The gnarled, invisible hand of capitalism does quite the number on music festivals once it has them it its sweaty, sponsor-infested grasp. Fests that once represented the pulse of an underground scene and celebrated new, emerging acts morph into massive corporate entities that seem far more concerned with marketing overpriced energy drinks and/or sneakers to music fans that have already paid a small fortune to attend than promoting interesting music. The local talent is now relegated to a tiny side stage, and the bands lucky enough to perform earned their fifteen-minute set through participation in a grueling “battle of the bands” competition, itself another slick festival marketing opportunity. The security guards appear to be ex-UFC fighters, and anyone caught dancing aggressively will be pummeled into submission. Fun is tolerated as long is at adheres to strict brand guidelines. Water bottles cost $10.
Thankfully, there exist people on this spinning rock who recognize the problems inherent in the current “Festivals-as-Walmart” model and possess the force of will to create alternatives that place the emphasis squarely on the music and having a good goddamn time. Miloslav “Curby” Urbanec is one such person. During 1999 in his native Czech Republic, Curby created the Obscene Extreme Festival, a fest whose mission statement is simple: awesome bands, awesome fans, fair prices, pro-stage diving, pro-moshing, no militant security, no corporate bullshit. Sixteen years later, Curby has brought the festival around the world, with editions in Mexico, Indonesia, and Australia happening in 2013. This year, Obscene Extreme comes to North America for the first time, landing in Montreal, Quebec this August. We caught up with Curby to discuss the festival, his love of music, his crazy travel schedule, and why Montreal is the perfect fit for Obscene Extreme.
Obscene Extreme Festival has been around for quite some time. You started the festival in the Czech Republic in 1999. Can you talk about your motivations for starting OEF? Was it an extension of your record label?
OEF started because, first and foremost, I am a really huge music fan. I really like grindcore, death metal and thrash. I started listening to heavy metal when I was 12 or 13 years old, so as soon as I was able to, I wanted to help bands. I started by putting out fan zines, then doing a distro, then a record label, and then in 1999 I was like, “Well, I’m going to be 25 so let’s do a festival for my birthday party.” Because back then in the Czech Republic we didn’t have any underground, DIY festivals, so why shouldn’t I do it? I was just a small kid from a small village, so it’s really funny that I’m sitting here in Montreal right now and doing the Canadian version of the festival, because I didn’t expect it. I just wanted to do that one show all those years ago. It was a really fun show too; there were like 40 bands in two days including Dead Infection, Agathocles, and Cripple Bastards, who are all my favorite bands and my friends! But after that I wanted to stop, but everyone was pushing me to keep going. The atmosphere was so awesome; people sleeping under the stage, cows in the field, total anarchy, but nothing bad happened, so that just pushed me to do another festival and then another, and now here I am! Like you said, the first one was in 1999, and then in 2013 I had the idea to take the festival on a world tour. I started in Mexico, then Indonesia, then Australia. Mexico was really hard because there was really nothing to work with at all and I ended up losing a lot of money, but it’s all good. Overall we’ve had over 700 bands from tons of different countries play Obscene Extreme over the years, and now we are here in Montreal because we heard Canada was a great place for a festival, with more freedom than the USA, and my friends told me that Montreal is the right place, it’s the right scene, and that people will go crazy here, so we are excited!
Were you concerned that taking the festival to other places around the world, and thus taking a huge financial risk, was going to hurt your ability to do the main OEF festival back in the Czech Republic?
You are right [about the risk] and I know it now, but I didn’t know it back then and I really just wanted to try something new, you know? Doing the festival the same way all the time made no sense to me. I had to push it somewhere. I really like traveling. I’ve been in over 80 countries and I want to see more. My biggest loves are football, music, and travelling, so I wanted to find a way to mix them in a really smart way so this is why I bring the festival to other countries. In 2013 I was thinking to do it in countries that are not economically strong because the people cannot afford to fly to The Czech Republic, so let’s do it here and make people happy. And they were happy, but they didn’t want to pay anything! (laughs). Small example: in Mexico, people made fake wrist bands and tickets…
It must make you feel pretty good that people are making fake passes to your underground festival.
