Goodwill abounds in Colombia, the good will to do things their way rather than contribute positively to existing initiatives. Unfortunately, that goodwill can only be productive if it is well structured and synchronised with reality. A few months ago, Felipe Szarruk, musician and founder of Subterránica, released a change.org petition to be the chief organiser of Festival Rock al Parque, the most important open festival in Colombia. Despite having good intentions, it is likely that his petition will be declined as IDARTES, the institute that handles not only Festival Rock al Parque but other cultural events in Bogotá with a governmental budget, has to handle things in a bureaucratic way. We will analyse bit by bit his petition starting with a small background on his dissatisfaction with the festival.
In his petition, Felipe Szarruk makes it clear that he is competent enough to manage one of the biggest festivals in Latin America, Festival Rock al Parque. In case you do not know how Festival Rock al Parque came to be and what its main purpose is, let me give you a quick summary. Festival Rock al Parque started as the initiative of young musicians from Bogotá to create the perfect space for young people to explore rock music. This initiative was and still is funded by Bogotá’s Mayoral Office, meaning it is paid with local taxes. Over the years, twenty two to be precise, the festival has evolved and grown bigger than anyone could have expected back in 1995. It has served as a stepping stone for several bands at a national level, such as Pestilencia and Aterciopelados, among others.
Festival Rock al Parque was not only a starting point for bands, it was also a safe space for young people to explore rock and all its variants, as it is supposed to show the diversity behind the musical genre. Diversity is, in fact, the key word in here as rock itself has diverged from its point of origin, giving space to musical expressions like metal, rock fusion, reggae, ska and every flavour in between and beyond it. Said diversity was also intended to be exposed in a festival as Festival Rock al Parque in three days of “extreme conviviality” as all those genres get mixed and by extension the urban cultures behind them.
As things progressed and the festival got bigger, many eyes start to look at it as a business with good reason. Every band that plays in the festival gets paid, no matter if it is an international band, a consolidated national band, or an act that is looking for its lucky break. Besides the financial weight of the festival, there is the matter of the musical quality of the festival. It is hard to keep everyone happy, so every year the festival receives criticism due to the selection of the lineup because one year it favours one genre or the other because the decision depends on the people of IDARTES. Most fans of the festival believe that the people behind the festival are either corrupted or that they do not have the soul of a rock fan to pick the acts that perform the festival.
It is this last point where Felipe Szarruk petition comes in. As a musician, he saw there was a lack of events to play and proper press follow up of the few events present, so, he found Subterránica, an underground webzine where local events are covered, as well as creating more space for underground bands to perform. Thus far, he was very well intended towards the rock scene. From his perspective, Festival Rock al Parque has been a niche that created a kafkaesque cycle where the same people play or work at the festival, perpetuating the status quo. After years of critiquing the festival, he decided it was time to take matters into his hands through the change.org petition.
After giving some background, let’s analyse the petition itself. According to Felipe Szarruk, the festival is ill and it needs a cure. In eight points where he attempts to attack all the vicious points that according to him, Festival Rock al Parque has. From the way the call for bands is set up to how curators of the lineup should be, Felipe Szarruk proposes a different way in which problems should be solved. The first point in the agenda: The call out for bands to participate.
In his first issue, Felipe Szarruk proposes that the call and selection of the bands that are going to participate in the festival has to be a transparent process where juries should not have any affiliation to any of the bands. If such a thing happens, either the jury or the band has to be disqualified. The process of selection is very rigorous as it is right now, mostly because it is a selection made with public money, therefore, every step of the process is audited by not only fans but by government officials. Besides that, knowing the degrees of separation in a very tight scene can be difficult, to say the least. It may be a solid point, but the practice may be trickier than intended as the only way to ensure this would be by hiring juries outside Bogotá’s musical scene.
In the second point, press accreditations are addressed. According to Felipe Szarruck, press accreditations need to be distributed not only to major press medias, but also to alternative press. In this point, I must say that due to the characteristics of the festival press accreditation has to be very inclusive. However, after reading the list of the approvals given this year, I must say that it was inclusive as I saw many alternative medias in it, some of those medias only have digital presence through a facebook page. With that in mind, perhaps the term should not be adding more alternative medias, but more accurately serious alternative media.
