Interview with ROCKFEST founder dude Alex Martel!

How the hell did you start Rockfest at just 17?
Alex: Well I was just a music fan basically and I have lived in Montebello my entire life, it's just a small town in the middle of nowhere, and I just wanted to do something basically. I had no knowledge really, no contacts, no money... I just started everything from scratch, made tons of mistakes and somehow it became the biggest rock festival in the province.. you know I had a huge ambition but at the same time I don't think I was taken very seriously at first, but it just evolved naturally and yeah I'm really proud of it because of how it started. It's not like we were huge established promoters or whatever... it's really cool!

Were you just sick of not getting to see your favourite bands play in your own town so you decided to bring them there? 
Alex: Yeah a little bit! The first year the headliner was GrimSkunk, and that's like my favourite band in Quebec so it was a really big deal to me to get GrimSkunk out the very first year. But I don't necessarily book the festival according to my personal tastes because no one would come, but there's always bands every year that I'm really happy to see. This year we have The Offspring who are the very first band that I got into when I was like 12 or something, so to have them play in Montebello exactly where I used to skateboard while listening to them when I was younger, it's just really cool. Same with Marilyn Manson, I was a huge fan in high school... Deftones were one of my all time favourite bands, and just last year seeing Korn, another one of my favourite bands when I was younger... it's really really cool, just to see my small village totally transformed for one weekend is just, it's just special. People don't usually realize.. they come to Rockfest every year and think that's what Montebello looks like, but then they come back when there is no Rockfest and they're like 'this is so weird!'... to me it's the opposite. I've lived there my whole life and it's a town of like retired people, so to see a lot of punk rockers and metal heads taking over the town basically and interacting with these people, to me it's just the coolest thing.

Are there still people who don't take you seriously even now after 8 years? 
Alex: Yeah it still happens sometimes, I guess I still need to prove everyone wrong! The people who don't take me seriously just give me even more energy to run it. I've always said that my attitude is like I just don't take a no... if someone says that something won't work I'll just be like 'fuck you I'll show you that it can work' so that's pretty much what I did and I'm still doing.

Do you still have to chase down bands to play or are they chasing you down?
Alex: Ahh, as time goes it's more and more the bands and agents coming to us rather than us going to them, so that's actually really cool. It happened very gradually because you know the first couple years it was just local bands, then we started getting more bands from elsewhere in Canada... each year the bands would tell all the other bands that they know, and their agents and managers, that they have to go to this festival because it's awesome, so that's really helped.

Were there any bands on this years lineup who you were totally shocked at getting? 
Alex: Well the one band that was really hard to get was Rancid, I had been trying... I flew to Salt Lake City to meet with their agent and I flew to California to go to an event in the desert just to meet with their band and talk to them about the festival and even then they said it wasn't working because they don't like playing festivals for the most part, for many reasons, so then when I found out that Rancid wasn't working I tried getting the Transplants and after a while I got a random call saying that Rancid AND Transplants want to do it. People are usually surprised, they would expect that Alice Cooper or something would be the hardest but it was Rancid, they were lots of work so I'm really really happy that they're playing this year.

You must be paying a lot of money for bands like Rancid, etc. are you losing money, do you manage to break even or are you actually making money off of this? 
Alex: Actually for whatever reason people think festivals make tons of money which is more often than not really not the case... even here [at Pouzza] you know they're struggling, there are so many expensive involved. If I did it for money I would have stopped a long long time ago, we're barely surviving but I insist on keeping our ticket prices low and beer prices low, and we allow re-entry even though we know it means less revenue because people can just go get their beer at the corner store or something... obviously I want the festival to survive but the focus has always been to just do the best event that we can and you know hopefully eventually we'll be able to make a decent living.

What do you do for a living when you're not working on Rockfest?
Alex: I don't do anything! I just work on Rockfest, I'm already working on the next couple of years... before we announced the lineup this year we had already confirmed bands for 2014.. so... 2014 is probably going to be even better!

Which was the worst year for Rockfest so far? 
Alex: Probably 2007, which was the second year.. the first year was 2005 and we didn't do it in 2006, we did it 2007 again and I was hoping to make it a lot bigger than 2005 but we had approximately the same turn out, just a little bit more, and I actually lost a lot of money that year and I really started wondering should I keep on doing this... and I just figured you either have to stop or do it ten times better, so that's when it started getting bigger and bigger and bigger.

What's the most important lesson you've learned from doing this shit for 8 years? 
Alex: There's so many, I can't really pinpoint one, the whole thing is just an evolving learning process, just overall.

After Rockfest is over and the fans and bands are gone, what's left for you to deal with? 
Alex: Oh that's the crappy part! You have to make sure all the sites are clean, and it has to be done on time because we have a strict deadline from the city to make sure everything is clean. Then there's all the financial stuff, paying everybody, doing the reports for grants and stuff.. the work never stops. That's the shitty part because usually right after it's done I want to focus on the next year but you have so much to take care of still to finish off this year.