The environments for sound experiences that shaped our music culture have shifted, evolved, disappeared or re-emerged in new dynamics over the last year, gradually defining the possibilities of a post-clubbing era. While the virtual realities of music communities and sonic networks continue to cross the boundaries of defined physical formats and exchanges, the endurance of spaces and natural resources we exist in, is critically fragile. The pandemic has slowed down immensely the consumerist side of the music industry by temporarily reducing touring, pollution from festivals and operational emissions from venues, but this ephemeral condition will pass, exposing the flawed foundations of a large part of the scene. Tackling sustainability at the moment demands immeasurable efforts towards repairing long-standing issues neglected in the past decades, while continually educating ourselves about currently arising problems and taking radical actions to solve them. The club scene is like a mirror of the social structures we live in, and it does not come as a surprise that marginalised voices, like the underground scene and artists, are most affected in uncertain times. 

Being green is not just about protecting nature. Considering the three E’s of sustainability – economy, ecology and equity, an imperative assessment of the social, environmental and political relations functioning in the electronic music scene needs to be done. We have a rare opportunity to reimagine the structures of club culture and introduce new protocols for raves. 

The unlimited profit model of clubs and organisations, running in the mainstream layer of the industry, has led not only to physical exhaustion of resources but also to consuming music in a fast-paced manner, pressing the creative abilities of artists and imposing unrealistic demands for releases and albums. Apart from all the travel emissions and pollution from clubs and festivals, this pressure has led to a new environmental problem – excessive digital streaming. The pollution from consuming music through online platforms and the emergence of NFTs (non fungible tokens) on blockchains, is exceeding the damage on nature caused by Vinyls and CDs. Dr Kyle Devine, who led the research on the environmental cost of recording formats, says: “From a plastic pollution perspective, the good news is that overall plastic production in the recording industry has diminished since the heyday of vinyl. From a carbon emissions perspective, however, the transition towards streaming recorded music from internet-connected devices has resulted in significantly higher carbon emissions than at any previous point in the history of music.” Storing and transmitting digital files through apps and websites is only possible through generating huge amounts of energy and cooling servers. Companies like Spotify, SoundCloud and Apple Music are slowly making their way to shifting towards cloud based solutions, but this takes years. Booking artists for events has mostly been based on the amount of online listeners they have, in order for venues to make profit, and inevitably causes environmental threads. Constant social media promotions and branding, endless line-ups and party marathons chosen over carefully curated gatherings, fuel the unattainability of a sustainable scene. Will Web 3.0, built on greener tech and with revised copyright laws, propel a shift towards a more mindful music consumption and club culture? While the future of a fully functioning international club industry seems far, we could start making changes locally.

The present circumstances are a great opportunity for local scenes to be empowered and developed. Just like our cities and small local businesses, the clubs are endangered from gentrification, with so many of them shutting down due to increased rents or invasion of big corporations. Recently in Berlin, the rent cap (Mietendeckel) was removed, making the creative scene even more vulnerable. To keep the underground music spaces safe from extinction we should reorganize ourselves as communities on a local scale, make donations to venues, support artists through buying music and go to demonstrations. Politics also intervene on the level of operational legislations, that still dictate the functioning of clubs but are highly outdated in terms of sustainability. Luckily, in Germany such clauses are being revised due to the active work of organisations like Clubtopia. A historical moment of a year-long activism and campaigning for the music scene is the recognition of clubs as cultural venues in Germany, implemented on the 7th of May 2021, which benefits are stated in the interview below. #clubsAREculture

Strengthening local scenes also means more jobs for the regional community, introducing slow touring for international artists and engaging them in a meaningful way with the community, for longer than a weekend, as well as generally less flight emissions. A step towards more sustainable touring and shared economy models has been made by the United Independent Music Agencies (UIMA) who announced the Green Rider initiative after the collaborative work of European booking agencies during the pandemic. The Green Rider (read here) has three sections – hospitality, travel and ground transport, and aims to develop a greener way for touring. 

