Hellbound Q & A with… Terese Fleming of Scarab Productions

By Kyle Harcott

Western Canadian metal owes a lot to Terese Fleming. As the organizer of the Noctis Valkyries festival, she has put our region on the map as far as heavy metal culture goes. Incredibly supportive of her local and regional scene, Terese has been putting on shows, from tiny community halls to the now multi-day Noctis extravaganza for years. I spoke to her over the phone to find out some history of her involvement with Noctis, what bands she’s into, and whether us attendees will really be eating bowls of ball bearings at the Noctis Metal Breakfast.

How and when did you get started promoting underground metal gigs?

My son and his buddies were in metal bands when they were fifteen. And they wanted to play shows but they couldn’t play the bars, so it was like “Where are we gonna play?” There were a few community hall shows in the area, but they were all indie-rock bands. So my son, his friends and I went to a couple of these shows, to see if maybe it was something we could do ourselves. He had several friends in bands at the time and they were all looking for a place to play. So after seeing a few of these shows, I rented a hall, and a company to do sound – and the place was jam packed with teenagers wanting to hear metal; All these bands whose members were fifteen, sixteen years old and had written their own material. So it just grew from there. Once they were old enough to get into the bars, I started putting bills together at bars. And I started putting on shows that their bands weren’t involved in – mostly all-ages shows at first. I remember one all-ages show, we had a line of people we couldn’t let in. The room was packed to capacity at 400 people and I thought “Well gee, where do I go from here that’s not a bar?” So I called MacEwan Hall, found out their capacity and rates, and that’s how I started putting on shows there. Eventually somebody suggested “Why not do a festival?” And it turned out to be much the same process, just on a larger scale; I definitely wanted to challenge myself and see if I could do it or not.

So your promotion company, Scarab Productions, was formed from the get-go with these early shows?

Yes. Scarab was formed from day one to do the early shows.

How many people are on the Scarab team?

Well, we’re a collection of staff, plus the crew that gets activated for the show, and a gaggle of friends and volunteers. When I say staff – I have another business, putting on conferences, and we’re pretty quiet through the summer. That’s the reason Noctis is in September, we do the work for it all summer long in my main company’s downtime. And then once the festival is done in September, I am busy again until June of the following year with my main business. I tried a couple years ago to do a fest in March and it was just too much work for me.

Your background is in business, and you had experience putting on these local shows- how well did that experience translate to a big production like a festival in 2007?

Well, it was hard at first, because people have never heard of you. We contacted several bands in Europe and some of them didn’t answer our emails. Some answered with “Who are you?” Some answered with “You haven’t done this before, you don’t have a history, I don’t see much on your website, how do we know we’re gonna get paid?” So I did have to start off small – I didn’t get all of the bands I wanted; but, the next year I got a bigger band, and the next year a bigger band than before. And this year I’m fielding requests from the agents of, like, Ihsahn, wanting to know if we’d be interested in them for Noctis 6. Who else? Skyforger’s contacted me, Orphaned Land’s contacted me, a lot of bands.

Looking ahead to Noctis 666, I understand the big fish you are trying to land is Bolt Thrower. So how the hell do all of us fans and supporters of Noctis help you get them on the boat?

Definitely email their manager. Email the band. Drop nice little hints on their facebook page – if they even have a facebook page [laughs]. Send them emails telling them to come to Noctis and to Canada! I was talking to the MDF guys, who were at our conference lat year, and they said they asked Bolt Thrower every year of MDF, until they finally played in 2009. I’ve asked them four times now!

Oh man, perserverance is key! Fingers crossed for next year!

Oh yeah, I mean this was the fifth time I’d asked Pig Destroyer, this was the fifth time I’d asked Agalloch, and for some reason this year people started saying yes. So I am really surprised with the lineup I’ve managed to get this year – the stars must have been aligned. This year my batting average for bands I wanted versus bands I got was very high; maybe word is getting around.

I think so. And next year will be even better!

I think so, if I can get Bolt Thrower! [laughs]

Now the thing is, here… I’m 58. And I’m noticing from year to year that this gets harder for me to do, just because my energy level just isn’t what it used to be when I was 40. So the next Noctis really does depend on who I can get. It has to be right before I will give up another entire summer. So will there be one next year? I don’t know. All depends on who I can get for the headliner. I am really hoping Bolt Thrower say yes. If they do, I’ll do it, and then Noctis 6 will be the last one. Now if it turns out not to happen next year, but I get a commitment from Bolt Thrower for the year after, then I might give it a bit of a break, or go with a smaller festival, like we did with Noctis 4.20 – just so I can get some vacation! I haven’t had any vacation in a while!

I imagine not!

And when you’re my age you really need the break!

So when you set up the first Noctis in 2007, did you envision it as a yearly event at that point?

This is technically the sixth edition of Noctis if you count the 4.20 version in 2011. I did see it as a yearly thing, but that was six years ago, and I had a lot more energy in those days. There’s a certain point where, after, 55, you kinda go, wow! I just don’t feel like I did the last couple of years. When I started it, I still felt really young, and I still had tons of energy. So let’s just go and keep on goin’.

And that time I did the Dawn of Destruction festival [March 2008], I was going to to do all death, thrash and grind bands, just like my idea was to have all pagan black metal bands for Noctis Valkyries. And the idea, originally, was going to be two festivals: one in March and one in September. But after one year of doing that I said, “Oh jeez, if I want an early death I’ll do this every year!” I mean, the MDF guys – putting on their fest is all they do, and I think one of them goes and teaches English as a second language for part of the year. But MDF is all they do. And I don’t want to give up my main business. Noctis is great but it doesn’t pay my salary, and I don’t construct it to pay my salary. My main business pays my salary and my pension, so that’s the more serious part that I need to pay attention to. So yes, did I see Noctis initially as a yearly thing? Yes, I did, but after seeing how much work is involved, I think it’s kinda lucky that we’ve had six of them so far!

