We are very proud to present this comprehensive interview, which is by far not limited to Brutal Assault visitors, but is for any fan of metal and other obscure subcultures. For people, who take things into their own hands and independently run or support bands, festivals, labels and magazines. Especially for those, who are bored of today’s major metal festivals, because those miss the unpredictable, the focus on music, the crazy fans and a sincere underground spirit.
Last year was our second time at Brutal Assault (BA). The year before (2015), we met Shindy during a signing session for the BA book. He is a founder of the festival, who made all this possible for the last 21 years, together with Vladan (who is not part of BA anymore). This time, Shindy personally agreed on doing an interview for Abismo during the last day of the festival. We talked about the future and the past of the festival with a lot of funny anecdotes, background information, underground culture, sponsoring, finances, the fortress Josefov and the town of Jaroměř (where the fortress is located). Also the long lines, which occurred in 2016, were a topic, hopefully for the last time. The interview got longer and longer, because there is just so much interesting stuff to tell. Fortunately, the festival’s organization went smoothly, and Shindy could take a lot of his time to talk about his work for a small eZine from South America.
First of all, I want to thank you, Shindy, for being able to share your time with us – during the ongoing festival! We respect a lot, what you guys achieved. There is so much interesting stuff to explore on this festival. One of the most important things is the constantly great line-up of Brutal Assault. How do you arrange such an amazing line up each year? You run Shindy Productions and Tofi (ed. the other head from BA) runs Obscure Promotion. How do you handle it? Is it a teamwork?
Shindy: Yes it is. In the past, I have been working as a record label manager and owner, than I have been running a company that is promoting concerts and club shows for about 10 years. But after those years, I felt a little bit exhausted, so I quit. But Tomáš (ed. Tofi) is doing Obscure Promotion on his own since then and he does also the booking of the bands for the BA. So, we have been consulting the names we are putting on the line-up, mainly when it comes to the big names. The rest of the line-up is mostly chosen and booked by himself.
Do you have any preferences in bands, being a fan yourself? I have read in the book, that you always wanted to have Slayer on stage. Are there any other bands that you wish to play BA in the future?
Shindy: I always pick a few names from the current line-up and dream of how great it would be to see them on stage. But in the end, I can see only fragments of a show. So I was happy to see a couple of minutes from Mastodon or Disavowed today, but that’s basically it. There is not much watching shows for me. Though, two years ago when we got Slayer, I was like “Guys, I am not going to work for the festival for about 90 minutes – I am just enjoying the show!”
After two decades of BA starting as a small DIY-festival, that has now grown to 15000 fans, which means a lot more challenges that come from the size: Do you plan on making BA bigger, here in the fortress? I suppose in the beginning it was probably not planned to grow this big…
Shindy: Yes exactly. Actually, it is our tenth year here at the fortress and I would say that we are now well accommodated in here. The first years, we were still discovering the fortress. But now we know how it works, how to handle it production-wise and logistically. The limited space is a challenge for us, for example if it were on a field like an airport ground; you just move the fence to get more space. But in the fortress you cannot move the walls, so the challenge is to handle the fortress ground to make everything work properly.
I read that the current capacity for the fortress is around 17000 people…
Shindy: Yes, we are really close to the limit, we did not reach a sold out status yet, but that’s not the breaking point for us – it is to have as many people as we can handle comfortably and to make them happy. That is the most important thing for us! Our aim is not to have a crowd of 40000 people, but to have a settled festival for the capacity that this area can handle, where people like to keep coming back.
How do you handle unforeseen problems during the festival? You are organizing BA from the beginning until all these 21 years – is it getting easier with that much experience?
Shindy: Some things are getting easier due to the repetition of the process. But sometimes, you think you have seen already everything and that is the potential moment of you future fail. Just some minor circumstances may differ from the past years, and then some things don’t work as well as you’ve expected. So you have to be always prepared for an immediate reaction.
We have the impression, that there is more police and security present on the festival this year.
Shindy: I am not sure about the police. But I believe, increasing security will be topic number one in the parliaments for the next years. For the festival, we have more security, because it was required by the company that provides the cashless system. Especially some parts of the festival have to be more secured. But it is not something that has drastically increased; in fact, we have nearly the same number of security guys for the last couple of years.
Talking about the new cashless system, which were the reasons to use it?
