Mer Hajbarati, Verknipt's co-founder and co-owner, used to promote the school parties when he was a teenager. This first contact with the world of events and music already showed his enthusiasm for the sector to which he now devotes all his energy. After working in this industry for years and having demonstrated to move with ease in the scene, he decided to found Verknipt alongside his business partner Reza Fathi. Known for its wild techno events, this event organisation has expanded globally, with confirmed editions in over ten countries already this year and several more in the planning stage. We speak with him to learn how he has experienced this exciting process and know more about his short-term plans.
Not only have they conquered Croatia, Hungary, Italy, and Poland, among many other countries, they have earned the respect of an audience that has seen in Verknipt a project that stands for quality with a recognisable identity. The project, co-founded by Hajbarati and Fathi, has just launched its brand new record label Verknipt Records, a partnership between Verknipt and fellow Dutch music company Be Yourself Music that we talk about in this interview, in addition to having announced great events for 2024 in Santiago de Chile and Bogotá, being their largest landing in Latin America to date, to which more dates might be added soon.
Beyond its exponential growth around the world, Verknipt continues to pay tribute to the place where it was born, the Netherlands, having announced the largest event in hard techno’s history. Verknipt will take over the Johan Cruijff Arena for a mind-blowing 40,000-capacity show in Amsterdam on July 20 with a killer lineup. Read on to find out all the details!
Mer, welcome to METAL! How are you, and where are you responding to us from?
Hey guys, thanks for having me! I’m doing great; I'm actually in Spain, taking a look at a new venue for an unannounced Verknipt show.
Verknipt has become a global leader in the hard techno scene, with dozens of events around the world and fantastic line-ups where we find some of the most acclaimed names. But before delving into this exciting universe that you have created, please tell us a little more about yourself. What was your life like before founding this project, and how has it changed in the last decade?
I’ve really been into music and the events industry for a very long time, going back all the way to my teens. In high school, I was promoting the school parties, and soon after, I threw my own events. I’ve also worked as a tour manager for a while, but events are what’s truly in my DNA. It’s a bit cliché, but it’s actually what I’ve been doing for close to twenty years now, so I guess you can say on the basis not much has changed. Except that the events are in stadiums now, and we host them from Istanbul to Bogotá and many places in between.
From humble beginnings to becoming a global powerhouse in the dance music scene, Verknipt has grown at breakneck speed, consolidating itself globally and expanding its reach around the world year after year. How do you remember the first years of the project? What was the hardest part of this stage?
We’re definitely in a different place with Verknipt now compared to the early days. We started out by hosting smaller club nights in the Netherlands. Soon after, it turned into bigger club nights, indoor events, and then festivals. Of course things were different back then; the scale of the events was much smaller, but again on the basis, we were doing the same thing. What’s so risky about events is that you have to incur many costs upfront, and you’ll only know if you’re going to make it back after the show. So many things can go wrong! From bad weather conditions to artists missing flights and not making it, there are so many moving parts to making an event work. We were absolutely biting our nails every once in a while back then, but fortunately, we were able to make it to where we are now.
All these club nights led to the inevitable inception of the Verknipt Festival in 2015, with a first edition held in Amsterdam's Riekerhaven, which marked the brand's largest event yet, with around 5,000 visitors. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of this?
It was amazing! Scary, but amazing. It was our biggest event yet, and it was just incredible to see that vision come to life more and more. Don’t forget that by this point, I’d already been involved in events for close to a decade, so it was very rewarding to see my own event grow to this scale. I actually just rewatched the after movie of that festival, and now I’m like, "That’s so cute" (laughs).  We’re currently doing dozens of shows at this scale per year, but back then, it felt like we’d made it.
You’ve also been brave enough to make bold decisions that were very well received by the public. Let's remember when, in 2020, at the height of the pandemic, Verknipt decided to switch tracks and put all their money on the - at that time up-and-coming hard techno sound. Has Verknipt's audience changed much as the project has transformed?
Yeah, I think we’ve definitely seen a shift in the Verknipt audience, which isn’t weird when you think about it. For sure, there are people who were going to our shows before who have now grown to like hard techno too. I think what’s most interesting about Verknipt right now, though, is that we have such a young crowd. It’s really cool to have such a young audience because the energy is just through the roof at our events; everyone is so ready to go. We’re the first event that a lot of them go to, so we establish a special bond with them. You’ll always look back on your first events or shows with nostalgia, right? With that comes responsibility; it’s on us to make sure these people have a safe and enjoyable experience when they go out, so we take that part very seriously at Verknipt as well.
