Deep Purple are their fans, and at the Spanish Resurrection Fest, heavy rock fans were running to their stage instead of the KISS’s concert. Every month, three musicians of a Ukrainian stone-rock-band Stoned Jesus give concerts in iconic European clubs. Sometimes, they find time in their busy schedule to visit their core fans in Ukraine. Opinion talked to musicians before a concert and learned: how to become world popular, and why few Ukrainian musicians are popular overseas.
Stoned Jesus is a Ukrainian rock-band. It has been playing heavy metal since 2009. They give concerts mostly in Europe. They are the first Ukrainians to have had a big tour in Southern America. They are now on a big tour to present their new album. It has started in Odesa and Kyiv and will cover 22 concerts in Ukraine, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Great Britain. They have recently released a music video for a Thessalia song.
You have just returned from a heavy-rock Resurrection Fest. What did you feel when there were 70 thousand people in front of the stage?
Ihor Sydorenko: It is the biggest festival for us. It is a Spanish version of a French Hellfest (almost the major festival of Europe – ED.) There were 4 stages: two big – the main ones and two smaller ones. It was an awesome multi-genre festival. On the first day, Jinjer were playing (a Ukrainian band) – our guys, we were performing the next day. And it is awesome because usually, legends of rock music perform on main stages while young bands play on small stages. It was vice versa there. We had our concert partially while KISS were playing, and I personally saw how people were leaving their stage and coming up to ours. It wasn’t vice versa. I was pleased.
Serhii Sliusar: Their time has gone, as it turned out. Later, we watched their concert for 2 minutes and left. But there was a great atmosphere: dozens of thousands of fans were moving from one stage to another, listening to all the bands, not only one band they knew, which they came for.
I guess after that, you were relaxing for at least a month.
Ihor Sydorenko: After that, we also had a concert in Greece at the Los Almiros Festival and at a French Motocultor Festival. Next three weeks, we are traveling across central Europe. At weekends, we will have concerts in Ukraine – just three concerts. In October, we will go to France, Portugal, and other Western Europe countries.
Not many Ukrainian stars of any genre have so many concerts as you in a month. Do festival organizers come to you or vice versa?
Ihor Sydorenko: For the last 5 years, we have had a booking-agency, which checks concerts and demand for our music, and then it helps to organize our concerts. Sometimes, we have to do a big pause in some countries not to let people get tired of our constant concerts. The first time, I wrote about a thousand letters where I asked to let us perform at a festival. I wrote to organizers, promoters, musicians, bloggers, agencies – to all of them. I received 50 answers out of 1000 letters. 25 of them said “no”. We managed to arrange 5 concerts. We performed very well at those concerts, and it became easier – organizers and promoters started to pay attention to us. We began going on tours to Europe.
Many Ukrainian musicians complain that it is hard to arrange a concert in Europe.
Ihor Sydorenko: They should at first answer the question – what they need it for. What is the point? I was writing thousands of letters knowing that our album was very strong, that this genre required more bands. I knew what to offer. Every week, I receive letters, “Ihor, please help, how to make it in Europe.” I answer every time “Why? What will you do there? You can’t be interesting at least for 50 people in your hometown, what will you do there? If there is an invitation from an organizer or many fans – then no questions.
But we have a DakhaBrakha example. They became known and successful in Europe at first and only now – in Ukraine.
Ihor Sydorenko: They offered a powerful material based on folklore music. The war has played its role as well – Europe became interested in the Ukrainian culture. DakhaBrakha is a good example because they have what to show, while ONUKA is a bad example because she has nothing to show. She is just using 5-year-old trends: she puts folklore tunes on electronic music. That’s why DakhaBrakha are going for their third in 8 months overseas tour, while ONUKA plays once a year at Sziget (a music festival in Budapest – ED.) on the “zero” day at 8 a.m.
Serhii Sliusar: Almost every country has such a folklore electro band – it is very widespread. As for DakhaBrakha, they have a high-quality music, an interesting image, and performances. If you copy any European trend or music – we don’t need you. It is like in the USSR when first rockers just copied western bands.
Has this “Ukrainophilia”, which started in Europe after 2014, influenced your performances?
Ihor Sydorenko: No. We are still asked, “You are a Scandinavian band, right? No? Then American?” They sometimes used to write on posters that we were from Russia, but now they are very careful and don’t fail like that. But there, people don’t give a damn about it. There is a blogger, who saw something on Wikipedia and figured out the rest.
But you give a damn. You haven’t had any concerts in Russia since 2014.
Ihor Sydorenko: Yes, our last concert there was in 2013. It had been before students were beaten (many Ukrainian students joined the protests in November 2013. Police beat them.) We were happy that all those people supported Ukraine. They said that they also dream of bringing down the government but their “country is impossible to raise up.”
Serhii Sliusar: And since 2014, we have refused to go there. However, one PR manager said that Ukrainian musicians could get into Europe only through Moscow: he said that all labels were only there, and musicians had to become successful there at first.
Ihor Sydorenko: Perhaps, it is so for pop-artists who go there to earn money – I don’t know. And our audience is in Europe so we still don’t know why we should even go to Russia.
Can a Ukrainian market give “everything” to a musician?
Ihor Sydorenko: Of course, a Ukrainian market has its ceiling, which is too short for many bands. For example, Okean Elzy plays concerts in a huge stadium every year. And what’s next? How to develop? The same with BoomBox. HARDKISS is a cool and pleasant music but you can’t be serious thinking that Poland doesn’t have the same band, and they are very demanded there. They can play for a diaspora, but it isn’t a development. Along with that, these bands say “we are on holiday”, however, they can’t even fill up a stadium. What holiday? It is different with us: we have had the first concert in Ukraine only in September. There were 50% as many people as in past years. It is a great result for us.
However, Ukrainians like stadium concerts. Imagine Dragons have had a sold out almost 2 months before the concert.
Ihor Sydorenko: They gathered 50 thousand, and the stadium is designed for much more people. All that given a powerful marketing. Unfortunately, Ukrainians are very inert in culture, you have to literally impose something on them so they could realize a product is good. It is because when people don’t have money to buy food or clothes, they don’t think what concert to choose. The problem is in Ukrainian bands as well. They are too relaxed: they count on their old material, hits, sounding. They don’t change anything or develop all their life.
Perhaps, you should begin promoting our rock bands in Europe?
Serhii Sliusar: It is a very bad idea. Because if a band has a poor material – our support can’t help. It would only spoil relationships. Everybody has head screwed on the right way, so they can do it by themselves. An audience shouldn’t come to concerts to listen to our friends. It should listen to a good music.
Nevertheless, you develop a Ukrainian scene by arranging the Winter Mass festival.
Ihor Sydorenko: This year the festival was better because we had selected the bands which could catch the interest of an audience. We take only those bands which are responsible for their music: they make quality music, they respect their listeners. As a result: several thousand came, and about 500-600 people were always near the stage. It shows that people were interested in listening to each band not only the “guys they knew”. It is important to always remember that it is hard to sell a good product to a person, not speaking about some trash.
Are these special problems of the Ukrainian scene?
Ihor Sydorenko: The problem is that our people listen to rock music in an awful form, like the TIK band. They call it rock. Few people want to develop; they are the same as 10 years ago as S.K.A.I. or Druha Rika bands. They produce only shit. People don’t care, and these bands continue creating trash, it is not music. We have to be done with that.
Interview by Kostiantyn Rul
Photo by Maryna Bandeliuk