An Interview with Milkshake Festival

Photo credit: Dennis Bouman

The LGBT-centric Milkshake Festival will host its sixth edition from July 29 – 30 in Amsterdam’s Westerpark. A vibrant and provocative celebration of both queer culture and cultural heterogeneity, Milkshake 2017 promises to shake up the festival’s format in characteristic fashion whilst maintaining its inclusive and extraordinarily friendly atmosphere.

Insights spoke with Marieke Samallo, Director of Milkshake Festival, about the event’s predilection for collaboration, what to expect from the upcoming outing, and more.

Festival Insights: Milkshake was launched in Amsterdam as a collaborative venture between AIR and Paradiso six years ago. What brought you together to launch the festival, and what has each team been able to contribute to it in terms of expertise and vision?

Marieke Samallo: I was working for AIR at the time and I was in charge of the gay events, amongst other things. I was working together with Paradiso to ensure that those shows would not clash with theirs, since we were competing with each other. At the time I was also developing Milkshake as a festival concept and thought it would be great to collaborate with Paradiso, bringing everyone together.

Paradiso handles the musical direction, I am the art director and brand manager and I’m also in charge of press and PR. Production is done by AIR events.

FI: Universalism and inclusivity seem to be the defining concepts of the festival, exemplified not just in your overt love for those of all sexual orientations, ethnicities, religions and so on, but in your collaborations with overseas music partners like Transformer and Less Drama More Techno. Can you tell us about some of these international brands you’ll be working with and what they’re bringing to the event?

MS: A lot of festivals, if not all of them, maintain the same structure every year and the same layout. I want Milkshake to be different every year, and so we change the layout of the stages, the decor, and the collaborations.

After five years I felt it was time for more international participants that bring their own flavour. Transformer is a stage we created ourselves – it’s all about transformation in the positive sense, whether you’re in love for the first time or changing your gender to become your true self.

We are collaborating with the WUT?CLUB from London, which is an event hosted by and for the most colourful kids of London’s gay scene. They are very inspiring and I think Milkshake visitors will love the mood and vibe they bring to the festival. Less Drama More Techno is very refreshing because of their purist approach to good techno music. The name says it all. I feel we need to give our audience something new every year.

FI: Milkshake is also known for hosting a stage at Mysteryland each year. How important is it for you to collaborate with other festivals?

MS: It’s important to us because of our message. I feel Milkshake is the festival of the future, a utopian society where everybody can be together without judgement, regardless of sexuality or gender. We need to send the message out there that there are places where you can be who you really are. But we don’t just work any festivals; Mysteryland is like our beautiful bigger sister.

FI: For this edition you’ll be hosting the Wham’bam Thank You Ma’am stage as an ode to Wham and, of course, the late George Michael. How have you gone about defining the character of the stage and making it a fitting tribute?

MS: I was devastated by the news of his passing. We had to do something. Last year we printed Prince’s lovesexy symbol in metallic purple on all the coins. We normally never allude to any of our creative offerings before the festival; everything has to be a surprise. I can tell you this though: the stage will be your last Christmas. We want everyone to be just as kind to each other during summer as they are over the winter holidays. There will also be famous Dutch DJs doing David Bowie and Prince tribute sets.

FI: Aside from the music, what other forms of entertainment are present at the event, and how vital are they to the overall atmosphere?

MS: Last year we had 1100 performers per day. These are the most important. It’s living decor – they are everywhere and they bring the ultimate experience to all stages.

Everybody goes wild from the opening at 12:00 till 23:00. There is a lot of field entertainment as well. A couple of years ago you could make your own dildo, be part of theatrical productions, and participate in a secret bingo session which was hosted by a Dutch celebrity. A lot of performers do a parade at specific times, and it all amounts to big lovely chaos. We also have a rodeo penis and we do lots of stuff for charity. Last year you could ringtoss with giant dildos, hosted by the artist Erwin Olaf. The proceeds went to his charity of choice, which supports Turkish gay men.

FI: Has Milkshake been situated in Amsterdam’s Westerpark culture park since its inception six years ago? What factors informed your decision to host the festival there, and how do you make the most out of the space? Does it present any challenges?

MS: Yes, we’ve hosted the festival five times there now. Milkshake is a product of Amsterdam and celebrates the city’s initiatives so it has to be in a city park. Plus, nobody wants to commute in heels for longer than 15 minutes.

There are always challenges that come with any location. In ours, the sound has to blow one way and stay under a certain decibel level, for example, and we can’t stick things in the ground.

You want the best but sometimes not everything is possible. We use every little bit of the grounds and the facilities that come along with it. Also the after parties are hosted next to the grounds.

FI: Is there anything else we should know about Milkshake?

MS: The feeling of freedom you get at the festival is very unique. Apparently the lovely straight people who come to the festival say that they have never experienced such a relaxed atmosphere.

In five years we’ve never had a single incident. That’s why last year when we had a 2000 square metre roller disco, people could bring their own roller skates.

Milkshake Festival