It was in the 80’s, where black-dressed punk rockers took to the streets in patched and studded leather jackets, mohawks, and worn out boots, and the general public, in horn-rimmed glasses and trench coats, was disturbed by the new youth culture. Carnival in May (KIM) was started by the reigning Scottish painter John Little in 1981, initiated by Englishman Trevor Davis. He had experienced the carnival in the West Indies and was impressed by the joy and imagination it expressed. In Denmark, John Little opened a small office in Krystalgade to raise money, generate some interest, and start local carnival groups. In the early days, Samba was taught by Simba, one of the carnival’s first Samba dancers. The carnival groups and public interest were still small, and mostly the groups performed local parades for football matches in the main sports stadium and did small parades on the streets to generate interest in a carnival.
The first carnival in Denmark
Their efforts paid off, and headlines show that at the first carnival in 1982 there were expected 200,000 participants. The weather was good, and the carnival became a huge success – apart from the cleanup, which cost the city a fortune, as many revelers broke bottles they were using to play along to the samba rhythms. The carnival organizers sought to secure the economy of the event by arranging night parties in Forum and in the Workers’ Assembly Building (later called Arbejdermuseet) in Rømersgade, as the deficit was DKK 50,000. Copenhagen’s first carnival parade occupied the streets of the ‘Medieval City’ (Købmagergade, Gml. Strand and Nørregade) with more than 60,000 participants. Carnival in May won the cultural PH award in 1982.
Sponsored shopping trip to Brazil
In 1983, the government five doubled its contribution, and the steal band London All Stars became a huge hit during the Carnival, where their rolling parade float with steelpans was pushed around the streets by an enthusiastic crowd. But despite the support from the government, there was still a deficit. In 1984, John Little disagrees with the others involved, and John Østergaard was elected as new Chairman of the Board. John Little forms the new group ‘Carnivalists – 84’ together with Sokkelund, which is an alternative to the alternative carnival itself. Still excited to make an artistic visionary carnival, John Little goes to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to buy large amounts of cheap rhythm instruments and costumes. The organizers of the carnival received sponsored airline tickets to Brazil, and were tasked with getting inspiration, taking pictures, and helping promote new cooperations with the Danish and Brazilian companies, such as the Danish department store Magasin and the Brazilian airline VARIG, who helped sponsor the trip and flew the reputable purchases home for free. 600,000 people attended the first day of the carnival.
Fraud and arrestments
Some vandalism in 1985 gives rise to new problems. The fire department was blocked from dealing with the vandalism due to overcrowding, and 50 people are arrested. Additionally, the carnival had a deficit of about half a million kroner. The Board resigned, the police were notified about fraud perpetrated by a former carnival accountant, and John Little resigned as Chairman.
Christiansborg Castle Church on fire
The local street sweepers strike in 1990 and affected the carnival participation, and despite approximately 400,000 revelers attending, only 2,000 dressed up. The board resigned after the carnival. A new chairman Karina Kruuse was elected. In 1991 the area allotted for the carnival was reduced to only the Christiansborg Palace Square. A 35-year-old businessman accidentally started a fire at Christiansborg Castle Church in 1992 when he fired emergency missiles as fireworks, causing damages of 80-100 million Danish kroner.
Police: The most peaceful carnival ever
In 1993, the carnival was downsized to a small parade in the inner city, with a party and jam at Krudttønden on Østerbro, and the Carnival Association goes bankrupt soon after. The following year, in 1994, new people take over the association and form the National Association of Carnival in Copenhagen (KIK), an umbrella organization for samba schools, carnival groups, and other related cultural associations in Denmark. The carnival takes place in H.C. Ørstedsparken, only with a small parade from Vor Frue church and a party in Eikens Ballroom for the samba groups. A small carnival boat, organized by the Swedish samba school A Bunda, sailed from Nyhavn to Gammel Strand. The police call the 1994 carnival the most peaceful carnival ever.
