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Paleo looks to the next 25 years

Thousands of revellers gather in front of the festival's main stage Keystone

Switzerland's biggest pop music festival is celebrating its 25th birthday. Not content with a quarter of a century of success, the Paleo Festival in Nyon looks set to grow still further.

It all began in 1976, when a group of friends decided to stage a folk festival. The three-day event attracted 1,600 people.

This year, 200,000 music fans, many of them not even born when that first festival took place, will come along to hear virtually every genre of music imaginable and experience Paleo’s unique atmosphere.

“The first festival was very small. But it was the start of a great adventure,” says Daniel Rosselat, who’s been running the festival since its inception.

“Now it’s much more professional. We have 30 staff all the year round, and over 4,000 during the festival. But the spirit is the same,” he told swissinfo.

This year’s headline bands include the likes of Oasis, the Cranberries and Louise Attack, one of the surprise acts who helped get the birthday bash underway.

It is not just rock music that is represented. The 140 concerts take place on no fewer than six stages, three of them reflecting a specific theme.

One is the Dome, whose programme is devoted to world music, and which is being sponsored by the Swiss government’s Development Cooperation Agency. The Crique, meanwhile, is the home of circus and street performers.

Elsewhere, the Studio, is, as the Paleo organisers put it, embarking on an exploration of the various tendencies that make up the nebulous universe of electronic music. This is the place to be for the lovers of trip-hop, drum and bass and techno.

It is this eclectic mix that gives Paleo its village-like feel.

“There are a lot of different ingredients that explain its popularity,” says festival spokesman Vincent Sager.

“This permanent mix of different kinds of music, of performing arts and people is one aspect. It’s a kind of close-up of life,” he adds. “For us, the festival has to be about more than the music. It has to take you out of your life. It has to be a little magic.”

Another factor in its popularity is the price, which the organisers try to keep as low as possible. “For as little as 50 francs, a young person cane watch around 40 concerts,” Sager says.

Daniel Rosselat has been given the job of organising many of the events at the Swiss National Exhibition, Expo 02. This has prompted speculation that he may stand down as president of Paléo.

“Expo will be a lot of hard work for me and I will have to discuss it with the friends I work with,” he told swissinfo. “Maybe I can stay with the festival, but in a more limited role. I have to be honest and find the best solution for Paléo and for me.”

If Rosselat does decide to stand down, he will have a proud record to look back on. In the past 25 years, 2.2 million people have come to see the likes of James Brown, Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys, Lou Reed and Paul Simon.

Paleo has always managed to evolve and grow, and there have been suggestions that it may in future embrace other arts, like cinema and dance.

“For us, the most important thing is to keep the spirit of the festival,” Rosselat says.

“We not trying to get the biggest festival in the world. We don’t necessarily want it to be bigger than the previous year. For us, the spirit and the atmosphere is more important than money.”

by Roy Probert

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR