Johanna Beckman is no tenderfoot in the Swedish music scene. Having been active in various roles since 2003, managing artists such as Jenny Wilson, Linnea Henriksson, and El Perro Del Mar, and engaging in projects such as Nobelberget, Gagnef, Gather Festival, and most recently Trädgården in Stockholm, Johanna is a force to be reckoned with. Her journey to the pinnacle of the Swedish music scene has been anything but straight however.
Leaving her humble beginnings in the small Swedish town of Alingsås, Johanna went out into the world to look for something bigger. After stints in both London and Oslo, Johanna found herself at Kaospilots, a school of entrepreneurship in Århus, where she studied project and process management, as well as creative design. As a part of the education Johanna got a taste of what would later be become her career. Johanna’s final school project took her to South Africa, where she toured with well-known Swedish Hip-Hop artists, such as Timbuktu, Looptroop, Spotrunnaz, as well as the Zimbabwean artist Rantoboko. Through this project, Johanna had the first real encounter with the Swedish music scene, one that she would come to be intimately associated with later. However, her musical spark, her strong appetite for music, started years earlier.
Growing up Johanna always had music around her. Her grandfather was a jazz trumpet player who had his own orchestra from the 40’s to the 70’s, and who continued to play frequently after Johanna was born. “One of my early memories is him carrying me around dancing to Count Basie’s Lil Darlin. I was singing a lot as a child and wanted everybody to listen, always. I started to listen to my mother’s records: Beatles, Nina Simone, Simon & Garfunkel and Nationalteatern to name a few.” After exhausting her mother’s records, Johanna moved on to her brother’s music collection, which included Hip-Hop records from a variety of artists, such as Run DMC and M/A/R/R/S. Next up on Johanna’s musical exploration journey was Acid. “After that, he (my brother) started listening to Acid and I loved it. Hip-Hop and electronic music has always been closest to my heart.”
During the school years Johanna often found herself skipping school and instead staying home to watch MTV and making playlists and mixtapes, activities that Johanna found great joy in. “MTV played a huge part for me growing up. When I started högstadiet (Swedish secondary school) I thought it was better to skip school and stay home watching MTV. Looking back, it seems to have been the right choice. I learned a lot about music and the culture through that.”
Johanna’s love for and knowledge about music would get a further push when she had one of her first and most memorable club experiences: her first raves. In 1993-1994, when Johanna went to her first raves at Packhuskajen in Gothenburg, she was left both amazed and scared. “I was way too young to go really…. I remember I was amazed and scared at the same time. Amazed by and loved the music, the visuals and the huge crowds dancing.”
Being both amazed and scared at the same time has been something a recurring theme in Johanna’s career since those raving days in the beginning of the 90’s. According to Johanna herself, one of the main reasons why she has ended up where she is today, is through learning by doing, and by not being afraid of making mistakes and learning from them. She has always been curious about the new and unexplored, about the sometimes-scary things that others might choose not to pursue. In this way Johanna has allowed herself to be amazed and scared at the same time, a mindset that has pushed her forward.
This explorative journey, which has taken Johanna to a variety of different projects and positions within in the music scene, from organizing tours, clubs and shows, to acting as manager and agent for well-known artists, has been anything but straight. Johanna suggests that she has often doubted her choice of career and that she’s never been afraid to quit if something didn’t feel right at the time. After realizing that managing was not for her a couple of years ago, and that it made her feel unhappy and depressed, Johanna had to make the most difficult decision of her career: to quit managing. This decision was both professional and personal for Johanna. “My years working as manager were filled with lots of anxiety, feeling of not doing enough, pressure and non-stop working, I was constantly on my phone. It affected my son as well and that was the worst part.” Also, Johanna notes that she has often had to work harder than her male peers in the management and booking industry. “Though I have spent a lot of time being really frustrated with things male colleagues in the scene have been doing, it’s not until after I realized that it’s because they are men and can do what shit they want and still sit safe in their positions. It’s not until quite recently that we have female agents in the booking agencies and there are still too few.”
So instead of managing artists, Johanna is now, since about two years, focusing wholeheartedly on booking and programming. “I went back thinking what in my work makes me happy and realized that the programming and booking is what I’m best at and love the most. So now I finally feel I have landed. I love having several platforms to curate so that I can give artists different opportunities and have outlets for different genres. It feels like my childhood obsession of music and making lists have found a home in me now. I love working with the excel part of programming.” Johanna’ newfound balance and focus of her talents, bodes well for club-goers in Stockholm over the coming months. Because it will be an energetic and happy Johanna Beckman that takes the reins as creative leader at well-known Trädgården this summer.
Trädgården, a true summer club institution in Stockholm, a place that Johanna herself describes as “an ongoing festival throughout the summer, a destination more than a club; a waterhole in Stockholm that can’t be compared with anything else in the city”, needs little introduction. Despite Trädgården’s far-reaching reputation, Johanna has plans to reinvigorate the place in various ways.
