Interview with Vladica Mladenovski - Grga: We are finding ways to create a program that we will be proud of

The "Healthy Youth" festival, with its openness to new trends, sound energy and youthful freshness, has become a recognizable feature of the Youth Cultural Center, as its initiator and organizer.

The first announcement of the 12th edition of the festival of new music "Zdravo mvodi" took place at the beginning of April. In the meantime, the list of participants was being supplemented, which includes famous names from the European and world music scene, with huge support from local artists, whose home stage is in the Youth Cultural Center (MKC) in Skopje.

In addition to the new edition of "Hello young people", with Vladica Mladenovski - Grga, music editor at MKC, we also opened topics related to the essential importance of the stage at MKC for musical life in Skopje, about the "support" they receive from local institutions and institutions, for networking with European music centers, but also for the enthusiasm, dedication, sacrifice and vision of the entire MCC team in the creation of new traditions.

The design of the promotional materials for the 12th "Hello Youth" is the work of the young Macedonian artist Gotse Ilievski

What does the final list look like 20 days before the "Healthy Youth" festival?

- Every year we try to close the program at least three months before the festival, but it is not an easy task at all due to many different factors. This year, we announced the festival in April with the announcement of the poster, the work of the young Macedonian artist Gotse Ilievski, a poster of which we are very proud. Today, about 20 days before the festival, the program is closed and announced, honestly, with a lot of changes from the original plans, with many difficulties, with a decimated budget, we managed to create a program that we are more than satisfied with.

We have 16 musical names from 12 different countries, including groups from Syria, Ukraine, Georgia, as well as from the USA and Canada. Genre-wise very different, interesting and exciting. This year we have three festival stages, of which we must mention that one festival stage is curated by friends from AMOK-radio and contains super interesting names from the electronic scene. The date is September 3rd, MCC Park.

With "Healthy Youth" we want to offer a unique, diverse, interesting, unpredictable offer and make the audience explore new music / Photo: Stefan Samandov

A key determinant of the festival is the phrase "new music" and it has been organized with that description for 12 years. What in terms of quality does "Zdravo mudi" select from the new music?

- "Hello young people" tries to keep up with the new trends in music. We try to present new and fresh names from the world music scene. On the one hand, we want to offer a unique, diverse, interesting, unpredictable offer and make the audience explore new music. Of course, on the other hand, we must not exaggerate in the obscure and experimental and we try to offer well-known names from the music scene. However, that is another story, which is mostly related to finances, and that is not our strongest point, and we have to create the program within the possibilities, the funds that we manage to secure from donors and sponsors, and we have to take into account and the capacity of visitors to "Healthy Youth", the price of a ticket for the event...

In general, we do not deviate from the idea with which we started the festival, which is "new music first", and we want to build and maintain the image of a festival where you will fall in love with your new band, which you will meet at "Zdravo mjudi".

The title "Healthy youth" is a specificity that connects the festival with MCC, formerly also known as "25 May" Home of Youth. Is there a story behind the creation of the title of the festival?

– The team that took over/inherited MCC dates back to 2009, and at the time when that "new core" was formed, we realized that MCC has Young Open Theater (MOT) and "Cinedays", but no music festival. "Hello Youth" was "born" in 2010, and the first edition took place in April 2011.

The festival was named after a pinball machine in Kratovo. "Bernais Propaganda" played in Kratovo in the refuge of young people from Kratovo at that time - club "Talisman", sometime in December 2010. Part of the MCC team was present at that concert and while walking around the city we heard that somewhere there was a pinball machine called "Zdravo mvodi" and it existed in the 90s. From there and from that incident, we "appropriated" the name that was associated with the previous name of MCC - Home of Youth, of course we were also familiar with the song "Madrigali", and soon after we learned about a TV show in Yugoslavia from the 70s , which was called "Hello young people".

Vladica Mladenovski – Grga has been an active player on the Macedonian music scene for more than 20 years / Photo: Stefan Samandov

This year MCC celebrates 50 years of its existence. To what extent is the music program one of the pillars of its half-century of survival and development?

- Of course, the music program is the "flagship" of MCC and that this program is one of the most recognizable in the home, and it is also the program that gathers the largest number of visitors. However, MCC would not be MCC without the other cultural offer (theatre, film, literature, gallery).

Specifically for the long-awaited celebration that we are all celebrating, 50 years of MCC, the music program is literally crippled by the institutions. For the music program in 2022, we have 0 (zero) MKD support from the Ministry of Culture, and the financial support from the City has been drastically reduced compared to previous years. However, we are not so naive to stick to the support of the committees in the institutions and institutions that give opinions and select the program, but we find ways to create a program that we will be proud of, that will be of interest to the Skopje and Macedonian public.

In the past 13 years, there is almost no Macedonian band that has not performed at MCC, and thanks to the attractiveness of the offer at MCC, people from the neighborhood can often meet at concerts. However, it would be remiss if I did not mention our external partners, who offer a fantastic quality and diverse music program ("Terrorvoid promotions", "Password production", Skopje jazz festival, "Sureshotz entertainment", "PMG Recordings", "Avalon production", "Funky fresh", "Diehard records", "Earthquake festival"...).

