‘I Have This Urge To Do Things That Haven’t Been Done Before’: Q’s With BigCityBeats Founder Bernd Breiter

Bernd Breiter
– Bernd Breiter
On the hallowed turf of Frankfurt’s soccer team Eintracht in the Commerzbank Arena.

Pollstar speaks with Bernd Breiter, founder and CEO of BigCityBeats, the brand that started out as a radio station and today promotes some of the biggest club events in the world. 
Breiter has built clubs in stadiums, on top of a mountain, on trains, cruise ships, airplanes, in Zero Gravity and even on the ISS, where ISS Commander Luca Parmitano performed a DJ set that was broadcast from the ISS to the World Club Dome Cruise ship in the harbor of Ibiza. Breiter calls it his masterpiece. 
His event concepts have earned compliments from Apollo 13 captain James Lovell, John Travolta and Robert de Niro alike, and have been picked up by most dailies across the world, his drive-in cinema event elicited a tweet of praise from Michael Rapino. 

World Club Dome 2019
Stijn De Grauwe
– World Club Dome 2019
Steve Aoki lights up Commerzbank Arena in Frankfurt Steve Aoki lights up Commerzbank Arena in Frankfurt.

Did you envision a world wide business with multiple brands that sell out stadiums and arenas, when you promoted the first World Club Dome in 2013?

The dream to create something big always resonates. I cannot speak for others, but I think it’s normal to dream of something that stands out. 
I was involved in different events and festivals and launched my own festival “SommerTagTraum” in Ulm [in 2012], headlined by David Guetta, I was also involved in the “Sea of Love” in Freiburg. 
I always wondered about the weather situation in Germany. I remember the “Sea of Love 2011,” when we stood in the pouring rain, up to our boots in bark mulch, and a building supervisor said, ‘if the stage sags another centimeter, we’ll have to evacuate the site.’ The rain was dripping from the tips of our noses, we were drenched.
And I thought, club music actually doesn’t belong onto a field, it belongs in the club. But what about having an entire festival crowd dancing in an indoor club. What about packing 365 days-worth of club culture into one weekend, including a line-up and atmosphere that’ll blow people’s minds.
That idea never let go of me. So, while we were digging up pathways so people wouldn’t slip in the mud, I knew I had to follow that idea through. 
How did you go about selecting the location?
I’m from Frankfurt, I’ve been driving past that stadium [Commerzbank Arena] for seven years, which is always a lofty experience, the Colosseum of the modern age, let the games begin, let club music resonate through its walls.
I didn’t want to stand in the rain anymore. I wanted an event location where people would be able to go inside. We need [outdoor] festivals, they have a raison d’être, but even a beautiful site with forests and lakes isn’t anything outstanding anymore.
But an urban city, including all of the benefits that come with it, the option to choose from 40,000 hotel beds ranging from two stars to super luxurious five-star offerings. The airport is a seven-minute journey from the site, which means people from all over Europe are able to fly here within an hour-and-a-half and arrive at the world’s biggest club in seven minutes. They can make use of the shopping facilities of a metropolis. Still, our site comes with forests and swimming pools, all of which we’ve expanded upon.
What did the World Club Dome look like on its first edition?
I always had this vision of the stadium being the club’s main floor, with the surroundings hosting all sorts of smaller clubs, putting the entire spectrum of electronic music on display, from trance, techno, house, gabba, whatever, the longest club mile in the world.
I was scared shitless, because the difference between a stadium event and a festival on a greenfield is that with the latter, you can easily scale the event. You can make it look nice with 5,000 people as well as with 8,000 people. But a stadium, which can hold 60,000 people, looks empty with 5,000 people.
At the first edition in 2013, we thought we were going to set up our massive outdoor stage in the stadium for a “roofed open-air.” We used the same stage we had for “SommerTagTraum” the year before, a really huge outdoor stage, but once it was completed, it seemed to be the size of a rabbit hutch. The trucks, 40-tonners, looked like Matchbox cars. The dimensions and proportions inside there are just so gigantic.
It was a wake-up call, I wouldn’t let this happen again, which is why the World Club Dome, including the Winter Edition [at Merkur Spiel-Arena], grew into what you see now. It feels like a real club, we convert the entire roof, add all sorts of mobile modules.
It’s always been about the 360-degree experience beyond the stage. The dance floor has to feel like one, even if it’s the size of a soccer field.

World Club Dome
– World Club Dome
Winter Edition at Düsseldorf’s Merkur Spiel-Arena

Tell us about the initial conversations with the stadium operators. Were they immediately hooked, or did they think, ‘what a crazy idea?’

