Catching up with Nicolas Cournoyer of Piknic Électronik
Welcome to Festivals Insider's Organizer Q&A series. Here, we have intimate conversations with some of the festival market's most exciting and influential innovators.
We had the pleasure of catching up with Nicolas Cournoyer from Piknic Électronik - a weekly electronic music festival that takes place every Sunday during the summer in Montreal, Quebec. Whether you're a local, a tourist or an avid music fan, this festival is a fabulous place, and an opportunity to experience world-class music with the backdrop of a stunning view of the city in a super warm and friendly atmosphere!
What is your name and what is the name of your festival?
Nicolas Cournoyer from Piknic Électronik.
When did the festival start and what inspired it?
So it started in 2003. What did inspire it, is that the electronic music scene at the time, was getting more and more popular. There was a lot of events and at some point, it kind of lost the spirit around the electronic music scene in Montreal, and that's why we decided to create a new event.
What we wanted at the time is that for people to just know and discover the electronic music scene. There was a lot of prejudice around that kind of music at the time because it was at after-hours and raves with drugs and everything, and so we wanted people to just acknowledge that it's a new kind of music, and you can enjoy it. So and the other thing is that we wanted to take it out from its usual environment. So instead of going at nighttime, we wanted to do this during the daytime, and to have families and all kinds of people to be in a park, which changed the mood and the perception of the people around that kind of music. So that was the spirit and we want to showcase the local talents that we had, there was a lot of DJs, in Montreal as well, at the time, and we thought it was a good idea to do just a standard event in a park during the daytime.
When and where does it happen?
The event takes place in Parc Jean-Drapeau. So it's an island, just south of Montreal, five minutes from downtown Montreal. So it's a beautiful park, green spaces, mature trees. It's quite bucolic, and it takes place from Sunday, every Sunday of the summertime. So from May to September, from 2pm to 9:30pm.
Tell us about the site and how it influences the festival?
It does influence a lot. Uh, because, you know, the electronic music used to be in warehouses and bars and like I said, during the nighttime. At the time, there were those smoky venues, and so to be outside, it changed the mood of the people. It's more open-minded, there are more people, I would say, from different age styles - it's a really eclectic crowd that we have. And of course to be outside during the daytime in green spaces - it brings something different.
The other thing is that it's a ritual. It's every Sunday, so there are all the people that come every week. As it's on a Sunday, it's Sunday afternoon, there's a lot of people just coming to chill out and to recharge their batteries just before beginning the next week at work so it's a bit different. Like I said, it's not the party night on Friday and Saturday, it's a more chill aspect. Of course, people are partying a bit they have a good time, they picnic but there are some people just laid back and yeah, you can just be outside and enjoy the summertime. And as you know, Montreal, the summertime in Montreal is really short, so people just embrace it and experience it as much as they can because winter's coming.
What kind of musical artists play at your festival?
Like I said, it's a weekly event so we have around 20, 25 events during the summer time. So we don't want to be only in one kind of electronic music, we have really a broad variety of styles.
So it goes from House, Hard house, Dubstep, or some Funk and some Techno as well. We're not that much into EDM, pure EDM music. But like I said, it's it's a lot of electronic music that allows us to have different kinds of people so we can please all the music lovers, and that's why we didn't want to be only in a specific electronic music genre. So it goes from newcomers, some old school ones, some people getting more and more popular, and so we kind of try to have a balance of those artists during the summertime.
Who was the first act you ever booked?
The first act we had at Piknic Electronique was DJ Mouse and Sun Shaper. So of course there were local DJs the first few years. It was a really small event. So we went, we had this year an average of 200 people. So it was really friendly. All our friends and other people, like I said, we're discerning those raves and wanted to have something special. So it was really small in the first few years, it was more local DJs, and that's what we want to showcase as well, there was a lot of talent in Montreal, and it took us a few years before having international guests.
What’s the most memorable set or sets for you?
So one of the most memorable sets we had at Piknic was the one with Josh wink, and others as well when the weather is involved.