Reviving the music scene in a conscious way must additionally look into equal pay and rights for women, and queer individuals. According to the UNFCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), it is well established  that climate change has a greater impact on those sections of the population that are most vulnerable. By employing more womxn in decision making roles, the scene will benefit from holistic solutions for running inclusive events, implementing equality and diversification of artists and attendees, in the white-cis-male-dominated industry. Evidently, the issues with sexism and discrimination in clubs became more visible in the last years and need to be further handled as a serious matter. One of the biggest importance of music venues and their survival, is that those spaces provide a form of collective healing and serve as a space for connection and transcendental dance rituals. Everyone on the dance floor should be able to experience the liberating act of giving into the healing vibrations of sound and moving through the rhythms of music, without feeling oppressed or in fear of being harassed. This is also another call for clubs to employ diverse members of staff and teams who are dedicated specifically to ensure the safe experiences of attendees.    

Spaces for music and dance are more than entertainment venues and have a significant role for our mental health, as well as our exchange of information and social engagement. Introducing creative collaborations, workshops and educational materials on sustainability to the event programs or as part of the clubs’ communication strategies, is a vital source of inspiring and nurturing green ways of thinking and living among us. There are plenty of organisations working to consult and help clubs improve their operations like CleanScene, Ecodisco, Assosiation For Electronic Music AFEM, to name but a few. I spoke with Berlin-based organisation Clubtopia, who shared more about their journey on working with clubs, developing green initiatives and cultivating a fruitful ground for new creative projects to emerge.

Hanna and Katrine, thank you for taking the time to speak with Monument. Clubtopia became increasingly recognizable recently, however the project is the result of many years of cooperation with the BUND Berlin and the Clubcommission, and you were honoured with two awards in 2019: the Listen to Berlin Award, and the Brighter Future Berlin Award. Could you please introduce Clubtopia to our readers and tell us how the project started?

It all started with the initiative Clubmob.Berlin, which has been campaigning for more sustainable clubs since 2011 through energy consultations within music clubs and so-called clubmob parties, which helped to finance climate action measurements for the club in which the party took place. As a result, different cooperations came into life and in 2019 the Project Clubtopia was founded, as a cooperation between Clubliebe e.V., BUND Berlin e.V. (Friends of the Earth Germany), and the Clubcommission.

Clubtopia supports Berlin clubs in being more sustainable. We perceive the Berlin club scene as an important part of the rich cultural scene, which can be a decisive motor for sustainable and climate-friendly change in the city. Clubs set impulses for rethinking our society and are a source of inspiration for their guests and the surrounding scene. We support clubs in many different ways: we offer free energy consulting for music clubs; educational programmes for club owners, club staff and event managers as well as workshops for diverse stakeholders of the club scene. Clubtopia also organises Round Tables for club and party organizers in Berlin who want to promote sustainability within the club culture. Furthermore, Clubtopia stages the Future Party Lab, which is an open event space for developing innovative sustainable solutions.

Ideally, many of the behavioural changes we have been wanting to see, like reduced air travel and better waste management, should have happened long before the pandemic hit. In the past year, we’ve been forced to completely shut down the dynamics of the music scene and learn to live without the fast-paced consumerist side of clubbing. Do you feel that now is the perfect time for growing awareness on sustainable restructuring of the industry and expanding Clubtopia’s mission, as people are more receptive, able to listen and ready for a radical change? Please tell us about your offerings like the Round Tables for green culture and forms of consulting.

Yes, indeed. It’s true that the clubs are experiencing a very difficult time. They have been closed for a year now, and it is still not clear when they can fully open again. But even though the clubs are closed, that doesn’t mean they stopped working. Many clubs are using this break to think about alternative ways of running and offering their locations for other purposes. They do also have a look at where changes can be made to become more sustainable. And we want to support them in this process, so that when clubs can finally open again, they will do so in a more sustainable manner. For instance, we are now starting the second round of our online Green Club Training, where people who work in clubs or organize events learn about specific steps they can take to make their club or event more sustainable. We are convinced that sustainable clubs are the clubs of the future. Therefore, now is exactly the right time to deal with climate and environmentally friendly development. We have the feeling that a lot of local clubs share this perspective, because the first edition of our Green Club Training in autumn 2020 was received with a lot of interest.

