BlockDown Festival’s Voyage from Virtual to Real-World Antics

BlockDown Festival has evolved from a virtual conference to a dynamic in-person event. In an interview with NFT Lately, the forward-thinker behind the state-of-the-art festivals, Erhan Korhaliller, shares his journey of rebelling against doubters to create pioneering Web3 celebrations — attracting global Web3 leaders and mainstream attention alike.

From jaw-dropping locations in Croatia to Portugal — and plans for expansion across three continents — BlockDown Festival offers a peek into the future of Web3, making the forthcoming event unmissable for anyone curious about the blockchain domain.

Please tell us about the inception of BlockDown Festival and your inspiration behind starting it:

BlockDown first started as the world’s first live Web3 virtual conference series in April 2020. The name ‘BlockDown’ is a fusion of the words ‘blockchain’ and ‘lockdown.’ It was a huge success, and we attracted the world’s most prominent speakers, to name a few: CZ from Binance, Charles Hoskinson of Cardano, Sergey Nazarov of Chainlink, Whistleblower Edward Snowden, Global Superstar Akon, and even the mayor of Miami Francis Sanchez.

When I was first hunting around about how to do a live virtual event, several people warned me not to do it. Remember, this was before the likes of Hopin and other virtual event platforms even existed, so I had to figure out manually how to get this done from a technical perspective.

The concept of having 150 speakers tune in live across the world from Beijing to Los Angeles, with a 3D Conference and party experience, and organizing it all in 6 weeks was put to me as ‘too ambitious’ and ‘bound to fail.’ I reflected on that advice and decided to do it anyway. I’ve always liked to prove people wrong, and the vision in my mind was too good not to move forward.

We had six virtual editions of the event over 15 months, including special one-off editions such as BlockDown LATAM edition BlockDown DeData. Each event had over 150+ speakers, and we experimented with live virtual roundtable discussions, metaverse parties, NFT drops, live DJ sets, and so much more.

The inspiration behind the event was to create a fun and engaging way for our industry to have a welcome distraction from the awful news we were exposed to every day during the covid 19 pandemic. Creating fun and inspiring events is, therefore, now in our DNA, and once the covid pandemic cleared the way for live events once again, we decided that the festival-style format focused on the creator economy was the right path for BlockDown to evolve and stick true to our ethos.

How has the festival evolved since its first 3D edition during the pandemic?

The first 3D edition in April 2020 was utterly remote. We hired an underground studio in Amsterdam with our production crew and presenter, filming live for 12 hours for two days straight. Our crew did a fantastic job, notably our presenter Chris Dawe — our host today. Living off Red Bull and coffee, he would pass out on the sofa between sessions. It was truly a marathon but a magical experience to see the industry come together and join us from all four corners of the world.

Since those special days, BlockDown has come on leaps and bounds, from being featured in mainstream publications like Rolling Stone and Forbes Magazine to hosting mega brands such as PSG and McLaren, who will be speaking at ‘BlockDown Festival: Portugal’ this summer, it’s been a wild ride.

The festival continues to evolve as the industry develops. We need to stay on top of trends and continue to be on the cutting edge of Web3.

What are some of the unique challenges and rewards of organizing a festival that celebrates Web3 culture?

That’s a great question. The unique challenge is and was undoubtedly integrating Web3 tech into the event with varying degrees of success. Last year in Croatia, for example, we implemented a gamification element to the event by rewarding people with NFTs for engaging in different activities at the festival. A live leaderboard linked to their NFT Ticket would show in real time which attendees were participating in the many activities that BlockDown Festival had to offer. The winners across the three days of the festival were rewarded with a VIP Table with drinks at the afterparty, sponsor tokens, NFTs, merchandise, and more. On the flip side of things, a year ago, NFT Ticketing platforms were still building out their platforms; there were a lot of bugs, and the user experience was yet to be seamless.

Another challenge, of course, is the wild volatility of the markets. For our first IRL festival in Croatia last year, the Luna crash happened during the event. Speakers due to speak on stage that day had lost millions of dollars in Luna and were naturally horrified by it. The bull and the bear cycles changed people’s enthusiasm. Still, regardless of the price of Bitcoin, we will continue to plough ahead, searching for new creative ways to bring the festival experience to life and to provide a better experience for people who are tired of the standard Web3 conferences.

Why did you choose Croatia and now Portugal as the locations for your festival? What’s the significance of these locations in the context of the festival?

At the heart of BlockDown Festival is its creativity. So, choosing locations that allow us to be creative and, at the same time, are naturally stunning and beautiful are two of our prerequisites. We want people to have a different experience at BlockDown Festival, bask in the beautiful sunshine by the sea, and not be trapped in a dark, sweaty conference hall or hotel.

In Croatia, we found this absolutely stunning resort, Amadria Park in Sibenik, about 40 minutes drive from Split airport. The resort is breathtaking, secluded, and right by the sea, with many different areas that allow us to host events in various environments, providing attendees with that festival vibe. I personally had some fantastic festival experiences in Croatia in my 20s and was set in my mind at one day coming back and launching a festival there one day.

This year, we decided to move the festival to Portugal, mainly because of the size of the Web3 community there, as a hub now for Web3 in Europe. Croatia was an amazing experience, and we would like to return to host a festival there again one day, but for now, it’s time for Portugal. There’s a proliferation of events in Lisbon, with once again the same venues over and over, and we felt Algarve would be a better fit for the BlockDown brand.

