The Slovenia Times

Mud Paradise



The first concerts on Otocec, an idyllic island on the Krka River, occurred about 30 years ago, but it wasn't until 1996, when Franci Kek, the current director of the festival, gathered up a group of enthusiasts, that the first rock festival was organized. Rock Otocec became an annual event, and thus started to gain in stature. The festival steadily grew, so big in fact that it eventually had to leave the island. The vivid programme of this year's festival attracted over 18,000 visitors. The programmes of the first few years of Rock Otocec mainly consisted of concerts by Slovenian bands. But as attendances grew, so did the number foreign attractions. In its nine years, the festival has presented an impressive array of big name artists such as Miss Bee, Asian Dub Foundation, Living Colour, and Fun Lovin Criminals - just to name a few. Despite the appeal of presenting important foreign bands, Rock Otocec has never turned its back on the domestic product. On the contrary, it has become both the yardstick and the who's who of the Slovene rock scene. This year, for example, the programme consisted of Siddharta, the first Slovenian band to have filled a football stadium, the legendary avant-garde group Laibach that recently released another album, and Slon in Sadež, a witty Slovenian duo who broke through last year. Yes, going through the annals of Rock Otocec is, in many ways, similar to reading the history of Slovene rock from 1996 on. This year's special event was a surprise concert by Jože Slak, one of the pioneers of Slovene pop-folk music, which is quite astonishing really, as the two genres - rock and pop-folk - traditionally do not go together very well. The concert was enthusiastically received by the audience and was considered to be one of the highlights of the festival. So what does this response from a predominately young, rock audience mean? Do Slovenians really feel such a connection with Alpine pop-folk music (as played by Jože Slak), or is this euphoria just another manifestation of the rising influence of turbofolk (that blends both genres)? Sex, Drugs, R'n'R... and Mud However, most people come to the festival just to have fun. An aspect of the festival, and one that has become a quasi-trademark and another means of indulging in a bit of fun and well... decadence, is the festival's legendary Woodstock-style mud games, that take place each year. This story started as a pleasant side effect of an otherwise unwelcome rainstorm that took organizers by surprise towards the end of the first festival in 1996. Since then, the mud has become an essential part of the festival. Even if there is no rain, organizers will spill water at certain spots to create pools of black mud that become the centre of a rich accompanying programme. People play different sports, declare a Miss Mud, dance and just skylark around in it. However, after two days, and some rain, the entire festival looks dirty. But this rarely stops the concert-goers in taking part in the fun. This year's novelty was the competition for the best 'mud' photos. The most daring and provocative are published on the festival's webpage. Banishment and the Triumphant Return to Paradise The word Otocec literally means little island. Even though the festival was banished from the island due to the lack of space, it kept its name. In 2003, the festival barely survived after the state radically cut back its funding of the event. Consequently, the organizers refocused on presenting bands that come out of the ex Yugoslav states, and with skilled management they have managed to survive. Credit for that must go to the director Franci Kek. Mr Kek is definitely a man of many talents. Apart from being an organizer of the festival, he has also filmed a successful 'hidden camera' series and even established his own political party that met with some success in the 2003 local elections. It is through the connections that Franci Kek has and the publicity he is able to generate that the festival has been allowed to return to its roots. As of last year, the festival will be staged at its original venue. Rock Otocec is now again true to its name and to its slogan: "There is Paradise on Rock Otocec. Paradise, rock is Paradise!"


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