Interview with JJ Tartaglia for Wacken Metal Battle Canada

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Back in January, I’ve conducted an interview with one of the organizers of Wacken Metal Battle Canada. Now it’s finally up in a piece promoting the finals. You can read the article from our Editor in Chief here.

Initially, I wrote a big piece on the interview, which was never published. You can read it here.

Wacken Battles Canada enters its second year with a bang. Now expended to the west – Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary – the organizers were swept with over 400 submissions. The buuz is going strong. Submissions are wrapped up. The list of the qualifying bands is announced and the bands are starting to promote their assigned dates as we speak. But what else can metalheads expect from the competition this year? What should the bands be preparing for? What’s in the works for the future? I had a pleasure of speaking with JJ Tartiglia, Wacken Battles Canada organizer, about all of the above and a little more.

Wacken Battles originated in 2007 and the first countries to participate were Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Yogoslavia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland and Switzerland. Over the years it spread all over the globe and now counts over 33 nations fighting for the centre Wacken stage. Wacken Battles Canada came to be when JJ Tartaglia was approached by a fellow panel member during the Finnish Metal Expo in 2010. He turned out to be working for the Wacken festival in Germany and they were looking to expand the Wacken Battles. It took time and effort to get the show going and the organizers are still learning how to deal with certain issue that can only arise once all the wheels are in motion. Tartaglia agrees that having the battles in Toronto and Montreal last year definitely opened the organizers’ eyes to an array of issues and concerns.

Beginner’s luck seemed to be following Wacken Battles Canada last year. Out of 150 initial submissions, Crimson Shadows not only won the Canadian competition, but also won over the hearts of the judges in Germany as well. Looking back, Tartaglia reminisces about the amount of submissions and support they’ve received during last year’s battles. He also mentions some surprises along the way.

On surprising entries:

“I think the only black sheep last year would have been a band called Slyde and only because their genre is really, really blurring the lines of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal. They’ve got some metal influences in their music, but at the same time it’s very melodic and some people questioned ‘would you really classify it as metal?’ I could see it both ways. Either way they got a really good response.”

On the outbreak about judging bias:

“That’s definitely an issue that’s gonna come up, regardless. Obviously, we do our best to inform the judges that this is not a personal selection. … From what I could tell, across the board the general consensus among the judges was usually pretty much on par. We swap up the judges for each show. So, we’re looking at having different judges for each round. You might have one judge do a few rounds, for the first round and then the semis is gonna be a whole slew of different judges and the finals again will be another group of new judges.”

On adventures in Germany:

“It’s a funny story, I was in Germany and Crimson Shadows asked me beforehand ‘do we need to bring any tents to the festival?’ and i told them ‘no, no you don’t, believe me, it’s all gonna be there’, right. And then I get a phone call in Germany, on my way to the festival, and they are like ‘Ah, there’s no tents!’ It was a bit of a problem, as it was raining that day. … In the end it worked out, the tents got sorted out, they ended up getting three tents, so they had to share a little bit. But they got some help from the people who were camping next to them. … So, the winning band – make sure you have tents!”

This year Wacken Battles Canda will see its first expansion – to the west. Tartaglia is very excited about the growth and is optimistically into the future, making plans to expand to Ottawa, Halifax and maybe even Winnipeg next year. Why wouldn’t he be optimistic about such ventures, if their Calgary inbox was overflowing with submissions before the end of January. “I was really blown away by the metal scene out there,” says Tartaglia, “It was an idea that we put on the table [on closing submissions early], but we figured it wouldn’t be fair to all the bands that do still want to apply. … There are a lot of bands to compete against.”

The expansion should affect the way the competition is held, but the organizers are hoping this will bring more awareness to the event in the music industry and the media. The qualifying rounds and semi-finals will proceed in the same manner as they did last year, with the exception Calgary and Edmonton, which will have a combined semi-final with one winning band.

The finals will be held at The Opera House in Toronto on June 7th and that’s were things can get hairy.

