Thursday 9 June 2016

Interview with Elina from Smoke The Fuzz Promotions

Today's guest can be considered one of the unsung heroes of the Greek Sludge/Doom/Stoner Metal scene. She isn't a musician or involved with a band. Today's guest runs a kick-ass promotions company bringing the finest Sludge, Stoner and Doom Metal bands to perform in Greece.

She's done a superb job ever since starting – Smoke The Fuzz – a promotions company based in Greece. Smoke The Fuzz is fast becoming widely respected within the Doom/Sludge/Stoner Metal community and it's mainly down to the sheer enthusiasm, tireless hard work of Elina Kemanidi, co-founder and general manger of Smoke The Fuzz.

Elina is currently busy preparing – SMOKE THE FUZZ FESTIVAL – FALL OF DOOM EDITION – which is taking place on Sept 17th 2016. I wanted to catch up with Elina for a while now and she's kindly agreed to do this epic interview. So sit back, light up and smoke your finest fuzz ….

Hi Elina. How are things with you today. Thanks for doing this interview.

Hi there ! I’m exhausted and excited as hell ! Thanks for having me.

You're mainly involved with promoting bands in your country of Greece. How did you become involved with that.

It literally happened overnight ! When I had my first show (May 2013), I didn’t even have any intention of being a professional promoter or anything, didn’t even have the slightest idea of how this thing was done, that show was supposed to be a one-time kind of thing. I was drunk with a friend, listening to and talking about a band we were addicted to at the time and about how many promoters we had literally begged to have them in Greece, with no luck. So, we were like “Hey, why don’t we invite them ourselves?”. And, just like that, we texted the band directly on their Facebook page. As crazy fans, nothing more, nothing less. Never even expected a reply, but there it was ! And we arranged two shows.

You co-founded and manage promotions company called Smoke The Fuzz. How did that come about. What made you decide to run a promotions company.

What happened after that first show was INSANE..!! I got unbelievably great feedback, word of mouth had bands mail me instead of the other way ‘round ! Things happened faster than fast ! Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine what was going to follow..! I mean, I had an amazing time with my first band, but I thought that was it. Instead, mails kept coming and I started booking one show after the other, so this had to be handled professionally. And just like that, right there, right then, as cheesy as it might sound, I felt I was meant to do this.

I can take a wild guess why you called your company Smoke The Fuzz. But for our readers who cannot figure out why. Can you explain the reason for that name.

Haha, I don’t know what your guess might be, but there was no particular reason, at least not in the sense that I deliberately called it that to relate it to something specific. I was just lying in my bed, taking a trip down memory lane (as I very often do), back to the most amazing shows I’d been in my life as a fan.. And just like that, I realized that my most intense memories of them all were about the Fuzz and the Smoke. So there it was.. Smoke the Fuzz..!!

Was it a hard process when you started Smoke The Fuzz. What were you hardest challenges creating Smoke The Fuzz.

When I started this, I didn’t have the slightest idea about professional promoting and, after the first show, I was on my own, one person alone. I had to grow, I had to learn, I had to work harder than hard with absolutely no help or guidance from anyone, not even about the simplest things. Quite the opposite actually, I was dealt with very harsh, unfair and –more often than not- dirty competition, even though I’d never done anything to provoke it – quite the contrary in fact, still to this very moment, I’ve never even made an offer to a band that has been here before with another promoter, even though a number of bands have asked me that themselves. I had to get better and better to live up to people’s expectations.

I even googled what terms I had to use in a formal offer – haha ! I built everything literally from scratch, I left everything aside, sacrificed everything. You know, I’m a lawyer, had been studying hard my whole life for that and, I’m telling you, it wasn’t easy. My family and I never had a life of (financial) ease, I had to work while I was studying. I never had any capital whatsoever. My life path had a whole different direction and took a wild turn, I had to re-evaluate goals, priorities, everything. I had to risk everything. And I mean.. literally everything. Yes, it was a long, hard road (still is), but it was the BEST thing that ever happened to me ! And the satisfaction that comes from all that hard work and the pride in what you do..? Utterly priceless..!!

What were the first gigs you promoted with Smoke The Fuzz.

Lonely Kamel, SUMA, Naam, Monkey3 (my first sold out show) !