I think, whenever I come up with anything, the initial reaction is, ‘what a crazy idea.’ We’ve been lucky to always fall on sympathetic ears with Patrick Meyer, the stadium’s CEO, who liked the “SommerTagTraum” with David Guetta.
Because it was always my wife and I showing up at the stadium, I think at one point the CEO was wondering that it wasn’t just the two of us planning on pulling off this feat. I think he wanted to make sure we had other people involved, who would drive the forklifts and pour the beer. That’s when I introduced him to all the heads of the different departments, to show him that he was dealing with a real company.
Most other people, who’ve ventured on the stadium in the past, ultimately got cold feet. When my wife and I announced that we’d do it, I got a lot of comments from people, alluding that stadium events in Germany couldn’t work, as some has failed already. 
But whenever someone tells me something can’t be done, it sparks a, I wouldn’t call it a response of defiance, but an urge to show it can be done. 
What else makes promoting a festival in a stadium unique?
A stadium is actually a very big, but also very cold object. There’s nothing in there radiating warmth, which is different, if you’re out in nature, on a field, in a forest or on a lake. But if you do a good job, you can convert the stadium to make it bloom. It was a vision that chimed with Patrick’s.
Plus, a stadium allows us to build a VIP area of a size and quality that wouldn’t be possible on a field. Underground garage parking spaces, elevators, Michelin-starred chefs, heliport, red carper etc. 
How many people attended the first World Club Dome?
25,000. It put the event on the map over night. That’s when you start thinking about refining, improving, expanding, you start thinking about side events on airplanes, cruise ships etc.
Your first international expansion was Asia. How come?
We had offers from Asia, America and other places. We simply felt good about the Asian spin-off. It’s not our intention to grow rapidly, to immediately capitalize on the brand. Growing too fast isn’t advisable, it can backfire. We found partners, who’ve realized two successful editions with us. We were in the middle of preparing a Chinese World Club Dome, which has been put on hold because of Corona.
Asia is a fascinating country, and it was an incredible experience to bring our orchestral openings, including flag-wavers and fireworks, to the continent and see people tear up just like they do over here. It showed me that this big city weekend feeling isn’t limited to Europe, everyone has it in them and immediately understands it. 

World Club Dome Drive-in Edition
– World Club Dome Drive-in Edition

In light of the many extravagant event concepts you’ve come up with, a World Club Dome drive-in edition seems almost trivial.

The World Club Dome doesn’t have to be a huge stadium event or monster festival. It’s a club that unites the world of club music under one roof. It’s not important, how big that roof is, how big the world of club music is at the moment. If you can bring together 150 people on the Jungfraujoch in 3,400 meters of altitude for a club, or just one person on the ISS, it means that I don’t want to be defined by size. It’s simply unique as far as scale, presentation and location is concerned, and it’s there for everyone, for people from all walks of life.
Someone arriving at the red carpet in a Rolls Royce is just as welcome as someone arriving by scooter, bicycle or public transport, and they will both find what they’re looking for. All of it blends into this incredible, energetic mass, which every artists, who’s performed here, talks about.
Since last year, every World Club Dome has a theme. Why?
Storytelling is more important than ever. We have a main event that’s doing well. We could simply continue booking acts and define ourselves by them. It may be the artist in me, I don’t know, maybe I’m just a lousy businessman, but I have this urge to do things that haven’t been done before.
Two years ago, I did the [World Club Dome] Hollywood Edition, and was thinking about a Hollywood-like pre-party unlike any other. I saw a TV show about astronaut training in weightlessness [simulated by] a zero-gravity plane. Bingo. I want the first club in weightlessness. When I first called [the European Space Agency] ESA they hung up on me. Now we’re super close, we’re putting on events everyone thinks are incredible like the first DJ set in Space, clubs in Zero Gravity, Space Talks or the BigCityBeats World Club Dome Space Edition with a 25 meter high Ariane 5 rocket as backdrop for the mainstage. Even in America they are fascinated by these activities. 
We’ve built a familiarity that allows us to convert an airport and host a club at the gate, as well as on a plane flying people to the main event. The plane then serves as another dance floor for 2,000 people. How do I get 2,000 people into a security zone? 
One successful feat enabled the next. Deutsche Bahn approach us, ‘if you’re doing planes, why not trains.’ I always wanted to do a train; I had thought about a dedicated wagon. But they offered an entire ICE high-speed train, which we converted into a club. We had to come up with solutions for the PA, power supply, floor design. We left Paris with 320 km/h en route to World Club Dome, with 350 people on board and two dance floors. The pictures went around the world. The board of Deutsche Bahn gave me special authorization to park my train directly in front of the stadium entrance, where no ICE is ever allowed to park. 
I had to get permits to have a helicopter land right on site, so the stars would arrive at close range with the audience. All of these things had to be done for the first time. It’s a unique world of experiences, and once you start adding stories to this world, you’re forever hooked. To surprise people, that’s my credo.

