Interview: Matthias Vandeven of Sound of Liberation & My Sleeping Karma
You probably know it already, but 2020 has been a nightmare for everyone in the music industry. I wanted to talk to a booker in the stoner scene, one that has a large roster of international bands and is very active in the scene, and Matte from Sound of Liberation was kind enough to answer my questions. Spoilers: 2021 doesn’t look too good either. We’ll have to bind our time. To all those who are suffering from the situation, I can only wish you the courage to get through. Much love, and as public, we’ll be back in concerts as soon as we can.
The interview was conducted on January 10th, 2021.
There’s a giveaway with a lot of SOL/MSK goodies to win after the transcript, so make sure to check it out!
Support Sound of Liberation by buying some merch on https://www.soundofliberation.com/shop
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Mr. Momo (MM): Thank you very much uh for joining us for this More Fuzz interview. Just to introduce you a bit for our viewers that wouldn’t know you: you are Matthias Vandeven, you are the founder of Sound of Liberation (SoL), you started it in 2005 and it has become a cornerstone of the European stoner scene. You are organizing tours in Europe for more than 40 bands from all over the world and you have a very prestigious name in your roster like Colour Haze, Brant Bjork, Orange Goblin, Wo Fat, Truckfighters, Lowrider, and many many more!
You also organize or partner with many of the reference stoner festivals in Europe such as the DesertFest Berlin and Antwerp, Stone from the Underground, Up In Smoke, and others. And when you’re not busy with Sound of Liberation you also play bass in My Sleeping Karma, which to my humble opinion is one of the best bands out there and it’s always a pleasure to see you live.
So, you started SoL on your own back in 2005, can you tell us a bit about how it started and how it grew into what it is today?
Matthias Vandeven (MV): It’s very easy 2005 there was a small scene for that heavier stoner rock European world, there were bands out like Colour Haze and we had a band before My Sleeping Karma which was called The Great Escape and so we tried to organize small shows in small venues or in pubs where you need to bring your own PA and tried to play our music. In East Germany there was already a very nice scene in towns like Jena and Dresden, of course in Berlin; and over the years it became a small network of DIY promoters, of bands who were organizing concerts for other bands in exchange, and that’s pretty much how it all started. Over the years it grew more and more with the attention of fans and there was the chance to spread out that sound, first all over Germany and later on all over Europe so it was let’s say all growing organically from a DIY scene or from some very motivated DIY promoters.
MM: And today there are four people working for SoL?
MV: Yeah, I mean it grew once the bands were able to to have more gigs and more shows and bringing the sound to new cities, then it was quite an organic growing of a fan scene and more people wanted to listen to that sound and wanted to get closer to the bands and wanted to be part of the scene so it was all like growing very naturally and very slowly but that was the right way to do it! 15 years later we have four people but I worked for 10 years on my own together with my wife trying to organize these first European tours and it feels like with more festivals happening in the growing scene, of course, things became easier, and then we were able to start festivals like DesertFest or Up In Smoke and that became a bit, let’s say, successful in a way that people like to go and travel to these festivals and spread the word; and so we had the chance to grow our small company, and now we have Kat and Lara, two motivated women who are taking care of the booking for the almost 40 bands we are working with right now. (Editor’s note: Stef Dimou is also part of the team since October 2019, as a booking agent, bringing tremendous knowledge of the European Scene he’s gathered over years of booking and touring with lots of super cool Greek bands).
The SOL Team (Photo from 2019 with Stef Dimou missing)
MM: Can you tell us a bit more about how you become involved with the DesertFest? Just for people who don’t know: there are two festivals happening at the same time in London and Berlin in early May, well except this year of course, and there’s one happening mid October in Antwerp, Belgium. Correct me if I’m wrong but I think the one that started it all is London and then the others followed. SoL is involved in Berlin and Antwerp, so can you tell us a bit more about how you’ve gotten involved and how they were created?
MV: Basically ten years ago we started the DesertFest in London and Berlin at the same time, those were the first festivals which were happening. It was based on an idea from my good friend Reece (Tee, from Desertscene), the promoter of DesertFest in London, who called me up one day with that idea of having a kind of European partner festival in two capital cities and I liked the idea. We pretty much worked on it for quite some time and then we started the first DesertFest in London and Berlin (in 2012), and three years later we added Antwerp because we felt it was the right time and the right people to have another DesertFest in Europe.