Shindy: The first time I heard about that was three years ago on a festival in the Czech Republic. The experience was not good, the promoters and visitors were both complaining a lot, so electronic cashless was not an option for us at the time. But after changes of government, they are implementing an electronic cash flow system, where every business will get a cash machine. The transactions will be registered and they will charge money for it. Probably it will start to happen next year, it is called EET. The cashless system we are running is something in between this new EET system which is controlled by the authorities, because there are some shitty businesses going around…
I think it is easier for the fans and the people that work with money, e.g. they don’t have to count coins, tokens, chips or whatever
Shindy: There are two parts in this system. One is the cashless, which I believe is easier for everybody – the vendors, the festival, the visitors – and then the access control, which is the part of the system we had a bad experience this year. The processing at the very beginning, when people had to check their tickets was extremely slow, which caused the big lines on Tuesday and Wednesday. That affected everybody. But the rest went fine and as far as we fix this issue with high priority until 2017, I think we can go easily with the system for the future. Nevertheless, I would like to thank everybody for being so patient and so cool at the beginning! In the past, we had major problems when the ticket system was dropping down, the e-ticket counter was offline for a couple of hours, it was really bad. But we had a wonderful crowd, they were complaining but they understood that we were trying everything possible to get them into the ground. Unfortunately it took a lot of patience…
Well, you wait a couple of hours, which sucks. But you know, what to expect once you are in, and then you will forget these complications soon…
Shindy: Yes, but it is not an excuse. This happened at the very beginning and the rest of the festival went really smoothly. It is a matter of capacity and also the number of people that are going in or out, it depends on a lot of small things, that influence the lines for good or bad… I think we can make up for it the next year.
We visited this new attraction Underground XIV, which was really cool with the candles, the underground labyrinth and even a small underground gallery! Would it be possible to have other hidden parts of the fortress like that open in the upcoming years?
Shindy: Yeah, that is new. Normally, this area is open to public, but before, it was closed during the festival. At this underground site, there are normally guided historical tours, while the rest of the fortress, where the festival is located, is closed for the public. This is the first time, this part near the metal market is open for our festival’s fans. And just imagine: this is a couple of hundred meters. Can you believe that actually there are 45 km of these catacombs right here?
Wow! Well, the fortress is like a “jackpot” for a festival organizer – it is just an amazing location! Definitely one of the main reasons to visit the festival, besides the line up.
Shindy: As far as I know, there is only one other festival in Poland, which is also located in a fortress…
I love the use of recycling material and garbage for the festival decorations! This entire apocalyptic theme in the decaying fortress…
Shindy: We have a really creative guy for this matter: he makes up a story for every piece of garbage in his head, making it somehow valuable in a functional or visual way. He has been working for us the last 4-5 years on different parts of the fortress. Besides that, the horror cinema decorations are made by a different guy. The team is about 5 people, each one of them does a different thing, like scrap metal sculptures or the puppets over there. It makes it more versatile and interesting to have more than one person working on that.
Can you estimate how many people are working in the festival crew? What size is the main crew or how many volunteers are needed?
Shindy: The core team is about 10-15 people, in total we have about 500 employees including volunteers. That is something we have been focusing on the past years: to have a part of the crew as volunteers, so one day they can work for some hours and enjoy the other festival days for free. So this is creating some kind of continuity, one year they can be volunteers and next year they can do another job and get more responsibility, so you can start from level zero and then can go up the ladder.
That way you motivate them to do a good job and to come back the next year.
Shindy: That’s what makes the connection between people and festival. We have something like Brutal Assault for ourselves, kind of unofficial festival for the helping people. Then we are organizing events to take care of the fortress’ renovations. Thanks to this, we can open more areas that had to be closed before.
Is this the team called Ravelin XIV?
Shindy: Actually, the Ravelin XIV is located near the Metal Market and the Underground XVI. These guys are really crazy! They do all the work for free, just for the fun of it. They are investing a lot of time, effort and even their own money to rebuild the fortress. Because there is not much money coming to the fortress to preserve it. They are very into it!
We keep on cooperating with the Ravelin XIV group. Like, for example, this year we did the floor on the new Ambiance Lodge, it is now brand new. It is not like that we are coming here once per year for a week and then go home. We are working on the festival ground the whole year. Maybe we will open new parts of the fortress, while others will never be open to the public. Check on Google Maps to see how big the fortress is, we are at an small part of it.
Wouldn’t it be possible to have a sponsor to invest on that? Or maybe donations from fans? At least, you get a little bit out of the entrance fee to visit the Underground XIV labyrinth, but that’s not much.
Shindy: I can’t imagine we could get a sponsor for this. Well, first, we wouldn’t want to have a big sponsor, like a mobile operator or a banking company. About the fans, it would help for sure. But I know how much money the city hall had to put in to just open it to the public. This would require a lot of money, like a few million Euros. But we are doing what we can, helping to rebuild the fortress by our own hands, it has more value to us, than just getting the money from an sponsor. That is something that makes the connection.
We really enjoyed the Oriental Stage. Last year, we saw the first band there, but for the second band, it was impossible to get in because it was completely crowed! (ed. Phurpa played first and then the legendary Czech band, Cult of Fire. The stage is located at the “Octagon”, a small (~200 people) open air area inside a fortress’ bastion)
Shindy: We did the Oriental Stage last year for the first time – just for two bands! That was something special and it was so well received by the audience, that we wanted to continue. It is kind of financial nonsense to build up a stage and use it just for two shows on one day, but there are a lot of things that we want to realize, that may not be commercially reasonable. We were just like “let’s do it”, the financial value is not the main thing in this case, it adds more value to the festival by creating something special.
These special things are what the fans will remember, like the Cult of Fire show, if you could get in.
Shindy: Do you remember the extreme weather conditions from last year? It had around 40°C. You were even forbidden to smoke in the woods or to make an open fire in this part of Czech Republic. And “Cult of Fire” – what are they about? We installed a faucet on the walls for the firemen, that where ready in case it would get dangerous. And at a certain point, as part of the show, we started the fire on the fortress’ walls. Fortunately the Cult of Fire show was indeed with fire and not with fire fighting water!
We want to see the special Fire Organ performance today at the Oriental Stage.
Shindy: We wanted to make the Fire Organ happen in the dark, but it is way too noisy and there are citizens around the fortress and even as they are very liberal, at some point it would become too much for them. We don’t want them to be angry with us. But it would be much cooler at midnight…
About the people around Josefov, I read on the book about experiences with the inhabitants and we also visited the town Jaroměř earlier. You could say that people are happy with the festival.
Shindy: Well, here in this town, there are not many business chances. The festival is the biggest opportunity of the year and they are trying to get a piece of the cake. I think it is something mutual – a good relationship – both parts benefit from it. We have been in other cities with the festival and they were not happy. Once, over 1700 locals complained, so we had to move to another location…
It is mentioned on the book that the Jaroměř mayor is a rocker…
Shindy: Yes, he is. He likes challenges – and this one was a big one for him and for the whole city hall. They had this fortress area, which was absolutely unused for at least 12 years. I remember seeing some old photos, they had to put in money and effort to make it accessible to the public. It was really just ruins with trees everywhere.
Thank you for your time. It is almost an hour!
Shindy: It’s ok, jut couple of missed calls. Where did you say you are from?
I am from Bolivia and I live in Germany right now, so I am writing mostly about the European metal scene, especially Germany of course. I recommended BA to my friends.
Shindy: Wow Bolivia! In Germany, on the other hand so much competition in Metal festivals. We have at least 1000 German visitors. This is an amazing number for us!
You probably have statistics, from where people come…
Shindy: We do, partly, with our e-ticket system. Many people are from Poland.
Yeah since the festival location is close the polish border…
Shindy: The Polish border is just 22 km away. Well, it is not really a joke, but they say “the Brutal Assault is the biggest Polish festival in Czech Republic”. I believe there are at least 5000 polish fans here and that’s a lot. There are no big festivals in Poland, I don’t know why. (ed. that means a third part of the fans that attented)
About the competition in Germany, I think some German fans are used to much to their own festivals that they are looking for something fresh, and here is something different happening!
Shindy: I mean the competition there is just crazy, you open any major metal magazine in Germany and every second page is an ad for a summer festival. And definitely, I believe the atmosphere here at the festival ground is completely different from a German festival and maybe that is why it is attractive for them to come here. And, well, maybe one of the factors is also the beer price and its quality. They would pay much less for their beer consumption here. But I think that’s not the main reason to come here…
Do you have time to visit other festivals during the year?
Shindy: Sometimes I do, there are two kinds of festival visits for me: on one hand I observe the logistics and the technical part, and the other is just to visit it as a fan and enjoy the music, but that happens only once a year.
There seems to be good communication with other festivals, like the French Hellfest: I saw flyers of Brutal Assault there.
Shindy: Hellfest was really close to Brutal Assault’s philosophy a couple of years ago before they started with the really big names. That’s something we don’t want to do. But there are still a lot of underground bands playing, which is amazing for the size of HF. They still keep the underground spirit alive!
We love the underground spirit here. That is also what we are here for.
Shindy: That’s what we came from. We have to respect that. Like I said, I got my underground label before…
I had a lot of fun reading the Brutal Assault book, all those anecdotes..! I really appreciate that it was translated.
Shindy: It is about 446 pages. When we at first thought about doing a book, we planed on doing 250 pages, but then it was evolving and growing! We call it “The Brutal Assault Bible”. Almost everything about BA is in there. I saw some other festival books in their native language, but they don’t translate everything or maybe only captions of the photos. We wanted to translate everything, so it is also valuable for fans that understand English. The aim from the beginning on was to make it bilingual.
Thanks again for your time.
Shindy: Enjoy the rest of the festival and hope to see you next year!
Last but not least, I want to thank Schizmo and Fred (who are also from BA’s core team) for making this interview possible!
I highly recommend everyone who has just the slightest interest in underground metal to read the Brutal Assault book. This is purely about Metal in a small country, that struggled long times with religious and other prejudices, chaotic government officials and a very limited budget, building up all this with their bare hands. The book is not just some festival merchandising: this is a fantastic book for any Metal fan worldwide!