One of Johanna’s first goals has been to broaden the target group of Trädgården beyond the already existing core of 21-40-somethings and the somewhat homogenous overall demographic. Instead she wants to attract visitors from other age groups and from different social backgrounds to complement the already existing crowd. “I really, really want Trädgården to be a place where everybody can find something they like, feel at home and welcome.” According to Johanna, the broadening of the target group will mainly happen through a wider focus on different musical genres and expressions.
As responsible for last year’s Live Sessions at Trädgården, Johanna was already then a driving force behind the shift towards the more varied and inclusive musical profile at Trädgården, an initiative that she wants to push even further this year. “Last year we had a Live Session break in the middle of July, but not this year so every Wednesday and Thursday from 30th of May to 30th of August will be a Live Session night. All the shows in the Hip-Hop/grime genres went really well last year so we’ll do a few more of those. We are doing more afrojazz, folk and jazz. There will not be less of anything, only more.”
The physical space where this broader target group and wider musical profile can come together will look a little different this year however. During the off-season Trädgården’s courtyard has been given a complete makeover, and Johanna notes that only thing that remains from last year is the seating platform, a familiar element for many Stockholmers. The revamp of Trädgården is mainly grounded in the complaints that the club has received from neighbors about the music volume in previous years, and because of which the volume had to be significantly lowered after 22:00. Johanna emphasizes that this is limitation that Trädgården was far from satisfied with, and about which they had to do something. The solution? A sound roof. “We did a lot of digging and ended up finding a revolutionary sound system, a sound roof. We even believe we can say it’s the biggest sound roof ever built in a city. Made up by 1480 speakers in a roof that is just playing down towards the audience and not towards the sides, so it’s not spreading outside the dancefloor in itself.”
To the new look dancefloor, and to Trädgården in general, Johanna looks forward to welcoming a whole bunch of well-known and up-and-coming Swedish and international artists and DJs this summer. “All the Day Time Sessions that Johanna Schneider and Leo Forssell have booked will be off the hook. And I have some of my favorite international DJs at the moment, like &Me and Adam Port from Keinemusik as well as Red Axes coming to play in addition to DTS. I’m really pleased with all the live bookings and especially looking forward to some heroes like Tony Allen & Amp Fiddler, New Orleans bounce star Big Freedia, Cumbia master Chancha Via Circuito from Argentina, organ legend Merit Hemmingson, the Höga Nord night with Andrew Weatherhall and more. But also, young artists that are vitalizing the Swedish scene like Jireel, Lamix, Thailee, Joy, Fricky, Grant and Alice Boman.”
Through her curiosity and passion for finding and promoting new artists and cultural expressions, Johanna seeks to push the boundaries of what Trädgården can be, creating experiences and impressions that visitors might not expect. Perhaps this strive will enable Johanna to realize what she describes as her “dream night” at Trädgården, maybe even this summer, only time will tell…Johanna’s dream night evolves as follows: “It’s starting off with a dream lineup during Day Time Sessions with DJ Harvey headlining. We are able to have a full DTS floor and a live show in “Kyrkan” happening at the same time, the sounds are not clashing and we managed to get Rihanna to play a secret, intimate show. Later at night, because in my dream world we are allowed to play live music after 22.00, Nils Frahm are performing a midnight mass. Upstairs sweaty dancehall is pumping and deep techno in the club. On the outdoors floor drag queens and vogue dancers have changed the floor into a magic ballroom. Cocktails are flowing and people are just very happy. It is a tropical day and night so people can wear almost nothing. No one ever want to leave and the party continues around the city til’ the day after!”
Even though Johanna’s dream night may not materialize in the near future, she is clear about the ambition to bring people together at Trädgården, to create memorable experiences and encounters, and to combine these elements into on festival-like feeling this summer. As if the summer-long “festival” at Trädgården wasn’t enough, Johanna is also one of the driving forces behind two other Swedish festivals, Gather Festival and Gagnef (Skankaloss).
Gather Festival, which takes place for the second time in Stockholm this September, is an innovation and inspiration festival that combines musical elements with talks and seminars about a wide range of cultural and societal topics. The five main themes of this year’s festival are urban development and planning; humans and machines; money, business and transactions; democracy and power and media; design and creativity.
For Johanna, Gather is all about engagement and ownership, and allowing organizations and individuals to partake in creating and innovating the overall experience at the festival. “We see Gather as a platform for individuals, organizations, and businesses, but also for society and for the commitment of our planet. Therefore, we are proud to present both partners and projects that work towards global goals.” Johanna notes that the global focus is in line with the long-term goal of Gather, which is to “create a platform where companies, organizations, and individuals can create and shape the future”.
A new thing this year is that the music part of the festival will be free of charge for visitors, a choice that Johanna supports by highlighting the festivals leading words “co-creation and collaboration”. To make the festival free, continues Johanna, is a way to give back to our city, and “to allow promoters, clubs, galleries, and other cultural carries to come together and make the city come to live”. Through Gather, Johanna wants to show that Stockholm is a creative, including city for everyone.
