Party organizer roundtable
Most sceners visit at least one demo party every year. Most have their favourite events and only visit those, but some also go to as many as they possibly can. Who are the people behind such events and what do they think of their own parties and the "competition"? We spoke to three well-known demo party organizers to get their take on the world of demo partying.
ZINE: What kind of party are you involved with organizing? Large or small? Do you draw demosceners only or is it a combined crowd? Do you arrange more than one party?
Scamp: I'm the main organizer of Breakpoint and Underground Conference. Breakpoint is the biggest scene-only event with about 1000 visitors per year. As "scene-only" implies, we don't have a combined crowd, and don't accept gamers or any other kind of "LAN party audience". I guess everyone knows Breakpoint, so that's enough about BP.
Underground Conference is a small demoparty taking place since 1995, which makes it one of the oldest in Germany. It's not taking place every year, but there sometimes are gaps of 2-3 years between a party taking place. The last bigger gap between 2003 and 2006 had been caused by me starting to organize Breakpoint. UC is meant as a kind-of satirical "elite-only" party, where we make fun of demoscene traditions and competitions. Basic rules are that all organizers of the party stop organizing as soon as the party starts, and get drunk and stoned instead, with the visitors having to take over organizing including serving food etc.
Unlock: I organize Buenzli. It is, compared to the other parties in this round, rather small. We mainly target our event at demosceners from all over the world, but especially for those from Switzerland, of course. However, we try to open up our event for audiences from other digital culture circles too, like art students, new media people and more.
Gloom: I have been involved with quite a few parties, but the most well-known are The Gathering ("TG") and Solskogen. The Gathering is one of the largest computer parties (I will not call it a demo party anymore) in the world, and Solskogen is a small demoscene-only party (around 100 visitors), both held in Norway.
I was a TG-organizer for ten years before I left the organizing committee in 2005. I left because I didn't enjoy it any more; it had become a bit of a routine, and that was not why I started organizing TG in the first place. I think it is worth mentioning that I do not arrange TG anymore, but am speaking from experience with regards to that party.
Together with a friend I started Solskogen in 2002, and it has been arranged several times since.
ZINE: Would you like to arrange a different party than the one(s) you are currently involved with? If so; what kind of party and how?
Unlock: No, for me Buenzli is perfect, in size, in effort that has to be put in and last but not least the outcome.
Scamp: Same goes for me. From my personal perspective Breakpoint is hard work that I do to support the scene, but it sucks to never be able to attend it as a visitor. UC is a party that's pure fun even when you're the mainorganizer. That's enough.
Gloom: I don't know if I'm being masochistic or something, but I am actually working with some ex-TG people on an idea that sparked in my head back in 2005 and seems to echo quite nicely with a lot of people that I like and trust. This will (hopefully) become something that bridges the gap between a demoscene event and a more professionally oriented happening. There are many ideas floating around right now, and I'm sure you'll hear more about this project soon enough. ZINE exclusive, hehe.
ZINE: Have you visited any other party than your own that you felt were really well arranged and you ended up making notes for your own? If so; what party and what did you learn?
Scamp: Breakpoint learns a lot from smaller parties. Historically, much of Breakpoint had been originally influenced by Mekka-Symposium (minus the things that sucked like the violent security team, snobbish main organizing team etc), but during the last years we've picked up quite a few ideas from smaller parties. Smaller parties often are a good test balloon to try out new ideas and see how they work out.
Gloom: There are two events I'd like to highlight here: Assembly (because of the successful merging of a computer party and a demo party, and the kickass organizing staff) and FMX (because of the extremely high level of professionalism and super-packed programme).
FMX is not a "computer party" at all but more of a Siggraph Junior if you like, where computer graphics professionals from all over the world gather to present, share and discuss cutting edge technologies and techniques. If you live near Stuttgart (Germany) I really encourage you to visit FMX. It usually takes place in early May every year. I have been there two times now and I will keep coming back for sure.
Unlock: For me, every party has good and bad points, including my own of course. If things go bad, I try to support the organizers with my knowledge and experience. Personally, I think the Evoke series is rather well organized. And honestly, I've never been to any really badly organized party yet - I hope that stays like that.
Scamp: I'd say the parties with most influence for Breakpoint in the past have been Mekka, TUM and Underground Conference. Underground Conference on the other hand always has been a unique thing, and many features of it got copied by other small parties in Germany during the last 10 years. In other words: Underground Conference is a source of inspiration, while Breakpoint is the result of the experience of a big bunch of different small parties.
From other big parties we've only learnt how NOT to do things. "Bigger is better" bullshit, commercialism, trying to please everyone, organizing teams not consisting of active demosceners etc. From Assembly it could be learnt how to still treat the sceners right even with the hall being full of gamers and leechers, but well, we don't have that problem to solve anyway... and the other big parties mostly just abuse the demoscene label these days to be still regarded as a cultural/art event by the public, media and sponsors.
