(Andy Synn interviews Runar Pettersen, press manager of the long-running Inferno Festival, which has been staged in Oslo, Norway, since 2001.)
To start with, I wonder if you’d be able to give our readers a bit of a condensed history and background to the festival, as I don’t always like to assume everyone who comes to our site necessarily knows the ins and outs of the festival scene, particularly in Europe. So when/why did the festival start, who was involved, what were the early years like?
It started out as a two day festival in 2001. The festival boss, Jan-Martin, used to run a small club called Mars here in Oslo, and used to book bands there. He wanted to book Borknagar for a gig (after he ran into guitarist Jens F. Ryland one day), and when they were looking into dates for the show, there happened to be an open spot on Easter at Rockefeller. So from this Borknagar gig came the idea to turn it into a two-day festival. There weren’t any similar festivals back then, only much smaller or much larger outdoor festivals, so it was very unique. Only Norwegian bands played the first year and, when it turned out to be a success, it was all set to continue on the next year.
Who is involved these days – who’s the team, what do you all do, etc?
Jan-Martin is still the booking guy and the head of the festival. Then we have his partner Lars, who handles the website, merchandising, tickets, and lots more. I’m the press manager, dealing with the magazine, pocket guide, social media, and whatever else comes in my way. Hilde does the Inferno Music Conference and Torje has a company called Turbine that takes care of our sponsors, stands, etc. He has a list of people working with him, like Yngvild and Malin, who take care of the hotel, and then we also have Henriette who is the production manager, Gunhild who is in charge of the volunteers, Monica who takes care of accreditations, and Asgeir who still does all the design. There’s also a lot more people I could mention, and we’ve also got around 150 volunteers who help out in different ways, and all do a great job.
Both before and during the festival, what’s the atmosphere like backstage?
If you mean literately backstage, there’s no special atmosphere since most of us work from the Inferno Hotel. Plus, during the festival the backstage at Rockefeller is an active working environment with the crew making ready for each show. So I only go in there if I got something specific to do. Before the festivals starts I am mostly in close contact with Jan-Martin, Lars, and Torje to organize all the planning. Then all Hell breaks loose on Wednesday – that is the hardest day for me – after which things start to cool down from there on as everything starts to get in order.
It’s the fifteenth anniversary of the festival this year. Did you ever think (or even dare to hope) that you’d make it this long, and still be going from strength to strength?
Not sure what to answer, because I definitely did not think that far ahead! Though I never thought the festival would go under either. As long as the spirit is there – the Inferno festival fire will still burn bright. And right now it is as strong as ever!
What are your strongest memories of the first edition of the festival?
I remember it had a very good atmosphere, and there was just something very exciting about this new festival in the heart of Oslo. Oddly, I don’t remember that much of the bands, except for Peccatum and Zeenon for some weird reason.
How has the festival grown – in size, in prestige, in complications and issues – as it’s developed?
The festival has grown rapidly from the start and continues to do so, from two days to three to four days as it is now, along with the related conference and the hotel. It is a very good thing to be able to grow year by year in a natural fashion as Inferno has done, because this allows us to retain full control and manage any risks to ensure that nothing goes horribly wrong. And, as such, today the festival has a legacy to live up to and we aim to continue to give the best festival to all the people who come to Norway. This does present some challenges though. For example, this year we offered live streaming for the first time. So there was a lot of pressure to get that right.
How early do you start booking each year’s festival?
We have already booked some kick-ass metal bands for next year. In fact we always start to book for next year before the current festival is done. It is important to start early simply because we don’t book the same bands that appear on other festivals here in Norway in the same time period. So if we want something, we need to book them before the other festivals. I am really excited about releasing the bands we have booked so far, and we’ll be unveiling the first batch of 5 bands on Wednesday, the 29th of July. So watch our Facebook page on that date!
What have been some of the highlights over the years, both backstage and performance-wise, for you?
Immortal, Emperor, Necrophagia, Sigh, Behemoth, Usurper and many more. Not sure about backstage, but the parties at the hotel are always incredible funny.
Conversely, what have been some of the hardest times you’ve gone through bringing this whole thing together?
The hardest thing is getting stuff done in time. Like when you only have a few days to send the Inferno Magazine to print and you still need confirmation from three bands. It is also very hard to work for so many hours non-stop during the festival. You don’t get to much sleep during the week.
Who have been some of your favourite acts to work with?
Behemoth were really great this year. So dedicated, active, and down to earth. It is very inspiring when bands like that get so involved.
And, the obligatory question – have you ever received any weird and wonderful rider requests from bands (feel free to keep the names to yourself if you want)?
Surprisingly not. I don’t handle the riders, but if it was something really hilarious I am sure Henriette would have told me.
How did the relationship with the Indian metal scene develop?
There is an organization here in Norway called Rikskonsertene who are government financed and whose goal is to bring Norwegian music out to the world. So they send some Norwegian band to India, and India in return send a band over to us. As long as they’re good enough, that is.
The pre-festival “club day” is an ingenious idea, and I know it’s one that a huge number of Inferno followers are big fans of. What prompted you to put on this extra, more intimate, day?
Because so many people used to arrive the day before the festival, many of the local clubs would put on their own gigs. So, after some discussion and negotiation, we took control of this, adding some more gigs reworking the time schedule so people could see as much as possible. The only problem was that some of them tended to get very overcrowded. So we added bigger venues this year and used only the biggest clubs. And it still got completely packed.
Following on from that, what’s it like balancing all the logistics and timings of all the different bands in all the different venues?
This year we started off at John Dee, the venue closest to the hotel. Then we started the gigs at Pokalen and Blå while the last band played at John Dee. So at this time lots of people end up heading in the direction of Vulkan, making it only sensible to open the stage there. So a lot of it is dictated by the location. For example, this year both Arcturus and Taake played at the same time so we could separate the people in two venues at the end.
How was this year’s festival, compared to previous years? Easier/harder/the same?
It was much harder for me personally. I just had more things to do, and much more to take care of. But it was very rewarding when all the feedback came back from the audience, the press, and the bands. People were very grateful, and this year was incredible.
Who were some of your favourite acts to see this year?
It was those bands who took it a bit further. So Behemoth, 1349, and Kampfar really made an impact this year.
And, of course, are there any bands you want to specifically recommend our readers check out, from any of the past iterations, or bands you might have your eye on for the future?
Yes, the Norwegian underground is always great. Check out bands like Devil, Studfaust, Vesen, Nocturnal Breed, Deathhammer, Inculter, Cor Scorpii, Lobotomized, and Lucifix!
Where will the festival go from here? Do you have any specific plans or aims going forwards?
We’ve got some great plans in motion for next year’s edition. Some great bands, some new venues for the club day, and some cool things for the conference. No big changes to the format, but just further improvements to make the festival even better than this year.
And, lastly… I didn’t pack a single black t-shirt this year… will I still be allowed back in 2016?
As long as you wear a t-shirt you are very much welcome back in 2016! Any color you like, as long as it’s black.
The next edition of Inferno Festival will take place in Oslo on March 23-26, 2016. For more info, visit these locations: