Interview With Freek Koster/Fortarock

Categories: Interviews
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Published on: May 10, 2011

The Fortarock festival is fast becoming a household name among festival enthusiasts in The Netherlands. The affordable ticket prices, its relatively small scale and the strong and varied line-up are all part of the attraction. This year sees the third installment of Fortarock with another impressive line-up of bands, like Triptykon, Paradise Lost, Gojira, Agnostic Front, and Ghost. Enough reason to have a friendly chat with Freek Koster, one of people behind the festival. In this interview he adresses the succesful concept of Fortarock, the daunting task of organising such an event, how to attrack bands and he unveils the future plans for the festival..

Hi Freek, thank you for doing this interview. Can you introduce yourself and tell our readers who aren’t familiar with Fortarock what the festival is all about?

My name is Freek Koster and I am 35 years old. I have been working as a promoter for ten years now. I’m responsible for the booking of heavy bands in Doornroosje, an underground pop venue in Nijmegen. Since 2006 I also work for FortaRock with club shows before starting the festival in 2009. FortaRock is a collaboration with Doornroosje and is all about heavy music in all its forms. From death metal to post-hardcore and hard rock to math metal. The festival is a clear reflection of the club shows. Therefore the festival is represented by many different genres.

What are your expectations for this year’s edition?

This year will be edition number three. The first two editions were quite succesful and very well organized if I may say. Working in an organization which celebrated its 40th anniversary (Doornroosje) has its advantages. We got really positive feedback from bands, guests and visitors. Sure, we made mistakes, but those we can learn from. We will do everything it takes to improve and make it a better festival each year. Usually festivals need several years to reach a certain level of stability. It’s not being said we’re already where we want to be, but after just two editions we have reached a pretty high level already, which we are very proud of. But the only way is up!

One of the defining characteristics of Fortarock is its relatively small scale, especially compared to major festivals in Germany, France and Belgium. How did this come about and more importantly why?

FortaRock has no intention to get as big as Graspop, Hellfest or Wacken Open Air in the future. When we planned the first edition in 2009 our idea was to begin relatively small and grow each year a little bit, up to a festival with a capacity with 10-15.000 in the end. In 2009 we had no experience with doing festivals in this form what so ever. We played it relatively safe and in some ways we still do. We have to be cautious, because investing in such a market is difficult and not completely without risk. We’d like to build on a steady fanbase by presenting a strong an diverse line-up which distinguishes in quality.

Fortarock is a relatively small festival. Nonetheless you do manage to present an impressive line-up of bands each year. What’s your secret?

My secret, haha, I don’t know. I am a fan of music for quite a while now. Having a seven year older brother I was often confronted with acts like Jimi Hendrix, Joy Division, The Police, and Wipers at the age of ten. Maybe that helped, although listening to Hendrix was a little tough in the beginning. After I was hooked to music my interest shifted a little it to the real hard rock of the seventies and started collecting everything I could get of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. The basis of the heavy metal to come…like Maiden, Metallica, Slayer and such. But I never focused on hardrock and heavy metal only. There was more great music being made. Maybe that’s the secret; being open minded. In my opinion it’s good to alternate experimental bands like Meshuggah, Dillinger Escape Plan, Gojira with more traditional bands like Moonspell, Death Angel, Kreator, Arch Enemy.

This year you’ve managed to get bands like Paradise Lost, Gojira, Immortal, Agnostic Front, Arch Enemy, Dark Tranquility and Ghost. That’s a very varied line-up. How important is it for you to have this kind of variation and to what lengths do you go to meet the expectations of the visitors?

In my opinion the current line-up is pretty cohesive with established acts combined with lesser well-known acts like Triptykon, Kvelertak, Gojira and Valient Thorr. It is a nice mix between the old and the new. Variation is the key without losing focus. It is also very important for us to maintain the quality. Every act on the bill delivered great studio work, but are also able to translate this to the stage. That’s what it is all about on a festival, to present acts that ROCK the hell out of everybody!