The music program is the "flagship" of MCC and under normal conditions there are around 150 concerts per year / Photo: Zdenko Petrovski

MKC is a bastion of new music throughout the year. How many concerts are held annually in MCC and what is the ratio of domestic and foreign groups?

- Until the period before the coronavirus, up to 650 program activities took place in the MCC annually, of which about 150 were from the music program. Of course, due to the bans brought by the corona crisis, the number of concerts decreased, but we made superhuman efforts to maintain the continuity of concerts, and at the same time, we managed to hire a huge number of musicians and music groups who received fair and equal treatment. With the loosening and falling of the measures, we are slowly trying to return to the old paths, so in the first half of 2022 we managed to realize about 40 music concerts, and for the second half of the year we have scheduled at least 40 more performances.

We try to keep a balance between the domestic and international offer of the repertoire, and we also try to maintain a gender balance in the programming, that is, to offer more female performers, because the ratio is not balanced and is on the side of men, now-for-now.

We managed to put the MKC on the European and world map of cultural centers, we managed to bring top artistic names to Skopje, and I am especially glad that the MKC opened up to local artists and performers / Photo: Stefan Samandov

The music program is part of both the film festival "Cinedays" and the theater MOT. For what purpose?

- Over the years, the music program has become an inseparable part of MOT and "Cinedays". The goal is to expand the offer to the audience and for visitors to have an appropriate "off-program", which can only enrich their experience by visiting our film and theater festivals. The "Cinemusic" program within "Cinedays" is extremely interesting, colorful and rich, and in the past it was supplemented with music documentaries. Due to logistical reasons, this program is more stable and consistent, unlike the ILO festival, which often uses many different spaces throughout the MCC and sometimes simply does not have the opportunity to hold a concert. However, with my colleague Ruse Arsov, director of the MOT festival, this year we have several interesting musical names that will be part of the 47th edition of the MOT.

In recent years, MCC has become part of several European networks, and it seems that "Liveurope" has a special significance in relation to MCC's musical activities. What are the benefits of these networks?

- MCC is a full member of the "Liveurope" network from this year. It is a platform that networks 21 concert halls across Europe, and MKC is the only member that does not come from the European Union. The main goal of "Liveurope" is the promotion of young European artists and a greater exchange of programs between concert halls. In the first half of 2022 alone, MKC realized about 15 concerts under the "Liveurope" label, and Macedonian bands, such as "21 vek", Dina Jashari, "You" had performances supported by the "Liveurope" program.

Our goal is to succeed in increasing the cultural exchange and, in addition to the new European talents that will perform in the MCC, to succeed in presenting part of our new and young forces to Europe.

The benefits and potentials of "Liveurope" are huge for us as MCC, but also the opportunities for new Macedonian performers are great and these opportunities should be used, all with the aim of development and greater visibility of the Macedonian music scene in Europe. In many countries, so-called "music export" offices are being opened, initiated by their ministries and institutions. Unfortunately, with us, for the time being, everything comes down to enthusiasm, persistence, resourcefulness and endurance.

The European avant-garde in Skopje was presented through the character and poetics of Blixa Bargeld, who performed together with Teho Teardo in 2017 / Photo: Zdenko Petrovski

What is your personal story, that is, your connection with music, and how many years have you been part of the MCC team?

- I have been in the Youth Center since the early 90s, as a visitor. I was lucky to have an older brother who liked to take me to events. Thanks to that, I was able to see some concerts of cult bands in MCC, such as "Ekaterina Velika", "Archangel", "KUD Idiots", "Let 3", "Disciplina Kicme"... and the whole scene that performed in the Youth Center in the 90s...

From 2002 to 2009 I was part of "Lithium Records", today "Password Production", and I have been working in MCC since 2009. I have been an active actor in the Macedonian music scene for more than 20 years. I can freely say that I am proud of what this MCC team, which was staffed around 2009/2010, has achieved and is still achieving. We managed to put the MKC on the European and world map of cultural centers, we managed to bring top artistic names to Skopje, and I am especially glad that the MKC opened up to domestic artists and performers. From the music program in the past 13 years, I would highlight the concerts of Mark Lanegan, "Swans", "Thee Oh Sees", Lisa Gerard, Blixa Bargeld...

Among the important concerts in MCC are the two performances of the avant-garde American band "Swans" / Photo: Aleksandar Mihajlovski

Will the very holding of the festival "Healthy Youth" have a birthday tone, or maybe you are planning another musical event to mark the 50th anniversary of MCC by the end of the year?

- We are preparing the plans for the 50th anniversary of MCC as early as 2019, but the situation on planet Earth disrupted the initial sketches. However, we are trying to celebrate the anniversary with what we have available, and we will not have a central musical event, but in addition to "Hello Youth", which is always a holiday for us, until the end of 2022 we will have interesting concerts.

Here we are announcing exclusively for the first time, towards the end of November, MCC will host the "Liveurope" festival, where we will have a suitable music program composed of young performers, followed by about 40 guests, representatives of the music halls that are part of the network. Something like an EU-summit in MKC Skopje, only not politically, but musically!

(The interview was published in "Kulturen Pechat" issue 141, in the print edition of the newspaper "Sloboden Pechat" on August 13-14, 2022)

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