“I’d invest the first million in my band” – a conversation with Robert Chmielewski, the director of Asymmetry Festival

Change is very frequently one of the ingredients of progress and success. Asymmetry Festival is a constant element on the concert-map of Poland, yearly at the beginning of May. The event changes from to year to year, and the visible sign of its success is the growing number of artists and fans.

The fifth edition of Asymmetry Festival will take place in 2013. So, you are celebrating a small anniversary. What events the former editions has stayed in your head the most and what do you wish for, the most, during the following festivals?

In Asymmetry I value good contact with the audience. A trade market of ideas, suggestions, very frequently very harshly formulated, has co-created the programme of the festival. It turned out, that the audience quickly guesses our intentions. Asymmetry as a festival of numerous music genres, daring artists and the audience members, who know what they want, works well. Practically it looks as follows – if for some reason we couldn’t invite an artist, who the fans strived for, than in the following edition we tried to cope with the “order”. But, that’s just a part of Asymmetry. The other important matter are the event accompanying the festival. Last year’s study visit of the directors of Eastern and Western European festivals, had such a stimulating effect, that we developed it in the upcoming edition – in the form of a separate event. We named it the “Asymmetry Convention”, which combines the elements of a meeting, conference, trade fair and is aimed at carrying out the Pan-European, culture-forming targets, which are very close to me. Here the attendees of the event are the co-creators as well. The following editions of the festival and Convention are suppose to put even more emphasis on the meeting of Eastern and Western Europe, as a factor for our festival’s development. They are also supposed to refer to the local experiences from the circles of the, so-called, urban culture or keep close track of the new media in culture. Another type of Asymmetry’s activity, which we will develop in the upcoming years, is the artistic aspect. We still want to surprise with our programme and be opened towards new music genres since, as we saw ,the flirt with hip-hop or electronics serves our concept of the event. Time for another “repertoire step”. In this case we also refer to the taste of our audience. The upcoming years will focus on broadening the repertoire, new forms of festival activity and new ways for Asymmetry’s development. We will not confine ourselves to a “guitar-based ghetto”, that’s for sure. Our name demands humility and the need to toy around with the form of the festival accompanies us for a long time. Our audience members read it really well.

“Asymmetry’s formula evolves and will keep changing” – said Tomek Jurek, the executive producer of Asymmetry, last year. The previous edition was not only a different location that O.D.A. “Firlej”, but also the division into a few stages, a lot of alternative electronics, hip-hop. What assumptions did accompany You during the organization of the fifth edition? Right now, taking the programme under consideration, there will be less hip-hop, however, in the form of one of the members of the excellent act, Dälek. Things look similar in the case of electronics. Did you come to a conclusion, that it’s better to have less, but better quality artists?

After “Firlej”’s concert hall, where Asymmetry matured for three years, we entered the industrial space of the old Browar Mieszczański [Bourgeois Brewery], settled in all the rooms in the process, in order to maximally fill them with our music. Finally we could allow ourselves to hold more than just a single stage, thus the list of acts was long and the particular genres were frequently and decently represented. The fifth edition is one the move again. This time we enter the Hala Stulecia [Centennial Hall] – the architectonic flagship of Wroclaw, a world-renown monument included in UNESCO’s catalogue of worldwide heritage. It’s a wonderful building. One can feel the artistic genius of its creators and the visionary concept, which survived decades, and possibly gained much thanks to the meticulous renovation. We will place the main stage of the festival there. Once again, we wish to use all the assets of the space entrusted to us. That’s why we reached for the output of artists, who harmonize, in my taste, with the uniqueness of the building. Each band was taken under the magnifying glass in the context of how will it look on the stage in the Hall. Asymmetry made the attendees used to pietism of the artists gathered around a few simple paradigms such as: novelty of form, mixing styles and music genres, intransigence and staying true in their artistic expression. This time we invited bands, laconically described as: “performance machines”; artists endowed with charisma, who can establish excellent contact with the audience, who frequently don’t avoid highly individual forms of presentation. What’s important, the Hall will guest all of the audience members, who will want to attend the shows. So our problem, dating years back, with the spectators redundancy will disappear. We still work on the sound and visual presentation of the festival. Regarding the number of artists, it will still be quite similar. The line-up is still open. Whether the artists are of higher quality? I will once again refer to the audience.

A year ago you said, that Asymmetry wants to stay a small festival. But the 2013 edition will take place in the, aforementioned, big Hala Stulecia [Centennial Hall]. Where did the decision to move the event to the biggest object in Wroclaw come from?

