Pohoda Festival celebrated in 20th anniversary this year, with Drowned In Sound referring to the event as a ‘Utopia’ – citing its jarringly friendly atmosphere, ‘mind boggling’ food & drink, and a total absence of landfill acts on the line-up as reasons to why no place does it better. The exemplary line-up included James Blake, PJ Harvey, Flying Lotus, Sigur Ros, DJ Shadow, PJ Harvey, Nina Kraviz, Thundercat, Ash Koosha and a litany of other assorted innovators. Supplementing the diverse music on offer was a programme of literature, dance, visual art, film and theatre.
Insights spoke with Pohoda’s founder and organiser Michal Kaščák about the roots of the Slovakian festival, how it cultivates such a hospitable vibe, the suppliers he works with to make it all happen, and more.
Festival Insights: Could you tell us about the origins of Pohoda and the core concepts behind it?
Michal Kaščák: I had a band back in 1985 that was part of the Czechoslovakian alternative music scene. We had many problems with the communist regime, so the change in 1989 was something of a miracle for us. A free music scene started to develop and many festivals were founded, mainly in the Czech part of the country. Slovakia split into two independent republics in 1993, and I simply wanted to invite our friends to play with us in our city. So Pohoda started as local event with eight bands on one stage running until 4am. We were very naïve; we didn’t have any security – just a good PA and a lot of passion. I hope that people feel the festival has the same essence that it did in 1997, in its celebration of friendship, the miracle of free art, and freedom.
FI: Pohoda celebrated its 20th anniversary from July 7 – 9. What special plans did you enact for the occasion and how did it all go?
MK: Our main goal is always to make the festival better than it was a year ago. It was the same with the anniversary. We didn’t want to do some retrospective edition or an ego trip celebration. We had some special ‘gifts’ though. For one, we invited The Prodigy back. The philosophy was ‘no fireworks, but more art, better service and a more exciting experience’. It was the best birthday party I can imagine, with the best guests on the planet.
FI: You seem to pride yourself on how hospitable Pohoda is towards is audience. Could you give us some examples of how you foster this welcoming atmosphere?
MK: It is the same as when you are inviting friends to your house. You prepare the place and make nice food. You choose good music, good films, good art, and you can discuss all the beauties and difficulties of the world. Whoever wants to can stay over. You want to make it comfortable and clean but not overly sterile. Free water, good toilets, and a willingness to help everyone have a good time are some of the most important aspects.
FI: There were quite a few experimental acts on this year’s line-up, including Flying Lotus, Thundercat, and Ash Koosha. Does Pohoda handle all of the programming in-house, or do you work with external curators to find the most innovative musicians?
MK: I handle the booking and programming at Pohoda, it is my passion. Of course, I have many fantastic advisers – whether they’re part of the Pohoda team, friends, agents, other promoters, or fans. We used to work with curators at the beginning and returned to the idea in 2015 by giving one stage to an outside curator. We might extend that, but we want to present only artists we can be really proud of. I can’t imagine going to a TV or radio show and asking them to invite people when they might select artists I don’t believe in.
FI: Since Pohoda welcomes a decent amount of UK talent each year, how do you feel about the recent UK EU referendum result and how it will affect the European festival industry?
MK: I am sure that art is stronger than politics. I want British artists because they are fantastic, so I will be willing to go through some difficulties. Anyway, I am disappointed with the results of referendum. We ‘enjoyed’ totalitarian regime till 1989, so I know how it is to live behind real borders. Idea of the EU is fantastic, and while it’s easy to demolish something it is much harder to make it better. The result was a victory of fear, not freedom. It is interesting how populists can manipulate people – they speak about freedom, yet the results will be more customs and more bureaucracy.
FI: Who are some of the suppliers and production companies that you work with to ensure that Pohoda’s staging, lights and sound are as impressive as the line-ups?
MK: We work with some premium European suppliers as Megaforce for the open air stages and the superb British tent hirer Kayam for the five biggest tents. As for PA and lights, we cooperate with Slovak and Czech companies such as Amex Audio, Audio Line and Highlite. In order to create great experiences for visitors and artists alike it is important to have clear sound and impressive lights, and we provide a lot of attention to all of our stages in that way.
FI: In addition to the music, Pohoda also has the Visual Stage, a Public Art Festival Contest, a 4D Gallery, a Creative Zone and more. How important is it to you to offer and build upon these non-music activities and allow your festivalgoers to have their works displayed onsite?
MK: As I mentioned, I was a part of the Slovakian alternative scene in late 80s, and there were many happenings where music was mixed with visual art and all types of performances. It was my dream to reproduce that on a larger scale. We cooperate with some great names in European contemporary art such as Illona Nemeth and Milan Adamciak, and we had nearly 100 visual artists onsite in 2016. We don’t want to just to decorate the festival, we aim to transform the site into a gallery of contemporary art. Visitors love to be part of the programming, so the Public Art contest is very popular. It is great to involve people in the festival like that.