Gloom: I am amazed by Assembly, I have to say. Simply put it's still one of the best parties around, and ever since I went there for my first time in 2002 (late bloomer, I know) I have enjoyed myself there. The amount of respect shown by the partygoers when the demo competitions begin is simply unmatched by any other similar party (pure demoscene parties like Breakpoint are something else entirely). Assembly has also managed to "break out" into mainstream media, with their Assembly TV which is aired over local cable networks as well as streamed over the internet. This is an impressive feat by any measure.
ZINE: Do you think there are too many or too few demoparties around?
Gloom: There can never be too many demo parties I guess. If we somehow get to a point where there are so many parties that they collectively start getting a low attendance, then it's gone too far. I think there is room for a party or more a week, as long as they are spread out (geographically and attendance wise) and that there are enough people to attend.
Unlock: There are enough parties around. With the time, parties managed to spread nicely over the year and to arrange themselves. There could of course be more parties in other parts of the world - to show they're strong too.
Scamp: That's not the right question really. It sucks that I'm not able to visit more of those great parties. My fault, not theirs.
Jungle-themed Breakpoint 2006 invitation
Gloom: I know I would personally like to visit more parties if I had the time, but then again; I'm starting to age (nearing 30, yikes!) and there is plenty of room for younger people to start getting into the scene. The best way to "join the scene" is to visit a demoparty. No question about it.
ZINE: Does your party cater to an international crowd? If so, how do you go about drawing visitors to your party?
Unlock: Buenzli tries to make good marketing all over the year. Seemingly we succeed since we always have a fine selection of international visitors. Among these marketing activites, there are standard things like flyers and banners - but of course also special details at parties (mostly at Breakpoint, so far).
Gloom: Both of "my parties" do their best to get as many inter- national visitors as possible. The Gathering usually attracts a much wider range of visitors, and thus has an easier time getting many people, even new ones every year. Solskogen plays to its strengths and tries to get the returning visitors with a strong sense of demoscene history. Both utilize the internet as the main form of "letting people know".
Scamp: Breakpoint caters to an international crowd, UC doesn't. For Breakpoint, word of mouth is what mostly counts.
ZINE: Is there any value left in party invitation intros now in the days of the internet, or is it just for show?
Gloom: Oh yes. Every decent party needs a decent invtro.
Scamp: For Breakpoint, invtros are of value. That is because we've changed the way invitations work. Due to Breakpoint starting the trend of "theme" parties, it became a logical con- sequence to make the invtros part of that theme. For Breakpoint, the invtro now is the first part of a story that the party is telling. And therefore, the invtro is of great value again for us.
Unlock: I think it's mainly for show. Then again, invitation intros (I hate that "invtro" word) or demos bring your party to the masses and make the people talk about it. That's the good side.
ZINE: Does your party have a strong web presence? What kind of features do you offer your visitors on your webpage, and do you feel they add to the experience or distract from it? (for example: webcasts and cross-published content such as party interviews)
Unlock: Our website is kind of standard. It's still about the demoparty, about visiting it. People that can't come, still have the chance to watch us on demoscene.tv - but that's all we can do with our small team. Of course, we try to make the page look nice and to make it fit to party theme.
Scamp: The web presence serves the sole purpose to inform about the party. In my opinion, other big parties often tend to distract from that purpose. We once had an unwritten rule that went like this: "If you are not going to Breakpoint, we don't give a f*** about you.". With supporting demoscene.tv and broadcasting our compos to The Gathering we've kinda broken that rule, but to some extent it is still valid. We don't need webcasts and stuff like that. It's a party. If you are there, then you are able to talk to whoever you want face-to-face and sit together with them at the bonfire. You don't need to read interviews, you are part of the thing. We don't want people to consume, we want them to create and exchange.
Party-goers hard at work at Solskogen
Gloom: TG has a very strong focus on the webpages. This, of course, is closely tied with the sponsorship and the "cyber-attendance" (read: people watching the video streams and joining in on the fun through forums and live chat). There are articles, inter- views and party reports as well as picture arc- hives and the video streams. Solskogen uses the web mostly to inform people, and it is usually used mainly in the months leading up to the event and in the week after the party is done.
Opening ceremony at the Underground Conference 7
ZINE: What kind of features should a great demoparty have on location? Competitions, t-shirts, posters, games, stands, outlets etc.
Unlock: Competitions are the only thing essential to a demoparty. Everything else should vary from party to party. All organizers should come up with their ideas about what the visitors want. Buenzli offers various entertainment things, all non-stop and some unique compos. Also, the chill factor is important at Buenzli.
Gloom: It depends on the party of course (size, what your target audience is etc.), but every party needs competitions for sure. The rest is mostly fluff I guess, but fluff contributes to the ambience too. At TG, almost everything goes. More life, more party. At Solskogen, something like t-shirt sales actually keeps the party budget from going into the red, so here it is actually a necessity.
