This summer, two of Victoria’s best-known businessmen will take some time out of their hectic schedules to relax in a way few will fully understand.
Atomique Productions founders Nick Blasko and Dimitri Demers will grab a roll of tape and go back to their beginnings – plastering the city with their concert posters.
“Every year, whether it’s for Rifflandia or Rock the Shores, Dimitri and I are going to get in the car with a shitload of posters,” Blasko says. “It’s almost therapeutic. We hit spots no one else will hit.”
“We might have grown to where we are,” Demers says, “but when you’ve got to get in the trenches, you’ve got to get in the trenches.”
The pair definitely don’t appear to be in the trenches this morning, chatting from the company’s current headquarters at 1501 Douglas, the former RBC building. Yet their climb is undeniable. The roots of the Island’s preeminent concert promotion company took hold on poles around the city when they got their first taste of street promotion as teens. While Blasko and Demers, who met on the playground of Sundance elementary as eight- and nine-year-olds, respectively, no longer share a purple raincoat (dubbed Joseph, in honour of its amazing technicolour) for rainy days, their journey from teenaged concert promoters to festival producers has left them far from staking out glamorous positions for themselves.
Tonight, Blasko will work Destroyer at The Roxy Theatre – opening the venue, meeting the band, watching the clock. On any given night, either could be seen doing the same at a club show: to stay attuned to the scene, to get the job done and simply because they love the music.
And that’s how it all really began.
Blasko’s aunt, a woman heavy into punk rock, introduced the two to all-ages shows early in their friendship, with Blasko having become a regular all-ages show-goer by the time he was eight.
“We grew up around that scene: skateboarding, going to punk shows in the late-’80s in Victoria,” Demers says. “That all-ages scene had an effect on us.”
When the two, now 39 and 41, were at Vic High in the ‘90s, they began to build their reputation as show producers, putting up acts wherever possible: community halls, warehouses, basements. They watched venues born and die. They’d hire their friends’ bands to play and sold the tickets. They weren’t yet 19, but they ran club nights. They laugh and gloss over the details of their underage and under-the-radar dealings – possibly the blurred details of their involvement in all genres including the rise of rave culture in the ‘90s, is because many of those early relationships forged as kids, still continue today.
“We worked with a lot of different people in town because we were young promoters who existed outside of the scene sometimes,” Blasko says. “Dimitri and Nick were trustworthy and knew what they were doing, but were asked to come because we could bring a different element.”
“We could tap the youths,” Demers adds.
Dance music. Punk rock. Rock. Pop. If Blasko and Demers thought there was an audience to buy tickets, they would take a swing at doing a show. The unchanging business model has held strong from dingy underground shows to massive festivals, such as Rifflandia – which sees major international acts converge in the city for four days and nights of music at Royal Athletic Park and night venues scattered about town – sell enough tickets, get paid.
In 1995, Demers made his foray into business ownership. With a small storage space and a tape gun (and Joseph), Acme Poster Service came about. By 2000 the friends officially launched Atomique together. Two years later, Blasko co-founded an artist management company, Amelia Artists, through which he continues to represent such acts as Tegan and Sara and Jets Overhead at Victoria and New York offices. They’ve long since established their solo endeavours – from Demers’ as DJ and founder of the Stir Fry Collective to Blasko’s time in the long-defunct band Fungkus – and they know how to optimize their Atomique partnership.
“We both have our own unique personalities and our roles,” Blasko says. “Definitely in the beginning I was pushing the envelope with the city a little more, sticking my neck out or trying to really advocate for the company, where Dimitri was really helming the business. He’s out doing the shows, keeping the lights on and I’m doing business development. Now we’ve kinda met at this point where we’re both inside it and we’ve developed all this business, and we’re working on it together. Like any relationship, you’ve got a good cop, bad cop. I’m not gonna lie, Dimitri’s played the bad cop a few times and for good reasons.”
“I’m not that bad of a cop,” Demers adds.
“A firm cop.”
A firm cop with his eyes on artist development and breaking new bands, who, Blasko says, isn’t just looking for the band who can sell 1,000 tickets, but the band they can develop to sell 1,000 tickets – in Victoria. Yes, they could expand to the Mainland, they agree, but they won’t. Atomique, recently named Business of the Year (one to 10 employees) by the Victoria Chamber of Commerce, has set their focus on developing more signature events, events infused with creativity and variety. Rifflandia and all that encompasses with Artlandia and Thinklandia is growing increasingly more difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it, as is the Phillips Backyard Weekender, a three-day festival in the backyard of Phillips’ Brewery or the free Current Swell show they produced for Red Bull in May which drew 3,000 spectators to an underused parking lot on the Inner Harbour. Blasko and Demers aren’t hatching plans to move beyond the city limits to a bigger and more saturated market. They’re testing the limits of the one they dominate with three festivals on sale during the same five-week period.
“It’s all just a part of our journey as a company,” Blasko says. “We’ve always tried new things and some have worked, some haven’t. We just continue doing it.”
“You’re not going to find out if you don’t give it a shot,” Demers says.
And so, they return to the simple paradigm they lived by in high school: sell tickets. Sell enough, get paid.
“The model is simple,” Demers says. “The nuances are infinite.”
And sometimes, Blasko says, it takes just as much effort to do a show at Lucky Bar as it does to do a show at the arena, to which his ally adds:
“If you’re doing it right, people don’t see you sweat.”