“Actually it is the main challenge that we have been dealing with this year. Just because Canada is so huge and geographically it’s a really far distance. What we’re doing for the west coast bands that are gonna travel to Toronto, is that we’re actually setting up a travel fund, for them, so each metal battle show that happens out west, there will actually be portions of the profit set aside. That money goes to help the winning band to travel to Toronto. We don’t know if it’s gonna be enough money to cover all of their costs, but we do hope it’s gonna cover at least half for band-rides or gas money,” Tartaglia assures me, “We’re looking at all the options and we’re looking at sponsors as well. We’re doing everything we can to really minimize the cost for the west coast bands because we realize that it really is a mission to come all the way to Toronto. We’re doing our best job to make it happen.”

He jokes that “it’s not a bad problem to have”, because if the band has that problem, it means they won the semi-finals, which is a remarkable achievement on it’s own. “We’re trying to make the shows happen as early as possible so that if the winning band does find out that they need to travel to Toronto, hopefully they can book some kind of a tour along the way. And we’re got all of the promoters who are gonna help to make that happen. Even if they can book two shows on their way down here or on the way back we can make it worth their while.” So be prepared for a mini-tour while packing.

The judging criteria, as it is right now might also not be applicable for the finals and here Tartaglia seems to have all the nuances worked out as well. “There is an element of crowd participation, the category is actually the crowd reaction and interaction, so it’s not only the crowd response but it’s the way that the bands interact with the crowd. So, any interaction with the crowd – jumping into the floor, climbing the barrier, crowd-surfing, all that stuff is crowd interaction and you’ll get points for that. Keep in mind this is only a small portion of your score, so the bulk of it is really your performance and your music, but there is a weight on crowd participation. And I realize that for out of town bands that would be a problem … so, what I’m looking at doing is actually completely eliminating the crowd response category for the finals, for it to be an even playing field for all of the bands,” says Tartaglia “And mind you we are doing our best to get a good headliner for the finals, so hopefully all of the bands are gonna play to a full house anyway. And you will be given a chance to win that crowd over and earn that crowd response.”

As far as judging goes, the organizers are looking into having genre-based shows, depending on the number of bands participation from the same sub-genre. The finalists might even get a chance to perform for some big names in the industry. “We’re looking at hopefully getting Sam Dunn, the film-maker, Danko Jones is on the list as well. Lips from Anvil is on the list,” Tartaglia goes on excitedly, but nothing is confirmed so far. For better or for worse public voting is not something Wacken Battles Canada organizes are looking into, as they can’t stress enough that this competition is about skill and talent. They want to stay as far away from the “popularity contests” of the typical battles of the bands as possible. The same principals stand true at the Wacken Battles in Germany.

The Toronto venues stay the same throughout the competition. “Rivoli have had a new booker there for about a year now and he is interested in doing metal, which is why we were able to do the metal battle at Rivoli. I think it’s a great venue, it’s a great stage, and like you mentioned, the sound is really good, and the bands really appreciate that. It’s a good-sized room, … we’re gonna make the crowds feel at home.”

The prizes for the winning band stay the same as last year as well – a flight to Germany, a shuttle-bus to the festival, VIP passes and, obviously, the slot at the festival. Tartaglia is earger to give financial advice, “We don’t really know how many members the winning band is gonna have which is why we set the cap at $5,000. So, depending on how many members are in your band, you may or may not to put in some extra money to make up for the difference. If a band only has three members, you are gonna be good. Haha, if you have six or even five, depending on the flight prices at the time, which is another thing we can’t predict, you might need to put in a bit of money to make up for the difference. … Once you get there, you’re gonna spend the bare minimum. … You also get catering on the day that you play, so meals for the day. I don’t think you get any beer, so that might be something you might have to budget for. Beer is really cheap in Germany, I can say that. And obviously the bands are invited to stay for the entire festival and enjoy the entire festival. You get your tickets and your wristbands for the entire thing and you can enjoy the festival the whole time.” We part with a chat about upcoming metal shows in Toronto.

Over and out, Wacken Metal Battle seems to be one of the only viable options for Canadian metal bands to get world-wide recognition. Ad with the amount of passion and effort that goes into the competition, it can only grow to become a national metalhead past-time.

Written by: Raya P Morrison

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