The Club Kitchen combines, as the name suggests, club music and good food.
– The Club Kitchen combines, as the name suggests, club music and good food.
From left: German star chef Frank Rosin, Bernd Breiter and Steve Aoki.

Your business, like many others in this industry, was in full swing, when Corona hit. What are your thoughts?

It’s like someone pulled the plug. But I knew, I couldn’t just do nothing. So I talked to my friend Michael Brill [CEO D.Live], who told me about his drive-in cinema events. We’re doing a real festival show, including fireworks, and the DJs communicate with the audience via the car lights and horns.
We found the key to holding events during the Corona crisis, in line with all provisions. Of course, it’s a bit of a freaky idea, and of course it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but you can see that a lot of people are just happy to go out again, they’re really enjoying it.
I doubt it makes money though.
Well, I said, if we’re going to do a World Club Dome, we’ll do it properly, arriving with our special effects department, lasers and lights around the entire car park. Of course, that’s pricey and you don’t make any money with it, but we decided to go with a giant production, and we left the stage with a proud feeling. This, too, was a World Club Dome, the people went crazy.
You don’t have to do it this big, of course. Others will be able to make it viable, with smaller artists and setups. The only question is, for how long. It seems to be the model everyone’s banking on now, which will result in fierce competition. 
Do you have any other creative ideas on how to hold public gatherings in line with social distancing orders?
I am creative, but I have to be realistic with regards to the emotions and to the experience. At some point you have to admit that you can only experience a certain kind of vibration if you’re really standing next to each other. Of course, you could go ahead, take off the wheels of all the cars in the car park and create permanent structures, oasis, hot tubs for two people, etc. It’s all possible, but I don’t think it will work.
I think we’ve overcome the worst, the loosening of restrictions has to be the next step, whether that’s good or bad, whether the virus returns or not. You won’t be able to ban soccer matches, or anything, really, until next year. We’ve been trailblazers on a lot of different projects, that has to do for now. 
What do you think, when will you host your next major event?
I firmly believe that we have to be the first major event with the World Club Dome Winter Edition in January 2021. I don’t believe that we’ll be still waiting for a vaccine or whatever by then. Nobody would be able to bear it; the world economy certainly wouldn’t be able to bear it.
Social distancing measures may seem plausible but are not enforceable inside a club. I understand that ideas are being presented, but I don’t think they’re viable. Let’s wait for the clubs to reopen and gastronomy to regroup, I don’t want to rush anything, but I know that we’ll be back to normal next year. The alternative is that the world is going to stand still. But I can’t imagine that happening.
Once small clubs are allowed to reopen with 100 to 200 people, you can monitor the situation. It may mean that you have to volunteer some of your data, your movement profile, in defiance of all the privacy groups, until the situation is under control. I reckon the first major events will be able to take place again around Christmas, and we’ll try to reopen the new year with the World Club Dome Winter Edition, that’s what I’m mainly working on at the moment.
We’ll announce next week, but we’re promising people full refunds in case I’m wrong.

DJing in the kitchen?
– DJing in the kitchen?
Nothing extraordinary in the world of Bernd Breiter.

What does the future look like for BigCityBeats?

We’re continuing our cooperation with ESA, we’ll also expand territorially. As I said earlier, the great advantage is that a World Club Dome can be unique, it doesn’t require tens of thousands of people, not even thousands, or a hundred or even less. So, you’ll be seeing more of that.
This doesn’t mean you won’t also see an expansion of our major events in other parts of this world. Please understand that I cannot give any more details at this point in time, when everything’s at a standstill. But all of these things are in the pipeline.
It’s great to be able to reflect on all of these things, to be honest. We usually operate with tunnel vision, jumping from one event to the next. We said we’re going to use this time to reconnect with our base.
Looking back, what would you say has been the most important factor for your success?
Listening to my gut. If I think back today about all the decisions, I made based on my gut feeling, I don’t think I’d make the same decisions again with the knowledge I have today. But then I’d never be where I am now. It would have also inhibited my ability to express myself in such a myriad of ways.
Any advice for up and coming promoters?
No matter what you do, not just as a promoter, if you believe in yourself, you need to develop you own personality. If you develop your personality, you create an individual. If you only copy, if you’re only looking over somebody’s shoulder, you’ll never feel your own personality, and you’ll get lost in this giant anthill. But if you find your true self, if you walk your own path, you’ll find ways through this anthill and arrive at your destination.