Man! I bought some fake passes to Obscene Extreme in Mexico just for my own collection! It was so shocking! It means I’m doing something good if I make something that people want to create fake passes for! But seriously, Mexico was really hard, and at the end I was just happy to run and jump on the airplane. It was really stupid of me to schedule the festival for one weekend in Mexico, then the next weekend in Indonesia, and then the next weekend in Australia, so I was traveling like an idiot! So far this year, I’ve booked over 170 bands, so imagine just the amount of communication time and logistics. It’s just a nightmare! I couldn’t even sleep. But whatever! I said I will do it, so I did it. In the end, I was so proud of it, because the people in Mexico didn’t believe that I would bring bands like Napalm Death, Doom, and Dying Fetus. I said “Listen, I am from Europe, I will do what I say!” But what usually happens in Mexico is that these huge fucking festivals get booked with big bands and people buy tickets, so the promoters make big money from pre-sale, but then the thing never actually happens so they (the Mexicans) didn’t believe me! So unfortunately we didn’t get a great crowd in Mexico because of this, so I am not sure if we will go back there even though people are asking for us to come back, but hopefully we’ll have a great show in Montreal and that Canada will be different and people understand that we need support for the first year so that we can keep Obscene Extreme coming back for a little while. We don’t want to disappear; if it goes good we’ll be back next year and we will do it better!
You talked before about how busy you were in terms of booking all the bands, travel, etc. For example, it was you who communicated with my band to let us know we could have a spot on the festival, and you took care of all the little details with us, even though we’re just a small local band. It seems like you are personally hands-on with every aspect of OEF. Now that the festival is so huge, and is a traveling show, do you have a team that helps you or do you still take care of all the details?
No, I am still really hands on. I care about all the bands because I really love music. Bringing Obscene Extreme to Japan, for example, allows me to discover a ton of new Japanese bands, which is great because I love new bands and I’ve always tried to support local bands ever since the first year of Obscene Extreme. We don’t care who is small and who is big, everyone gets the same stage, same back line, the same good sound. It’s really important because I don’t believe in competition in the underground, I believe in cooperation, which I think is important in helping this scene and makes it a healthy environment for music. So I care about every band, I listen to every band, but of course I have people in every country who help me. Without them I could not do the festival in other places. But [the reason I’m so hands on] is because Obscene Extreme is another one of my babies. I have four kids, but OEF is like another kid! That’s why I attend all of the festivals in person because I want to make sure that we care about the bands, that we care about the fans, that everything happens the way we want. I don’t want to just book it and stay at home. I want to see it, I want to enjoy it and see how it goes. It’s my baby that’s now 17 years old, so it’s a wild teenager!
You’ve talked about how huge of a music fan you are and how the festival comes from that fandom. The line up for the Montreal show is pretty amazing, so what bands are you most excited to check out? I know that you’re a big Trap Them fan. How stoked are you to hear “Blissfucker” live?
Oh man, yeah, I love that album, I think it’s one of the best albums that came out last year. I have to listen to it at least once a week. It’s such a great album with such great riffs, I almost can’t believe someone recorded and released it! I’ve seen Trap Them a few times live and it’s always been great, so I can’t wait to see them again. Also bringing Pungent Stench and Agathocles to Canada means something to me, as well as Immolation, as they’re my favourite death metal band. I’m not a huge death metal freak, but some bands like Immolation are just so good. I like Magrudergrind, DropDead, and all the fast bands! We wanted to do a really good line up, but it’s really hard for us because we want to keep the ticket prices low. However, our budget compared to Maryland Deathfest, for example, is really different. Tickets (to MDF) cost $200, so they can push the limits of what they are able to offer bands and then those bands expect the same from us, so that’s something I don’t like but I cannot change it. I want to support the bands and pay them good money, but still make it fair for fans. I hope that’s what we did, and I hope it will be a really good fest.
One of the things about the other countries to which you’ve taken Obscene Extreme is that they tend to have great local extreme music scenes. You’ve touched on this a bit already, but can you talk about how important it is for you to feature local acts wherever the festival goes?
Absolutely! Because to me Obscene Extreme is more of a meeting place. It’s not a festival created to make money. Money is not the fuel for us, because money is just paper, it means nothing at all. I really want to explore, so every country OEF visited had lots of local bands. It’s important too, because I want to see these bands with my own eyes. I’ve never seen Napalm Raid before, so I really want to see them. Really, I book the bands for myself! (laughs.)
Obscene Extreme is known for its unique vibe compared to other festivals. OEF is pro-everything; people can mosh and stage-dive, there is no asshole security, and no barricades between fans and the bands. Are you afraid that as the festival expands to other places that you will have to compromise on this ideal in order to get the festival where you want to take it?
