JOHN VARBIU - sunglasscurator


This month we celebrate 6 years of sunglasscurator, 6 years of ENDLESS SUMMER! During this time we had the chance to interview wonderful and interesting people that shared with us inspiring experiences and life stories.

We are all for good vibes and there is no better good mood builder than MUSIC. So, for our anniversary edition of the GUESTCURATOR interview series we have chosen no other than the fun-loving John Varbiu, one of the founders of Summer Well music festival. John and his team at Summer Well contribute to the coolness of Bucharest by bringing on tour amazing music bands in an exciting festival experience.

A man with a lot of stories to tell - John went to the movies with the guys from Placebo and had dinner with the members of Suede ;)
We had the chance to get a glimpse into his universe as he took us on a private tour of Domeniul Stirbey, on the grounds of a historical palace. John showed us some of his favorite spots on the venue while in between trying out exquisite pairs of eyewear from our curated gallery. Enjoy!


Who is the core team that puts together Summer Well - could you tell us a bit more about your backgrounds and how you came to work in the music festival industry?

Most of the people behind this project have a background in advertising/event organizing. But we grew up having music as one of the very few beams of light during the bleak Communist era, thanks to our older neighbors that somehow managed to smuggle foreign music in the country. Our childhood superheroes were not Superman or Batman, but Depeche Mode, Duran Duran or Metallica instead.
When the opportunity to marry our love for music with our knowledge in organizing events arose we jumped in, not knowing exactly what to expect from it all. It was (and still is) a very bumpy and rewarding ride.

Summer Well is an alternative music festival that takes place every Summer on Domeniul Stirbey, in Buftea, a town just outside the Romanian capital of Bucharest.This year festival-goers will be able to see JUSTICE, BASTILLE, THE KOOKS, KODALINE, CIGARETTES AFTER SEX - among many other acts, as Summer Well festival promises another unforgettable experience.

What makes a music band stand out to you?

First and foremost, it has to surprise me with a song idea or structure I cannot predict while hearing a track for the first time. And there’s always the subjective factor, meaning the particular moment of the day or the mood I am in when listening to a new artist for the first time.


Are there any other musical events you attend except Summer Well? As a MUSIC LOVER, what is the main thing that excites you when it comes to music festivals? The venue, the lineup, the crowd?

Normally, I prefer headline shows in smaller venues, as the experience is more personal. That’s not to say I avoid music festivals, by no means. Used to go to Lovebox in London quite regularly, also checked NOS Alive in Portugal, Best Kept Secret in the Netherlands, and Sziget in the last couple of years. I think a mix between the artist selection, additional experiences (art installations, cool brand activations, food & drinks offer), venue and crowd energy is what makes for a good festival experience.


At a time when festivals are more popular than ever, how does the Summer Well stand out, how does it remain authentic and maintain its alternative vibe?

Summer Well was a labor of love from the very beginning. We’re not the regular music promoters trying to figure out profitability ratios in the first place, but music fans that do their best to create a memorable experience for the people attending our festival. And, with the risk of sounding a bit pretentious, also giving back something to the artists as a thank you for the way their talents are enriching our day-to-day lives.
Last but not least, Summer Well is a collection of our own experiences and ideas collected throughout the year(s). As long as those resonate with our audience, people will keep the festival on their “not-to-be-missed” list.

Social Media can build buzz, interaction, and connectivity, playing a great role in rekindling the tribal group mindset. Who are the people that form the Summer Well tribe? How do you keep up with algorithm changes on social media?

Summer Well managed to build a community of people with shared interests, most of them true music lovers. We’re trying to trick the algorithm by co-creating interesting content, that triggers organic sharing: “I'm with the BAND” presented by Orange offers headliner treatment to a couple of lucky winners, the ‘Official Unofficial Photo/Film Crew” or “Access All Areas” (a series of artist interviews done months before their shows at Summer Well, conducted by our London team).


Some of the biggest names in music have taken to the festival’s stage. Do you have any favorite moments from over the years, any favorite sets? Are there any surprises of this year’s edition that you can share with us?

My festival experience is quite different than the one had by the people attending Summer Well, for obvious reasons :)
Therefore, my best memories are not necessarily the live sets (which I often miss), but ones that happened outside the stage. For instance, taking a few guys from Placebo to the movies, as they were keen not to miss the premiere of Guardians Of The Galaxy once they got off the plane in Bucharest, dinning with the members of Suede before their 2013 headline set at Summer Well, as well as countless nights in Control Club, after the lights went out at the festival venue.
As far as best live sets that kept with me throughout the years go, I’d list performances from Placebo, Editors, Jungle, Foals, Sundara Karma, to name but a few.


AI can compose music in the style of the any known artist, AI can create royalty free music to suit different needs and AI can play emotional classical pieces with expressive dynamics, beyond the notes on the sheet. There is an enduring fear in the music industry that AI (artificial intelligence) will replace the artists we love, and end creativity as we know it. Do you think the fear is real?

Not to me, it’s not. I think the two forms of expression will coexist forever. The technology may evolve to allow new ways of creating music, but the basic process of real people expressing their musical talents in traditional ways is not about to get extinct anytime soon.
Technology will definitely influence the way music will be recorded and get to the audiences worldwide though.


Do you think artwork is still relevant in the digital era and important to artists and labels? What is the modern equivalent of the album cover or the event poster?

I believe digital era forced a shift from the vinyl album cover, which used to be an integral part of any artist output, to the social media formats used nowadays, but it’s really just a change of support, and it comes with a wider range of opportunities.
A very good example here is the social media presence of HMLTD, the London act playing Summer Well on August 12. They managed to impact the mainstream culture and build a cult community not only through their music, but also their surreal and sometimes discomforting online identity.


#FOMO (fear of missing out). Is this a real feeling? When did you last feel it in regards to a social event?

Well, I’m a very social person, so #FOMO is pretty real to me :) 
Used to cut short my sleeping hours in my attempt to join as many events as possible, but in time I got to be more selective (mainly due to the lack of time).
Also, I noticed that missing some of the “unmissable events” didn’t end in any personal Apocalypse, so…

Where does Romania stand when it comes to music in Europe?

Festival tourism is a growing trend, as people from all over the world realized it’s a 2-in-1 offer: you get to see your favorite acts AND visit a new place. Adding to the equation the fact that here prices are still way lower than the ones in their native countries (probably 3 or 4 times lower if we talk about the UK), plus the wide availability of low cost flights, and you have a proposition hard to refuse.


Some find Paris and Berlin similar to Bucharest. What makes this city so special? What are your favorite places to go out in Bucharest?

I think Bucharest still manages to preserve a certain unspoiled charm, which may be lost in other big cities. And people definitely play a very important part in this.
For example, May is one of my favorite months of the year to be in Bucharest, as the city hosts a wide variety of social and cultural events, cold weather is out of the picture, people hit the streets and the city vibe is fantastic.
I have many favorite spots, from coffee places (Beans&Dots, Origo, M60, BOB Coffee Lab) to restaurants (Unico Vero, Capricciosa, MA Bistro, Linea). And I always feel at home at Control Club.


Sunglasses are essential accessories when it comes to music festivals. What place does eyewear have in your wardrobe?

I’d say it’s a vital accessory for me, something that I keep at hand no matter the season. Apart from their main utility, a carefully chosen pair can make one stand out in the (festival) crowd.

Which is your favorite pair of sunglasses / opticals from our shop and why?

If I have to pick just one pair, then it has to be the Cutler and Gross '1290' square sunglasses. Why? It was love at first sight, and I tend not to question too much the reasons behind it when first entering a relationship :)


What should a MUSIC FESTIVAL SURVIVAL KIT include?

Some money, sunglasses (for sure) and a map that points out the location of the bars, toilets and main exit points.
WiFi connection can help too. The rest you can figure out along the way…

We're EYEWEAR curators set out to establish the status of eyewear as that invaluable, extremely revealing and undoubtedly stylish accessory for one to wear everyday, with everything! You're a MUSIC curator. What do you think is our responsibility when it comes to inspiring people in each of our domains?

I believe “sharing” is the key word here. Obviously, both domains evolve fast and curators should be the ones that are constantly updated. Sharing the results of this continuous quest for surprising and unique things with the rest of the world is inspiring.

photo: RALUCA MARGESCU // Creative Concept: Roxana Marcu