Justin Sweeting | EARS

When Justin Sweeting had agreed to meet up with me at EARS, I was expecting to see a tough career oriented business guy in a suit. He is, after all, the co-founder and music director of Magnetic Asia, a company behind Hong Kong’s first music and arts festival. Instead, I met a very nice and chill, humble and easy-going music enthusiast speaking with a British accent. 

On Friday when we had agreed to meet up Justin had planned to see Helsinki, so I promised to take a walk with him instead. We walked along the “Baana” (a cycling route through Helsinki) all the way across the city centre to Katajannokka by the sea.

We had already met the day before and Justin had told me about the almost non-existent cultural life of Hong Kong. In the traditional trade city arts have not been considered that important.

“But they do film quite a many films in there. Hong Kong looks amazing on film.”

I found his comment very amusing. Just a couple of months ago I had felt an urge to travel to Hong Kong – inspired by a movie that was partly filmed there.

As an European person it might be quite hard to imagine a city such big without a live music scene. Luckily there is more happening in the city’s cultural life now thanks to Justin Sweeting and his friends at Magnetic Asia.

“There were no music events to go to so we decided to organize our own”, he sums up.

The first Clockenflap music and arts festival 2008 gathered a public of 1,500. Last year they had over 60 000 music lovers visiting the event.

Justin Sweeting with producer and songwriter Karri Mikkonen.

Justin Sweeting with producer and songwriter Karri Mikkonen.

As we approach the seaside I tell him about all kinds of random stuff that we have encountered during different concert productions. You know, sawing a right size of a wooden board for a thumb piano to be played against or hunting down a right kind of a pedal. Sweeting laughs.

“We had a lot more stuff like that in the beginning”, he says.

“The festival has grown so much that now there are other people taking care of that stuff so I can concentrate on the line-up. But it was kind of fun.”

When Sweeting plans the festival line-up he tries to build a diverse program. That is easy to believe when watching the acts for this year – there are artists and bands from all over the world from Iceland and Jamaica to Taiwan, South Korea and New Zeeland.

We sit down at Johan & Nyström for a cup of coffee by the sailboats and a calm grey early afternoon sky. Justin gives me a couple of music tips on UK indie bands and asks for directions to Kallio. I am positive that this guy is a natural born hipster. He plans to enjoy the calm atmosphere of Helsinki before quickly visiting the EARS afterparty and flying home to his family. He has told me about how important a good work-life balance is for him and he wants to be home for the weekend to spend time with his kids. What a sweet guy.

Coffee break by the sea.

Coffee break by the sea.

On my way back to the conference I feel light, happy and inspired. These are some of the best things in life - to be able to have encounters and conversations with so very different people. Learn from each other and laugh together. I had the privilege to do that with my three interviewees and so many other people at EARS. And I felt extremely happy for still getting to stay for the Friday mingle at  Morning Sky festival. Good music and a couple of cold beers with interesting people from all over Asia and Europe. Not a bad wrap-up for such amazing 48 hours.