Sebastian Studnitzky and XJAZZ! Festival 2022 (Interview)
On the 4th of May 2022, XJAZZ! Berlin Festival will be returning to the artistically-driven Kreuzberg district for its ninth edition, the first live edition in two years.
Since its inception in 2014, XJAZZ! Berlin Festival has been known for causing a stir. Born from an independent desire to break with conventions, the festival offers a platform for both established and lesser-known artists to express themselves without restraints, merging styles and stretching the definition of “jazz” to a broader and more exciting landscape than what is traditionally allowed.
Hosting over 250 international acts - including the likes of Emma-Jean Thackray, Avishai Cohen, Lady Blackbird, Nu Genea, and Nubya Garcia - the 2022 edition of the festival strives to embrace jazz’s revolutionary and countercultural roots with might. You can see the full 2022 lineup here.
To talk about the emergence and evolution of XJAZZ! Festival, Ally talked to trumpeter, pianist and Found and Artistic Director of XJAZZ!, Sebastian Studnitzky.
How does it feel to be bringing back live music to XJAZZ for the first time in two years?
It's so thrilling. We used the forced sabbatical to restructure our channels and workflow and it’s so exciting to see the results of this work now. We found out that some more conservative concert organisers are still struggling with lower ticket sales. Since our audience is really young, we feel the opposite. They really want to go out and experience live music.
Are there any elements from the past two (digital) festivals that will be integrated into the 2022 festival?
A lot of artists that played a streaming-only concert on our 2021 digital edition will play now again in front of a live audience. The concentration on communicating digital for the last two years really shaped our visual side and channels, and we are using this year's festival to create a lot of content for our digital channels.
Which of the XJAZZ's 2022 lineup has impressed you the most over the last few years?
It’s so hard to highlight one artist, but I have the feeling that the pandemic years lead to a lot of focus and more individuality and diversity in the genre.
This year we also invited some collectives to curate whole evenings, like the Berlin-based multinational art collective cycles, or the Framed network. Also, there is a lot of new music coming from really young upcoming artists like Magro, Leona Berlin, Evin, Rosemarine, Wanubale.
[IMAGE: XJAZZ POSTER?]
You've claimed that you wanted XJAZZ to represent a "clear antithesis" to traditional German jazz culture. What is/was it about traditional German jazz culture that you wanted to step away from?
Haha did I say that so strict? Well, the German Jazz Scene was, on the one hand, dominated by older men, meaning they were curating, and the artists were also mainly older men, and the audience as well.
XJAZZ has a very diverse booking team, I'm 49 and I'm by far the oldest. And we gave very young artists a stage, and as a consequence, we have a lot of young audiences at the festival. Also, jazz in Germany became quite institutionalized, which also made the scene a bit boring. You saw a lot of serious-looking musicians with music stands on stage, playing very complicated music. The young bands, in particular, don’t make music only for themselves but work really hard to reach and grow an audience, and that creates a much more intense vibe.
Do you feel your original vision has been met?
Absolutely. Especially this year the pieces really fit together. In the beginning, our vision was maybe a bit too big, and that made us struggle quite a lot financially but also with the administration side of things. During the pandemic years, we restructured everything and got some new partners which gives us the opportunity to work on the "big picture", which includes XJAZZ! Festival Berlin, but also our international editions, our music label and the website/app.
How do you think XJAZZ stands out in comparison to other festivals?
XJAZZ! Festival Berlin is really urban. The festival is taking place in a very special area in Berlin – Kreuzberg. It’s the alternative, multicultural neighbourhood, where all the 12 venues are basically within walking distance. We have more than 20,000 people at the festival usually and the clubs are really packed, but when the concerts are finished and the audience leaves the club they meet the daily craziness of the neighbourhood, which is so full of super-diverse people that you don’t realise that there’s a festival going on in the same time.
Do you feel XJAZZ has had an impact on the German / Berlin jazz scene? If so, how?
Absolutely. XJAZZ! was the first big festival that put a big focus on young bands, and the openness of the genre. Before, young local bands were only booked for the side program because traditional festivals wanted to play the safe card by booking mainly the big names. XJAZZ! becoming so successful and reaching such a young audience was a big inspiration for other festivals to also book more young bands.
Since we were really celebrating the international scene in the city (a majority of the lineup lives/works in Berlin) we've amplified the reputation of Berlin being the European Jazz Melting Pot.
What lessons have you and the XJAZZ team picked up since the festival's launch?
That you need at least 5 years to really understand how things work. You have to have a super solid back office in order to be creative and not disturbed by paperwork. And we learned a lot about communication and building the brand. Having a strong brand and dedicated followers allows us to do more crazy things.
Beyond 2022, how would you like the festival to grow and develop?
In 2020 we planned to go really international, which was then interrupted by the pandemic. Now we want to reestablish our international connections and bring XJAZZ! to many more countries.
XJAZZ Festival 2022 is taking place between 4 and 8 May 2022, with over 80 concerts in 4 days.
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You can buy your tickets, see the full lineup and find out more about XJAZZ! Festival here.
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Keep up to date with Sebastian Studnitzsky via his socials and website here: