Since 1973, a festival of student music known by its Swedish abbreviation SOF has spread happiness among students and Linköping residents. Captivating orchestral music, energy-filled ballet performances and sensational carnival floats bring colour to the city.

Orchestra wearing yellow jackets walk along a streetLiU’s student orchestra, LiTHe Blås, in the SOF carnival 2023. Photo credit Magnus Johansson But how was it that the largest student-organised festival in Sweden ended up in Linköping, at what was at the time a relatively newly established university? It all started when student orchestras from all over the country felt the need for national collaboration and, in particular, a student orchestra festival for the whole of Sweden.

Linköping’s advantageous location

The Riks-SMASK association (which organises academic-based orchestras throughout Sweden) was founded in December 1972 at a hotel in Södertälje, Sweden. At its initial meeting the board decided that a festival of student orchestras should be arranged.

People sit outdoors, black and white picture.Participants gathering at Campus Valla for the first student orchestra festival, in 1973. Photo credit Archive: Linköping University They examined the distribution of academic orchestras in Sweden, and concluded that the geographical centre of gravity was in Gränna. Linköping thus came out victor in the fight to arrange the festival, arguing that it was the closest city with a student population. The relatively newly established student union LinTek arranged the first SOF in May 1973, with great success. And a couple of months before the festival, the LiTHe Blås student orchestra was founded – because the host city must, of course, have its own orchestra.

For some years in the 1970s, the festival of student orchestras was held in Linköping every year, but for many years now SOF and the Uppsala variant STORK have been held in alternating years.

Orchestras from several countries

Young women holding pom-pomsOrchestras and dance groups from all the Nordic countries perform at SOF. Photo credit Magnus Johansson SOF is one of the largest student festivals in northern Europe, with more than 10,000 students taking part. Orchestras come from all over Sweden, nearly the whole of the Nordic region, and there are even usually some from central European countries. They gather at a festival site with a huge range of activities: outdoor games, flipper arcades, theatrical performances, and dance shows, and the party occupies three or four pulsating days (and nights).

A carnival through the city

And the festival sets its mark on the whole of Linköping, in particular when the SOF carnival progresses through the city. More than 50,000 people gather to see the student orchestras, interspersed with LiU student floats, which are usually built on an open lorry. The entries follow a particular theme, and are created during the few final intensive days before the festival, when this year’s “construction song” plays repeatedly over the loudspeakers – usually a well-known singalong Swedish chartbuster, designed to become an earworm for all who hear it.

Nothing can stop SOF

When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, the student orchestra festival still took place in May 2021 – but digitally. And when LinTek was unable to organise the 2023 festival, Riks-SMASK did it instead.

Nothing can stop Sweden’s largest student-organised festival.

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