When it comes to festivals in the Balkan region, more specifically Croatia, Serbia or Slovenia, we don’t have much to say. Today we have many smaller scale festivals like Dark Circle Fest, known as Dark “O” Metal Fest, in Rijeka or Valhalla Festival in Zagreb, Croatia, which have been increasingly popular over the last few years. However, a small town in Bosnia became the newest place for all alternative genres. Namely, last month Banja Luka was the three-day center of hard’n’heavy, ambient, black, death and thrash metal. That’s fascinating because by any European standards, a town with 20,000 souls is too small for such a thing. All being said, I had a chance to talk to Gorana Divjak, one of the two main organisers of BL Rising Fest 2018.
First question which comes to my mind is why make a metal festival in a town where almost everyone loves “Balkans” music and tribute bands. What is your principal motivation for organizing such an event?
First of all, I would like to emphasize that this was also a humanitarian fest. The entry for all 3 days was 5 €, and all income would be given to the public kitchen and for the treatment of a severely ill girl. On one hand, we couldn’t just sit quietly and watch an increasing number of people scavenging through dumpsters trying to make ends meet, and on the other hand there’s a severe lack of cultural events, especially of this kind. So obviously the result is both pleasant and purposeful. Bands don’t really get support for the effort they make, or opportunities to present and promote their work. As lovers of alternative music, we want gigs, but we realized that if we don’t do something ourselves, there will be none. Vanja and I did this to support our friends, and to give our contribution to the “scene”, and cultural development.
How did you have the energy and enthusiasm for organizing a three-day festival without any help from large companies or “business angels”?
This is a great question, to which we still do not have an answer, because we don’t know it ourselves (laughing). The two of us worked on this for three months. Fortunately, we are unemployed, otherwise we wouldn’t succeed (laughing out loud). There was a lot of sacrifice, we neglected private obligations and people close to us. Seven days before the festival we literally didn’t have enough time to sleep. Arrange for a place and time, 12 bands, secure a sound technician and photographer, rent equipment, contact the media, find sponsors, resolve press passes and of course, drinks for bands (not to mention all the details and complications) etc., it’s too big of a job for just two people. Desimir Škorić arranged the equipment and took care of the sound, Vedran Ševčuk Alf has done posters and photographs and Danko Kuzmanović was a DJ in breaks and he took care of after party. Also, a lot of friends helped us with transport and physical work. We need to say thanks to: City pub (Maja and Mišo), Demon, Danko, Škoro, Alf, Straja, Pekez, Marta, Robi and Danger Zone Crew, Duke, Buja, Zoka, Sandra, Petra, Nektar pivo, Coultural Places, Posao Plus, Treći Svijet, Akademac, and to the new member of our team Igor Dubravac who is in charge of the website.
Can you explain the metal status in Banja Luka?
This was the first festival of this type in our town. In Banja Luka, there has been a long-running struggle with a lack of space. For the last 5 years, we only had 2 or 3 small gigs per year. There are very few active bands. Here, you can consider as “active” bands who play once in 2 years (from gig to gig). Cover bands have occupied the city, as if we do not have enough problems with the terrible musical “taste” in Banja Luka. It comes to the point where cover bands offend author bands. Instead of uniting and creating something together, we have the reign of jealousy, malice and complexes. Everyone is trying to steal credit from others. Many musicians expect to get everything (space, equipment, money, gigs in another city) without doing anything themselves, without trying to publish at least 3 songs in one year, or to support another band (there are exceptions).
At this year’s edition some bands with a very bright future performed. Do you already have some names for the next BL Rising Festival?
We are really proud of the bands that were performing. For some, it was the first gig, since some bands were formed last year, but still they impressed the audience with their skill and the quality of the songs. We really hope that this event will stimulate others to take instruments and form a band. Yes, there are a couple of bands from Banja Luka who unfortunately didn’t get to play this time, and we have them in mind for the next time. I’m not going to mention the names yet. Danko and I made a list of 98 alternative bands from Banja Luka that existed (you can see active bands here ).
Do you plan to organize BL Rising Fest 2?
We would like BL Rising to be held every year, in the spring, but we definitely need support in the organizational team, and also the support of the City and sponsors. This time, Fest had no budget. Yes, no matter how impossible that sounds, we couldn’t spare a dime for the organization. This time we worked for free and managed to organize everything at minimal cost. Everyone will say that something like this can’t be organized without a minimum of 2,000 € at the start, but the miracle happened.
At this first edition, only bands from Banja Luka and one from Prijedor played. Do you plan to bring some bands from other towns in Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia or Slovenia for the next festival?
Only 3 bands were available in December, so we had to collect 12 bands by the end of January in order to announce the event. It was almost impossible, as many bands from nearby cities stopped working. One band was supposed to come from Sarajevo, but due to the circumstances, they had to cancel (we count on them next time). For the next time, we plan to have bands from other cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina (beside Banja Luka), but also from other countries. Of course, in order to pay for transport and accommodation, first we need to find sponsors to have a budget. It all depends on it.
Did you have any request from bands outside of Bosnia which wanted to play at festival?
Yes, we did. Bands from Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia contacted us with the desire to play, considering that Fest visitors came from all over the country, Slovenia, Croatia, and one from the USA. We were really surprised because this started as an idea of a local character. It would be a real shame to miss this opportunity, so we hope that serious people will come together to cooperate and support this Fest, which really has the potential to grow into something great.
It’s been more than a month since the festival. Are you satisfied with the final result of your effort? Were your expectations met?
We are definitely satisfied with the results. Three days passed without the slightest problem. The bands were overwhelming, the audience was very satisfied, and that makes us happy. For the first time in Banja Luka, the gigs started right on time. Each band had 40 minutes to perform. Each band was promoted before Fest, and after that we began to interview them in order to continue their promotion. It’s really nice to see smiles on the faces of people and when someone shakes you a hand and says “thank you”. There were a few bureaucratic oversights in the organization, uninterested media, lack of sponsors and criticism from “big musicians” from cover bands that didn’t even show on any day of the fest. I must mention the two biggest compliments that we have received:
I’ve been a musician for 15 years, and I was a participant in big and small festivals, good and bad, so I can say – you did a Fest in non-existing conditions for the same, and yet you did everything in a very professional way, that’s all that matters! Objections cannot exist because there were none.
You had a huge job and you did it perfectly, only a fool can disagree. The other festivals had more organizers than the bands that performed, there were more organizers than people in the audience, and the two of you were able to reach that level, you should be proud, it was worth it.
We have seen that Banja Luka has a bright future on metal scene. What do you think about its rise?
One day it seems that the scene doesn’t exist, and the other that there really is a chance for something, and again someone’s behavior disappoints you and so on. I said a lot in the third response. My personal opinion is that the scene is just like some community – if we want it to work, everybody needs to do their part. We need to understand that bands are just part of it, not the whole. We need media, fans, organizers, people that will support bands by buying merchandise, etc. If someone is good at drawing, they should support some bands by making them a free logo or cover art for album, if someone knows to write, they should write lyrics for them, or reviews and interviews. And most important thing is that we all need to respect each other. I think that that’s the only way we can rise the scene.
It was nice to talk to you and I wish you all the best in the future organization of BL Rising Fest. Last words are yours…
Thanks for showing interest in organization of the Fest. I hope there will be more festivals like this one and that all people will begin to respect each other and act as a large family.