Interview, photo: Ljubov Dzuzhynska
Translation: Elena Savlokhova
Dmitry Sidorenko is the founder of Atlas Weekend Festival, Atlas and Green Theater venues, Barbara Bar, and the co-founder of the PMK Event Agency.
This interview was taken prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.
What’s it like to be you?
I love to work very much. I don’t like to sleep. Well, I do but only on holidays. My life is about my work and being led by an idea. It’s hard, it’s difficult, but I get a high from what I do. I’ve studied for a different profession, but as a result, I am now involved in an entirely different thing. Looking back at that crossroad I now know that have I taken a different path, things would be much easier, whereas what I do now is extremely complex. But it was the right choice to make. It was a tough one, but I chose wisely.
What excites you the most in your job?
Achieving results, especially when you achieve more than what you planned originally. I like to set big goals and reach them. I like to create something original that is unlike anything else out there.
What about the things that upset you in the field?
Fraudsters. Many people are trying to deceive you, fool you, or take advantage of the circumstances. My field requires me to work with a large number of people. The Soviet mentality is still present where everyone is trying to outsmart the system: whether it is at the state level, or security, bartenders… It’s all the same. People always try to fool you. So after that scandal with Karabas, we’ve decided to create our own system. In the past few years, we’ve perfected it to a level that has surpassed the Eurosonic system [ed. note – the biggest festival showcase in Europe]. Those attempting to break through our system only push us to improve, thereby they are doing us good. Our bracelets are now linked to face recognition because people often tried to help others enter the event with the same bracelet. We’ve also introduced free admission for kids and the option to re-enter the territory of the festival. So adults used that to sneak out their bracelets to their friends, so we have to constantly come up with new solutions to fight fraud. Especially considering the fact that our margins are not the highest, we have a certain element growth present. So every year when we analyze the festival we take not of the areas where we were cheated – it all amounts to millions of hryvnias, and therefore a very large chunk of our time is spent trying to defend ourselves. But thankfully we’ve gathered a lot of good people around us who share our idealogy: our team is great and everyone is doing their part to defend each other. Without them, none of it would be real.
How many people are in your team at the current moment?
We have several directions and in some people intersect and in some, they don’t. There are several companies where people do intersect. Relatively speaking, the main backbone consists of 50 people, but this is probably more relevant in regard to the festival, whereas other companies involve other people who overlap in other areas.
If you could travel in time, where would you go and why?
In terms of the past, it would be interesting to visit all the historical festivals, from Woodstock to Glastonbury and observe them at their in-house production side. When we have a moment to catch our breath, we often think about how such big festivals were put together in the pre-internet era without e-mail. It’s so much easier to build a festival with modern technologies, easier than it ever was. Even the simple things that can be solved via a smartphone. It’s hard to imagine what it was like back then. It probably took tremendous work and only real professionals could handle it – we are nobody in comparison.
And in terms of the future, I’d be curious to see what happens in 100 or 200 years. Will we be able to fly to Mars? Will we take over a new solar system? I wonder where Elon Musks’s vision will lead to future generations.
What book, cartoon, or film reality would you like to experience?
I recently read Tommy Motolla’s autobiographical book, the person who ran Sony Music for 15 years. He is the ex-husband and former producer of Mariah Carey. He organized enormous tours. He is definitely a cool person. I was impressed with that book, so it would be very interesting for me to explore this reality and observe how he did tours for Michael Jackson and a bunch of other famous people. But I could definitely think of something else it’s just that this book came to mind first.
Out of all the artists you’ve met, who impressed you the most in terms of personality?
To be honest, I haven’t really met any of the artists in these last few years, if you’re asking about the foreign artists. I’m always busy solving technical and strategic issues so I barely overlap with artists themselves. If however, I try to pick someone with a personal story attached… The Prodigy. I love them since I was a kid and they are the coolest and simply extraordinary. Otherwise, we’ve booked so many artists over the years and I haven’t even met most of them. In terms of the management side of things, I would like to point out Tamás Kádár, the CEO of Sziget Festival. He is a very cool figure with great experience in the field. There are also several agents that we’ve met at different music conferences around the world: the organizer of the Mad Cool Festival, the organizer of the EXIT Festival, the previously mentioned Eurosonic Festival. There are a lot of cool and inspiring people out there.
