At the end of Wagner’s Das Rheingold, the Rhine maidens, who have had their gold – a magical element with preternaturally powerful properties – wrested from them by the dwarf Alberich, lament the falseness and faint-heartedness of the gods and of all those two dwell above.
The glittering edifice of Valhalla has been built on dishonesty and vanity, in the process disrupting the natural order and robbing the river and the rest of nature of innocent virtue, kicking off a catastrophic chain of events that will end in the destruction of the Valhalla and the final downfall of the arrogant overlords in Götterdämmerung.
Traulich und treu
ist’s nur in der Tiefe:
falsch und feig
ist, was dort oben sich freut!
There’s something to be gleaned from this about what’s going on in the European technology conference scene at the moment. I’ll let readers fill in the blanks themselves, except to say that, as I wrote for t3n this morning, the European Pirate Summit, or “Pirates” for short, is one of the highlights of the start-up calendar.
Almost entirely free from the self-promoters, over-the-top production values and eye-wateringly expensive ticket prices that plague other “start-up” conferences, Pirates is an air kiss-free zone. You won’t find wankers flattering one another over skinny lattes. You will find feisty young German entrepreneurs with the will and wisdom to build the big technology and engineering companies of tomorrow.
They’ve got swagger, too.
In fact I don’t think there’s another conference that encourages such feistiness and cat-calling from the audience – nor one that hosts such genuinely tense exchanges as the one I chaired yesterday between Frank Thelen and High-Tech Gründerfonds’s Marvin Andrae, in which the latter was chastised for the publicly-funded venture capital firm’s investment strategy.
The Pirates team has not tampered with its successful formula, keeping the conference invitation-only, which is integral to keeping the quality of discussion (and merriment, frankly) extremely high. It’s tough to relax properly at events anyone can rock up to and particularly at events full of what I call Kling-ons.
All the wallies are at Burning Man; the poseurs at home saving themselves for somewhere with canapés. (Odonien is not for the faint of shoe sole.) The people you want to party with go to Pirates: it is ebullience free from posture.
It’s tough to beat the sight of investor Evan Nisselson and entrepreneur Gabriel Hubert tearing up the dance floor at 1 a.m. at the Pirates venue, an art collective called Odonien on the outskirts of Cologne which is flanked by two of Europe’s largest brothels.
Germany is still young, so I hope it hangs on to this scruffy, quirky, wacky personality while it builds great products, because I’d hate to see the faceless commercialisation of the big annual conferences spoil something genuinely unique. Pirates is unlikely to scale in terms of attendees, and would probably destroy itself if it tried, but more events like it would be very welcome indeed.
At the risk of labouring the point, I haven’t much to add to Wagner’s libretto. The self-defeating hubris and dirty behaviour so rampant at what we might call the higher echelons of the conference circuit are entirely absent here. This is the gold: the engineering talent, energy and enthusiasm from which all good things flow.
If you’re a young buck sincerely committed to starting a world-changing tech business, forget TechCrunch, The Next Web and all the other pontificating beauty parades: Pirates is the real deal. And, aside from anything useful you might come away with, it’s ridiculous – and ridiculously good – fun.