People who have been to DesertFest Belgium, I think they’ll tell you it’s a nice addition to the DesertFest family, so we are quite happy now to have these three European festivals.
MM: What’s particular with London and Berlin is that they are on the same weekend and so they share most of the lineup and particularly the headliners, I guess that was one of the reasons that you could make it and share the weight, book artists for three days in the same weekend?
MV: Yeah it’s quite more attractive for the international headliners to come over to Europe if they know they have two headlining festival shows on the same weekend in a reachable distance, that was the idea. But we are not every year at the same weekend sometimes we are one week apart from each other that all depends on the availability of the venues but most of the bands nowadays they book anyway a tour around it so they don’t come just exclusive for DesertFest, so it doesn’t really matter if we are exactly on the same weekend or if we are one or two weekends apart from each other.
Desertfest Berlin 2019
MM: Of course 2020 has been a very particular year for all people living around music. No festivals have been happening… So how have you been keeping up personally and with SoL; and do you foresee any long-term impacts on your activity?
MV: These are the good questions we are almost asking ourselves daily: when will this nightmare be over? Speaking for the entire music business, it’s a super hard situation for everybody so I don’t want to go specifically into our problems, it’s the same for all other companies, and I think the smallest have the most difficulties, the bigger ones maybe have the financial power to survive such clashes, but all in all, it was a very very hard year we had.
As you know the booking happens six months to one year in advance, so we have worked for all this and in the end, we couldn’t have any income and we needed to go on working, we needed to refund tickets, we needed to cancel, we needed to postpone tours ; and again you have no income and there was no government support so in the end you are getting in a kind of depressed mode and you think: “what the fuck are we doing?”.We are canceling and postponing for the second, the third or fourth or fifth time, and yeah it’s very demotivating.
The good thing at SoL is we have such a super cool team, young and enthusiastic, and we stick close together and try to survive this crisis and go on doing our thing. But without any live music and without any touring bands and without any festival it’s very hard to survive as a booking and event company.
MM: I guess you don’t have a lot of visibility in 2021 as well?
MV: Let’s look at the situation today: half of the world is in a complete lockdown, everybody knows this lockdown will go on for another month, maybe another two months… Now everybody’s speaking about Easter… We need six to nine months, sometimes one year to prepare a tour. Let’s be realistic, we will not see many European or American bands doing European tours in 2021. I think we can almost focus on 2022, hope that things get a little better in the summertime maybe, with some smaller festivals applying social distancing, maybe some stuff can happen in the fall but honestly, the signs are not so good and everything is not looking really promising. I personally think it will not change.
MM: Yes, 2021 is going to be difficult too, as you said at first many shows and tours were just postponed one year, but now we’re seeing some tours being organized in September or October, so fingers crossed but you have to we have to keep realistic.
MV: I mean it’s very hard, let’s be honest, it’s super hard… I don’t know when you want to start to promote the tour for the fall, who is ready to buy flight tickets from somewhere and to book vans and to get organized if you don’t know that the pandemic situation is really under control or if it’s over? It doesn’t help anybody if a band has two shows and then three off days because there’s another hotspot somewhere in some countries… Therefore the music business is too difficult and the money’s too tight to take the risk, so I think everybody will focus on the long term… We might have some local shows happening but i don’t think we can expect big European tours as it has been before. We’ll see, let’s hope for the best. Yes, that’s a bit depressing to hear from the inside but at least it’s realistic. We all don’t have a crystal ball but it’s better to stay realistic. We had some dreams last year that that thing goes away very fast and that we can maybe do something in the fall 2020 or in the winter 2020 and now we are in January 2021, the situation got even worse, more infected people, more dead people, so be realistic.
MM: So right now you are basically in waiting mode? Or do you have some things planned out for SoL, in the coming, well not months, but are you preparing for 2022 now?
