very badly by the restrictions of the pandemic manage to stay positive, everybody can, right?

Maifeld Derby 2020 is set to happen between June 11 and 13 2021 and hell yes, we want to see it happen! If you’d like to join uns, don’t hesitate and support the festival already today. Full information on their website.