The Round Tables for a green club culture invite committed club owners and organizers to jointly develop a code of conduct for environmentally and climate-friendly behaviour in club operations. In the future, this Code of Conduct will enable club owners to specifically address and communicate improvements of their carbon footprint. Unfortunately due to the pandemic, we had to put the round tables on hold last year, but we recently had our first meeting and very much look forward to continuing these talks. We want to motivate as many (Berlin) clubs as possible to sign the Code of Conduct and commit themselves to sustainable processes and activities in their clubs. We aim to publish the campaign this summer.

What are the main problems you identify in the Berlin club scene, considering it is the major underground music capital and is saturated with parties, which will inevitably re-emerge in one form or another after the crisis. The city aims to be carbon free by 2050. What can clubs do about this when we know that on an average weekend they consume the same amount of energy one household does in an entire year? Will they be endangered by the government if they don’t change their energy consumption and keep operating in the same ways?

The main problems concerning sustainability we see is that many club owners do not dispose of sufficient resources to implement changes. For instance, many old buildings, where clubs are often located, are poorly isolated. There is a general huge lack of financial means to renovate those buildings. Additionally, clubs often face insecurities regarding their rental contract and thus won’t invest in bigger climate action measurements, like installing their own solar panels.
One positive development is a new local law classifying clubs as cultural institutions in public building law, offering a better protection to clubs, for example in gentrified areas. In general, clubs need more financial support. Instead of pressuring them into being more climate friendly, the government should support them financially.
Clubs have many different options when wanting to become more ecological – small steps as well as big ones. The very first step is to recognize how much of an impact one music club can have, to see its responsibility for the society and the city where it is based. So far, every club can start with small steps, like changing to a renewable energy provider, install LED lights instead of commercial ones, come up with a zero-waste concept (e.g. providing reusable glasses instead of disposable ones), reduce water and paper use and much more. Many of these small steps can be done without big financial investments. For instance, the change to a renewable energy provider alone can save a club a lot of CO2-emissions. In the case of the Berlin club Schwuz, by changing to a green energy provider, the club is now saving 82 tons of CO2 per year (this is about 14 homes electricity use for one year avoided). It is also very important to communicate those changes, engaging with the club’s community and inciting people to act.

In the Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s podcast episode “Politics of the Dance Floor” focused on Sustainability, your colleague Konstanze mentioned that one of the main objectives for a greener scene is to change legislation and policies in Germany. Could you give some examples of what needs to be revised, removed or introduced in the current laws? Most of them were applied a while ago and need actualisation.

As mentioned before, a new local legislation decided in November that Clubs should be classified as “cultural venues” like theatres and operas and not as “entertainment venues”. This will help protect the clubs from gentrification and thus create more security in the club scene. The clubs also need to pay less taxes now. We are convinced that this will enable club owners to invest in more climate friendly equipment and renovation. We would like to see this regulation in all of Germany! Moreover, any financial support could help the clubs to invest in a climate neutral future. What we need is more funding with a sustainable perspective in the culture scene all over Germany.

In efforts to provide space and visibility for forward thinking event organisers, you proposed the competition Future Party Lab for innovative ideas rooted in sustainability. What were the most interesting ones you wish to see realized soon?

We very much loved the project Ebb&Flow. They were awarded in our last idea competition for their concept of a sustainable drinks business. Their vision is to provide ecological wine on tap and store in reusable kegs. The team also aims at making the drinks industry more female and diverse. In general, we are looking for ideas that offer creative solutions to making the club scene greener. Ideally, they have a huge impact on club owners, as well as on club guests. We would like to discover projects which motivate people and show detailed practical solutions that can be easily implemented. Those could be purely technical solutions, as well as creative communication campaigns. Moreover, we would like to generate attention for the best ideas that showed up in our past idea competitions. We have the vision of sharing the knowledge of sustainable ideas, so that everyone can get involved. We want to help make these ideas reality and make them known in Berlin’s club scene.

