Rihards T. Endriksons (Skaņu Mežs): “As soon as we buy the tickets for the artists and print the booklets, the festival has already metaphysically happened”
Rihards T. Endriksons and Viestarts Gailītis, the organizers of Skaņu Mežs, the festival for adventurous music in Riga, Latvia, do not share an office and the reasons are very pragmatic. They for sure do not influence the quality and importance of Skaņu Mežs, a festival lauched by Viestarts back in 2003 and Rihards joined him midway.
The inaugural night of Skaņu Mežs’2015 will be held on Oct 2nd and two more nights will follow on Oct 9th and 10th . From Peter Brötzmann to Gábor Lázár, the forest of sounds will be new for some and awaited for others. We talked about the reasoning of the festival and the general climate in the area with Rihards T. Endriksons, firstly, a passionate music lover, and secondly, the creative director of the festival.
Is it complicated for two directors to curate one festival?
It was difficult to get used to the fact that the festival has two directors, but then we saw that CTM has 3, which is even worse.
Rihards T. Endriksons and Viestarts Gailītis
Rihards T. Endriksons and Viestarts Gailītis
Did you know Viestarts before joining him?
We met because I was a journalist and I was interested in this music. I interviewed many musicians that Viestarts was bringing over. At one point he decided to track down that guy who was doing so much of free publicity for his festival.
It wasn’t a very good year for Skaņu Mežs when we met, and Viestarts wasn’t very optimistic. He said he needed some help with papers, and I didn’t know shit about papers. In the end it turned out I’m quite good at papers, and even better at finding grants. Since then we’re coping with each other as equal influences on the program. It’s quite easy, actually, because on most things we agree, and very rarely we disagree. We’re open for negotiation.
In each program there’s 80% acts we both agree on. We simultaneously say the same names when we start talking about the next year. And the rest is things we both trust each other on, even if we don’t particularly like each other’s choices. Very rarely we disagree. That’s not really a problem, I think. Festivals these days can’t be very purist. It’d be healthier to to invite acts you don’t like yourself, just to sustain a discussion. It’s rather similar to journalism – the variety of opinions.
How did you start writing about music – was it pure love?
Yeah, yeah. It was very specific music I was interested in, of course, I didn’t only write about it. Actually, one of the first acts I wrote about in the context of Skaņu Mežs was Sunn O))), and I didn’t really like them at the moment.
The first time I visited Skaņu Mežs was I think when Viestarts brought Evan Parker for a solo show. I was quite surprised to hear this kind of music in Riga. That kind of improvised music was what I was listening at the time, of course, I was open to other forms of music as well. I started checking out other things this then. You could say that Skaņu Mežs has had as much influence on my taste as my taste has influenced the program of the festival. It works both ways!
Do you allow yourself to think Skaņu Mežs is the most important festival of this kind in Baltic States?
I don’t really know what’s going in the neighbouring countries, because when you do a festival like this you’re just really, really busy, even though I assume there are a lot of interesting things happening.
I know it sounds silly for some, as it only happens once a year, but you work for 12 months. It’s not just being a VIP and running around with your phone all the time. It’s staring at the laptop all day, typing all the time. Becoming your own secretary - writing projects, writing reports, accounting... Basically paperwork
Getting back to your question, we are frequently praised by media from neighboring countries. And it’s always a pleasant thing to read or hear.
Your festival is one of the founding members of SHAPE (Sound, Heterogeneous Art and Performance in Europe), a platform for popularizing innovative music and audio-visual art. I have read an extensive interview with you and your partners on S13. That makes me think you care about what’s happening in other countries. Being a member of SHAPE also inspires each and every one to grow, right?
When you asked me about being the best thing in the Baltics, I replied I didn’t know what’s going on in neighbor countries. But yes, I do know what happens in other parts of Europe – thanks to SHAPE. We had actually known each other before as we were a part of ICAS network..
What we do is put our heads together and, in a collective way, choose 48 artists a year and each festival undertakes to present at least 9 of them in their events.
We don’t really have age, genre or other criteria. We look for strong works and something that doesn’t sound that anything else, and that could possibly be interesting to more people than he or she or them are now.
The main goal is to emphasize other interesting things in Europe apart from the usual festival headliners. Then again, certain SHAPE artists - like Gábor Lázár or DJ Nigga Fox - have in their own right become quite popular names during this year, that, of course, is by far not solely thanks to SHAPE, but it signifies that our choice was correct.
UNSOUND, your fellow participant of SHAPE, has grown from Poland to New York and Toronto. Could Skaņu Mežs also be exported into other countries or continents?
