SOF – Sweden’s largest student-organised festival

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

Orchestra in yellow jackets walks along street. Audience on both sides. LiU’s student orchestra, LiTHe Blås, in the SOF 2017 carnival. Jeppe Gustafsson

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?

“There were loads of student orchestras at many locations, but it was generally felt that what was needed was national collaboration and, in particular, a student orchestra festival for the whole of Sweden”, says David Stigsmark, who is chief organiser of SOF 2019.

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.

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 (black and white photo), 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.

David Stigsmark, general SOF 2019David Stigsmark, chief organiser of SOF 2019 Photo credit Maria Karlberg“The two are extremely different – STORK is smaller. If you want to experience a huge public party, Linköping is the place to be”, says David Stigsmark.

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 pulsating days (and nights).

A carnival through the city

And the festival sets its mark on the whole of Linköping, in particular on the Saturday, 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.

“SOF is one of the highlights of your student years. One of the reasons that people choose to study at LiU is that there is so much going on – it’s a great place to study and there are so many other fun activities here as well. We have Sweden’s largest student-organised festival – that’s something to be proud of and nurture”, says David Stigsmark. 

Translation: George Farrants

Photo credit Thor Balkhed

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