This year, open airs will be the main form of dancing events in Germany. What are the essential green practices you would recommend organizers to follow? There will probably also be many illegal events taking place in nature. Do you have any important messages for ravers at non-regulated parties?

We would recommend organizers to integrate the question “How can we be as sustainable as possible?”, as soon as they start planning. We found out that it can help to appoint one person or a group of people within the organizational team who are responsible for issues of sustainability. Event organizers can also choose a priority field of action in which their event will become sustainable and then define specific measures like using cargo bikes for transporting DJ equipment or organizing joint bike tours for the guests. When doing so, it’s important to cover the three pillars of sustainability, namely the ecological, the economic and the social aspect. We advise event organizers to think about their personal motivation to act sustainable. Get the team motivated and just start!

One important message for ravers at non-regulated parties is: Don´t leave any waste behind (broken glass, cigarettes etc.) – Or even better: Leave it cleaner than you found it! Treat the space with care: if you want to use decoration or confetti – use flowers and leaves to make your own; bring tap water in your own bottles; use pocket ashtrays; talk to the event organizers about your ideas to make it more sustainable; use seed bombs to plant wildflowers, motivate your friends to come by bike; look for second hand outfits…

Should we start shifting our focus on developing local scenes in order to build a more eco-friendly club culture?

It helps to focus on the local scene regarding aspects like transportation. For example, clubs can choose local suppliers for drinks to avoid long transportation routes. Also, artist travel can be made more climate friendly by focusing on local artists. But we shouldn’t forget the network on a global scale. It is important to learn from each other and stay connected.

Can you give some examples of environmentally friendly initiatives or policies at festivals and events? For instance, the MNMT Festival has been committed to making sustainable choices across all planning and execution of the event, while investing in long term, green resources and creating great commitment within the team and the guests. Our Sustainability Chief Marit Launes states “As organizers we have a serious responsibility to create events that leave as little footprint as possible on Mother Earth. We also have a special opportunity to inspire the attendees to change or become aware of good choices to implement in life. At Monument festival 2019 there was not one cigarette butt left on the dancefloor, after Jane Fitz closed! Having a community that knows the value of nature is everything!”

The concept of environmentally conscious parties and events is becoming increasingly popular not only in Berlin, but also in other German cities. For example, in Osnabrück, a techno rave called “Techno for Future! Dancing techno, planting trees!” was organized in 2019 with the aim of raising money to plant trees and thereby contribute to climate protection. Freiburg, another German city, has even had a bike disco since 2018 where party-goers generate their own electricity in the club by cycling to the rhythm of techno sounds. In September 2019, the Berlin based collective “Reclaim Club Culture” organized its own climate strike as part of a Friday For Future Global Strike. Thousands of people were attending this musical demonstration in Berlin and were dancing to claim climate justice.

Do you agree that environmental problems exist in correlation with gender inequality and that if more women take decision-making roles in the music scene, there will be a positive change in handling sustainability issues?

Indeed there is a correlation between the climate crisis and gender inequality. Gender Equality is one of the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. In fact, natural disasters kill more women than men. This is also one reason why the fight for climate justice is also a fight for gender equality. For us, the empowerment of women in the music scene in general is an important step towards a sustainable music scene. But it’s important to not only discuss gender but any kind of inequality and hierarchy when handling sustainability issues.

With so many venues shutting down and the fragility of the underground music ecosystem, how does the utopian club scene look like, in a post-clubbing era? Will solidarity and resilience save our music scenes?

What we definitely can say is that solidarity and resilience were very important to build up the club culture until now. When a club in Berlin closes another one will open – so far. The political situation and ongoing discussion on how using the city spaces shows that it’s getting more and more complicated, on the one hand, for long established clubs to stay and survive and, on the other hand, for young collectives to come up with new ideas. The space for creative projects is becoming rarer. This was the situation before the pandemic. Now we can simply hope that the loss of cultural events will show decision makers how important it is to guarantee a better protection of the club scene in the future. The real question is not, when do the clubs open again, but how. Beside hygienic concepts, we are convinced that clubs will also start to develop sustainability concepts, and we are looking forward to supporting the clubs on this path to a greener future.