Festival Innovators: 5 pioneers to watch

If you’ve been to a music festival in the last five years, you might have noticed that things aren’t quite like they used to be. Now, making a festival a success means so much more than curating the perfect lineup. Festivals big and small are making bold moves in innovation to stay relevant and exciting for their attendees. From creative partnership activations and commerce experiences to cutting-edge sound systems and immersive art installations, festivals are turning up the volume on customer experience.

Here are 5 festivals that are leading the way.

1. Tomorrowland

When you think about music festival innovation, you probably think about Tomorrowland. Known for its jaw-dropping stage designs, killer art installations and fully immersive festival themes, it’s no surprise that Belgium-based Tomorrowland frequently tops the ‘most popular festivals’ lists. The event is so futuristic, in fact, that it even has its own currency. Tomorrowland attendees can load up RFID wristbands with ‘Pearls’ that can be used to purchase food, drinks and merchandise on site. Let’s be honest, notes and coins are way too analog to be the currency of the future.


Another heavy-hitter on our list, conference-slash-festival SXSW brings together forward-thinkers in music, film, tech and more. Each year, SXSW attendees descend on Austin, Texas, to get the scoop on what’s going to be big in their industries in the coming months (and years, for that matter). Beyond the thought-provoking lectures, panels and presentations designed to spark the imaginations of creators from around the world, SXSW hosts world-class artists and exhibitions, bridging the worlds of art and tech together in a way that is rarely seen.

3. Leopallooza

This festival might not be on quite the same scale as its “Lolla” counterpart, but its size is in no way an indication of its innovation. Fondly known as “The greatest house party…in a field”, Leopallooza might just be the coolest thing to come out of Cornwall, UK. What started as a 250-person gig on a friend’s farm in 2006 has now become an award-winning festival that brings in some of the biggest names in music. As innovators in the festival sphere, Leopallooza was the first UK festival to ban single-use drinking cups, and they swapped plastic straws for bamboo ones eight years ago (before saving the sea turtles was the norm). Continuing on their innovation trend, Leopallooza will offer a cashless experience for its guests this year, allowing attendees to pay for their food and beverages with a simple tap of an RFID wristband.

4. Festival Forte

Held in the castle of Montemor-o-Velho, Portugal (yes, we said castle), Festival Forte is the ultimate escape for music and art lovers. Not one to compromise on their sincere passion for EDM, Festival Forte organisers pride themselves on bringing progressive and experimental acts to the main stage. Beyond world-class DJs, attendees will also find immersive visual installations and audiovisual acts abound, making the festival experience a truly unforgettable one.

5. Coachella

Would it even be a ‘top festivals’ list without Coachella? We all know that Coachella is a master of new technology (need we remind you of the Tupac hologram from way back in 2012?), but we shouldn’t overlook the fact that the festival has discovered another way to capitalise on its audience’s love of tech – sponsorship activation. Returning to the cast of all-star activations this year was The HP Lounge, which boasted a 360-degree music video experience and opportunities to create high-tech custom selfie backdrops, to name a few. With unique and immersive activations, Coachella and its partners have found a way to integrate commercial opportunities without the festival feeling too…commercial. With a new generation of tech-savvy adventure seekers flooding the gates of festivals big and small around the globe, event organisers have endless opportunities to make the customer experience better than they could have even imagined years before. The challenge, of course, will be staying ahead of the ever-changing curve.

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