First time in Fælledparken
In 1995, the carnival was held for the first time in Fælledparken. Prior to the carnival, KIK meets with the original carnival initiators from 1982, who believe the carnival has become too civil. They argue, and the result is that two competing applications are submitted to the city to hold carnival. The alternative carnival May of 1982 with John Little as the lead organizer is scrapped one month before the event due to financial issues and ultimately incorporated into the main carnival. The carnival was held in the middle of Fælledparken, close to the Pavillion, but unfortunately plagued by rainy weather. Attempts were made to incorporate styles other than samba, and a “techno-tent” was organized as part of the national “youth guarantee” arrangement. The carnival is held again in Fælledparken in 1996, after a nearly 6 hour long parade march from Christiansborg Slotsplads.
Denmark's largest festival for world music
In the late 90’s, the 80’s beer drinking parties are over. The carnival loses its debaucherous reputation and becomes a family festival, with a budget of almost 650,000 DKK. There is large audience participation in 1999, and international groups also join the carnival in large numbers. The carnival develops into Denmark’s largest festival for world music. Over 100 orchestras, groups, and soloists participate each year, to contribute to the festivities. The event is free for everyone, and music from around the world is performed at multiple stages in Fælledparken. The traditional samba parade on Saturday still goes through Strøget in the inner city.
The crowd is bigger than ever
In the early 00’s, the carnival is a regular event in Fælledparken, with guest performances of foreign international schools, carnival groups, and artists. There is a children’s carnival as well as electronic music and world music. The audience grows, and in 2003, at least 80 world music groups perform for free in Fælledparken for the sixth consecutive year in a row. More than 100,000 people attend the carnival in 2005, with 300 volunteers and a budget of 1.5 million.
25th Anniversary - Master Fatman becomes Protector
In 2006, the carnival celebrates its 25th anniversary, and Master Fatman (Morten Lindberg) becomes a protector of the carnival and is a judge at the parade on Saturday together with Britt Bendixen. However, KIK has difficulty with its budget, and in 2008 gave up producing the Carnival. With help from the largest Danish Samba school Bafo do Mundo and a working group consisting of members from various samba groups, the event is scheduled at the last minute. A surplus of 300,000 DKK are used to boost the Copenhagen Carnival Fund, with the new elected Carnival Leader, Morten Sørensen.
Bankruptcy and theft
A successful carnival is held in Fælledparken in 2012 alongside a large techno party. However, the event goes over budget, and on top of that large-scale theft occurs at the carnival. Organizers laptops and expensive electronic equipment is stolen. In 2013 the carnival is moved away from Fælledparken for the first time in many years and held at an empty building site next to the DR Byen at the Concert Hall. The Copenhagen Carnival Foundation is once again forced to declare bankruptcy, and Morten Sørensen leaves his position as Carnival Leader. The Foundation Copenhagen Carnival is founded to be the new organizers of the carnival.
Rootless carnival with sky high entrance fees
Kevin Bendix and his event agencies Momentum CPH ApS and Action Action ApS are hired by the Foundation for Copenhagen Carnival to run the carnival production, which in 2014 is held in DGI Byen with smaller stages. In 2015, the carnival moves to the Christiansborg Palace Square, which is less than ideal as there is no backstage area for participating groups to change costumes. The number of attendees also falls even further due to high entrance fees and a lack of promotion and press coverage. In 2016, the carnival returns to Fælledparken, but the audience is once again very small due to expensive entry fees, a lack of promotion, and a downsizing of the stages and entertainment activities. This results in a very small carnival, containing only one stage and a DJ tent. The carnival community decides to act, and the samba groups set up a task force to help Kevin Bendix recapture the spirit of carnival.
The rescue operation for zero money
The new taskforce is forced to work without support, as the event agency is bankrupt. Sponsorship from the City of Copenhagen and other support is also lost. With only two months left until carnival, there is nothing organized and no money with which to hold the event. The entire Board is replaced, and Louise Kubert is elected as new Chairman and Carnival Leader to try to save the carnival from a historic cancellation. She chooses to collaborate with Club Mambo, who have previously been involved in the Latin stage in Fælledparken and scales the carnival down to only the traditional samba parade in Strøget, with street shows around in inner city and a carnival celebration for the samba community, which is held all week at Club Mambo and on Vester Voldgade. After many years, the carnival has once again free entrance, and despite a lot of challenges and no money whatsoever, the entire samba community supports the events survival. The carnival in 2018 is successful and even gains a modest profit of 40,000 DKK.
To be continued…
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