The third point of business: give local bands priority. In his petition, he proposes that the local scene should be favoured with at least 70% of the bands that will play in the festival. There is a point that needs to be clarified here, as for local bands there are three ways to participate in the festival. One way is through the band’s call for entries, another way is by getting the approval from local rock festivals in the city, and the third one is to be invited by the festival. This last one is reserved to already established acts. For newcomers, there are only two.
Now, in Bogotá, there are twenty localities, but only five of them promote music festivals like Festival de las Montañas and Festival de festivales, and between the boards of said festivals, they give the chance to around five bands that have developed in the frame of said local festivals. As I stated earlier, Festival Rock al Parque is a safe space for people to explore rock and its diversity. Said exploration not only involves the local scene but also what it has produced nationally and worldwide, meaning that 70% will be tough to achieve with a festival that is struggling with a governmental budget.
The fourth point in the agenda is regarding what Rock is. According to Felipe Szarruk, Rock is limited to a four-member classical band structure. However, the interpretation of what rock is can be very subjective, as many genres have deviated from that original “four-member” set up. Not only more instruments have been included in rock bands, but also alternative and conceptual bands have grown beyond it. This topic, in particular, seemed to be too subjective and depends mostly on the taste of the one that proposes.
Fifth point, relevancy of the international acts included in the festival and redistribution of the budget. Relevancy is a very subjective matter as it depends on the ears of the beholder. In the last five editions of the festival the international bands that have been invited to play have been very relevant to their respective genres. Regarding redirecting a big part of the budget to bring one or two “relevant” international bands goes against the third point of his own proposal. A limited budget that wants to hire more local bands while limiting to only two big but money-eating bands does not seem very equalitarian to me.
The sixth point of the proposal: opening alternative stages within the festival that can be managed by private brands or media. This year I saw a small stages managed by ADN press, part of the El Tiempo editorial house, in which there were battles between musicians.. There were so many things and bands going on in the festival that music could not be heard from that alternative scenario. The festival has three stages already, adding more may be counterproductive for those who play in those, as attention is not easy to get in between stages.
Seventh point: tipping the festival. Rock al Parque is a free open air festival and Felipe Szarruck proposes that people should be able to tip the festival, following the marketing idea from American museums where if you do not have enough money to enter, you do not enter. This to create the idea that Rock music is not for free. This point is conflictive with the very purpose of the festival to create a safe environment for people to explore. Now, many young people do not have money to pay the tickets for a private concert, so they take the chance to go to Festival Rock al Parque to see them live.
Eighth and last point: work eligibility. It states that people that are hired to be part of the team that organise Festival Rock al Parque should have the proper curriculum vitae and experience to handle the position they are supposed to work in. It is a solid point and it should be addressed, but he should check his facts. IDARTES is a governmental institution and, as such, it should follow Colombian law. For contracts and personnel hiring, people want to work with the government have to meet the criteria of eligibility that is based on both educational background and work experience. Said process is audited by other governmental authorities, at least in three instances.
After reading and analysing the proposal exposed by Felipe Szarruk, I have three conclusions. One, the proposal itself has three solid points that can be addressed and audited by everyone that is interested in the development of the festival, those regarding the band’s call and how the budget is expended. Two, the point of view exposed in the document is too subjective, which makes the proposal more a personal vendetta than an actual proposal to be taken seriously. And third, this proposal that has been somewhat promoted by the shares on social media and exposure in a mocking website has not reached far, as it only has 373 out 500 signatures that it requires.
The petition is not a serious attempt to make a significant change in the festival. In fact, it seems more a list of complaints and very simplified solutions that are not attacking the source problem. I do not imply that the festival is perfect, as everything needs to evolve and to improve, but I also believe that we, the fans and attendants, need to strengthen ourselves to give our scene a boost. What is your opinion regarding the festival and regarding this petition?