No, not really. We have to keep this vibe. That’s what we want to bring here; something new, something fresh. Who cares about doing festivals like a prison, you know? At the big commercial festivals, you are like ten meters from the stage. Are they making those festivals for the photographers, or what? We have only one sponsor, and that’s our fans, so we have to do it for them as much as we can. So all the stage diving, moshing, everything is really important. I’m very old school; I’m over 40 so I grew up with shows this way, so I want to keep it [like that]. It makes no sense for me to do the festival with compromises. That’s why when we select the venues for the festival, we always talk to them about what we want. We need them to be okay with stage diving, have a good crew (we call them crew instead of security because it’s more friendly) and cheep beer! It’s really important that we keep OEF the same as it is in the Czech Republic. I mean the festival in Czech will always be different because it is open air with 5000 grind freaks from all around the world. I wish everyone could come to the Czech festival and just suck in the atmosphere.
But are you afraid that when you are in other cities besides the Czech festival, and maybe in places where you have less control, that someone could get hurt?
Of course. It’s always something that would be heartbreaking if someone were to get injured during the festival. No one wants to see someone get hurt. This is a festival full of music, fun, old friends, new friends; like I said, this is more of a meeting where we all get to talk to each other. That’s part of the reason I book all the local bands, so that you can all talk to each other. You could have one band from Vancouver who may not get the chance to meet other bands from this part of the country during the rest of the year, so this is great for the underground in general. But injuries is something that I hope will never happen, but shit happens in life. How can I control it? Also, I believe in the good part of people. Human beings can be good or bad, but I believe in the good part, and that people have respect for one another. You know, when you are stage diving, you have to respect the people in the audience. Stage diving is not about being brutal and trying to kill someone. These people are there to help you survive, because if they are not there (to catch you) you’d die!
I think it says something about the crowd at Obscene Extreme that you’ve been doing it for so long and there haven’t been any major injuries.
Absolutely! Those people are really friends of the music. They buy merch, and buy albums because they understand that that’s how band survive. It’s not like empty, selfish Justin Bieber fans taking selfies during the show. It’s so stupid!
We’ve talked a lot about the longevity of Obscene Extreme, and you mentioned the massive number of bands you’ve booked over the years. Are there any bands you’ve always wanted to book, but still haven’t been able to get? Who is on your Bucketlist?
Bolt Thrower! I’ve been trying to get them for a long, long time. I was close to booking them in Japan this year. They typically pick up only a few festivals a year in Europe, but this year they’re not playing any European festivals at all! Last year they only played one. So it’s hard, because every festival wants them. So hopefully it will work out for Japan next year, as we’ve been in contact with them and their tour next year would allow for it, but we shall see!
Another band we’ve always wanted was Repulsion. I am friends with them and I’ve been talking to them for months to try and book them for this year’s fest, and it still didn’t happen. I don’t understand it. When you are friends, you can offer them something and they can say, “We need more,” because Americans always need more (laughs)! But after months of talking to them they finally said that it was the wrong date for them, and I was like, “Man, this is bullshit!”
And I would like to book ABBA, you know, the Swedish band? That’s my dream (laughs)! It will probably never come true, but come on!
I think you would blow a lot of minds if you got ABBA to come on stage at OEF.
Haha, well one year I did a joke on April 1st and announced that I’d booked ABBA and some people took me seriously! I even made a ABBA page on the Obscene Extreme website with a song on it and everything! It was such a good joke, but then I had friends calling me for tickets! I was laughing all fucking April 1st long!
I have one last question that’s not really related to the festival. I know you’ve put out a lot of great music through your label, and last year I went to Maryland Deathfest with my Dad. He’s a huge fan of Birdflesh and Cripple Bastards, and I know you’ve released music by both bands and you are friends with them as well. Can you tell us if either band has new material in the pipeline?
Yeah Birdflesh did some splits recently, but right now they are really busy. It was funny, they came to Indonesia and Australia with me, and on one of the flights we were on this huge Boeing plane, but it was just me, my daughter, and the three guys from Birdflesh. They are such good guys; they have fun on stage and off stage. In terms of new material, I don’t know – they are involved in other projects right now, but who knows about the future?
Obscene Extreme America takes place in Montreal, Quebec this August from the 20th to the 23rd at a various downtown venues. For more information, the line up, and tickets, visit http://obscene-extreme.com/en
Written and Compiled by Jesse Gainer