Unsung Hero: Viktor Trifu, Exit Festival
Known by countless touring acts as the technical director of Exit Festival, Viktor Trifu was one of the first graduates of the Stage Light Design faculty at the Academy of Arts in Novi Sad Serbia.
Fast-forward a few years, and he is now an associate professor of the faculty, with 30 alumni who have already achieved success as lighting designers in theatres, movies, television and, of course, concerts.
IQ: How did you first get into the production side of live music?
VT: My first job happened by accident. In 1996, I started working as a technician on a major Mediterranean festival, where Toto Cutugno was one of the performers. At that time, the first intelligent devices (scanners, lights with moving mirrors) arrived at the production company I was working for, but they were unable to launch the software for two days because there was no light desk. I stayed up all night studying the software, figured it out, and started the system.
That was my first job where, by chance, I immediately ended up behind the software for lights. At the end of the festival, I was offered a permanent job, and I spent the next ten years working as a light designer.
I travelled a lot and fell in love with this business. It is a dynamic job; the projects are never the same, we are never in the same place, the equipment is constantly improving and, along with it, so are the work processes. When I started working in ’96, many of the things that are normal in our business today didn’t exist – moving heads, DMX signal, line-array speakers, LED lights, LED screens, digital consoles…
Today, at 44 years old, and after a quarter of a century in the business, you could say that I am one of the pioneers and veterans in the region.
How did you first get to work at Exit Festival?
My first encounter with production happened at Exit, and as the festival grew, so did my responsibilities – from production manager of a single stage to the technical director of the entire festival. Exit and I grew together, and I think we’ve both exceeded expectations. Exit was one of my first serious projects.
I also worked on innumerable festivals, concerts and events in Serbia and abroad – both as a freelancer at the time, and now as a director of Skymusic Production, the biggest rental company in this part of Europe.
“Famous DJs can be very demanding … but once they get on stage they ask to perform again next year”
What have been the highlights for you while working at Exit?
It would have to be the very first festival. At the time, our country had just been liberated from years of dictatorship and isolation, so that was our first contact with international stars. At that time even the ‘small’ stars seemed the biggest in the world.
I would have to single out Prodigy as one of the highlights. When I was a kid, I loved their music and always went to their concerts, and years later I got to be a part of them – more than ten times, all over the region. That was a big deal for me.
And what about the biggest challenges?
Every year and every performer is a challenge. We try to upgrade ourselves every year, to make all the stages and performances grander, more spectacular, and it’s an exhausting task.
Famous DJs can be very demanding, and for years we’ve been trying to meet their demands. The Dance Arena, which is the biggest DJ stage at Exit, is thematically designed every year, which doesn’t leave much room to comply with riders of the big stars, and they have to adapt to the theme.
Those negotiations can be tricky, but once they get on stage they ask to perform again next year.
Big stages, like the Main Stage and Dance Arena, never close, so we work in many shifts. There’s always something going on. Once the programme is over, set-up for the next day begins, tone rehearsals follow and continue to the next day.
Exit takes place in a mediaeval fortress, and therefore access for big trucks is impossible. We have a special team for logistics, cross-load, load-in and load-out of equipment, because everything is trans-shipped to small trucks, 800m away from the fortress and then shipped to the stages. It’s a huge headache.
The logistics team alone counts over 100 people during the festival, and they are responsible for all the equipment of all the performers getting to all the stages – and off of them – in time. And they are 100% successful because of the great advance production before the festival.
“Exit takes place in a mediaeval fortress, so access for big trucks is impossible”
Is there anything you would like visiting artists or tour managers to change that would make life easier for everyone?
They have low expectations, but are forgiven for that; they run into all kinds of stuff all over the world and come to Serbia expecting the worst, but they get the best treatment from the minute they arrive.
When it comes to equipment, stage design and staff, they are on the same quality level as in Germany or the Netherlands, and visiting artists always get more than they expected.
How has the coronavirus impacted you?
Skymusic Production is a big company and it was able to keep on all employees (who will work on this year’s Exit Festival). As for the lockdown period we used it for additional education of the Skymusic and Exit production teams.
What do you do to relax?
I really work a lot, both at Skymusic Production and the Academy, so I can’t wait to go to my home – which is out of the city, next to the Danube river – and spend time with my family and my two dogs, and hang out with my neighbours.
We hang out, barbecue and spend time together, like everyone else. I often miss that when I’m working.