It’s been decided! In December we’re opening a hybrid pop-up bar.

The reboot of our closing event sent us location hunting all over. - 10.09

An event that would be bigger, more spectacular and even more comprehensive than the previous edition. At the beginning of this year, we announced Media Fast Forward 2020, also introducing an extra day, Culture Fast Forward, completely focused on culture. As a fully-fledged festival, we became a multi-day event. And then COVID-19 came along…

We spoke with curator Fredo De Smet about the 2020 edition, which is themed ‘CTRL ACT DEL’. An appropriate slogan, so it seems, because the event also had to go through a reboot.

Fredo: We considered cancelling. When the effect of the pandemic on events became clear, it seemed like the only option. But if you claim to be a source of inspiration for creatives and innovators, you have to set a good example yourself.

So giving up was not an option. But how do you reboot this kind of festival? 

Fredo: We thought about going completely digital. Other events like Tomorrowland and IBC showed us the way. But at such online events, you miss a physical connection. We believe it’s more important than ever to set up a physical meeting place. We want to offer more than just inspiration. We want people to be able to see each other this year. Which meant we had to go back to the drawing board. 

And this happened at more than one occasion. Reinventing yourself: how do you go about it facing deadlines? 

Fredo: It hasn’t been easy. But I must admit I find it quite enjoyable. The trick is to motivate not only yourself but also your team and stakeholders and to get your ducks in a row. To achieve this, it’s useful to develop well-thought-out scenarios. This is also done in aviation and military training. All kinds of scenarios are developed to train a pilot to respond correctly in unexpected situations. It is a method that we often use at VRT Strategy. How can you reinvent your project? By communicating clearly and transparently! By coming up with good scenarios, everyone remains involved. 

(article continues below photo)

What’s the current scenario?

Fredo: I cut up our original schedule. We evaluated all the lectures, sessions and workshops and divided them into a series of micro events with a smaller audience. That’s how you get things coronavirus-proof. It’s the perfect opportunity to appeal to more segments of the market. This is an opportunity to also work on a content reboot and by doing so we aim to bring more communities together.

That’s why we decided to open a pop-up bar. We want to create a real festival feeling for four days.

By bringing people together, you mean online? Or IRL?

Fredo: Why not both? A lot of people don’t feel comfortable going to big events yet. That’s why we chose to opt for a hybrid solution. We’d like to reach a small group to join us on location and a large crowd that can attend sessions online. This combination has proven to be successful, as we saw at NTGent a couple of weeks ago. There we managed to completely intertwine the physical and digital experience. 

Last year your event took place in The Egg in Brussels. Where should people head now?

Fredo: Good question. The last few weeks, we have been rebooting that aspect of the festival as well. Now that the set-up is completely different, the choice of location had to be reconsidered. Should we stay in Brussels? Many visitors – unlike previous years – don’t depart from their office, but from home. So what about nature? Over the last months, we have really started to reappreciate outdoor activities. Why not move to a less urban context? We ended up with a much longer list of possible venues. 

Come on, just tell us.

Fredo: This year Media & Culture Fast Forward will take place in KANAL – Centre Pompidou and in Kaaitheater, two adjoining spots in Brussels. After having visited lots of locations —  a castle, something rural, industrial pop-ups —  we finally fell in love with these neighbouring buildings. And let’s admit it: they breathe culture!

(article continues below photo)

So we’re staying in Brussels?

Fredo: Yes, indeed. We could have gone off-grid and disconnect in nature. But that could turn out to be problematic for many young creators who don’t own a car. Our festival has to be accessible to everyone. With Kaaitheater and KANAL – Centre Pompidou, we’re a stone’s throw from Brussels-North. So it won’t be an event in The Egg, but a real meeting point from Monday 14 to Thursday 17 December. A reboot café. Really, I am very much looking forward to it. 

Can you tell us anything about the programme?

Fredo: As in previous editions, there will be strategic talks and topics, sessions with creators and start-ups and also debates about social challenges or big questions. Give us another month and we’ll tell you all about it.