You spoke about setting up your festivals around a theme – like, pagan black bands for Noctis Valkyries, or death and thrash bands for Dawn of Destruction. Noctis V is subtitled Baphomiss! I am curious what your theme and impetus were this time out.

Well… the Baphomiss theme actually came about due to the artist [solomanmedia.com] who created the poster for the festival. Every time in the past, I really have had a theme or idea in mind, but of course the problem has been getting all the bands I wanted in order to make that theme work. For Thrones of War, we asked every band that had a ‘war’ theme that we could think of, and we wound up getting so few. Even though the fest was advertised as “Thrones of War”, how many ‘war’ bands did we get – like, three? So there’s a disadvantage to start off with, unless you really know you can get those bands. For Noctis V, I didn’t have that same inspiration. I gave the artist kind of an idea of what I wanted. Of course, the Baphomet, historically, is portrayed with female breasts. But they’re usually not as prominent as what he drew on the poster! [laughs] And when he sent me the image, he titled it, smirkingly, ‘The Baphomiss’. So I said, “Let’s go with it.” While the name is on the website, ‘Baphomiss’ doesn’t show up on any of the posters. It’s kind of like a little in-joke.

Where did the idea for the metal conference come from in 2009? I know setting up conferences is your daily bread-and-butter – but for metal, at least, over here, they haven’t existed for quite awhile.

Yes. I had heard there was one called, what was it, “Metal Foundations”?

Right. Foundations Forum. In the late ‘80s and ‘90s.

Yes. I actually didn’t know about it until I talked to Kevin Woron and J.P.Wood, the cohosts of Megawatt Mayhem [on CJSW, Calgary]. I told them I was thinking of doing a conference at Noctis and they were like, “Oh, you mean like Foundations Forum!” and I said “What’s that?” and they told me. But I have no idea if my conference is anything like those ones were. The Noctis conference is probably a little more like the ones that go on at NXNE and Canadian Music Week, except on a much smaller scale, and with an exclusively metal focus. I actually went to a couple of those conferences, because I was curious, and wanted to meet other promoters, wanted to know what was happening in the scene, since I’m not a very big fish in the music industry. And from seeing those conferences, I thought “These would be so good with just a metal focus, and to get metal industry people together.” I got really excited about the idea of doing it at Noctis.

One year, I decided I wanted to have Root, from Czech Republic, at Noctis. Someone had told me they were playing Inferno fest in Norway [in 2009], so I decided to go over and experience my first European metal fest. On Inferno’s website, there was a reference to a “metal conference” they were having, and it was like, this was an idea I’d been percolating, so I’m definitely going now! I went to the conference at Inferno and there were 25 people in the room. Michael Berberian from Season of Mist was one of the panelists, and while the Inferno conference was way less in-depth than what we wound up doing at Noctis, what it did for me was solidify the idea that I wanted to do it. I met Michael Berberian afterward, and invited him to come over for our first conference, and he did. So this is the third time we’re doing one, and there might be a fourth, depending on how much time I have.

I have to ask: In all your years of doing this festival, who were the bands that got away?

Nifelheim. Last year. I don’t know what happened there, but somebody told me –I have no idea if this is true, or if they just told me this to make me feel better- that the reason they canceled is because the Noctis dates conflicted an Iron Maiden tour that the Gustavsson twins were following. So they got away. Bolt Thrower continue to elude me. Archgoat are another band I’ve wanted to book, who have not been available a couple of times. Electric Wizard. My Dying Bride. Unleashed.

But that said, a lot of bands I wasn’t able to get in previous years are coming to Noctis V. I tried Psychostick for years, Pig Destroyer for years, Agalloch, Manilla Road. This was the first time I tried Venom. Oh, I know! The other one is Annihilator – three or four times now I’ve tried Annihilator, and they don’t even answer their emails! Sacrifice and Razor were also two bands I’ve been trying to get for years.

Tell me, Terese – when you`re not promoting metal festivals what do you listen to? I’m curious what your favorite metal albums of 2012 are so far.

I’m behind on albums for this year but I can tell you who my favorite artists are: I really love Necrophagist and Amorphis, those are probably two of my favorite bands. I’m really getting into Midnight’s and Speedwolf’s stuff. I love Manilla Road, been into them for a really long time. In terms of black metal, I really love Root’s catalog. And Nifelheim. I’m so-so on the pagan and folk metal bands, they can’t be too folky for me, but I love Enslaved.

I also get a lot of local and regional CDs from bands, so I have a lot of local and regional faves too – I love Bloated Pig’s new album… Dark Horse… Gate Krashor… Hrom…I listen to all of them a lot.

Final question: What’s your advice for the Noctis first-timer?

Pace. The. Booze. [laughs] And behave in the hotel! Because the people at the Ramada are absolutely wonderful to all the longhairs that come to their hotel for the festival; and if you’re coming in from out of town, my other piece of advice is, stay at the hotel! There’s nothing like getting up, and going downstairs, and seeing the likes of Cronos at breakfast! Or Paul Masvidal from Cynic. Or KK Warslut from Deströyer 666. Or Andy Sneap. And they are all sitting there over breakfast, next to you. Same with the conference. You will meet and party with the musicians.

Oh boy! I can’t wait to settle a bet and find out what Cronos eats for breakfast!

Probably nails. [laughs]

Sean Palmerston

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.