You once mentioned that booking The Prodigy was a child’s dream come true for you. Is there another ‘dream’ artist you’d like to book for a performance in Ukraine?
Many are no longer alive… Nirvana. I’ve been a fan of Nirvana since childhood. If Kurt were still with us, I would definitely do my best to book Nirvana. We’re thinking of booking the band of another former member of Nirvana. And among those currently touring, I would certainly like to book Metallica and artists of the same echelon. The same goes for Eminem and others. But given their high fees and given the realities of Ukraine, financially it is very difficult to achieve.
I think in a few more years and together with the governmental improvements, we will able to do it.
Who is or was your biggest teacher in life?
My parents first and foremost. My close friends and partners. Zhenya Krasavtsev (PMK) – we have taught each other a lot in life, we’re like yin and yang, and to some extent complement each other. Yaroslav Pokhalchuk also taught me a lot, from the sidelines, which I didn’t pay much attention to before, like financing, structuring, order. Thanks to this, we succeeded in continuing to do what we do. A lot of people, actually. It would be a long story to tell.
What did you learn from your kids?
It’s a difficult topic for me because in the last few years I have to change and rebuild everything constantly and that’s why I barely spend time with them. It pains me a lot. Only recently I’ve managed to check out the kindergarten they attend. When my son walked around the kindergarten and told everyone that I’m his dad, I was ashamed and hurt. I’m trying to make every Sunday a family day and spend the entire time with my kids. I often leave for work when they are still asleep and come back when they’re already in bed. I didn’t get a chance to teach them much yet I’m doing everything to fix that.
I realized that children are the most valuable thing in my life. Whatever I do, be it festivals or clubs – it is not worth losing the precious time I have with them.
Their childhood will end soon, they will grow up and then I will chase after them, and they will tell me that the time is gone. I understand that I have to change and finally become a normal father.
What was the most memorable question you were asked?
Who will perform at the festival next year? That’s the frequently asked question. I never have an answer to that until the contract is signed and the fee transaction is through. People often ask me to tell stories regarding artists. That’s just from the top of my mind, usually, I don’t have time to reminisce about things.
If you were a woman for 24 hours, what would you do with the given time?
I don’t know, it’s quite scary haha. It’s hard to imagine. From a comedic angle, I can imagine it, I remember films from childhood where the protagonists had an exchange of bodies. But in real life, it is a paradigm shift, and it’s hard to predict what a person will think in the opposite sex. It might be a strain mentally or it might not. It’s a difficult question to answer.
What film impressed you recently?
We went to the premiere of the Zakhar Berkut film. It’s very cool. After watching the film, I began to read more about it. It turns out that this is the most expensive film in the history of Ukrainian cinema, plus Hollywood actors were involved. If I didn’t know that Sergey Sozanovsky filmed it and randomly saw it in a movie theater I would think that it was a foreign film. Frankly, all the components of the country’s creative economy are growing and developing: bands, cinema, festivals, and so on. We are really moving towards the standards of Europe, in terms of the creative economy at least. There is a prospect that will give at least something for the country’s GDP. Europe and the USA have a huge industry that generates 5-10% of GDP. A huge number of professionals are involved in the creative sector. So with Zakhar Berkut, Sozanovsky took the next step towards bringing cinema closer to that level. Moreover, a law should soon be passed that will facilitate the return of money for investments from Europe. In theory, the industry itself will now develop faster.
What would you be doing if not for the music business?
I would work the intelligence space of Ukraine. In 2008, I passed all the tests and polygraphs and was supposed to work in the secret unit of the Security Service of Ukraine. I was meant to defend governmental communications and stuff like that. Over the course of the year, I went through a lot of tests and simultaneously started organizing concerts, and somehow the latter worked pretty well. Especially after the Dolphin concert. In this case, the story starts from childhood as well, just like with The Prodigy. The initial idea of organizing gigs was not for profit, it was purely a fanatical desire to book an artist whom you’ve loved for a long time. It all came together. We did the Dolphin concert, everything turned out great, and we even earned some money, and that was in 2008 during the economic crisis. The salary in the civil service job was 1200 UAH back then, which is now impossible to survive with. I knew that if I worked there, I would have to steal just to survive, and I definitely didn’t want to go down that path. So I chose to work on my own business. I do not regret a thing.
Could you share a funny or awkward story from your childhood?