Did you learn any important lessons from the first gigs that you promoted.

That I should be very careful about who I trust, I learned that the hard way. But more importantly, I learned that hard work, passion and honesty are always rewarded.

It seems that Smoke The Fuzz has gone from strength to strength over the past couple of years. Has it surprised you how things have turned out.

As said above, never in my wildest dreams could I ever imagine this..! Smoke the Fuzz grew fast and here we are, selling out 1.200-capacity venues and now.. a huge festival with the (in my opinion) best bands of the scene..! People supported and embraced it since day one (ah.. my amazing Fuzzsmokers, nothing would be possible without them..!), bands loved it..!

I think all these people saw something different in Smoke the Fuzz, saw the truth and honesty in all this, saw the fan in me above all, which I keep being to this very moment and have no intention of changing. I think this is what the scene was sort of lacking, being a fan above being a business(wo)man, without lacking in professionalism. I just try to keep it true, simple and honest. And I only work with people I trust and people that share my passion for this – and part of my craziness maybe haha..! So, big thumbs-up to the Smoke the Fuzz crew, as well. They work really hard behind the scenes, to keep everyone pleased.

Smoke the Fuzz is my life, not my job. I’m just living the dream and for that, I’m eternally grateful to all those people out there, each and every one of them, to my bands for choosing me (‘cause I know it’s a choice), for trusting me and filling me with their love and unbelievable words, to all the amazing Fuzzsmokers out there, who are always present, actively supporting this every single time. I’m the luckiest girl in the world.

You're about to put on the music festival – Smoke The Fuzz – Fall Of Doom Edition in September. Can you tell our readers more about that. Which bands are appearing.

Yes !!! Damn hard to believe..!! I have Yob-Bongzilla-Dopethrone-Sons of Otis-Black Cobra-Suma-Love Sex Machine for the 1st edition (“Fall of Doom”) of the Smoke the Fuzz fest, happening on Saturday, September 17th at Gagarin205 Live Music Space – 2nd edition to be announced soon..!
I personally picked each and every one of these bands, been a crazy fan of theirs since like forever..!

This monster of a line-up had been just a wild fantasy of mine for the past year – still haven’t realized I made it happen..! That took a LOT of work, countless sleepless nights, tons of stress.. Some of those bands, I’m bringing over from the other side of the Atlantic for an exclusive one-off, so I guess you realize how unique this line-up is..! People’s reactions are INSANE, I have people from all over the world texting me non-stop since the announcement..! No words could ever describe my feelings. I’m utterly blown away, crying like a baby all day long – yes, I’m crazy like that…

I see you have YOB appearing. I know you're a massive fan of YOB. Was that a major coup for you personally getting a band of YOB's stature to appear on the festival.

I first had YOB on October 10th, 2014 for a club show during that European tour of theirs and it was UNREAL. I’d tried really really hard to book them, I remember I was crazy enough to directly text Mike, I wanted YOB so bad..! Never thought I’d make it, never even expected a reply from him..! But there it was..!! I remember shaking while reading it..

So… “massive fan of YOB”..? I respectfully believe that’s an understatement. No words whatsoever could EVER describe how I feel about YOB. No words. YOB is out of this world. What they do on stage? They ‘re not humans, I believe they ‘re from another planet, no human could do THAT. How they are off stage? That should be an inspiration to every human being. I remember picking them up from the airport the first time. As soon as they landed and I saw them, I couldn’t move. My knees were shaking, my voice was trembling. I approached them, went for a handshake, Mike hugged me tight and said “Elina, I’m Mike, thanks for having us”. That was it. My heart had stopped.

Seriously, I’m falling short. I think closest to what I feel about them is the word “AWE” and it still is an understatement. YOB inspires me every single day of my life. YOB teaches me things. YOB makes me wanna be a better person. YOB has healed all my wounds and is still doing that. YOB has always been there through my darkest and brightest days, through the toughest and the most amazing moments. YOB has changed my whole perspective on life, has opened my third eye.

