Author: Katarzyna Kwiatkowska
Photo Credit: Filip Preis & Mio Obernosterer
The first wave of the pandemic hit the club community hard. It was also a good moment to think about how to deal with the situation and strengthen the activities of local scenes.
That’s why Oramics, a collective from Poland, which supports women, non-binary and queer people in the electronic music scene and focuses its activities on the promotion of artists from Central and Eastern Europe wanted to reflect upon these new circumstances collectively.
The collective decided to gather this scene’s representatives and organized the “Eastern Bloc after the pandemic: strengthening local scenes and their cooperation” debate during their birthday event online in 2020. The discussion was attended by artists and activists from Armenia, Serbia, Hungary, Belarus, Slovenia, Ukraine, Slovakia and Poland.
You need to know the context we live in
When talking about the situation in the Eastern Bloc countries, it should be noted that the context is completely different from what is happening in the West. This region has been suffering economically, culturally, and politically.
Far-right governments use pandemic situations for their benefits, violate human’s rights, and spread lies and violence against the LGBTQ community. There are street protests ending with police brutality, complete paralysis of healthcare, and finally, lack of financial support for anyone, including artistic environments.
Before the pandemic, promoters in Central and Eastern Europe were organizing many events with foreign artists from the West. These are often events organized by DIY collectives & clubs. The problem they are facing is excessive requirements of agents and the differences in wages levels between the countries.
Paulina Trzeciak (Oramics, MESTIÇO / Poland): “ Each time when we invite a well-known artist, we talk to the agent and make him aware that the maximum amount for the tickets in the club we can ask is 5 euros. People won’t pay more as long as it’s not a huge party or festival. The minimum wage in Poland is about 500 euros a month. If an artist comes to us and is paid (for a 1-2 h set) around 600-700 euros, very often these rates exceed our possibilities. You have to take into consideration that Poland has different rates, lower wages. You need to know the context in which we live and that we often face a wall.”
Łukasz Warna-Wiesławski (Tańce/ PL): “The problem is that a lot of artists, for example from London, are not getting the fees in London or Berlin as high as they are getting in Poland. If they play some small event they are not gonna get 500 Euros that Polish promoters are willing to pay for a big techno night.”
Artists from Central and Eastern Europe are heavily under-represented
One of the mentioned topics during the discussion was also the fact that artists from Central and Eastern Europe are heavily underrepresented and have been widely overlooked by the Western scene. In the following graphics prepared by Oramics, we can look at this topic using the example of podcasts in three of the largest Western magazines:
The graphics show countries of origin of artists who released 100 most recent podcasts for Resident Advisor (only 4 podcasts by artists from Central and Eastern Europe), Fact Magazine (2 mixes by Central and Eastern Europeans) and Crack Magazine (6 mixes by Central and Eastern Europeans) by 10/07/20.
If podcasts aren’t festival bookings and they don’t come with any kind of financial burden, why do international magazines still promote people from one or two regions?
Łukasz Warna-Wiesławski (Tańce/ PL): “We need to mention that this industry was founded by people in the West, and this music is Western music. They have a whole network of people who know each other and they have connections that we don’t have. The numbers are not really surprising for me. I was looking at those graphics, and I was thinking how much we need that Western approval. This is wrong. We want to aspire to be like producers or DJs from Berlin or London but we should make our own names here and get the recognition in our own area.“
Do we need to westernize ourselves?
Two decades ago, the countries of Eastern Europe could only look with envy at the number of clubs and events in the West. Growing stars of electronic music, labels, live performances, the possibility of going out to events in cities like Berlin, London or Paris meant that more and more people in the Eastern Bloc wanted to bring it to their backyard. This also meant, and still does to some extent, that they wanted to be equal to the West, forgetting that they could create a qualitative electronic music scene themselves.
Lucia Kagramanyan (Panorama Yerevan/ Armenia): “People try to westernize themself but they need to focus on their own local scene to bring their qualities. Then they will be visible and interesting to the public outside of their country. It won’t change quickly, I don’t think it will change even with our generation. What I’m trying to do to promote native artists is to present music produced and composed by Armenians in my show in NTS radio.”
Solidarity and diversity
In addition to creating own space, image and scene for the Central and Eastern Europe, it is also important to maintain solidarity and diversity that Western countries exemplify. Diversity is understood as a way of looking at the scene in a broad spectrum and not limited geographically.
Nina Hudej (Ustanova / Slovenia):
“It’s a big issue, the diversity, we should push towards diversity in all senses, which means including women, people of different skin colours, queer, LGBTQ+, people who are coming from scenes and countries with less exposure in the music scene. As promoters when we look beyond our borders we need to look all around us.
Our discussion is about the Eastern Bloc and when we think about booking artists we need to see this part as well, not only the local scene. We also need to build our infrastructure. We did it in Ukraine to empower women in electronic music and now I think we need to connect with different parts of ex-communist countries.”
Some big clubs and festivals in Armenia, Serbia, Belarus and Poland treat their local artists as second-class. Invited to events, they are often placed in the line-up during unattractive hours, are paid unfairly and denied basic hospitality such as travel or hotel reimbursement.
Dragana Dobrić (Drugstore Beograd / Serbia): “When Exit festival is booking local DJs, they don’t pay them at all. The big promoters and festivals in our countries should appreciate the local talent and place them in good time slots, pay them and treat them with the same respect as they do with the Western artists. We should be the ones who are taking care of our scene. The local scene will never be strong if we continue to treat our people like that.”
Łukasz Warna-Wiesławski (Tańce/ PL): “In Poland there are promoters who are willing to pay the hotel, flight expenses, fees etc. for a headliner who costs thousands of Euros, but they refuse to pay taxes, agency costs or finally the normal rates for local artists.”
The international media has an occasional interest in Eastern Bloc artists or events, but these are drops in the sea and a constant push on all fronts is needed to get the scene noticed. In the age of the Internet, it is easy to do more research and look at what is happening across the eastern border.
This article was conceived as a result of our first call for contributions that aimed to address the challenges and changes that festivals and cultural entities may face in the future. Thanks to the contributions we received, we were able to create the Future(s) of Festivals feature series, that this article is a part of. We’re open to new proposals for our next call for contributions, available here.
On the Author
Katarzyna Kwiatkowska (ISNT) / Oramics is a polish DJ, music producer, co-founder of Oramics collective which supports women, non-binary and queer people in the electronic music scene.