MV: Of course we started directly to prepare when last year’s situation happened, like the cancellation of DesertFest Berlin, and we started directly to work on the lineup of the edition 2021 but now it seems we need to go on and postpone and do the same thing again in the hope that 2022 goes better… so that’s just the fact for DesertFest Berlin but also for what we had planned with SoL for the summertime and all the other events and all the other tours…
MM: So the question then is what keeps you going now after one year of… nothingness?
MV: The answer is pretty simple, we are doing what we started out of passion and of love for the music, it is what we live for, we burn for, it will take a long time to get that spirit away! So we keep on doing our thing, we are preparing for next year, at one point there will be shows, live music, bands back on tour and then we can hopefully all have good times again together in front of the stage and with some beers in the hand, in a way better mood! That’s what keeps us going: the fans, the bands, the scene. Our entire life, that’s what we want to hear right, and I hope it will come sooner rather than later.
MM: We can hope! Full disclosure: I’m French, so I wanted to inquire about your relationship with Garmonbozia because all the tours organized by SoL are, in the end, given to Garmonbozia in France. How old is that, how did it happen, and how does it keep going?
MV: We have worked with Fred (Chouesne), Lorraine, and the entire team for many years. Actually, I’m not 100% sure when it started but it might be at the first Up In Smoke tour or something like that where the French club show was organized by Garmonbozia, because they showed interest in having that package, and they had the idea of the right venue, how to park a night-liner, and do this bigger production. For us 10 years ago everything was very new: we didn’t know how those things work, and I think we had this Paris show, I don’t recall exactly the venue anymore, Nouveau Casino or something like that, before the Divan du Monde.
We had great hospitality, Fred and Lorraine really took care of us, they showed up and for us, it was easy because Lorraine speaks German and it was a German production, I think with Colour Haze and Rotor and it was quite easy to break the ice. Also, besides the business we had good talks, and yeah we continued that relationship and that turned into a nice friendship. I think it was 2018, Garmonbozia had their 20th anniversary and we played there with My Sleeping Karma, had a very good time and a very big hangover, so if Fred and Lorraine see this…
MM: Actually I think the last time I saw My Sleeping Karma on stage was for the 20 years of Garmonbozia in Rennes, you were there and a short while later you stopped playing because your drummer Stefan was undergoing some treatment. But you were back on stage this summer, you played a few festivals, for example, Palp in Switzerland, so how is Stefan doing and how does it feel to be back on to have been back on stage at least a bit this summer?
MV: To be honest, the situation was very very shocking for all of us. The last show we have played before Stefan learned about his illness was actually this big show at Hellfest, we had a good time, and pretty much on the way home he got the call about some bad results he got from the doctor and he needed to start treatment immediately. Of course, that was a big shock for him and his family, but also for us as a band, as friends. I’ve been playing together with Stefan for more than 20 years now, we had a band before My Sleeping Karma and we are kind of brothers. Of course with Seppi as well, we have known each other almost from childhood, from our youth and it was a very hard situation which luckily got better.
We were able to play a few shows this summer. There were not many festivals happening because of the pandemic situation but we were fortunate enough to play I think three or four shows; and after let’s say 14-15 months of no life activity, which was completely new for us because we have always been trying to play live as much as possible with our jobs and our families, it felt great to be back on stage again. And even if it was with social distancing and with all this mess and weird setups we had such a great time, we felt the spirit was back, we felt alive and it feels like we went through or we are finally going through these shocking moments. We also started to work on a new album which we had already delayed three times because of different situations, first family issues, then Stefan’s problem, and then a lockdown with social distancing which we had back in March.
And right now it’s again a lockdown, we are not able to meet so Stefan decided to go on with his treatment so it actually means we are on a pause again, and we hope that things will be better for him and for us as a band, and of course for all of us late spring or in the summer. Hopefully, we will be able to do some shows later on in 2021.
My Sleeping Karma @ Palp Festival: Rock’lette 2020, Pic by Massimiliano Boventi / Humulus
MM: That would be great, and of course we wish him a full recovery and it would be a pleasure to see you back on stage! I actually was there at Hellfest so Rennes was not the last…
MV: Like I said I hope we can if Stefan feels better we can go working on the album if there’s no chance to play live we will go on recording it and hopefully we can all see you soon again in front of a stage, in a venue, at a festival with some real-life music!
