After the Colectiv tragedy in Bucharest, Romania, in October 2015, the first ever international health, safety and security seminar in Romania took place under the Revolution Festival umbrella. 

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Revolution Festival - in Romania

“It was clear that we have a problem,” Revolution Festival’s Flavius Baican told Pollstar after the country experienced two club fires in just over one year. “The question was how professionalized the business was.”

There are regulations for football, but none for festivals or club shows. “If you ask the authorities whether the way you’re operating is legal, at the moment, nobody can give you a straight answer,” Baican said. “Sadly, after the Colectiv tragedy pretty much every venue was temporarily closed. For approximately five to six months no musical events were taking place anywhere, because nobody knew what the necessary paperwork was.”

The Romanian government has granted all the clubs a one-year “grace period” to get their health and safety measures up to speed. This period will end this summer. Meanwhile, venue operators are at the mercy of the authorities. Many venues are still closed, and it’s starting to affect the musical scene.

“Not the big guys. They can have the big venues, because they have money. I’m talking about the newcomers, who need venues for 200 to 400 people,” Baican said. “And you’ll have a hard time finding such venues in Romania at the moment. It’s virtually impossible. And that’s killing the newcomer bands, and eventually the industry.”

To reopen, these small clubs would have to make investments that are out of reach. There haven’t been any incidents at Romania’s outdoor events, because, Baican says, the promoters in charge operate diligently and with their audience’s well-being in mind. Baican thinks Aroc, the country’s recently formed promoters’ association, will do a lot of good educating club operators and promoters.

Once they get their first major topic out of the way, which is taxes, “they are going to be a force.”

With such structures in place, and success stories such as the Untold, Exit, Electric Castle and Revolution festivals, Baican expects a festival boom in 2017, “which is good for the new generation. A lack of festivals leads to a generation that is not used to go to events.” Specifically, paid events, because Romania has many free events and concerts put on by the government.

According to Baican, the city hall asks: “Who is going to attract a lot of people? Let’s bring them in. Why? Because we have the money. Even if only 500 people show up its still OK, because it’s public money, so what?” Then there’s corruption. Giving a little bit extra, whether that’s money or chocolate, has always been a part of the Balkan way of life, which was taken over by Communism after World War II.

Prior to 2013, Romania had experienced a 10-year period without festivals. Apart from concerts by the biggest acts, who stopped in Romania while on European tour, there wasn’t much going on. This is why the Romanian public today appreciates live music offerings. Untold Festival, the Eastern European Tomorrowland, really kicked things off in 2015, when it won the European Festival Award for best major festival in the year of its inception.

From the get-go, it was promoted as a major event, attracting some 240,000 attendees over four days to the Romanian city of Cluj in its first year. Romania’s other major festival is called Electric Castle, which was founded in 2013 and grew much more organically. Last year it welcomed 120,000 guests over four days to the picturesque Banffy Castle in Transylvania, not far from Cluj. Then there’s Revolution Festival, which was launched by Baican in 2015 in Timisoara.

Romania’s capital Bucharest doesn’t have a major festival, at least none that’s not promoted by the city itself. “Don’t ask me why,” Baican said. He chose Timisoara for his event, where the Romanian revolution of 1989 started. It was the first city in the country to declare itself Communist-free. “Timisoara had the only punk movement in Romania during [dictator Nicolae] Ceausescu’s era [which lasted from 1965 to 1989]. It was also the only city in Romania to boast rock stars.

In the ’70s we had a band called Phoenix, a kind of Romanian Jethro Tull. They fled the regime and became icons. The only rock music festival accepted by the communists was Timisoara Rock.” Still, the regime wanted to know what bands were playing and what lyrics they performed.

Even after the whole country had freed itself from Communism, Timisoara still led the way musically: “We had the first hard rock band in Romania, we had the first black metal band in Romania, and probably one of the first serious electronic music festival in Eastern Europe in 1993/1994: TMBase.” However, around 2005 “everything stopped. Everything went jazzy. The generation that was full of energy, that went through revolution and caused a stir in the ’90s, grew up and was consumed by daily life.”

Baican believes that because the following generation did not have to develop a counter-culture, authority filled the gap.

With the help of the Exit crew the first edition of Revolution festival was put together in 2015. Almost 12,000 people visited the premiere, which took place over two days in Timisoara’s Village Museum. In 2016, around 15,000 came.

This year, the festival will take place over three days, and Baican expects some 20,000 visitors in total.

“We also focus very strongly on the non-musical content. Last year, we created a utopian city called Lunatica, without rules, or rather, with utopian rules. We had a fabulous actor who played the mayor. You could talk to him, and would guide you through the city’s history and present. There’s a jail for people who are not drunk, and where you’ll receive a free beer, because we do not tolerate sober people in Lunatica.

“We want to expand on such ideas this year. And the theme of corruption will play a major role.”