As January descends on Montreal, Quebec, low temperatures plummet to an average of -14°C (7°F). The winds off the city’s old port add to the chilling effect, making the average felt temperature closer to -20°C (-4°F). This kind of cold would make some people retreat indoors for months at a time. But for the party people of Montreal, the arrival of winter means it’s time for Igloofest. The outdoor winter festival in Montreal celebrated its 10th anniversary earlier this year, drawing tens of thousands of people out into the cold.
The History of Igloofest & Piknic Électronik
Igloofest may be the coldest party in the world, but its roots come from a sunnier time. In the summer of 2003, Pascal Lefebvre and Nicolas Cournoyer first got together to put on a weekly electronic dance music party in Montreal’s Parc Jean-Drapeau. They called the event (and their new production company) Piknic Électronik.
“It was just a hobby when we started doing the event in 2003,” says Nicolas Cournoyer, co-founder of Piknic Électronik and executive producer of Igloofest. “We were just a bunch of friends throwing a party to have fun. Of course we wanted to do something cool that would be a success, but I never thought it would end up being my full time job.”
“When we discovered electronic music in Montreal in 1995, it changed our lives,” says event co-founder and CEO Pascal Lefebvre. “We first started producing events because we just wanted to experience the music together as a community. It was that sense of community that we wanted to reproduce when we started doing Piknic Électronik.”
Their humble approach of producing a friendly, community-based dance music event turned out to be a massive success. What began as a low-key, weekly party evolved into one of the most anticipated summertime events in Montreal. With their parties now drawing tens of thousands of people every year, it became time to think bigger—and colder. “At one point we thought, “how can we do Piknic in a different context? Is it possible to do during the wintertime?,” says Nicolas Cournoyer. “At first we thought it was a silly idea. But when we stopped laughing, we said, “why not?”
The Icy/Hot Experience of Igloofest
To most sane people, the idea of putting on an outdoor party in subzero temperatures seems crazy, right? But the team behind Igloofest recognized something that other promoters didn’t see. “Here in Canada, it’s practically a national sport to complain about the weather. Its unifying,” explains Nicolas Cournoyer. “So we said, ‘Let’s give people a reason to go outside and enjoy the winter.’”
Pascal Lefebvre adds that, “Putting on a festival in the winter certainly was a risk as well as a challenge. But we’re Canadian, and the winter is part of our culture.” Their risk paid off. Instead of struggling to sell tickets (which they generously and intentionally keep at a low price), they had a hit on their hands.
To the promoters, the success of Igloofest comes down to a recipe consisting of three simple elements: deliver a fantastic experience, play great music and most importantly, embrace the season. “Winter itself the most important part of the recipe for Igloofest,” says Pascal Lefebvre. “People love it because it’s an experience that’s completely unique, like no other event in the world. And we’re always trying out new things with entertainment and programming to enhance the experience.”
Some of the creative ways they find to celebrate the season include setting up open-air campfires with marshmallow roasts, employing a team of Party Yetis to pump up the crowd and putting up an enormous slide for people to glide into the festival.
The cold and the unique experience are undeniably a driving force behind the festival. But that doesn’t mean the music isn’t in full effect. In fact, the talent booking for Igloofest is world class. Their approach is to book local talent, such as Montreal’s own dubstep legend Snails, along with international superstar DJs like Carl Cox, Lee Burridge and Diplo. By booking local acts in addition to megastar headliners, Igloofest manages to entertain the masses, while also supporting their own musical community.
The Logistics of Igloofest
Producing a festival when it’s so cold presents a slew of logistical challenges. Not the least of which is making sure people can get in and out of the festival without freezing to death.
“Our events are quite complicated and require a lot of attention to detail,” says Nicholas Vincent, head of ticketing for Igloofest. “Because of the cold factor, getting people into the festival quickly is one of our top priorities. People are lining up outside in -20°C (-4°F) weather, so crowd and access control isn’t just a convenience issue for us. It’s a safety issue.”
Getting people into the festival quickly starts with mobile ticketing. “Vendini makes it easy to purchase a tickets online or on mobile. It lets people have their tickets on their phones, which lessens the amount of time they spend in line.”
One other creative way they’ve found to manage access was inspired by another popular winter entertainment—skiing. “Typically, festivals use wristbands to manage access control—but people here are wearing mittens. So instead of using wristbands, we make something like a ski pass that clips on your jacket. It’s got a photo and a barcode for scanning. We produce these passes with specific accreditations for fans, staff, media and vendors,” explains Vincent.
“When we started using Vendini, this was a whole new process for them to implement. Not only did they work with us to make it happen, they really simplified the entire process,” says Nicholas. “What’s really cool about the Vendini platform is that the scanning data is all live. I can pull up a report on my phone at any time and know exactly how many people are there. We’re constantly making adjustments on the fly that help us coordinate with security, or even open more bars based on the size and location of the crowd.”
The Future of Igloofest and Piknic Électronik
The producers at Piknic Électronik are now in the process of expanding their music festival business worldwide. “Right now, we’re producing between twenty and twenty five Piknic Électronik events in Montreal every summer, and another twelve to fifteen Igloofest events every winter,” says Nicolas Cournoyer. “In the last few years we’ve expanded Piknic Électronik, producing events in Melbourne, Australia, Santiago, Chile, and Dubai.” Cournoyer says that in the next decade, they’re hoping to export the summer time event to another 10 cities around the world.
Nicolas Cournoyer justifies his reason to choose Vendini to help manage this expansion. “The reason we went with Vendini and Crowdtorch is that they’re responsive and that the system just works. It’s really helping us grow our business internationally by using one, simple unified platform.”
As for Igloofest, Cournoyer and his partners are still looking for another city that can host such a unique winter music event. “When we find the right place, Igloofest will be exported as well. But for now it stays in Montreal.”