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Pohoda boss: ‘This year was about surviving’

Pohoda organiser Michal Kaščák has shared his optimism for the Slovakian festival’s future after navigating tricky waters this summer.

The most recent edition of the 30,000-cap event took place at Trenčín airport from 6-8 July, featuring acts such as Wet Leg, Central Cee, Jamie xx, Sampa the Great, Ben Howard, Caroline Polachek, Sleaford Mods and Suzanne Vega.

But Kaščák tells IQ that ticket sales fell short of previous levels, with the Slovak market being slower to recover from the pandemic than its western European counterparts, exacerbated by other external factors.

“This year was about surviving, to be honest,” he says. “We are in a very difficult situation after the pandemic and so our starting position for this year was very difficult. Slovakia is not in the same situation as western countries – people are not coming back to clubs, pubs and even festivals – so it is much harder to persuade people to come.

“We saw that this year – we were not sold out and the margins are becoming so thin that we need to be sold out to be in the black, so it was not easy.”

“From an artistic point of view, it was the best festival in our history”

Despite the commercial struggles, Kaščák says the proudly independent music and arts festival, which was launched in 1997, was a creative triumph that was received well by those in attendance.

“On the other side, it was a fantastic year because we had an excellent line-up,” he says. “We had excellent reviews, we had excellent weather and we had an excellent atmosphere. So from an artistic point of view, it was the best in our history and that was an important message for our audience and the whole society.

“The pandemic was managed super-badly and the economic situation is tough, with the war and energy prices, and the politicians are not bringing any vision. They are only speaking about problems, so a lot of people are a little bit scared what will happen in future so are thinking about where to spend their money much more carefully.

“We are not in an easy economic situation but it isn’t the first time [that has been the case] in our history, so we will get through it. We will do our best to keep our approach, to keep our attitude and continue like we started. In general, I’m optimistic. I’m sure that we will survive.”

“We are working really hard to be ready for for next year”

Next year’s Pohoda (peace) will take place from 11-13 July 2024, with three-day tickets priced at €129.

“I started booking two months ago and it looks promising, but it all depends on who confirms,” says Kaščák. “We are working really hard to be ready for for next year and to have it be the same quality or even better quality than in 2023 from all perspectives. Again, from artistic point of view, but also services: quality of sound, light, quality of food. We will also keep our approach of bringing important topics to the festival.”

Earlier this year, Kaščák spoke to IQ about his recent visits to war-torn Ukraine. Pohoda has pitched in to support the citizens of Ukraine with a charity concert and an employment initiative throughout the war.

Kaščák first visited the neighbouring country last December for a project organised by the Ukrainian Association of Music Events as part of the Music Saves UA initiative, realised in collaboration with the Night Ambassadors team from the city of Lviv.

He has helped Ukrainian crew, artists and musicians secure work at festivals and events around Europe, and has also played live shows in the country with his band, Bez Ladu A Skladu.

 


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Pohoda’s Kaščák pleads for more Ukraine support

Slovak promoter Michal Kaščák has spoken exclusively to IQ about his recent visits to war-torn Ukraine and he wants to remind people that those risking their lives to protect their homeland “are fighting for all of us”.

Pohoda Festival organiser Kaščák says he first visited the neighbouring country last December for a project organised by the Ukrainian Association of Music Events as part of the Music Saves UA initiative, realised in collaboration with the Night Ambassadors team from the city of Lviv.

“After that trip I decided I had to try to do more, so I’ve now been on personal trips to Kherson and other cities in south eastern Ukraine,” explains Kaščák.

Not content with helping Ukrainian crew, artists and musicians with securing work at festivals and events around Europe, Kaščák understood that people in the country who are simply trying to get on with their everyday lives are also in need of cultural entertainment, and as a result, he and his band, Bez Ladu A Skladu, undertook their own endeavours to play live shows in the besieged country.

“This is not just some Russians on an Imperial adventure in the neighbouring country. This is an attack on our civilisation and our values”

“It was very important and an honour for us to play there, so in May we played two shows in Kyiv – at a recording studio and on an open air stage next to Peppers club – and we also recorded a live video at the Olympic Stadium.”

Indeed, he reveals, “We are thinking about going back in autumn, again. People in Kyiv, they are doing their best to live as normal life as possible. But the whole country is in war now and even Kyiv is bombarded nearly every day. So there are many restrictions, many rules they have to follow. But I think that it’s very important not just to bring artists and people from Ukraine to our country’s our cities, but also to go there to show the support in the country.”

While Kaščák has integrated multiple Ukrainian elements into Pohoda Festival, which takes place 6-8 July, he would like to see others stepping up to support those enduring the everyday reality of life in Ukraine.

In addition to Ukrainian acts on the Pohoda line-up, the festival will see the Slovak National Theatre orchestra premiere new compositions by three young composers from Ukraine. “We also have debates, we have guests in literature, we have stands from Ukraine and also from Slovakia who are dealing with some of the issues caused by the war. And we’re also collecting money to pay for two ambulances, which on 17 July we are driving to the frontline to give to the soldiers fighting for Ukraine’s freedom.”

“It’s not a special war operation: it’s genocide – one country trying to destroy another nation”

Asked what he thinks the live music community can do to help, Kaščák says, “We should all speak more about it; we should use the power of our events, the power of our art, power of anything to try to change the approach to Ukraine. We should be more focused on what’s going on there and speak more about it as that creates pressure on our politicians.

“I’m afraid that people will come to the stage where we will think that the war is a normal part of our lives, as it’s not in our countries, it’s not so painful, and it’s not so horrible. But people in Ukraine dream about freedom. They can see absolutely clearly that it’s not a special war operation: it’s genocide – one country trying to destroy another nation.