Once, at the age of 6 or 7, I was with my grandmother in the countryside. We crossed the river on a flimsy bridge. I carried a tiny kitten in my hands and it managed to escape. The kitten fell into the river and began to sink. I rushed into the water even though I didn’t know how to swim at the time! By some miracle, my grandmother saved me. Almost 30 years have passed since but I still very clearly remember that experience: how I sank to the very bottom of the river and felt an arm pull me from above. But most importantly, the kitten was rescued too!
What was the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen in your life?
My kids and my better half. And if speaking of something intangible, I really liked the architecture of London, Hong Kong. To some extent, Kyiv is very beautiful too. It’s no worse than Hong Kong, although it is completely different, due to the fact that every day seems boring as you are used to it and you stop noticing the beauty around you. The architecture of Kyiv, at least, can compete with European capitals, so for sure. I haven’t been to the United States yet, so I think there’s a lot that I have to see. In general, I have a dream to travel around the entire UNESCO heritage list: Galapagos Islands, Grand Canyon, and so on. I’ve already visited the Wieliczka salt caves near Katowice and was even inspired by some things that I want to integrate into the Green Theater. I’m thinking of expanding it and transforming it into a cool tourist place. There are a lot of paths under it that lead to the Park of Glory, to the Podil neighbourhood. You can create something very interesting in that location with investments. Otherwise, I don’t pay much attention to things. If I travel somewhere, then it’s mostly work-related. Over the past few years, apart from a one week holiday in Cyprus, all my trips were all about business meetings and negotiations. My dream is to set aside two months of time and travel to Peru, Ecuador, Galapagos, North America. But I don’t see it happening soon.
What piece of advice would you give to humanity?
To think about the things that we do. To switch to electric cars and recycle. Although, on my way here, I read an interview in which it was said that the very notion of recycling is wrongful. It’s better to think about using materials that quickly decompose. It is necessary to change our way of thinking and think in this direction, although it is difficult to break old habits. For example, I ordered this bottle of water and added to the plastic problem. We need to introduce new habits. Next year, we will try to create a micro-town of eco-activities, where we will incorporate new inventions from different parts of the world. It will be a mini presentation of sorts, so that people, children, and their grandparents can educate themselves and try to adjust their lives for the environment’s sake. We still have a long way to go and work on ourselves individually.
We must keep in mind that we and our children will somehow manage to live on this earth, but we need to think of future generations. We won’t all move to Mars. The more people will think in a perspective of 100+ years, the greater the chances for future generations.
If you were part of the SpaceX program, what would you miss the most about Earth?
Firstly, Mars has a completely different ecosystem. It’s like a sex change. You drastically change the environment, and in any case, it will affect you big time. It is hard to predict what one will miss about this planet: from strolling around the city, flying to another country, or going to festivals. Moving to Mars, even with your family, completely changes the whole environment that you were accustomed to. Not within the city, but the planet specter. Therefore, you would probably miss everything. It’s a very difficult step because those people who will decide to move to Mars, in a few years – we will need to pray for them, as they say. Remember, 500 years ago, when people traveled from England and Spain to discover America – they also experienced something like that and have traveled for months. It was a test and they eventually sailed so far that they discovered a shore where the sun was also shining in the sky above. In the case of Mars, not only is the path significantly longer, but everything will be completely new. I am sure there will be many psychological issues involved as well. It will be necessary to choose people who can survive such a mental challenge.
What was the most memorable gig you’ve attended as part of an audience?
Because of constantly being busy with work and being with my family, and as you age you get so used to it. I remember how in 2004 or 2005 I went to a Korn gig in Moscow will all the initial band members, so David Silveria was still in the band. Being a little boy, I made my way to the stage and stood right under the barrier, there were 20 thousand people behind me, the pressure from the crowd almost broke my ribs during the concert. I remember looking at the stage in awe. I can highlight that concert. But this is more of a ‘childhood’ story. I would also highlight Soulfly. But back then I lived for it. The period when I was 16-19 years old – that’s when I began to travel to all these concerts. Everything seemed so emotional and there were no real-life problems. You just went to gigs and didn’t have a care in the world. And now, for example, in the past 5 years, I constantly think about work. There is a lot of responsibility and, unfortunately, you cannot completely shut if off to enjoy something.
As someone with your own festival, is it possible for you to attend other events without analyzing the technical aspects?
