Exclusive Interview: Parookaville founder Bernd Dicks on how 2018 will see his festival become ‘Bigger Than Tomorrowland’
Imagine walking into a city straight out of a fairy tale, with its own passport, church, post office and… 10 festival stages? Welcome to the city of Parookaville, Germany’s biggest electronic music festival, which sold out to over 80,000 fans last year amid a main-stage line up packed with the likes of Tiësto, Axwell and Sebastian Ingrosso, and David Guetta.
During the crazy hustle of Miami Music Week, Parookaville CEO Bernd Dicks joined We Rave You at the Spinnin’ Hotel for an insight into what makes him – and his incredible festival – tick. Packed with an ever-buzzing phone, an array of folders and documents under his arms, and an espresso to go, it’s clear that Bernd is a man in huge demand right now. Surprising? Not at all. But what makes Parookaville different to the other festivals out there?
Bernd described the uniqueness, originality and flair of the festival. The overall aesthetic of Parookaville is a blend between the imaginative vintage whimsy of Tomorrowland and the hippy/steampunk vibe of Coachella but with German twists like a beer garden.
Here is what happened when We Rave You met Parookaville CEO, Bernd Dicks…
So Bernd! How did the idea for Parookaville originally come about?
“Well there was three guys, in a small city named Weeze with only 10,000 people. That’s our home. And we always wanted to make a great party, so Norbert, Georg, and myself, we managed to get 5,000 people to a nice beach party in 2014, which we put a lot of creativity and effort into. But instead of repeating this limited concept, we mustered all the courage to launch something with much more growth potential in 2015: PAROOKAVILLE.“
Logistically, what were the first steps in actually turning your dream into a reality?
“My business partners were developers for commercial properties, so they had great knowledge about construction which was super helpful when it came to actually building a festival. I was reporting as a radio journalist, since 2004, and I was travelling all around the world to attend the most thriving dance events. But while the scene in Germany was quiet, people were starting to get hungry because they were seeing Tomorrowland and Mysteryland, so we knew we needed someone to set it up, and give them what they want!”
So how was the German dance music scene at the time?
“In the 90’s, the rave scene came up with all the neon stuff and gas masks, and glow sticks and that was the public perception of the dance music scene. But artists like David Guetta, Robin Schulz and Martin Garrix appeared on the radio, and at the top of the charts, and it totally changed the game. Dance music rapidly gained the attention of the millennials. The leading festivals like EDC Vegas, and Tomorrowland came with their aftermovies etc, and people longed for something similar in Germany.”
So how did you begin to attract artists to the festival and really make a name for yourself?
“We knew we have a brilliant location in our hometown, the former Royal Airforce base, and that we could scale it from 5,000 to maybe 15,000 people with the beach party concept. But we also knew that this would not nearly be enough to put an A-List line-up together, because if I had asked Steve Aoki, ‘Hey Steve, I’m a guy from a little town, do you want to play my beach party?’, he answer would have been no. So instead, we chose to focus on the story of Parookaville first. This tale of a place which comes alive once per year, thanks to the fictional founding father, Bill Parooka. So created a unique city, and decided not to give tickets to the guests, but instead we give them a passport, so they become the citizens of the Parooka. Every year they attend, the passport is stamped and they gain a higher ranking in their citizen status.”
So what separates Parookaville from other festivals in Europe?
“I strongly believe that the experience which our city offers to its citizens – besides all the world star DJs – is very unique. You can get married at the Parooka church, swim in the giant open-air pool, get styled at the beauty farm, chill in the artistically designed forest and so much more. Once we started creating the festival, of course we gained inspiration from places like Tomorrowland, but we totally found our own identity. We sold out with 25,000 tickets in 2015, 50,000 in second year, 80,000 sold out last year. So the demand was overwhelming! In 2018, we will have 80,000 again but with 65,000 visitors per day, our venue is even bigger than Tomorrowland and our main stage will be the largest one in Europe.”
What kind of sounds are the people of Germany into right now when it comes to dance music?
“Germany right now is really into mainstream EDM music, so we are looking for people like Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, David Guetta, Robin Schulz and Martin Garrix to perform at the main stage. But we are a multi genre electronic music festival with 10 different stages and House, Techno, Hardstyle, Trap, Bass, Retro and Future sounds represented by over 200 DJs. Last year, it rained very hard all day, Martin Solveig went into the crowd and he was absolutely soaked. And I was scared that the weather might put them off, but after David Guetta’s set, he said, “This place is so sick, I want to come back!” which was amazing.”
And you look set to keep growing year upon year?
“We have 24 employees now, our office is way too small because of how quickly we are growing. We could easily sell way more tickets and make it even bigger, but growth is not everything. We want to keep the spirit and the intimate vibes at the different city districts. So we decided to stick with the 80,000 and the same location size. Right now, we are such a peaceful festival. No reported fightings, no arrests, no drug incidents. Nothing. And that is because of the vibes and the spirit that we have created. Everybody respects each other and, honestly, I have never experienced an atmosphere like this before.”
So what do you have in store for the 2018 edition of Parookaville?
“This year is gonna be crazy, more crazy than ever, we will have Hardwell playing, Martin Garrix, Sven Väth – so many great artists. But thanks to the growth pause, we also have time to better focus on details, public transportation for example, and to place nice Easter Eggs all over our unique city for our beloved citizens to find and enjoy. We want it to be an adventure for every visitor and make them experience the joy and passion, that we all feel while realizing PAROOKAVILLE.”
Returning to Airport Weeze July 20-22, 2018, with a lineup stacked full of dance juggernauts like Armin van Buuren, it’s great to see festival organizers thinking of new and innovative ways to keep festival goers amused and we have to admit – Parookaville is an excellent example of that. We can’t wait to see what’s in store for Bernd and his team this year, and you can grab more details about his wonderful festival on the official website. Until then, enjoy the madness of Parookaville 2017, with this stunning 4K aftermovie: