Rifflandia is only a couple of weeks away! This article is based on an interview with the Festival’s creator and producer Nick Blasko.
Festival production is an art-form. Nick Blasko’s year’s of playing in bands, learning every aspect of the music industry he could, and travelling to festivals near and far prepared him to create and direct the dynamic work of art that is Rifflandia Festival. According to Nick “there is no guidebook when it comes to producing a festival” (though we would be hard-pressed to find someone more qualified than he to write such a book).
Nick is co-owner of Atomique Productions (as well as being an Artist Manager in his other company Amelia Artists Inc). He and his partner in Atomique, Dimitri Demers, started producing shows in high school. They were on the fringes of the rave scene and threw a couple of big parties before they started doing concerts. Things got busy in the late 90’s and they formed a company. In Nick’s own words “It all kind of grew from there”. Rifflandia has happened every September for the past 8 years in Victoria. A trip to Iceland Airwaves in 2007 was a big part of Nick’s inspiration. As he explains, “It was so original and amazing. I saw a lot of similarities between Reykjavik and Victoria: a walkable downtown core, heritage sites and both are on an island. Reykjavik has a thriving independent music scene but the big dream is to get out of Iceland. I drew a lot parallels to the struggles of musicians here in Victoria. There is a draw to Victoria that people are waking up to now but was not obvious say, 10 years ago, when most bands considered Vancouver the end of the road for Canada. We are only an hour and a half from the mainland but it feels like a huge distance. So we thought, lets start a festival that brings in International and world-calibre headliners and sandwich them right up against all the local bands to get people out to see them and give them the recognition they deserve.” There have, of course, been challenges. In Particular, the task of booking acts that will be big enough to draw a crowd and not so big that they will break the bank. Despite these obstacles Rifflandia has delivered, putting Victoria on the map for well known musicians, and giving local, emerging artists the opportunity to play alongside these bigger names.
To further cultivate this out-of-the-box thinking, and engage a variety of artists and entrepreneurs Nick and his partners created Thinklandia, a Festival of imagination that happens alongside Rifflandia. Now in its 3rd year, Thinklandia is igniting valuable conversations about the health of our creative community, the strength of our bicycle culture, the sustainability of our craft beer revolution, the shifting landscape of independent arts, and so much more. As Nick notes, “there seems to be tons of energy around Thinklandia”, a testament to the increasing vibrancy of Victoria’s creative community and the fact that we no longer deserve to be called ‘the land of the newly wed and the nearly dead’.
Like so many artists, Nick sees the big picture and continues to strive for perfection. As he points out “It has been a journey. We had to create a business model, be prepared to invest in it and keep tweaking it until it works”. So far the money Rifflandia has made has been invested back in and refinements are ongoing. When asked if he would be taking a break to attend other festivals this year Nick replied, “What I need to do right now is take everything I have observed and learned and bring it to an experience in Victoria. All my hours are best spent working on the festival, and soon looking after our child” (he and his wife are expecting their first). Nick will probably not be writing that art-of-festival-production guidebook any time soon, but you can see what he has been up to at this year’s Rifflandia festival from September 17th-20th.