Scamp: That really depends on the motivation, purpose and goals of the party.
Gloom: At larger parties I always appreciate some place to relax. Assembly has the oldskool area, TG has the chillout zone and the cinema (going into a dark movie theatre is EXCELLENT after a long day of demomaking) and a variety of summer parties have outdoor BBQing (like Solskogen, where every guest gets a full free BBQ dinner - included in the ticket).
ZINE: How do you feel about the evolution of demoparties - have we come a long way since the mid-80s or is it basicly still the same thing?
Scamp: Things have improved. With the exception of the few big parties that aren't Breakpoint, the distance between organizing teams and the scene itself has become smaller. Party organizers used to keep a distance from their visitors. These days things have shifted much more into the "we are one family" direction. That's good.
Gloom: It sort of is exactly the same thing and it sort of is something completely different. On one hand; yes - the premise is the same. Get together with your scene friends and create something. On the other hand; the scale is different. Take huge parties like Assembly and The Gathering (and even Breakpoint is large compared to many other parties) and compare them to the time in 1991 when you rented a room at your school with some of your friends.
There is room for both kinds of events though, since they both have different scopes and aspirations.
Unlock: Demoparties are very different these days. At least the parties I like, or the one I organize, try to focus not only on the demoscene but also on other parts and events that the visitors will like. A demoparty is more than just a gathering of nerds and freaks, it's a middle thing between a cinema festival, fair, lan party and family bbq. And more.. that's what has changed most.
ZINE: What kind of press coverage have your parties gotten in the past, and what is your take on it. Fair? Balanced? Awful? Great? What do you think reporters look for when visiting demoparties? Cliches like "How many girls are there?" and "So what about piracy?"
Gloom: TG has mostly gotten horrible press. The typical "A girl geek spends her easter in a hall with 5000 guys" bullshit mostly. I think that TG has outstayed its welcome in the Norwegian press, which just create cheap writeups about the most sensationalist elements of such an event. Solskogen hasn't gotten any press at all, and that's just fine by me. We don't need it. We don't cater to the general public anyway.
Unlock: The press coverage was balanced. We had a few reports before or after the party in local news papers. But that's not important. We discussed this topic among the organizing team a lot already and we came to the conclusion, that the press coverage might only be important for sponsors. Then again, you can sell your event otherwise, so that the sponsors are still happy. In our opinion, the press is not important to find new visitors or even new demosceners. We'd rather go to the target audience directly (gamers, art students, ...) and present the demoscene there - this brings more people to our event.
Scamp: It has been hard work over years to improve on press coverage. Digitale Kultur e.V., a german non-profit association led by sceners has helped in this area a lot. A few years ago press coverage of demoscene parties meant crappy reports filled with cliches and misunderstandings in crappy media. These days we get high-quality coverage. And we are able to pick our media partners ourselves - no tabloids allowed, only media with a high reputation for quality reports, both printed press and TV. So, for us the press coverage looks excellent these days.
ZINE: How do you get your sponsors, and what kind of sponsors are you looking for when arranging your party?
Gloom: Many of our sponsors (both at TG and at Solskogen) are old connections that keep up their relationships with the parties over many years. There are new ones every year and the way we get them is completely different for small and large parties. Large parties get inquiries while small parties have to beg for money and hardware. That may sound harsh but that's basicly how it is. Not that TG gets everything for free, hell no. It's a constant struggle to get the funds we need every year, even with loyal supporters already booked.
Unlock: Sponsoring is a difficult topic. In Switzerland, it's almost impossible to find sponsors that just give you money. All we can do is to arrange special things like jury prizes (as we have it with HP) or other "actions". For potential sponsors, there seems to be no value in a mid-sized demo- party, at least not in Switzerland. Then again, with contacts in the closer circle around the organizers, we always manage to find one or another sponsor supporting us.
Scamp: Social networking is the key. Again, Digitale Kultur e.V. is of great help in this area, as social networking is what they are all about. We pick sponsors mostly if their sponsorship means a mutual benefit - someone who just gives money and then after the party notices that nobody from the scene cared at all won't be a returning sponsor. So we try our best to get the sponsors and us sceners into direct contact, exchange ideas and thoughts etc. And that works pretty well.
Buenzli prize ceremonty
Gloom: When arranging a small party you take everything you are offered, more or less. When doing samething larger, especially something gigantic such as TG, you can be a bit pickier. Larger events usually have some sort of ready made sponsor packages that the sponsors can choose from (and then create variations of the packs according to each sponsor).
Unlock: The ideal sponsor gives money and just wants a few banners being around at the location. You won't find that one.
Thanks to Scamp, Unlock and Gloom for talking to us about their thoughts and experiences from arranging their demo parties.
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