So it was a bright day, a sunny, beautiful day with 1000s of people on the dance floor, but we knew at some point that there were risks of thunderstorms at night, so by the end of the day. So what did happen, we saw those black, dark clouds coming, and then the storm hit us, and at some point, it was just raining sideways. People were continuing dancing at some point and got really windy, and there was some risk for the public. So it was the first time in our history that we had to shut down and tell on the mic to people just go away, get somewhere safe, and people will start just running everywhere in bushes, at the subway, they tried to find something to hide. And, and like I said, the storm hit us for 15 minutes, but after afterwards, what, bright sun again at the end of the day. So let's see what we do, it was almost the end, there was only 15 minutes left over at the day. So it's okay, let's put music so Josh put the music and then we saw all those people just running, came back and screaming, all wet, all over and dancing, and screaming and that was the most epic reaction of the public and of a set at Piknic.
Who is the target audience for your festival?
As we're not pinpointing on a specific electronic music, and see the public we're trying to have at the event is really broad as well. So it will follow all kinds of music, if we want some dubstep crowd, we go with that kind of music, more bassy stuff, more house, some more conventional electronic music - so it's really eclectic.
The public goes from, from young people to older one with some with the families, some hipsters, douchebags, the hippies, all kinds of people. So it's an open mind event, we're gathering all kinds of people, and we want to keep it like this, because that's what makes special, the event.
In fact, the crowd has a real huge impact. In Montreal, people are music lovers, all kinds of music, not only electronic music, and I would see the dialogue, the interaction with the DJs is really special. And that's why those DJs love to come back to Montreal - and that's part of the spirit of the event. So you're during the daytime, you're outside in a green space with those good DJs and people in a good mind - so that's the perfect recipe for us.
What is unique about your festival? What sets it apart?
What's so unique? Yeah, first of all, we're in the best city in the world. We have the best crowd as well. But the main thing is, it goes on every week, so it's a weekly event, it's a ritual, people comes on Sunday, there's not that much competition as well. It's really laid back, people are just open minded, they want to have fun, and they're gathering together having a good time. So it's really a chill event, but with good music, all kinds of music so we can go on with those bookings - it sets the whole summer time in Montreal on the cultural scene.
So that's one thing, if you want to travel, so if people are just travelling and come into Montreal, you know that every Sunday from May to September, you can go jump in and have a good time. Even though if you don't know the bookings, the artist who's playing, it doesn't matter. So it's to be there with the Montreal way of life and with the good spirit, the Latin blood, we like to party! And that's why I think people like this event.
What are some of the challenges you've faced in organizing your festival?
Of course, there's a lot of challenges we had over the course of time. Sometimes it's financial, some money wise, so sometimes it's growing - if it grows too fast, you need to adapt and adjust stuff. But the main thing, the main challenge we have is with the weather, it all decides if it will, it will be a good summer or not. If you're cancelling a few events, and because it's raining, or you have too wet or too much thunderstorms during the summertime, that's pretty tough, and you never know.
As, we're on a public site, we're setting up on the Sunday and wrapping up on the same day. So you can't just say okay, all open, because it's a beautiful weather, so you need to do to be ready with the employees and to set it up and decide or not if you do the events. So if you pull the trigger and say, okay, let's do it, and it's raining all day, you lose a lot of money. On the other hand, if you, you take the wrong decisions, it costs you a lot, because the expenses are, are still there. So the weather is our main challenge. And like I said, the evolution of the music scene, you need to really be up to date - if you sit on your couch and wait people will forget you, you won't be actual, you won't have those good bookings, and you want to last in time - and that's what we're trying to do.
We were talking about challenges, hahahaha, and I almost forgot! The Pandemic, of course, it does affect us. See, last year, we've done virtual events, but there's nothing like being there in person, so that was really tough - so we lost the year 2020.
We were really on the good, good wave, in 2019. We averaged 8,000 - 10,000 people every Sunday, so it was really incredible - and then everything stopped, and to date, we don't know what will be what we'll look like next Summer in 2021. But of course, it does affect us a lot.
I said that the weather was the main challenge, but for now, it's the pandemic. It's tough on everyone because artists can't work, we do not work even though we have some plan B's but it's tough to do. Fortunately, there's some subsidies from the government that help us and we're just keeping our fingers crossed for the next step. But of course, once it will be secure for people to go out and go to events, we know that people will be looking forward for that and be willing to dance and enjoy those events - but we don't know yet. So that's the main problem is the future. In the short term you don't know but long term we know that the big people will survive and can be there in 20 years again!