Göteborgs Karneval

Once upon a time….

…there was an annual festival in Gothenburg, Sweden, called Göteborgs Karneval, organised by Karnevalsföreningen. The first one happened as a joint venture with the International Theatre festival. I was mainly involved as a performer and dancer in that one. Subsequent years, it was a much bigger event that took place over three days in the beginning of summer, with outdoor stages, street performances around the clock, a carnival parade with live music, sound systems and a couple of thousand dancers in full regalia, and a childrens’ event on the last day. We attracted around 200.000 visitors annually.

The spirit of the project was very much one of liminality and breaking down the boundaries that usually prevent or inhibit interaction between people who perceive each other as different (age, ethicity, etc.). The focus was on non-European music, but not exclusively. The main thing was that it had to have a pulse, and be able to make people move. Over the years, we covered all the continents apart from Antarctica, I think!

We did fundraising events throughout the rest of the year under the flag of Zookie (including our own club, Zoo) that provided a good learning and testing ground for volunteers – and added quite a lot to the off-piste world of night-time entertainment in Gothenburg. Many interesting artists, bands, DJs and performers featured, many of which have gone on to considerable success.

The Latinamerican groups based in Hammarkullen added invaluable oomph and glamour to the carnival parade. Not only were they very well organised and splendidly attired in themed costumes every year, they were also numerous, and the bigger groups could have 50-100 dancers, some as young as 5-6 years old. Their homebase was the Hammarkullen Karneval, but it was great to put that great big feast of accomplished, dedicated celebration right in the centre of the city too. When you get to see people shine, you never look at them the same way again. We worked with schools too, and people in education said that there was a perceivable difference in acceptance during the years of Göteborgs Karneval.

I was part of the core team until I left Sweden for London. There was only one more carnival after that, though the production side carried on for a few years, and I kept an on-off involvement going with it. In that time, I got to try my hand at most parts of events organisation: from negotiations with the city and its representatives, through admin, day-to-day running of the organisation and office, crisis management, recruitment of volunteers, planning and scheming, teaching, coordinating, design and publicity, via the grunt work of events in the long, long hours before and after, to choreographing and performing. A splendid learning opportunity, with not much of a safety harness.

Since the event was generally very peaceful, the police only added 40 extra men those weekends. That seems incredible in hindsight, thinking about that vast sea of bobbing, dancing people that stretched from Götaplatsen to Kungsportsplatsen on Saturday night. 200.000 people is quite a lot when they get together. But that figure came from the police themselves. I guess they trusted us, having seen the event take off from a relatively small start. We did of course have our own security, but still. We worked with a lot of very good people.

I couldn’t possibly give a detailed account of all that happened those years. I don’t remember it all, to start with, and there was a lot to remember. And many unforgettable moments, too – still difficult to put in words like this. And it wasn’t ‘our’ event either – it touched lots of people, in ways we could only see such a tiny part of.

Our little training ground Zoo was a source of many of these, as well. It was a mobile organisation for a few years, then we moved into a permanent venue and ran events from there, next to the offices. We organised twice-monthly events there, both Friday and Saturday, to fund the day-to-day work of the organisation, and the big yearly event. It wasn’t very big, max capacity was 200. Different themes every weekend. We never wanted to get into a rut or become something that people relied on to always be the same. Never wanted to run a ‘club’, it was always about parties or events.

At that time, people were going out in the small hours, usually not before midnight. We used to close some time between 6 and 9 am, depending on what was going on. My life was quite nocturnal those years, and the boundaries between personal and professional were not all that clear. But we did have clear objectives and principles. Not necessarily conventional, but there was structure.

It was an intense time, but I would not have it undone. You cannot buy that sort of experience for money.


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