My big YOB chest tattoo is the result of all that. YOB is a deeply spiritual, transcendental experience. The music, the lyrics, the energy, it’s a whole new level. I sobbed during their whole set last time. And then Catharsis came. Just like their album. That’s how I felt. YOB is my constant motivation. YOB is and always will be part of me, they have a whole huge separate place in my heart and in my soul, they are sitting on the throne of my heart. They have transformed me completely and I’m eternally grateful to them for that. Meeting them in person? Sharing times with them? Best experience of my whole life. I feel unworthy of all that. Them accepting my invitation for a second time and headlining my festival..? The word “honor” could never cover it. They chose me. Nothing more could I ever ask for.

I could go on for hours and pages after pages about them, so I’ll just shut up now.

Will you be doing more festivals such as this in the future. Or does it depend on time and money.

That’s the plan, yes. Time is not an issue for me, since this is my life, Smoke the Fuzz is my 24/7. But as you must know, Greece is going through a financial nightmare, the crisis is deep and at its very worst. No one knows what’s gonna happen tomorrow. What I can promise is that I’ll keep fighting with all my strength to keep this alive. We all deserve this. And people have embraced, loved and supported my effort since day one till this very moment. I have faith.

How hard is it getting bands to play and perform in Greece. As majority of bands tend to focus on other countries in Europe. Do you find it easier to convince bands to come and play in Greece.

Bands always wanna come and play. Agents..? Hmmm…

Greece is a nightmare for tour routings, mainly due to its position on the map (too far south to reach by van during tours, we almost always have to cover flights) and to the financial situation, among others. I’ve received a great deal of scepticism, suspiciousness and distrust in the past, especially since and because of the financial crisis, capital controls and – I guess – the general image of the country abroad. But I have to admit it’s been getting better and better over the past couple of years, so I can say I’ve pretty much overcome that now. I have agents as permanent partners all over the world – deeply grateful for that. I guess Smoke the Fuzz’s feedback has helped.

What is the Doom/Sludge/Stoner Metal scene currently like in Greece. There's a ton of great bands to check out from Greece – Planet Of Zeus, Tuber, Nightstalker, Purple Dino to name but a few. Is there an active scene for bands to play and promoters like yourself to fully promote.

Oh yes, the scene is strong, alive and kicking !! We have both amazing Greek bands to present and crazy fans that keep this whole thing going !

I don’t professionally promote (=host headline shows for or be an agent of) Greek bands by choice. I think they don’t need me for (headline) shows here in Greece. And I don’t do tours abroad, so I guess I’m of no use to them. I could never accept having any financial profit out of them anyway. But I’m more than happy to promote them in every other sense and way (have them open for bands I host from abroad, post about them, talk to the right people etc.).

More and more Greek bands tour abroad (really successfully too) and that’s something that makes me really happy and proud. So much talent to be shared ! They more than deserve it.

We all have a musical journey on what started our lifelong love affair with Doom/Sludge/Stoner Metal. What were the bands, artists and albums that got you into those genres of music.

Never been a fan of tags and genres. Never had a specific musical journey or “stages of musical evolution” or something… I’ve always been constantly searching for music anywhere and any way I could find and hear it. Always been thirsty..! Whatever massages my ears and soul, I’m up for it !

Do you have any words of advice for people wanting to start their own promotions company.

I still don’t feel I’m a professional (in its “all-business” sense), so I’m not sure it’s my place to give advice. I’ve never seen Smoke the Fuzz as a company, but more as a community. I’m not even the typical promoter (never have been), my story is quite strange I think – haha ! All I still do is just pick a band that I love and that has never been to Greece before and send them a sincere heartfelt e-mail, just adding some necessary formal language, terms and… numbers to it. Simple as that. I never expect anything or have any particular goal in mind, other than do my very best for everyone to be happy and pleased in the end. Just add lots of love, patience, persistence and a spoonful of craziness to the mix. Don’t forget the craziness. It makes all the difference.

Elina, Thanks for doing this interview. All the best with festival. Looks a killer line-up and keep doing the fantastic work.

Thank you so much for having me, it’s been a pleasure ! And million thanks for the nice words, from the bottom of my heart ! Keep Smoking the Fuzz..!!!

Word by Steve Howe and Elina Kemanidi

Thanks to Elina for taking the time out to talk to me. Check out Smoke The Fuzz pages from the links below.