The Gardenarium is a concept co-created by Absolut and elrow which takes you on a journey into the exploration of life. Hidden in the hills of Ibiza at Cova Santa the debut event between the two global brands and their creative partnership was unveiled in its full glory on 31st July. They created a place of endless possibilities where the fountains get you tipsy, the flowers come to life, candyfloss tastes of cheese and nothing is quite as it seems.
To talk us through the co-creation and their groundbreaking partnership I was kindly spared the time of Georgia McDonnell-Adams (Global Experience Manager – Absolut Vodka) and Jo Vidler (Creative Director – elrow). Prior to managing festivals and experiences Georgia was heading up global on trade at Absolut out of their London office, which basically means turning brand strategy into activations and guidelines for anything that happens with Absolut in a bar, club or pub around the world. Prior to that she was working for Absolut in Australia as the national brand ambassador so has had a long career in trade and customer service (12 years with Absolut).
Jo, on the other hand has been specialising in immersive events and boutique festivals for the past 15 years. She has been involved, co founded, refounded & co-curated many events & festivals, being the only female board member on many occasions. From Secret Garden Party (2006-2013) and Wilderness (2011-2016) to Day Zero (2012-2016) and many more multi art immersive events. All places where music, food, theatre performance & spectacle take equal billing; where participation outweighs spectating and experience & the customer’s journey take precedence. Following these experiences, in 2016, elrow approached Jo to work with them after raising investment to scale the company globally… and here she is!
When I asked about how the partnership between Absolut & elrow began Jo told me “We stumbled across each other, and the rest is history… it’s all Georgia’s fault!” Georgia replied “As Jo said, it’s funny really we kind of stumbled into each other. I was on the hunt for a promoter that was willing to come on board with Absolut.”
“We have been looking to really change the way we have partnerships and create a new party/festival concept that we would share down the line 50/50 on risk and reward. elrow was on the hunt for a global sponsor to help with their expansion. We sat in a room at ADE in 2017 and slowly as the meeting was happening I realised how closely aligned our company values are so we met again a few times in Stockholm and the rest is history.”
The Gardenarium is one of 30 festivals and nightlife experiences Absolut will deliver with elrow across 11 global markets this year with the aim of putting the fun back into the festival and nightlife scene. The Gardenarium unites the creative values of both brands reflecting Absolut’s belief that no matter where you are from, we are all human and elrow’s belief that everybody should be welcome on the dancefloor. Jo and Georgia explained their plan for the duration of the 3 year brand partnership to continue to develop The Gardenarium as the co-produced event of elrow and Absolut and tour this around the world. They will grow the Absolut presence within existing elrow shows in their main markets and work together on new and exciting ways to bring this to life. “This partnership for Absolut is about aligning ourselves with a brand who is driving culture and wants to enhance that journey” Georgia said. Jo added ” elrow will continue building amazing creative collaborations that give people experiences that they have never had before.”
So, what is different about this brand partnership? This is a collaboration, it’s not Absolut giving elrow a brief and then they come back with a creative idea. They’ve been in every creative meeting together, working on the concept, on the lineup, on the visual identity. They’ve work-shopped values, ideas, decided on how drinks are to be served, how guests are to be greeted, the full consumer journey has a collaboration of ideas and working. On top of this both companies have invested in this project, so both companies have a level of risk that they need to answer for. “I think when you’re both up for a certain level of risk that changes everything, you have to believe in each other and you work harder to make it happen, you have to be flexible and willing to move your goal posts a little” explained Georgia.
As well as The Gardenarium there will be a range of co-designed and created events including the Absolut Pink Cathedral touring this summer which has already appeared at elrow Towns in Antwerp (6th July) and Edinburgh (27th July) and are about to appear again in London (17th August) and Amsterdam (7th September), where you can roller-skate and listen to pumping old & nu-school Disco! “These, coupled with The Gardenarium are part of the 30 festival and nightlife experiences Absolut will deliver with elrow across 11 global markets this year” Jo said.
Running parallel with the creative are strong values from both sides of the partnership. For Absolut partnering with brands and artists who are driving culture is incredibly important. “This partnership has brought together 2 brands with very similar values, so we didn’t need to make a new mission, we are both striving for the same thing, just using different language” Georgia explained.
In detail: Absolut, No Matter where we are from, we are all human. Everyone should be free to express themselves. All genders are equal. People should be free to love who they choose. Producers should act in a sustainable and transparent way. And elrow, We are Family. We are all part of the party. We are humble. We are Wild. We trade in Wows.
Overall, Absolut found synergy between elrow’s ‘we are all part of the party’ and Absolut’s ‘we are all human’ mission statements – the idea that we are all inspired by our imaginations and can all be united on the dance floor is at the heart of their partnership.
