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Rok Ekzystentsiya music festival promotes progressive rock music in Ukraine


Among rock and pop music festivals that are held in Ukraine, Rok Ekzystentsiya is arguably the most prestigious one. The first Rok Ekzystentsiya festival was held in 1996 and since then a lot of rock musicians have performed within its framework, both Ukrainian and foreign. Among the foreign guest stars there were Rick Wakeman, a former member of the British rock band Yes, and now one of the worlds leading keyboard players, and Leibach, a star of the alternative music scene. Since it is a Ukrainian rock festival, naturally enough the list of leading Ukrainian rockers that performed on Rok Ekzystentsiya stages is much longer  VV, Komu Vnyz, Plach Yeremiyi, MOTORROLLA, Mertvy Piven, Okean Elzy, Mandry, Haydamaky, Tartak, Perkalaba, to name but a few of the best known ones.

The man who stands behind Rok Ekzystentsiya festivals, the man who organizes, directs and inspires the is Taras Hrymalyuk. He has been interviewed for WU by Roman MALKO.


Rok Ekzystentsiya has been in existence for almost ten years now, a very long time for festivals of such kind. What keeps it going?

Rock will never die. In the soviet times the authorities frowned upon rock, tried to do away with it, but it survived the worst of times by going underground. These days, when there are no such restrictions, rock lives in various forms, and if Rok Ekzystentsiya as a festival ceases to exist some time in the future, the idea will be picked up by someone else and developed in a different form. But rock will go on living.

Rock was and is mostly music of the young, for the young and by the young. Its music of young energy and drive and bursting emotions. Rock is more than just a way of musical expression  its a social phenomenon. Remember Woodstock, the Prague Spring of 1968 and similar happenings when rock was transforming society?

At present, there are two major competing kinds of music in Ukraine  shanson (simplistic pop music songs, with lyrics , often vulgar, treating typical everyday-life situations, catering to low tastes  tr.) and rock. Shanson is a phenomenon of low culture but of wide appeal. Ukrainian rock treats most important issues of life, of existence, of society in quite a different way, in a way that makes people think and ask questions.

How did Rok Ekzystentsiya come into being?

The idea was in the air. Ten years ago there were quite a few musicians playing good rock and it was somehow natural to think, Why not bring them together to play within the framework of one festival? In 1996, the first time we held the festival, it was one-day affair. In 1997, the festival already lasted for three days with 33 rock bands taking part. They represented all parts of Ukraine. Later, we decided it would be reasonable to hold such big festivals not annually, but once in two years.

I find the very fact of such festivals being held is a very important thing in itself. It brings like-minded people together, raises awareness of burning issues of today. Rok Ekzystentsiya was described once as a festival of music for people with higher education. The festival attracts a lot of media attention; many songs that are played at the festival are later played on the radio. And for those musicians who just start their rock careers its very important to appear on well-equipped stages alongside with the established rockers. Talent scouts, journalists and promoters seek good musicians out and offer contracts and recording sessions.

During the time between the festivals we organize concerts and tours for those bands that performed well at the festival, and it further spreads the ideas we want to become aware of. Plus, these young musicians get ample opportunities to earn money, to improve their musicianship, and meet people.

Rok Ekzystentsiya has acquired a high reputation and it is probably the main achievement. Such leading performers as Oleh Skrypka, Mykhaylo Barbara, Foma, Taras Chubay and Andriy Sereda call Rok Ekzystentsiya Number One Rock Festival in Ukraine. Rok Ekzystentsiya is a concept, it brings across our new ideas to our audiences.

In recent years, the festival began to be held indoors. Isnt it there a danger of it becoming a music fest for restricted elite audiences?

No, I dont think theres any danger of this kind. We have no intention to make our audiences restricted to musical elite, as youve put it.

And the change of the format does not entail a change in the musical tastes the festivals propagates, does it?

In no way it does. We are after good-quality rock music, as we have always been. We want this music to be listened to by wider audiences both in town and in the countryside. We want our kind of music to be played by Ukrainian TV stations which they practically never do, we want Ukrainian radio stations play more of our kind of music which they do but little.

What makes Rok Ekzystentsiya festival so different?

Well, Ive been trying to explain this to you all along. We have a concept which other pop music festivals do not have. The music which is played at Rok Ekzystentsiya is radically different from the one that is played on radio and television  weve got ideas, true emotions, different ways of musical expression  we are different  and it makes all the difference! Our audiences are different and are made up of mostly intellectuals  intellectuals in a very broad sense of the word. We, in a way, continue to propagate the ideas and principles of the last years Orange Revolution  honesty, human dignity, freedom, openness and non-violence. In this respect, we are advocates of democratic principles. n



Oleh Skrypka

from VV rock band

Rok Ekzystentsiya is radically different from any other festival of pop music held in Ukraine. The difference lies in a very simple distinction  other festivals are just show-business, musical commercial enterprises, and Rok Ekzystentsiya is a festival of music and ideas. Rok Ekzystentsiya is the only festival that brings non-commercial music to people, it cultivates culture that is not based on money or commercial interest. Any society that does not have this kind of culture is doomed to become culturally sterile. Rok Ekzystentsiya develops Ukrainian culture which is so much different from the one imposed on this society by commercial interests and low and vulgar tastes.



Taras Chubay

from Plach Yeremiyi rock band

As far as I am concerned, Rok Ekzystentsiya is the only festival which presents high-quality music at a proper professional level  everything is well organized, audiences are great. Besides, budding musicians are given chances to try themselves. Its a pity its held once in two years rather than annually. Other pop music festivals seem to be organized only for the sake of making it possible for the organizers to come to know beautiful girls, models, dancers and attend banquets to drink good alcohol and eat all kinds of delicacies I appreciate the idea of moving the Rok Ekzystentsiya shows indoors  since the festivals are held in the cold seasons I was always so damn cold performing outdoors.



Mykhaylo Barbara

from Mertvy Piven rock band

Rok Ekzystentsiya is something special for me. Weve been performing at all the festivals since they started to be held. And weve always been doing our best. I understand that one such festival cannot revolutionize Ukrainian show business but it does introduce new ideas and presents a totally different way of musical expression Years ago, we used to go on tours of Ukraine without any prior promotion or advertisement and we always had full houses. There would be a couple of local groups in every town we went to who performed at the start of the show, to warm the audiences up, and some of these bands were pretty good. We made a lot of pleasant discoveries. Say, in Kharkiv, we discovered excellent bands, all of them performing their songs in Ukrainian rather than in Russian. Rok Ekzystentsiya helps make good rock music better known.



Oleksandr Yarmola

from Haydamaky rock band.

Rok Ekzystentsiya gave us a chance to become fully professional. They do a great job  good rock music is popularized and beginners can try themselves and prove their worth. Rok Ekzystentsiya is Ukrainian rock with the emphasis on Ukrainian. In this respect it is radically different from any other pop music festivals held in Ukraine.




from Mandry rock band

Rok Ekzystentsiya is a festival of Ukrainian rock with its own concept which appeals to us. Its great that Ukrainian rock supports young, budding musicians and helps them become true professionals who play Ukrainian rock for Ukrainian audiences. I find it to be very important.


Photos have been provided

by the Organizing Committee

of Rok Ekzystentsiya Festival

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