The second festival that Johanna is working with is the intimate and beloved Gagnef Festival, in the Swedish province of Dalarna. In recent years, the festival has been a popular destination for visitors from all over the country, who come together to enjoy the great music and the beautiful landscape, and to meet new and old friends. When asked what’s so special about Gagnef, Johanna tells her personal story of how her intimate relationship with the festival started.
“I went to Gagnef for the first time in 2003. Two years after the famous birthday party of our festival general, the infamous Mattias Norström. I had recently moved to Stockholm and become friends with the Hornstull crew that made the film Babylonsjukan. They are still my best friends and we went together. I have never before in my life experienced such bliss and feeling of finding home as I did coming to Gagnef, except in that exact place every year from that moment. There is truly something magic about Ängsholns Folkpark, the people that live in Gagnef and by using that magic and the love we have for each other in Skankaloss and the team around us we create something that is out of the ordinary every year. I’m happy to have found such a family and our strength is that we don’t do this out of monetary reasons but because we love art and creating the best experience. We don’t have to do what’s expected of us and that is a really fulfilling feeling. And even if we stop doing the festival, we never know if every year is our last year, If we want to continue – But I don’t think that us in Skankaloss would stop coming back. To continue building something great for ourselves and have friends playing, just to make a great party. The way we started off.”
Johanna goes on to suggest that one of the distinguishing factors of Skankaloss, relative to other Swedish festivals, is the freedom of expression and the hard-to-translate Swedish concept of “byggarglädje” that permeates the festival’s philosophy. Roughly translated as “craftsmanship”, “byggarglädje” for Johanna, is all about the joy of building something from the ground with other people. According to Johanna, the experience at Gagnef is all about surprising the visitors, either by making them do things that they haven’t done before, see artists that they didn’t know they loved, dance like they never dance before to music that they haven’t heard before, or be provoked by art that they don’t really understand or laugh at the same art. This kind of experience requires the participation of not only the organizers, but also of the visitors at the festival. Johanna notes that this symbiosis between all participants, the shared “byggarglädje”, gives rise to a feeling that sets Gagnef apart from other festivals. “I think that a big difference from other Swedish festivals is a kind of feeling that if you been to Gagnef you are a part of something that other people are not. It’s a kind of community where we know something that can’t be described in words.”
Despite the “romantic” portrait of Gagnef painted by Johanna, a view shared by many festivalgoers, the festival hasn’t avoided criticism. Earlier this year, the festival announced the new direction for Gagnef, which, among other things, encouraged people who solely came to party during the night and be “wasted” in the woods, to stay home or find another festival. This announcement triggered a wide discussion about the what the “new” Gagnef would look like and about who would be welcome at the festival.
To this criticism, Johanna emphasizes that change is often scary and that perhaps, festival goers might have taken the festival’s statement a bit too seriously. “I think that people felt we were a bit too pretentious in our first communication about the festival. If there is something you should learn about Skankaloss and Gagnef is to take our word on something without taking our word on something. Don’t take us too serious. We just like to play around and have fun. Most of the things is with a twist. Don’t take us too serious if we talk about sports and recreation but still take it serious. Yes, there will be more possibilities of working out and take care of your body this year, (and, who says dancing and listening to great music is not taking care of your body by the way?) but it’s not the only thing that will happen. We talked about shamanism and the week after we put out a poster of happy people running or working out and champagne flowing. How does that even combine? Everything is not black and white for us, there are lots of colors in between.”
Johanna goes on to suggest that one of the reasons behind Gagnef’s new direction is that the festival was getting too predictable, something that runs counter to the ambition of offering a collaborative creative process based on “byggarglädje”. “Our audience expected a rave in the woods to the same type of music you’d been hearing for a few years while us in Skankaloss never wanted to be static or do what was expected. We love change and we don’t want to be stuck in any format, genre or type of expression. We believe that our audience is curious and not afraid of change either. We’ll see if that is the case.”
Despite the initial apprehensions about the direction of the festival, the new-look Gagnef with its calmer and more relaxed vibe (more SPA vibes can be expected this summer, according to Johanna), will be the best to date if you ask Johanna, who believes that change usually leads to something better.
This readiness to change, this unceasing curiosity about new and exciting opportunities, the open-mindedness that includes rather than excludes, are the hallmarks of Johanna Beckman. Traits that will see her create new meetings between people, new memorable exchanges and experiences, new bonds between people, and the most important thing according to Johanna herself: “Lifting other people. Building platforms for artists and younger people from different backgrounds and experiences to express themselves. And making great art.” These are values that you will encounter whether you stop by Trädgården for an Aperol Spritz after work, buy a tent, rent a minivan and head to Gagnef 2018, if you attend one of the many talks that make up Gather Festival 2018, or if you find yourself at one of Johanna’s future initiatives. Because there is still a lot to come from Johanna Beckman. Stay tuned.