After moving from “Firlej” and the experience in the Brewery last year, we made a decision to look for a new place for our shows and accompanying events. And that’s a major problem in Wroclaw since long. The Browar Mieszczański [Bourgeois Brewery] last year was an alternative for the “Firlej” club and the decision to leave our mother concert hall, alone, was by all means correct. However, the Brewery turned out to be too small for us in every respect. The Hala Stulecia [Centennial Hall] is a building perfectly suited and offering huge possibilities to organizers and lots of comfort to the attendees. The localization alone of the Hall is an asset for Asymmetry: a place easily accessible, close to the recreational terrains by the Odra river, near the Pergola, the Multimedia Fountain, with everything surrounded by the picturesque Szczytnicki Park. It all is worth showing to the spectators from all around Europe. Can a small indoor festival take place, in a big object, without a loss of reputation? I think that the Hall is a huge building with a private atmosphere. It might sound like words of a madman, but I’m going and try to prove, that that’s the way it is. We are not aiming at fully filling up the Hall. But we want to fill it up with good content: music and the atmosphere of a meeting. That’s that.

All of the shows will take place at the Hall, or are you planning on organizing a part of it e.g. on a stage located on the terrain around the object? Are you planning to use the interiors of the, close to Your heart, “Firlej” club, or maybe this time skip it?

We will invite the audience to the main plate of the Hall, while the tribunes will be out of usage. It enable the maximum comfort of the performance’s reception. We plan on utilizing a part of the terrain surrounding the Hall. We are currently working on it. But placing an open air stage there is not an option. The second stage will be organized by the Asymmetry Convent, creating a platform for meetings, discussions and presentations for the representatives of culture from Poland, Eastern and Western Europe. That’s the place to which we invited journalists, organizers of cultural life, festival directors, promoters of Polish culture abroad, animators and managers of culture to collectively create a series of workshops, discussions and meetings. The stage of the Convent will hold shows selected and programmed by our guests and performances by Polish artists chosen by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute – so we will have quite a representation. The rooms of “Firlej” will take part in the festival by presenting an extraordinary exhibition of photographs by Maciej Dakowicz. We have also planned a big-scale photos exhibition. And invited Wroclaw’s resident, D-Mo Zając, who works in Sydney, New York and London on a daily basis, to co-operate. And something for the fans of Ufomammut: we will present a collection of graphic arts by the Malleus group – as it is commonly known, that’s an identical being to the aforementioned band, who successfully create album art and posters for e.g. Asymmetry Festival.

Astronautalist visited Wroclaw for the first time in 2012, is coming back this year. The following will reappear as well: Amenra, Eraldo Bernocchi, MC Dälek will make a visit one again as IconAclass, Ufomammut, i.e. the authors of the ingenious Asymmetry Festival posters you mentioned earlier. One can clearly see, that there is something magical about this event, something which makes the artists want to come back. How would you describe that special something? What constitutes it?

Asymmetry creates a thread of connections, mutual relation and friendships. One can feel it. Killing Joke left very pleased with the contact with our public and the way we work (a home-made pie in the dressing room did the trick) after their show last year. Some of the artists can’t think of not coming to our event with their new repertoire. That’s the case with e.g. Dälek and Bernocchi. I guess, that there’s something more to it that just the artistic programme – a programme one just wants to be a part of. Surely, the whole crews’ enthusiasm is being granted to the artists. Our organizational, technical, booking, promotion crews and volunteers are people with passion. Asymmetry is their creation. This is their mutual work. Their effort, creativity and resourcefulness as well as the particular atmosphere, works, as I call it, over the ramp. The spectators, who come to Wroclaw from all over Europe, know it perfectly as well. There’s more and more of them every year. But let’s not fall into euphoria. This is happening naturally. Selectively if I say so myself. Our audience members are connoisseurs. And that fact works stimulating on, both, the audience and artists. Similarities attract one another.

The Hala Stulecia [Centennial Hall] is a piece of Wroclaw’s history, a historic monument. How many paths did you have to wear down, in order to persuade the proper people, to organize Asymmetry 2013 there?

It went down differently. If the employees of the Hall wouldn’t charm us with an invitation, we would probably continue roaming some factory halls, wondering whether the old electric installation hold once we plug our equipment in or if the spectators find the place. But, the Hall came to us. Smelling with the scent of wonderful architecture and modernity despite its, over, one hundred years of age. It was Asymmetry, the catch phrase, that did the trick and influenced the Hall, so we invited them to a co-operation. Now we compose a duo: magic of the place with the magic of the name. We will see in May, what will come out of it. This promises an excellent co-operation.