We have found a fantastic venue, Lick Venue, in Vilamoura, that is the largest entertainment space in Portugal, that allows us to get even more creative, has fewer restrictions than we faced in Croatia, and can genuinely be seen as a significant step forward for BlockDown Festival.

What can attendees expect from the upcoming edition in Portugal?

There are a lot of things to look forward to. I’m particularly excited about our partnerships with TokenTraxx and the Metaverse Fashion Council. With TokenTraxx coming on board as a strategic partner for the festival, BlockDown Festival will be hosting a Web3 music takeover in the secret garden area of the festival. TokenTraxx will be inviting 8 of the best Web3 native musicians to perform on the Web3 music takeover stage whilst also curating thought-provoking panel discussions focusing on the disruption and opportunities in the music industry due to Web3.

With our strategic partnership with the Metaverse Fashion Council, we will be hosting a Metaverse Fashion Show on the main stage of the festival with real models and metaverse fashion-style garments whilst displaying the show in the metaverse for those that are unable to attend in person. Another very cool activation we are planning with the Metaverse Fashion Council is an AI fashion hackathon competition using their new style AI. In an America’s Got Talent style competition, contestants can live prompt their new style AI that will automatically generate a 3D fashion garment live on the stage for the audience. A panel of fashion judges will provide their feedback and opinions to decide who should proceed to the next stage.

In addition, we have speakers from some of the world’s biggest brands, such as PSG and McLaren, and many more discussing their outlook on Web3. This will give an amazing insight into how major brands view the industry’s opportunities and provide our attendees the chance to network and source business opportunities with some of the world’s largest corporations.

You’re hosting Europe’s first-ever Bored Ape Yacht party at the festival. Can you share more about this unique event and how it came about?

I had the pleasure of meeting the Bored Ape community out in Dubai at the start of the year at one of their parties. I knew I had to bring the OG NFT brand to the Europe BlockDown Festival. I struck up a conversation with the two guys behind the Bored Ape Yacht Party experience, and we ended up going to see the DJ/producer Blond:ish together (another Bored Ape holder). We had a blast, and they were keen to join us in Portugal once I explained more about BlockDown Festival.

There are two Bored Ape experiences during BlockDown Festival; the first is an exclusive yacht party on July 10 featuring DJ Ape, and the second is the closing party on the main stage on July 12. I know they are planning to make both parties an amazing experience for guests lucky enough to be there, but I don’t think they would appreciate me giving it all away here. So readers will have to come to the festival and see for themselves the special surprise they have in store.

How are NFTs and digital assets integrated into the festival’s programming?

Our program agenda has a focus on the creator economy, including NFTs, Gaming, Metaverse, AI, Fashion, Music and Venture Capital. For the music Web3 takeover, all of the artists performing are blockchain-related musicians, and the same goes for the fashion elements of the festival.

We will also have a dedicated ‘multiverse gallery’, displaying artworks of Metaverse Fashion Designers and NFT Artists. We have noticed that most NFT Galleries at events are dead, so we decided instead to showcase different artists and change the content in the gallery every 2-3 hours. One crucial addition is we are only displaying artworks and digital fashion garments from artists that will be there at the festival. When their collections are displayed they will be present, providing our attendees the opportunity to meet with the artists followed by a Q&A session. The Q&A session will allow BlockDown attendees to ask questions about the collection and learn more about the artist in an intimate and welcoming environment.

Can you talk a bit about the community that has formed around BlockDown Festival and how it has contributed to the event’s growth?

The community around BlockDown Festival has been entirely grassroots, grown mainly from those with previous experience of our virtual events and then major brand affinity for those who came to the Croatia event. We had such great feedback from our attendees from Croatia that many of the guests have told me it was the best web3 event they had attended. We even had one guest who got a BlockDown-related tattoo of her experience in Croatia, which was one of many entertaining stories I heard of what went down at the festival last year.

We look forward to welcoming back the community from our previous editions and bringing in new community members who will experience their first BlockDown Festival this summer.

How do you see the BlockDown Festival evolving in the future? Are there any upcoming plans or projects that you can share?

In terms of expansion, we aim to have a BlockDown Festival annually across three major continents in Europe, Asia and South America. While we love the energy for Web3 in the US, it isn’t on our current roadmap due to the amount of blockchain-related events already happening there. However, we are extremely excited about the different locations and cultural opportunities of bringing BlockDown to Asia and South America.

We want to continue to be on the cutting edge of IRL technology-inspired experiences for people while growing alongside the industry and bringing in more major Web2 and Web3 brands to collaborate.

There has already been a clear progression from having the Bored Apes with us this year alongside the powerful brands that things are moving in the right direction, and I firmly believe once the bull momentum resumes, BlockDown Festival will explode.

Lastly, what advice would you give someone new to Web3 culture and wanting to explore it more through events like BlockDown Festival?

BlockDown Festival is an amazing chance to build your network with like-minded individuals eager to provide a positive environment to build friendships and support each other on their web3 journey. There will be a mix of new entrants attracted to BlockDown by our focus on mainstream industries like music, fashion, sports, etc., as well as experienced Web3 natives alongside influential brands. Thus, it should be an inspiring mix of creative people with great opportunities to leave the event with new like-minded individuals and business partners.

To stay in the loop with Erhan, be sure to add his Twitter and LinkedIn, and check out BlockDown’s social hub.

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