“I know that European countries and the United States also have their own problems, but Ukraine is fighting for all of our freedom. There were similar happenings in the beginning of the Second World War and then it lasted seven years. So we cannot wait. This is not just some Russians on an Imperial adventure in the neighbouring country. This is an attack on our civilisation and our values. So we should all try to be more active.”

Kascak says that travelling to the Ukraine is not as difficult as people might imagine. “You cannot fly there, so my first three visits, I travelled by train, and it’s amazing how the railway works in Ukraine. When Kherson was liberated, the day after they sent the first normal train and now, they are working daily.

“People in in our countries can’t imagine sending your kids to school, and you are not sure if they will come back”

“On the last visit with the band we were travelling by van mainly through Western Ukraine and it looked like normal countries in Eastern Europe. The travelling itself was not so difficult. It maybe took a longer time, but it was worthwhile to do it.” But he adds that for the five band members who made the trip, “It was one of the most important events in our personal lives and of course in the history of our band.”

As a punk outfit, Bez Ladu A Skladu had numerous battles with Czechoslovakia’s communist regime in the 1980s, and they continued to be vociferous champions of human rights following the Velvet Revolution.

But Kaščák says the experience of visiting Ukraine hit hard with his fellow bandmates as parents.

“People in in our countries can’t imagine sending your kids to school, and you are not sure if they will come back. But the Ukrainians need to live life as normally as possible, so they do it and they do it with a bravery which I haven’t seen anywhere on the planet till today.”

“The targets of the bombs are not military complexes, it’s cultural places – the strongest part of identity of Ukrainians”

Urging everyone to help elevate the plight of Ukraine in the political agenda, Kaščák contends that the missiles and drone bombs are deliberately targeting cultural hubs and institutions.

“I have never seen such a strong connection between art and people and human rights like in Ukraine,” states Kaščák. “In Kherson, the city was being bombarded so much they don’t use warning sirens anymore because they would just be on air all the time. But when we walked around Kherson with the chief of the theatre, everyone was asking him when the theatre will start to play again.

“This connection with culture is such a strong part of the identity of Ukrainians – and the aggressors know that – they target the city halls, they target the schools and they target the theatres. I saw it for myself in Kherson. The targets of the bombs are not military complexes, it’s cultural places – the strongest part of identity of Ukrainians. But someone is not accepting the existence of another nation and another people, so that’s why it’s very important for us to deal with it in a more straight way, and to speak about it more and more.”

Bez Ladu A Skladu’s video from the Olympic Stadium can be seen here.


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“We have the best audience on the planet”: Pohoda sells out

With a week to go until kick-off, Slovakia’s Pohoda Festival has sold out for the second year in a row.

Pohoda (‘Peace’), Slovakia’s biggest music festival, was founded in 1997 and has taken place at its current home, Trenčín Airport, since 2004. Artists playing the 2019 event, the festival’s 23rd, include the 1975, Liam Gallagher, Lykke Li, the Roots, Mac Demarco, Death Grips, Skepta, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Michael Kiwanuka and Lianne La Havas.

A multidisciplinary arts programme runs alongside the music, including theatre, dance, literature, visual arts and – new for 2019 – the Sporka Science & Magic stage, which will host scientific lectures and talks during the day and burlesque performances by night.

“We can’t wait to meet all these beautiful people”

“We are excited and thankful that Pohoda is sold out for the second year in a row,” Michal Kaščák, founder and promoter of the 30,000-capacity event, tells IQ. “We can’t wait to meet all these beautiful people who will bring sense to the work we do at the moment, changing the previously military airport into space for celebrating freedom and tolerance. We have the best audience on the planet and we do our best to prepare a great time for all Pohoda people.

“Thanks for the trust and thanks for the best atmosphere in the world – see you very soon in Trenčín.”

Pohoda 2019 takes place from Thursday 11 to Saturday 13 July.

 


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Czech Republic, Slovakia joint ESNS 2019 focus countries

The Czech Republic and Slovakia will be Eurosonic Noorderlag (ESNS)’s first-ever joint focus countries in 2019.

In cooperation with Michal Kaščák, CEO of Slovakia’s Pohoda Festival, and Márton Náray, director of new Czech export office SoundCzech, the Dutch conference/showcase festival will next year shine a spotlight on the two central European neighbours, which, says booker Robert Meijerink, although “two of the youngest countries in Europe”, both have “diverse and growing music scenes, a great history and lots of amazing music to be discovered”.

Previous recent focus countries include Denmark (2018), Portugal (2017) and the central and eastern European (CEE) nations (2016).

“I am confident that this will be a remarkable focus, especially with CR/Radio Wave and Radio_FM, SoundCzech/Czech Music Office and the ETEP festivals Colours of Ostrava, Metronome Festival, Rock for People, United Islands of Prague [Czech Republic] and Pohoda [Slovakia] on board,” says ESNS conference coordinator Ruud Berends.

“We are excited about the opportunity to show European professionals how much we have to offer”

Náray says the music scene in the Czech Republic has grown tremendously over the past five to ten years, with more than 500 summer festivals, a booming club scene and a host of promising emerging talent. “We are excited about the opportunity to show European professionals how much we have to offer,” he comments. “I think it is the perfect moment to do that.”

“It is great to be a music fan in Slovakia,” adds Kaščák (pictured). “The whole world knows Metallica, PJ Harvey and the Sex Pistols – and we are lucky enough to know Čad, Jana Kirschner and the Wilderness. But don’t worry: thanks to the Czech–Slovakian focus at ESNS 2019, we will be sharing our hidden treasures with music lovers around the world.”

ESNS returns to Groningen in the Netherlands from 16 to 19 January 2019. More than 4,000 industry delegates attended Eurosonic Noorderslag 2018, which saw performances from 300 European acts, including 22 from focus country Denmark.

 

 


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