We’re not really interested in doing that. I don’t know that. Of course there’s a tendency to outgrow locations, CTM, for example, are doing an event in Siberia. Our own initial goal was to change our own scene and not to outgrow it. We want to hear certain kinds of music in Riga. That’s why Viestarts started doing it and that’s why I joined him.
Certain infrastructures are harder to sustain if your ambition is to become a network of festivals. I think it’s fair to say there are some commercial expectations to be satisfied. I don’t think we necessarily want to undertake them. So far we’ve been happy to have some tempting headliners and then because of these headliners the audiences come over, and they see the headliners, but they also see the lesser-known names, who may be doing even more cutting-edge work.
Yeah, that’s what I’ve suspected. Names like James Holden could attract people that will discover much more interesting music in the festival.
I would have expected you to say Squarepusher but I guess you’re not mentioning him because he’s coming to Lithuania anyway! Haha.
Yes, so that’s what we have always done. We want to guard the stability of ours to invite any music that we want. OK, there are the headliners, and there are certain parts of the program you can call accessible, but at the core of it there’s always interesting and forward-thinking music that isn’t something you can always have overlapping with commercial interests. That’s why we don’t have the ambition to grow out of our own scene.
There are quite a few experimental music festivals, who, by sticking to certain leanings towards - if I may say that - accessible listening experiences balance their music between rhythmic music and overtly neat abstract sound design. It’s possible to organize a festival with a program that’s very accessible, but you wouldn’t want to organize an experimental music festival with no fuckin’ experimental music, would you?!
That’s something that we want to guard ourselves from by inserting things that are not so easy to consume into the program. In my own listening experiences, I never want to get too comfortable. I don't find anything stimulating about fukcing Nils Frahm's music - I'd say that a certain consumer-friendly-lounge-predictabily is mostly in conflict of the very urge to find new territories in sound. 10 years ago some music was called innovative just because it was technically advanced, and not because it was aesthetically advanced. And that’s why now, 10 years later, it has become part of the mainstream. We wouldn’t want to dwell into that for too long. Some European festivals do that, but truly interesting events don't.
I forgot the question!
Maybe there was no question…
Haha. We just received an offer to sell hot pancakes during our festival. That’s another thing I really don’t like! Catering and music… Some events are quite successful at combining this, but for me, when I listen to music, I don’t eat. I listen to music! Especially if the music is important.
We have a saying in Lithuanian about carbonad jazz...
Haha! I see what you mean. Ant it doesn’t make it better if the food is organic. It only makes it worse and more pretentious. Pancakes!..
I’ve been thinking about this idea recently, when we think about experimental music, maybe it just doesn’t exist anymore? Maybe we can’t think about experimental music outside of specific genres? If that’s true, maybe there is experimental music that has to be sought in specific fields of music?
When promoters speak about experimental music and do not mention genres, it sounds general. ‘We don’t care about genres, we are open to anything, we just want new things’. And then you look at the festival’s program and what you see is all the same. They copy each others programs, they mostly fall for discotheques and raves, and they are programming relatively accessible ambient music.
So, maybe looking for new expressions within specific genres and fields is by far not the worst way to go.
When do you usually start to think about next year?
I am already thinking about next year. As soon as we buy the tickets for the artists and print the booklets, the festival has already metaphysically happened. I listen to music all the time anyway so I always make mental notes.
I remember coming home from last evening of last year’s festival and immediately emailing some agent about some musicians.
I also wanted to ask you about the event that you held in the beginning of September, during the White Nights in Riga. Was it organized to expose the name of the festival?
Yes and no. The White Nights is a city festival where each cultural organization hosts free-entry events during the night. The local municipality of Riga finances most of them. First of all, this always has to do with the local audience, as nobody else comes to Riga for the White Nights. So it is not meant for new audiences.
Last year Skaņu Mežs sold out and I realized during the concert that there were more people in the hall than there are people in Riga that are interested in experimental music. I sometimes feel like we really have reached the maximum amount of people that are interested in new developments in sound and music. So reaching a wider local audience means reaching people that are not interested in what we do. Participating in White Nights is more of a tradition. Also, we have so many artists we want to invite and we can’t fit into our program that we are always glad to have another date to use.
I really believe more and more Lithuanians – and probably Estonians – are discovering your festival every year. At least that’s what I feel this autumn.
That’s pleasant to hear, for sure. Welcome.
Are you happy about living in Riga?
I am happy that I am still living in Latvia and not Russia, if that’s what you mean!
Maybe, yes, but what about moving to Frankfurt or London?
Riga with its people has become such an integral part of what I do that I really cannot imagine doing it somewhere else. This is what I do. As long as I am interesting in sustaining this festival, Riga is an integral part of my life.
D.D. 2004 - 2016
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