Absolut’s value of “no matter where we are from we are all human” is hard to remember sometimes in the world we live in today. The Gardenarium focuses on the fact that humans are the only living thing on the earth with an imagination, it’s one of the incredible things that reminds us that we are all the same no matter what we look like or where we are from. I asked how they finally arrived at the chosen concept. Jo answered “at one point we were looking into the definition of quantum physics it was a hilarious creative workshop.” To which Georgia followed “Oh gosh, I can’t tell you this! Because they might still happen and it will ruin the element of surprise.”
Cova Santa marked the beginning of the global role out of events. I was told what caught their attention about the venue and why it fits The Gardenarium concept so well. There are a few main reasons we chose this venue they explained… “We are partners with Amnesia for our elrow shows every Saturday in Ibiza. There are many areas for us to create magical happenings for people to get lost in which include the imagination concierge hosted by Shotgun Carousel, imagination exploration workshops hosted by Cosmic Pineapple, Suco Sessions, Salix the tree of melodies, a rainbow flare show and masked ball, the fountains of youth, kaleidoscope bar, vodka soda bars and flower bar, candyfloss magic and Cova Santa restaurant & food trucks. It is in the mountains with amazing views and terraces and also has a secret Cave.”
Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the low down on the other venues which are locked in throughout the 3 year partnership. “We can’t reveal anything just yet but we are looking to expand as soon as humanly possible and Europe will definitely be the next stop.” explained Georgia. “Yes, you will have to wait and see, plans are in motion” added Jo.
I personally thought the concept was a great success with so much attention to detail. It was an experience from the very first moment you stepped in. The easiest way I could explain it to friends was “Alice in Wonderland in the hills of Ibiza.” Out of the many experiences which were created in The Gardenarium the girls both picked their favourite. “Suco sessions” Georgia said. “To go from a mad festival to a moment on the roof of Cova Santa listening to an incredible journey of sound was just exceptional and drinking Absolut from a garden fountain of course.” Jo added –
“For me, my favourite part was seeing the whole event pull together into one amazing immersive experience for everyone. So many elements, from the Imagination Concierge, to cocktail fountains, quirky life drawing to the Enchanted Forest den & the Giant Sun Stage, which pays homage to us all being human and living under the same sun.”
And furthermore to their favourite creative experiences the girls spoke to me about their favourite moments working on the project together so far. “Curating the entire journey” said Jo. “For me working with such an incredible team of powerhouse creative babes! Being part of the entire creative process and personally being taught on how to think like a promoter, I have learnt so much from the elrow world of promoting which is really valuable for everything we do going forward” Georgia added.
On reflection the team feel super happy about the execution of The Gardenarium. “Obviously, as a creative you always think we can improve but everything worked so well. We have an amazing team, from graphic design, set design, and content curation through to production & operations delivery. I think Georgia wants a hot air balloon” said Jo.
“I would definitely like a hot air balloon” she replied. “I can’t believe we opened the doors on time. Our production manager Amy is a God and our man on the ground Tony, a magician. Considering how much went into the production of the event, it went really smoothly. I was really proud of the lineup too, it pushed the usual elrow sound and the usual Ibiza sound and turned Cova Santa into such a party! There are always things that can be improved, usually after a big event I get the post-project blues, however this time it didn’t happen, which only tells me there’s a lot more to come, a bigger sun stage perhaps?”
Before we bring the discussion to an end I touched on a more deeper subject of inclusivity and equality in electronic music. At IMS this year it was a big discussion on the panels, both of which are two of the main founding bases in dance music. We spoke about why they need to be brought to the forefront of attention of late.
“It is clear that there should be no inequality” Jo said. “We are both women and therefore the answer is obvious enough, we are one hundred percent in favour of equality in the music industry. The sad thing is the fact that panels talking about equality are even needed at shows like IMS.”
“For Absolut this is a very important topic” Georgia added. “We believe as a global brand we have a duty to ensure everything we do shines a light on equality. Whether it’s DJ’s or performers or artists, equality and inclusivity isn’t just about the gender of someone or how they look, its about being inclusive of different opinions, how different people act, how they identify, true diversity comes when you put different people together and collaborate. We believe that on the dance floor everyone is equal, so it needs to show that this transcends in the lineup we choose and the performers that we work with.”
Of course, The Gardenarium would not have been complete without the DJ’s and artists involved. An extended thank you to Seth Troxler, Gideon, Virginia, Hot Chip, Heidi, Horse Meat Disco, Raw Silk, Toni Varga, Blinky Bill, Saronde, Faith Mussa and Ion Pananides.
Tickets for elrow Town London + Amsterdam are available at here