Electric Winter: an interview with Igloofest’s Nicolas Cournoyer

Igloofest © Bianca Lecompte

The creators behind Piknic Électronik never imagined their winter offshoot, Igloofest, would achieve the level of success that it has. According to general director and co-founder Nicolas Cournoyer, the idea of Igloofest came about as a joke during a post-Piknic meeting over eight years ago. The team were brainstorming ways in which they could take the concept of the weekly, outdoor, summer event further.

“Someone said ‘why don’t we do one in the winter?’ We started laughing,” Cournoyer said, “but then we said ‘hey, why not?’ That would be interesting, that would be original, that would be a good way to help people rediscover winter and tame it and stop complaining.”

It’s hard to believe that something that started out as a joke is now one of the biggest events of the year and has validated Montreal’s contribution to the electronic music scene on the world stage.

Just as in the early days of Piknic, the organizers saw Igloofest as a chance to showcase Montreal talent within the still-underground genre of electronic music. When electronic music broke into the mainstream several years ago, Piknic and Igloofest were primed for a surge in popularity as well and faced enormous opportunity to expand beyond the Montreal scene.

The current flood of musicians operating within the genre is a challenge for anyone to navigate but Cournoyer is happy with the balance the team has achieved in booking acts for Igloofest.

A focus on Montreal is still very much a priority for them. It’s one of the reasons they decided to expand the capacity of the smaller stage from around 200 to 700 people.

Igloofest © Bianca Lecompte

They also recognize that international acts can really draw in the crowds but they are very careful about avoiding a certain level of commercialization.

“Because the electronic music scene exploded in the last few years, there’s a lot more commercial stuff. We’re trying to target artists that are not in that class,” Cournoyer said, “first of all, because that’s not the kind of music we like. On the other side, it’s impossible for us to afford it.”

The popularity of electronic music has made it so that some of the most recognizable names in the genre are notoriously expensive to book. Artists like David Guetta and Deadmau5 can charge upwards of $50 000 to $200 000 for a single performance.

“When you go see those artists, tickets are $50 to $60. We’re not interested in that. For Igloofest, you pay $20 at the door,” he said, “it’s a question of philosophy as well. [The commercialization of electronic music] is something strange about what’s happening and it’s too expensive. That’s not how we created the event and how we wanted it to evolve.”

Keeping the price of entry as low as possible is important to Cournoyer since many Igloofest attendees are more interested in the overall experience than who’s providing the beats. It’s the experience that has captured the attention of fans and artists alike across the globe.

“The word of mouth travels fast,” Cournoyer said, “one artist from a label goes and tells everyone else and they all want to experience it. It blows their mind.”

Cournoyer said he’s met people from all over at Igloofest, describing one memorable fan who traveled to Montreal from Argentina for the sole purpose of attending the festival.

While Igloofest’s reputation transcends the borders of Quebec, what outsiders may not realize is that the event has changed the way many Montrealers feel about winter.

In a 2011 TEDx talk for HEC Montreal, Cournoyer described how most Montrealers view winter as a sickness:

As soon as the cold weather hits, many shut themselves indoors and hardly venture out beyond daily necessities like work and school. The cold seems to consume all of one’s being, turning even the most good-natured of us into crabby, incessant complainers. We all know: winters in Montreal are long, dark and horrible.

The key to enjoying yourself is to dress warm and find fun things to do outside that keep you moving, something that is exemplified in Igloofest.

Cournoyer refers to the growing trend of outdoor activities in the city, signifying the population’s willingness to change their feelings towards winter.

“We were thinking let’s make people love winter,” he said, “and that’s something that we’re really proud of, that now people are looking forward to winter.”

Igloofest closing weekend from February 6 to 8, Old Port of Montreal.   

Photos by Bianca Lecompte. See our Facebook album for more.

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