My interviewee is Sebastian Haase, a German economist and concert organizer directly from the heart of the Central European music business.Sebastian is the responsible person for the East-Central European region of the Emergenza Band Contest, the biggest worldwide festival for amateur and unsigned bands. For the interview I went to his flat; we drank a couple of beers, had some popcorn on the terrace and talked about his life as an organizer, the underground music scene, and the current financial situation of Hungary and the world.
How did it all start for you in Hungary?
I first came here in 2002, when I had an Erasmus year here, because of my ex-fiancé. Afterwards we were switching cities quite regularly, but finally she wanted to come back and settle down in Budapest, and I said okay, I would go with you if you really want it. Before all this, I took part in Emergenza with my band in Berlin in ’98, ’99, and 2000, so I had the opportunity to get to know the manager in Berlin quite well. After it seemed that I would come back to Budapest, I asked him if I could establish the festival here because it hadn’t existed in Hungary back then. Since then things turned out quite well, I got Austria, Slovakia and Czech Republic added to Hungary, turning it to the East-Central European region.
What are the main differences between your region and Western Europe?
Financially East-Central Europe is very hard because of many things. Cost-wise it’s quite the same: a Budapest club costs the same amount of rental fee as in Vienna, but to be able to pay that rental fee you can only charge half the price for a ticket, at most. The living costs are also quite the same, too: you need approximately the same amount of money if you want to rent a flat here as in Germany; in the Western region, you can get twice as much income though! It was way better before the financial crisis, but after that the Hungarian market totally crashed down, and since then, it’s extremely hard for everybody, no matter if you are a club, an organizer, or a band. Even the most successful bands like Tankcsapda or Kispál és a borz make half house shows these days, but not because they have got worse. It’s simply the fact that people don’t have too much money.
Looking solely at music, what differences can you find between Central European and Western bands?
I can compare it mainly between the Emergenza festival here and a youth club in Berlin where I have worked for five years as an organizer. What is sure, that the more you go to the west, the more money people can put into their hobbies. The more money you have, the better equipment you can afford, so the sound eventually becomes better. Besides, you have more money for a better rehearsal room and a better touring bus, so the whole vibe can be a bit more positive. Also, people seem to be more willing to do this hobby in a professional way in the west; if they want to be successful, they really do work for it. I have a good example for that: it’s quite usual for musicians in the West to play on the street when touring, a thing which you don’t really see Hungary. Still, it’s really worth it: if you play on the street you make promotion for yourself, you practice, and have loads of fun. Also when you’re touring, the money has to come from somewhere: I remember when I booked a show in Nürnberg for a local Berlin band called Harthof. Before their show they earned 300 EUR in only two hours playing on the street! Here in Hungary lots of band say “ah, come on, I don’t play on the street”. Still, if you want to be successful you need to see the other word in the phrase “show business”, besides show.
What can amateur bands do?
Lazy bands die young. What can you do? Work on your music, your song-arrangements and your sound; rehearse a lot with your band and also alone at home, and do drum and bass rehearsals to perfect the rhythm section. Go out together, promote yourself, print flyers, go to other concerts where the same kind of music is being played, and distribute your flyers there. Be on the spot, be the person everybody looks at. At Taubertal Open Air Festival there was a band called My Baby Wants to Eat Your Pussy: they annoyed the hell out of me by saying their name every three minutes again and again into the mic, but still, it worked, because 20.000 people heard their name from time to time. Use social media to your advantage: this mainly consists of Facebook of course, as MySpace is totally dead. It’s also important to have your own homepage beside Facebook, because Facebook is not everything. Also, produce stickers – there are stickers everywhere already, but if you don’t do it, your stickers are nowhere for sure! So go ahead and put your stickers at least into the toilets of pubs you visit, because everybody goes to the toilet.
Could you recommend some good young Central European bands, which might be unknown for the public?
Firstly I would surely mention The Downhill, a Slovakian band, which won in our region last year. They are absolutely worth checking out; they do Western European standard stuff. There are a couple of awesome underground bands in Hungary as well: if you have some time, make sure you google Morze, Metrosection, Soundvision, Bull Ball, or Just Another. A bit more famous band in Hungary is Turbo: they are really great musicians, and their next step should be to try and go abroad. If I were them, I’d surely try my luck with Emergenza, as we serve as a great standoff point towards abroad. As an example, Soundvision and The Royal Freakout alone had more than 20 concerts abroad with us already. The Royal Freakout even had the possibility to play on the main stage of the Czech festival Rock for People, and share the stage with Paramour, Kate Nash and Sum 41!
What do you like the most in Hungary?
Hungary is a beautiful country on its own, but first you have to mention the girls, because they are simply amazing. Not only they are beautiful, but you can get lots and lots of eye contacts from them. And it’s not only about girls: people are simply interested in what comes from outside. The nightlife in Hungary is great as well: there are huge parties, big concerts and so many cool places to go to. The food is delicious, and the small towns are beautiful… not to mention the Lake Balaton!
What are your plans for the future?
Well, my main plan now is to go back to Berlin and settle there. There are three main reasons for it. First, I’m totally homesick; I miss my family and best friends from back home. Second, after ten years of rock n roll it would be good to have a normal 9-5 job; I’m turning 36 this year, you know. And third, it’s sad to say, but Emergenza is simply not worth doing it; without financial support from the German state my firm simply would not survive. Especially in the horrible financial situation Hungary is now at the moment.
So how do you see Hungary as an insider-outsider economist?
Although I’m living here, I’m not really into the Hungarian media, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing after the new media law. What I see is that there are things which are going in the good way, but there are many things which don’t go towards the right direction. I found Viktor Orban really sympathic before was elected, and now that Fidesz have a 2/3 majority, they could do whatever they wanted to make this country a better place. And indeed, they are working a lot by passing 360 laws in the last two years. This means that even if you have studied law a couple of years ago, you don’t know the law at all anymore! There are some of them which must have been passed, but sadly there are laws which are completely out of line. Look at the media law. Or these centralization laws, which are totally against democracy: party people are put into all important positions, and it will be extremely hard to get rid of them in the future. Germany is not the best either when it comes to democracy, but what’s going on in Hungary at the moment is crazy. There are other laws which are against simple common sense: if you smoke weed, you go directly to prison. This is like Malaysia! In Europe most countries have started to tolerate smoking, but Hungary is now completely the other way around. If this law will be passed, 50% of the youngsters can directly go to prison. No workers, no tax income, everybody in prison. This is simply unclever. The huge problem with Hungary besides all this is the fact that its economic power is extremely small: Malév is bankrupt, MÁV is nearly bankrupt, BKV and Budapest is almost Bankrupt as well… not that the same wouldn’t be happening in Germany of course: BVG, the public transport company in Berlin is also close to bankruptcy, but Berlin, the city itself is in the same situation too.
If everybody is in such huge debts, as an economist, what do you think will happen to the world we’re living in?
The answer is simple: the financial system will crash. And then nobody knows, this thing has never happened before, so you simply cannot forecast something like this. All I can tell you is to make savings, live your life, respect others and stick to your values. We’re living in an interesting period at the moment: we’re the second generation in Europe who lives in total peace (if we don’t count the Bosnian war). It is sure that there are too many people and not too much equality these days.