This is a place where Adolf Hitler made his speeches. Aren’t you afraid, that some unpredictable performer, e.g. Attila Csihar of Mayhem who is undoubtedly one of them, might impersonate the leader of the Third Reich and get you in trouble? Publicity would be surely powerful, but I assume, that you aren’t looking for that…

That’s a way too remote association. The Hall has its history and Asymmetry has its own. Today we create the cultural image of the city and country together. Asymmetry looks into the future. Tries to build a positive image of the world. We build the future of the part of reality that is close to us – culture and music; we do it via our artistic programme, line-up, organization of the Convention as a meeting platform. Our artists don’t sing about cornflowers and are heavily rooted in the modern world, but I don’t expect any performances other than artistic ones. We aren’t looking for cheap applause. Publicity is not our domain. More the idea of inviting, combining, meeting one another and co-operation. And all that accompanied by music. Mayhem and their vocalist are deserved names on the heavy sound scene. That’s why they will be our guests. Their shows arouse emotions, due to their spectacularity. That’s that.

A meeting of directors of European independent festivals, which You mentioned, took place during the previous edition of Asymmetry. The boss of the famous Dutch Roadburn Festival, a huge event, attended every year by excellent artists from all around the world, took part in it among others. What did that meeting give You? What conclusions did You make for yourself? Maybe you’d like to use some ides, solutions taking Asymmetry under account?

Asymmetry is looking for its place among the European festivals. Today we start to think, that music is not enough, in order to fully carry out our concepts. We don’t want to be “a Small Roadburn”, like we were frequently called. We love the audience, the music and the artists, but there are so much more co-organizers of our festivity: journalists, show organizers, booking agencies, institutions and companies. We want to find something interesting for them as well. We light the fire and gather all the willing individuals around it. The Asymmetry attendees from Eastern Europe are very important for us, attendees who are underestimated due to unknown reasons in the West and, strangely, in Poland as well. The meeting with Walter of Roadburn Festival made me realize, that the fact that his festival sold-out in 7 minutes and has a grand, worth of envy, line-up is not my cup of tea. There are other goals facing me and my crew, other than competing with more renown festivals via booking more classy artists, number of spectators and the rank of multimedia patrons. We want to stay an intelligent, private and intimate event, gathering intelligent people on stage, in front of it and on its side. We are aimed at something more than pure entertainment. We invite people from all around. Everyone. We want to be like Wroclaw – a meeting place.

I know, that possibly another big name will appear in the Asymmetry 2013 programme, but whose show, from the artists so far announced, will you be awaiting the most?

Well, yes. Another name might appear. In May I will especially await the show by the Von Magnet performers, the handsome American guy, Astronautalis and the man whose show has forever changed the Asymmetry audience, by presenting a totally different image of hip-hop: Däleka in the IconAclass project. I’m very curious about the show of the big representation of Estonia and the Polish showcase of the Convention’s stage. And the heavy artillery is getting ready to shuffle in some new cards: Cult Of Luna. That’s something for me.

Maybe let us dream a little. Robert Chmielewski receives a million euro from some millionaire, who’s in love with alternative music, in order to use them during the 2013 edition. What would you spend the money on? Current activities or maybe you’d look into the future perspectives, towards 2016, when Wroclaw will become the European Culture Capital?

I’d invest the first million in my team. They are people with imaginativeness and determination. If they’d have the chance to carry out their visions without financial restrictions, successes would come by themselves. The duality of this year’s edition: the Festival and Convention bound by the Asymmetry clasp will develop in the upcoming years. Surely, they wouldn’t spend it on some shiny things and fireworks. The attendees from Europe, Poland and Lower Silesia and the spectators as well as artists, will surely appreciate their ways of programming the festival; ways which run way out into the future. 2016 is an important date for Wroclaw, since it is a symbol of victory. And an attempt of a new opening. Communities and individuals need success. Does one need one million euro to do so? I don’t know.

To end with, I give You the chance to encourage fans of non-commercial music to come to Asymmetry 2013.

I would like to invite you to Wroclaw to the fifth edition of Asymmetry Festival. A series of performances by artists, who run out into the future with their output, are icons of genres and, foremost, incorporate new catch phrases in the life of the festival, creating asymmetric compositions, will take place in the beautiful natural surroundings and sparkling architecture. I would like to invite you to a series of meetings, presentations and discussions co-organized by distinguished animators of cultural life from the entire Europe. So, not only shows, but also a chance to exchange views, is something which will fill the 4 days of May in the Hala Stulecia [Centennial Hall]. What’s important: everyone will fit in. See you there.

Thank you for the conversation.

Interviewer: Leslaw Dutkowski