MM: I know I know I’m the interviewer here but I have to tell you I think the first time I saw My Sleeping Karma was in Paris at the Divan du Monde with Colour Haze. It was in 2016 if I remember correctly (Editor’s note: March 2017), and it was one of my first live shows after the Bataclan and it was really great to be there. It was a great moment.
MV: We always like to tour with the Colour Haze guys because we’ve known them for a very long time and going back to your first question it was one of the first bands I started booking shows for, and I invited them to play in our hometown. We became friends, and we are from the same area in Germany so we always had a kind of close relationship, and we found out that touring with them was easy, everybody got along, so we did quite some tours together and always had good memories of it.
Colour Haze & My Sleeping Karma @ Divan Du Monde, Paris, 2017, by SOL & Garmonbozia
MM: Good times yes! And we also learned recently from Colour Haze that their bassist, Philipp, was leaving the band so we wish him well too! On another subject, we had Mario Lalli a short while ago here at More Fuzz and he did a little indiscretion by telling us they were trying to plan a Yawning Man / Colour Haze tour this autumn in Europe. I guess you are involved in that?
MV: Still waiting to see if it’s going to be possible… I think the tour is pretty much booked, we postponed many dates from last October into October 2021 so at the moment it’s all planned for Colour Haze and Yawning Man having around two weeks together. I think the shows are also reserved in France, I’m not exactly sure in which cities exactly, I would need to check on that but as soon as we can announce something when this situation is getting any better, we will try to announce the tour. And of course, everybody will be smart enough and understand: this is what we all wish for and what we all hope for but I really don’t think before summer we can finally know if something can happen in the fall season or if it needs to be postponed again…
But it is still in the planning and speaking of Yawning Man I think it’s easily a four weeks tour for them so they would join dates with Colour Haze, but they will have shows on their own and I hope for the guys that they can be busy and of course, I hope for us we can be busy as well!
MM: Well we certainly hope so! All right well, uh, thank you very much, if you want to add anything, feel free to
MV: Yeah of course I would like to thank everybody who’s listening to this right now and all the people in general who supported us over the last 15 years since we started with SoL. Especially thanks to many people who supported us during this crazy period in our business, it was supposed to be our 15 years anniversary, with many shows and special events and many tours! In the end, it was all blown up in smoke, but many people supported us, wrote us nice messages, sms, emails, social media…
Many ordered on our small internet shop with which we have started to generate a bit of income as well and I really hope we can see you all very soon bringing the fuzz back on stage for you guys. Thanks again for your support and especially to the many many friends and followers in France for our band My Sleeping Karma and also for SoL, it’s always a pleasure to play in your country, not speaking about Hellfest only, all the club shows we did, all the touring we did, always great hospitality, always enthusiastic crowd, and we can’t wait to be back so thank you very much. All of you stay healthy, we hope to see you soon.
MM: Yes, I wanted to remind everyone that you opened a merchandise shop on your website, we’ll put the link in the description. You have a lot of merch from your different festivals and you also have a great vinyl collection and even some tapes or CDs, so if you want to support SoL you can do it by buying merchandise on their webshop! Thank you again Matte for being with us and we wish you a great evening and we hope to see you soon, either as an organizer or on stage!
MV: Thank you very much to you guys. Merci and let’s keep it More Fuzz! We’ll see you soon.
SOL & MSK Giveaway
Win Records, CDs & Goodies!
Matte has been super kind to send us a box full of cool stuff so that we can make a giveaway to you, our beloved readers!
If you like what Sound Of Liberation does, and/or My Sleeping Karma’s amazing music, here is your chance to get some nice prizes with this giveaway!
There’s a whole lot of stuff up for grabs, from SOL and MSK, some vinyl, CDs, shirts, bags, patches, posters, stickers, etc…
We made 6 different packs from the whole lot (which you can see on the 1st pic), so that means six of you should receive a nice package full of cool stuff!
Mrs. Rifffox made some cool pictures of each pack and of the whole lot, with a couple of trippy pics too, check it out:
Enter the giveaway with a valid email or social account.
Giveaway run for 1 week only, ends March 10th, at Noon CET.
SOL & MSK links