Beyond the most fashionable streets and design quarters, outside the new city centres frequented by artists and creative types, there’s a side of Milan which is growing and enhancing its suburbs.
Once-forgotten places are increasingly becoming incubators of creative, interesting companies and Circolo Magnolia is the perfect example of this process. Found outside the city limits, it’s located within the Idroscalo Park near a large reflective body of water which was originally created as a seaplane runway and now acts as a sporting hub and one of Milan’s green spaces.
Magnolia resides next to an amusement park, giving off UK vibes of Brighton Pier. It’s open all year round and each season brings a renovation of its spaces with new stages and environmentally sustainable upgrades. Between an ample varied music programme and all-encompassing initiatives that span from cinema to art to education, it’s one of the top places to be if you happen to find yourself in Milan.
We sat down for a chat with Nicholas and Stefano, President and Vice-President of the Magnolia Association respectively, and among the 30 stars of the “Faces of neubau” photography project.
Magnolia lies outside the classic hubs of Milanese nightlife yet manages to be, with its event programme and quality music, one of the most international clubs of Milan. In your opinion, what are the factors that contributed to its success?
Consistency first and foremost. We didn’t set up our project based on profit, but rather shaped it round an artistic idea. Our status as an association helps us: each year we are obliged to reinvest our earnings within the venue. This means continuously upgrading the structures, equipment which is always on the cutting edge, new attractions and opportunities for our users and the artists who come to play at Magnolia. We also can afford to schedule evenings with musicians who might not be the biggest names but who allow us to broaden the range of what we offer. In that way we reach different niches and strengthen personal relationships with artists who in the future might blow up and come back to us when they’re at the top, even if our venue doesn’t quite have the capacity of a stadium. This year we built a new main stage for outdoor summer events, we expanded our culinary options and we’re focusing on investing even further in the quality of our beverages.
Many cities in Europe and beyond are building their artistic and cultural centres through a revaluation of suburbs and old industrial areas. Milan is no exception and Magnolia is be an example of this. What are the neighbourhoods and the cities that most inspired you for the creation and evolution of the venue?
More than cities or quarters, we draw inspiration from large European music festivals, which if you look carefully all take place in small towns, not in large urban centres. So, we want to create this atmosphere of a village, with music, relaxation, good food, artist installations, sport and entertainment. This is the direction we’re taking with our events, which aren’t limited to musical performances or to a temporary place for nightlife.
The music programme at Magnolia is very dense and diverse, both in summer and winter. What performances in recent years are you most proud of?
It would be easy to respond with well-known names. We’ve hosted the Editors, Flume and Caribou just to name a few of the most recent ones. But really what we’re most proud of is the relationships we’ve been able to establish with artists that, over time, even when they get bigger and have more followers, have chosen to return to Magnolia to perform over more profitable venues with greater capacity. Dub FX, 2ManyDJs or Fritz Kalkbrenner for example. Like we said before, we have focused quite a bit on the quality of the structures, the equipment and the atmosphere. When a musician comes to us, he or she knows that there won’t be any technical problems and that things will go smoothly. This is also reflected on the audience, for the quality of the performance and sound.
Solar panels, attentive recycling and a forest in the city. More than a venue, Magnolia seems like a true urban oasis. Is the attention to the environment a need more than a choice for you? How do young people react to the choices you’ve made in favour of sustainability?
The fact that we must continuously reinvest our profits as an association allows us to direct resources where we feel it’s best for growth and improvement. Without a doubt, having zero impact on the environment is one of our goals and the large investment which we made in recent years for the installation of solar panels and the system for heat exchange with the water in Idroscalo Lake is proof of that. Probably in the day-to-day it’s hard to notice any appreciation from our customers in terms of these types of choices. But when we started a crowdfunding campaign to support the purchase of the panels, we raised an amount that absolutely exceeded our expectations, with individual donations of hundreds of euros, even from artists who had never played at Magnolia. This made us truly understand how much the consistency and the effort which we mentioned before are the indispensable keys to unlock people’s hearts and minds.
From showcasing films in the summer to hosting local feasts and foot races, Magnolia doesn’t just come alive with music. What are your upcoming objectives and horizons to be explored?
2 years ago, we set down a path to diversify the events we offer, precisely to embrace, more and more, that European festival model which inspired us. The open-air cinema was a successful project (despite our proximity to the Linate airport). We organised a music festival for children, with musicians, teachers and instruments available, and that event’s great success surprised us and was quite gratifying. Another fantastic initiative which was successful beyond our expectations was the Game Boy music course which we hosted this year, it was truly wonderful. For the future, we’re working to bring a concert to the park starring a famous young pianist. We’d like to do it at dawn, drawing a bit of inspiration from the Sounds of the Dolomites. We want to push ourselves even further beyond the ‘everyday’ food and beverage menu, raising its quality and always increasing the choice of what we offer. We’re in Italy – food is culture and we like it.
Let’s play a game. Excluding Milan, which has been a buzz for a while and growing to become a capital of creativity, in what city would you open a new Circolo Magnolia?
[Nicholas]: Surely it would have to be a small university town, as young people and universities are the essential motor of movement. If I had to choose, I’d say Granada, which I rather like and which is the right size. Southern Europe is well suited, but even the extreme north, where they invest a lot in culture.
[Stefano]: I agree with Nicholas, but I’d add Tel Aviv. It’s rich with opportunity, always on the go and has captivating landscapes.
What is the next ‘can’t-miss’ event at Magnolia? What is one event not at Magnolia that you want to attend?
15 February, Sohn at Magnolia. He’s one of the greatest manipulators of tempo around, able to reconcile the most diverse forms of music into something new and unique. As spectators, on the other hand, neither of us has ever been to Primavera Sound and we’d really like to go – it could be a great inspiration to us.
Is there a ride you’d steal from the Idroscalo amusement park?
Without a doubt: the Ferris wheel! But don’t tell the ride attendants…