"The rising costs in all areas such as energy, wages, goods are a big challenge for night culture and night-time economy stakeholders." Robert Gaa
For this article we had the pleasure of speaking with Robert Gaa, Night Mayor of Manheim and one of the team members behind the upcoming NØK Conference about night time culture, which will be taking place on October 5th, 2023.
Robert is also one of the alumni of our Music Cities European Exchange Programme.
In the interview below you will learn about Robert's career path, how he landed his current role as the Night Mayo of Mannheim, some insights on current trends regarding Night Time Economy policies and a very exciting and inspiring list of books that will help you get a deep dive into how club culture shapes our cities.
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Let's start by discussing your professional journey. How did you reach this point in your career?
The whole thing was actually quite a coincidence. I'm a certified mechanical engineer and worked as a service technician in the field for a few years. I have been living in Mannheim since 2015 and I have been part of a socio-cultural association: peer23. I mainly used to take care of the event planning and production. In addition, I am still active as a DJ and independent event organizer. It had been clear to me for a long time that I would not be happy in the manufacturing systems engineering industry. The salary was good, but I realized more and more that this alone does not make happy. Then in 2019, I quit my job and just knew that I really wanted to do something where I could have an impact on shaping my hometown. The first night mayor, Hendrik Meier, was also a member of our association and he said to me at some point that he was going to quit and he thought I would be a good successor for the position. But since my qualifications did not completely fit the official qualifications for the job, I didn't get my hopes up at first. However, I did get the job after all and now I have been the night mayor of Mannheim since 2020 and have performed this task with a lot of heart and soul. In that sense, it was exactly the right job at the right time.
What is the NØK Conference and where did the idea of starting the project come from?
NØK is our night culture conference hosted by the Cultural Innovation & Creative Creative Economy team at NEXT Mannheim. Together with partners such as the Pop-Büro Stuttgart, the Popakademie Baden-Württemberg and the club associations Clubkultur Baden-Württemberg and EventKultur Rhein-Neckar, we will like to highlight and discuss current trends, challenges, developments and innovations in the fields of music, night culture and night-time economy.
The idea for this came about after the introduction of the first Night Mayor in Mannheim, which was also the first night mayor position in Germany at the same time. At that time, a great many inquiries came in from municipalities interested in a similar position. NØK was intended to serve as a networking and knowledge transfer platform for various night culture and night-time economy stakeholders. We would now like to continue this idea again after a digital edition in 2021.
Which would you say are the main tendencies for night time economy policies right now? Which one excites you the most?
More and more city councils and governments are recognizing nightlife as an important social and economic factor in Germany. This is an important step toward bringing nightlife more into the focus of political decision makers and urban development processes in general. Particularly the corona pandemic has accelerated this tendency. Nevertheless, I still see major deficits in this area.
Hopefully, this will also help to further support of night culture, which has slipped from one crisis to the next. The rising costs in all areas such as energy, wages, goods are a big challenge for night culture and night-time economy stakeholders. At the same time, inflation and the cost of living have been continuously increasing for everyone. Leisure activities such as a visit to a concert or a music club are then often the first to be cut.
In addition, there are high bureaucratic hurdles and requirements/regulations on the part of the authorities. There is an urgent need to rethink numerous issues and approaches towards more unbureaucratic solutions and more scope for discretion.
In Germany, an amendment to the Building Use Ordinance is currently pending, and music clubs could then be considered cultural venues from then on. Currently, music clubs are considered as being in the administrative category as brothels or gambling halls. A change in this categorization would be a really important signal for club culture in Germany and would have a significant impact for stakeholders!
Tell us a bit about these documentaries and books that you're sharing with us.
I am really into Emma Warren’s latest book “Dance your Way Home – A Journey Through the Dance Floor”, in which she delineates the function of dance for society and how subcultures have always appropriated spaces and how they have – implicitly and explicitly – driven urban development.
Robert Kronenburg’s “This Must Be The Place – An Architectural History of Popular Music Performance Venues” is also a phenomenal book as it is the first architectural history of popular music performance spaces and it explores the different impacts they have had on cities’ identities.
Ten Cities – Clubbing in Nairobi, Cairo, Kyiv, Johennesburg, Naples, Berlin, Luanda, Lagos, Bristol and Lisbon 1960 – March 2020, edited by Johannes Hossfeld Etyan, Joyce Nyairo and Florian Sievers is a exciting narrative of international club music and club cultures.
Last, but not least, “Night Fever – Design und Clubkultur 196-heute” is a splendid book about the various intersections of design and club culture and how they influenced each other over the decades. Beautifully designed itself and published by Vitra Design Museum.
About the he NØK Conference:
NØK conference will be taking place on October 5th. Learn all about the conference and register here.
What is NØK?
Night culture is urban society in a high-pressure cauldron, night culture drives innovation, increases economic growth and significantly determines the identity of a city. Night culture is so much more than partying. With NØK, the international night culture conference, NEXT Mannheim is shining a spotlight for the third time on the growing international importance of live and club culture after sunset.
In keynote speeches, roundtable discussions and workshops, actors from urban society, politics, urban planning, live and club culture and more discuss current opportunities and challenges of the scene, which is working its way out of the "shadow existence" of the cultural industry with increasing self-confidence. There is great potential for resilient urban development in the promotion of night culture. In Mannheim, this potential has long been recognised. In 2018, the UNESCO City of Music was the first German city to create the position of Night Mayor. The topics that the current office holder, Robert Gaa, works on are as diverse as nightlife itself. He is a diplomat, initiator and activist, mediating between operators, residents, administration and authorities. A close exchange with other experts is central to his work. The desire to discuss current issues and challenges internationally gave rise to the idea of the NØK in 2019, which has since been held every two years.It is not only the Corona pandemic that has left deep scars on the scene.
The struggling economy leaves a vacuum in visitor numbers and funding pots. There is a lack of new venues that want to be filled with live music. In addition, there are issues such as the necessary expansion of local transport and ensuring safety in public spaces. This is not only a concern for Mannheim. Experts from New York, Paris, Barcelona and Manchester, among others, met digitally at the conference in the Alte Feuerwache in 2019 and 2021. They are all united by the desire that a vibrant cultural scene that brings people together does not end when the sun goes down.
NEXT Mannheim is organising the NØK programme together with a variety of cultural partners at regional, state and national level: with the regional club culture association EventKultur Rhein-Neckar, Mannheim's pop commissioner, the Popbüro Stuttgart.