Finnish phenoms Nightwish to headline Masters of Rock

Nightwish, photo: Ville Juurikkala

Masters of Rock, held near Zlín, is the biggest international rock festival in the Czech Republic each year, with a spin-off winter event as well as sister festival in Plzeň. Masters of Rock in the past has featured legends from Def Leppard to Motorhead. This week, promoters announced that the headliners for 2015 will be the Finnish rock phenomenon Nightwish.

Masters of Rock 2013,  photo: archive of Pragokoncert
I took the opportunity to ask founder Jiří Daron of Pragokoncert ‘Why so early?’ in terms of the announcement. First discussed, though, was the history of the festival itself.

“We started this 11 years ago as an international festival but in the first inception there were many more Czech and Slovak bands. At the time there were only a few international acts. But that year we had the Finnish band HIM, the Swedish band Hammerfall, Great Britain’s Slade and Germany’s Die Happy. That year we saw 7,000 fans attend and it was a two-day event. Over the years we expanded it to three, then three days with an opening party and today it is four. We also expanded the venue and the area before the stage and today we get around 25,000 attendees each day.”

Those numbers suggest that a love of hard rock or heavy metal is alive and well in the Czech Republic…

“Oh yeah. Czechs like rock music quite a bit and for rock fans our festival is the biggest attraction. It is really internationally. Today we have about 40 or 50 bands, of which five are Czech. Because it is possible to buy tickets through our website, we also know that we have a lot of visitors from abroad: up to 40 different countries. So the festival is well-established internationally.”

I want to talk a little about the line-up for next year, but first, is that one of the reasons why you announce who will be taking part so early: because of international fans and to build up excitement which grows as the concert dates near?

“The last few years we began announcing the line-up of some of the first bands even earlier, in September, and launching pre-sales on our website. This is the trends regarding festivals abroad. If you look at the biggest metal event, the Wacken festival in Germany, attracting 80,000 visitors, they also announce early. But they are much, much better, they sell out! They sell tickets early and sell out. You have to concentrate early on bands you want to get. One inception ends and already you begin trying to book bands for the next edition. I think we are the earliest festival to announce when it comes to the Czech Republic but we try and gauge what we are doing compared to the best festivals abroad.”

Jiří Daron,  photo: Czech Television
When you begin putting together putting together a list of performers, what are some of the decisions in terms of the art direction?

“We try and put together a colourful list of different genres styles, so there can be some classical rock, heavy metal, power metal, symphonic metal, rock and punk. It has to be carefully done to have different styles, and I would say melodic metal dominates. But there is room for some stuff which is less mainstream like punk or black metal.”

With all the work that goes into organizing a festival of this size, do you get to attend the shows? Or are you ‘always’ working?

“That’s a good question. I always try to see the bands we are working for, even if it’s just fifteen minutes. In the evening, I sometimes have time to see a whole set. Of course, there is a lot of work behind the scenes. I meet all the bands backstage and most of them are our friends and we talk and make plans for the future. We usually have around 70 journalists to meet and then there are tours of the festival site, and sometimes there is time to grab a beer and so on. Lots of things. So I can’t see all of the bands but I try.”

You mentioned some legends earlier at Masters of Rock, here are some more: Motorhead, Thin Lizzy, Guano Apes… Scandinavian bands have a strong presence and next year the fest will be headlined by… well, I’ll leave it up to you to say…

“Next year will be headlined by the phenomenal Finnish band Nightwish. We have a very long working relationship with the band and I am very happy to be able to announce that the first date they set for next year was Masters of Rock. They just spent three months in the woods, camping, writing and composing material for their new album, which will the first with singer Floor Jensen. I think their new album to come out in the spring is one of the most anticipated new albums right now. I am very much looking forward to hear it.”

Floor is the third singer the band has had – what do you think of her singing style?

Nightwish,  photo: Ville Juurikkala
“I’ll put it this way: Nightwish has a long history with our festival. The band played at Masters of Rock with each of their singers: Tarja Turunen, Anette Olzon, and now Floor Jansen. Tarja’s vocals were incredible and she was unique. We still work for Nightwish and for Tarja and as artists they are great. Anette had a completely different voice and some fans were a little critical. Floor, I think, is a great choice and the response so far has been excellent. Floor has been singing for 16 years and she looks great, is a great singer. She performed also with other bands including ReVamp and After Forever. I think the band is very happy to have her and I think they can produce some great work together.”

As you mentioned, there are fewer Czech bands now than in the past but there are also notable performances. For example, it is the kind of place you can see old-school Lucie Bíla return to heavy metal with Arakain. That was a few years back…

“That was great. She of course began with them and it was the only show of its kind. Arakain is a traditional heavy metal band. Lucie Bíla began with them before changing her style and becoming a very big pop star. To see her put on heavy metal clothes’ for one evening was very unique and we are very happy when something like that comes together. It was really unique.”

Who came up with the name ‘Masters of Rock’? It’s a golden name which has been used on albums, was it your idea?

“It’s funny you should say that. About a month ago I was in a store in Olomouc where I picked up a really old record with well-known hits and it was called Masters of Rock. So I said I had to buy it. The name… I am also involved in sports events and when I was thinking of a name I recalled that in tennis there is a Tennis Masters series featuring the best of the best. And I thought that was the kind of festival we wanted to have: one featuring some of the very best in rock and heavy metal. Motorhead. Def Leppard. Whitesnake. Manowar. These are masters.”