You have a presence in many countries, with confirmed editions in over ten countries already this year and several more in the planning stage. From Germany and Croatia to the Netherlands and Turkey, among many others, I’m pretty sure each edition has specific needs and characteristics that make it necessary to define personalised proposals for each country. Could you tell us more about this process?
Oh yes, we definitely think about different strategies when we go into different territories. However, Verknipt is also kind of like a product. When people go to a Verknipt show, they expect a certain type of event. Big production, lasers, lights everywhere, crazy visuals, and of course, the artists that we work with. In that sense, we’re not changing a lot. We stand for who we are, and we’re fortunate enough that it’s catching on in so many places. Doing business, though, is different in every country or region, so behind the scenes, we definitely have to have many different personalities to make it work. So far, it seems to be going alright.
We cannot avoid talking about your recent colossal arrival in Chile and Colombia and your great foray into Latin America, for which you have already announced dates: April 30 in Santiago de Chile and May 4 in Bogotá. How long have you been working to make this a reality?
This isn’t the first time we’re doing a show in Latin America; we did a show in Colombia last year as well, but 2024 does mark the year that we’re making our mark on the continent. The scene is super alive over there right now, so it makes total sense to go for it. We have Santiago de Chile and Bogotá confirmed now, but we’re working hard on expanding that list. I wouldn’t be surprised if some countries were added by the end of the year.
I’ve read that you have prepared many surprises for the occasion. Tell us, what can we expect from these two events?
We wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise, so I won’t go into detail, but I will say that we’re super excited to bring the brand across the ocean. I’m sure that we’re going to bring something new to the scene.
And going back to the Netherlands, the place where it all began, but keeping on talking about the exponential growth of Verknipt, a few months ago you announced the biggest hard techno event in history, Verknipt ArenA. This unprecedented event will take place on Saturday, July 20, 2024, in Amsterdam’s iconic Johan Cruijff ArenA. Did you always dream of this? How do you feel?
I can tell you that this was always on the agenda, but to be honest, if you would’ve asked me if this was a possibility two years ago, I would’ve laughed at you. We never imagined we would be able to go this big this fast, but here we are. Doing a show like this comes with a lot of challenges, so it’s not like we’re approaching this as any other Verknipt event. It’s going to be next level; we’re putting a lot of time and resources into making sure that it’s the best show we’ve ever put on. I really feel like this is an obligation to our community. We’ve been given the unique chance to host an event in a place like the Johan Cruijff ArenA, so it’s on us to make sure we do it justice.
6EJOU, Alignment, DIØN, DYEN, Oguz, Sara Landry, and Shlømo are just some of the names already confirmed in the Verknipt ArenA line-up.
Yes, it’s going to be absolutely huge! We’ve got our biggest production yet in terms of lighting and lasers; we’re creating a dedicated stage design together with production partners, and there’s going to be a time-coded show that will just be next level compared to what we’ve done in the past.
I guess it’s very exciting to see how many of the artists who will accompany you on July 20—surely many of them friends—have grown up with you, isn’t it?
You mentioned some of the artists performing at the ArenA in your last question, and that list really puts a smile on my face. These are the artists that we grew with, and these are the people that have partly made Verknipt into the success that it is right now. It’s amazing to be able to give them that platform and to see them shine on a stage of that magnitude. They’re part of the Verknipt community, just like the internal Verknipt team, so it feels like family, which is really special.
And we cannot say goodbye without talking about what has been one of the big news of recent weeks: the launch of you and Reza's brand new record label, Verknipt Records. A venture that will be a partnership between Verknipt and fellow Dutch music company Be Yourself Music. Tell us more about this new project, please. Starting with Luciid's latest belter, Verknipt Records will be releasing a new track every three weeks well into the summer. Where would you like to see Verknipt Records in five years?
There currently isn’t a record label in hard techno that has the platform that we have as Verknipt, so starting a label seemed to make sense in our minds. It’s so nice for us to be able to bring something else to the table for the artists that we work with. Of course we were able to offer them the chance to perform, and now we’ll be able to also bring their music to a larger audience. We hope that we can be a stepping stone for many more generations of artists to come, and we think we’re making great progress by introducing Verknipt Records. And don’t get me started on that first release; what a track! We love Luciid here at Verknipt and Bunker Buster had been a highlight at many shows already, so releasing it was just right. It’s actually still at #1 on Beatport in the Top 100 hard dance tracks, almost a month after its release!
Do you have any dreams to fulfil?
It’s hard to dream of something when you’re living in a dream; it all feels very surreal right now, and it’s just incredible to see the path of Verknipt. There are new things on the horizon, but sometimes it’s equally important to cherish the moment and enjoy what you have.