When you’re looking for bands to play on Fortarock, what are the things you’re looking for?

First of all, festivals are always a little dependent on the bands offered by different agencies and the bands touring in this period. But having that said it is as important to reach out and contact agents and bands where possible. In the end that is how Triptykon and Gojira ended up on the bill. It took a lot of time and negotiations, but it was worth all the effort! Next to that we are looking for bands which have a distinctive history or being groundbreaking in a certain way right now. Every act on the bill has a story to tell and proved to be excellent on stage as I mentioned before.

Can you give a summery of the chores you need to do, so people can understand what it takes to organise a festival like Fortarock?

If I have to sum up the ‘the do’ list I could fill four pages, but to cut short; the preparation for the 2012 festival has already started! Not physically, but in my head there is already a line-up being shaped and bands are carefully being checked for the 2012 festival. The music is what counts first, in order to attract visitors. Not all wanted candidates will be available, you will need enough back-up candidates to fill the gap. After negotiations and signing contracts, which can take months, the actual pre-production will start somewhere in February. Drawings of the festival park have to be made. Permits have to be applied, which isn’t the most fun job to do. Several meetings are needed to discuss the different suppliers of the stages, power, water and other facilities. Again a path of negotiations and signing contracts. In the meantime a festival rider has to be made which contains all the necessary info for the bands and the organizing party like hospitality and technical riders, but also time schedules, route descriptions, contact details of everybody working with FortaRock. The actual build and break of the festival in the park takes a week. A team of 75-100 persons are responsible for all this.

Up until a couple of years ago The Netherlands had quite a reputation when it comes to metal festivals, like Dynamo Open Air, Sonisphere and Waldrock. Nowadays there’s no major metal festival left in this country. What’s your take on that?

There are several different reasons why there are no major festivals left in Holland. For every mentioned festival different ones. I don’t know the exact details, but Dynamo was a little bit unlucky due to necessary relocation and cancellation of an entire fest (mad cow disease). They never really recovered from this. The exact reasons why Waldrock stopped to exist are unclear, but a business dispute is often mentioned. The same can be said of Fields Of Rock which took place in Nijmegen, hometown of FortaRock. In the years between, festivals like Graspop and Wacken steadily grew in size significantly. Thus being tough competition for any attempt to realize a major festival in Holland. Maybe too tough..

One of the charms of the festival are the cost-friendly ticket prices in combination with a fine organisation and an interesting line-up. Would you consider to change this concept or to upgrade Fortarock to a bigger festival?

No, we don’t consider major changes. We will try to keep the ticket price as it is right now, under 50 euros. As well we like to offer a broad variety of acts each year. We will however attempt to step up a notch to get where we want to be in the next years: a midranged metal- rock festival with a capacity of 10-15.000 people. Which means that for the 2012 festival an attempt will be made to get one or two acts that are of more fame than we have now. Nothing too big we can’t handle though. Don’t expect an Iron Maiden, Rammstein or Metallica.

Many bands are struggling to cope with the loss of revenue, due to decreasing sales in albums and other merchandise. Is this something you notice as a festival organiser as well?

Yes, band fees are steadily climbing. Where bands would get 2k in the past, they now want 5 or 6k. There is almost no room for negotiation, which is a pity. The tough festival competition makes it even worse. Some festivals will do everything to get a band no matter the costs. That’s fine, but sometimes it feels a bit awkward, because there is no reason to pay this much if you don’t have to. Live and let live…, but nowadays it’s more survival of the fittest.

Time for the final question. Can you describe the Fortarock experience in your own words?

That’s a difficult one, because FortaRock runs through my veins…it’s not easy to explain why it is so special. I think FortaRock offers an unique metal/rock experience which tries to excel in quality in all its forms, and appeal to a wide audience. Its also situated in a beautiful monumental park in Nijmegen which complements the music perfectly!

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