When we were at Sziget Festival 3 years ago I had a 4-month-old baby. My phone was in my pocket and I still managed to enjoy and jump around the festival. But then I still ended up taking out my phone and began to take pictures and write notes on what was happening around me. I analyzed the garbage cans that would look better and how the entrance zone was built. I took about 250 photographs, not of the artists, but the infrastructure. They are more experienced, so all the details were so interesting to me. Hence the answer to the question – it doesn’t work, you still think about work. At some point, you just switch the work mode on and there’s that.
When will Atlas reach a point when you can delegate all your tasks and just enjoy the operation on the side?
I don’t want that yet. But sooner or later it will most likely happen. We are now building a system to get away from operational management and engage in strategic development because our goal is to scale up and launch several new festivals. Not in Kyiv, but in other cities and even countries. But for now, I really like what I’m doing and I have no desire to retire. Despite all the problems, I never get tired nor bored. So now we are building a system so that if I do get tired of it all and want to get away, the process will continue without me. Time will tell. I’ve been doing this for 10 years and I hope a couple more decades will be just as fun.
What’s the dream festival?
It definitely should take place in our country because other countries are purely commercial oriented. We live here and instead of running away, we want to create the very best here. We will be able to earn in other countries, once we are able to further develop the market here. There is a constant shortage of money and you are always trying to come up with new ways to earn money. In terms of indicators, we ourselves have made the bar up to a million, even more. We understand and know where we can implement this. Moreover, the million figure is the minimum number of visitors, of which 100 thousand are tourists. It’s really interesting for us to increase the percentage of tourists so that we can open Kyiv and Ukraine to tourists in terms of a festival experience. Next year we will shoot a feature film, the events of which will take place around the festival. Western artists will be filmed so that the film is presented not only to our local audience but also to the European one. It will be a separate commercial project. I’m not sure that it will be very successful, but on top of everything else, we really want to achieve an advertising effect, because many people are now afraid to go to Ukraine. There are many shortcomings with the advertising component of things, and people are scared of the war in the east, and we want to show that the rest of the country is a safe place to explore. You can still travel, relax, invest. We need to show people that not everything is so bad here.
Will Tom Cruise visit again?
Haha maybe a 2 second cameo, and this will cost us the entire budget of the film.
What question would you like to be asked in an interview and what would you answer?
There is a lot of information that I would like to share. Both positive and negative. We will face many changes now. We are building a great infrastructure that we will soon announce for the festival, like the movie. We have global plans. We plan to master VR technology. We are working to ensure that the entire territory of the festival is digitized and that you can visit it from any corner of the world, and walk through the whole territory with VR glasses on. From the negative side of things, the old situation with Karabas. It’s been years and still no trial. It’s really infuriating. It’s like criminals crashing your birthday party and you can’t do anything about it, because everything was bought. Even though it’s a negative story, I do my best to let everyone know. We are trying to draw the attention of society to such significant problems, so that, finally, for the first time, a court session will be held. Can we really talk about foreign investment in our country if we cannot even sort out an internal situation? Corruption is so visible and no one does anything about it. The new government must change this, otherwise, globally, nothing will change in our country. You can change everything on the surface, but this is something fundamental, and without fixing the issue there are no further roads to take. Not a single foreign investor will invest their money, knowing about the state of the judicial system and its gaps. All over the world, the rule of law is above all: whoever you are, in any democratic country, the law is superior. We really miss the same approach in Ukraine.
What is the wisest thing you’ve ever heard?
It might sound too general but – investing in children, their education, their health, and your own health and well-being as well.
All the money in the world is not worth anything if your children are suffering in any way.
Stephen Covey reflected on this in his book: no matter what, first and foremost, you need to think about your family and your children because this is your most valuable investment.
In your opinion, what is the negative aspect of Ukrainian media?
Things are getting better now. More and more independent resources are emerging. You can speak out and someone will publish what you have to say. There is not enough investment from independent western companies. I can highlight musical directions – there are very few online music sources. We have music channels, but we don’t have a top online music resource. It’s the 21st century and everyone is online. No offense to the music outlets out there, but they are very niche, and the country lacks one big one. But it’s more of an investment matter. It’s probably more profitable to invest in news portals than in music and culture. Most often, it’s not managed through advertising, but through lobbying and promoting specifically someone’s interests. But everything is changing bit by bit. I think in a few years we will see a shift for the better.