Navigating the edge that separates the thrill of victory from the agony of defeat is an integral part of being a concert promoter.
There is a constant yo-yoing of emotions, ranging from out-of-the-box successes to hard-fought failures. But when it comes to creatively rewarding ways in which to make your living, Nick Blasko and Dimitri Demers of Atomique
Productions — the city’s foremost concert production company — say they couldn’t dream up a better line of work for themselves.
“Victoria as a community, as a city, has given a lot to Nick and I over the years,” Demers says. “It is a privilege to be able to humbly give back to the city that we are a part of.”
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Atomique Productions has been at the centre of the concert business in this region for the better part of two decades. During that time, Demers and Blasko helped transform a city often resistant to change into a burgeoning epicentre of arts and culture in the province, staging some of the region’s best music events.
“We’ve seen rooms come and go in this town, we’ve seen promoters come and go, and we’ve seen businesses form and close,” Blasko says. “We’ve tried to lean on the brand we created and be known for quality and diversity and consistency.”
Their company celebrated its 15th anniversary in January, a run of success that has paid its greatest dividends in recent years.
In 2008, Blasko and his wife, Casey Austin, co-founded the annual Rifflandia festival, which Atomique produces. The company also oversees Rock the Shores, another annual festival it invented. Combined, the two multi-day events drew upward of 25,000 people in 2013.
The concert database livevictoria.com lists 972 Atomique-produced events dating to 2003. Considering that the Blasko-Demers concert connection was forged nearly a decade prior to that, it’s a safe bet to crown Atomique the busiest bunch in town.
Despite its credentials, Blasko says it feels like the company has come into its own at a measured pace.
“We didn’t start out of the gates thinking this was a company that was going to do festivals. It wasn’t in our view 15 years ago.”
No school can teach a promoter about staging a concert or public event. Atomique gets by on a set of acquired skills its owners — motivated by their sense of musical adventure — have picked up along the way. “Both of us are just massive music fans,” Blasko said. “I don’t know where we would be without music to rally around.”
Demers, 40, and Blasko, 39, met as students at Sundance Elementary. The classmates bonded quickly. By the time they hit junior high, they could be spotted together at all-ages punk and metal shows around town. When the regularity of these events began to slow, Blasko and Demers — who were just 17 and 18, respectively — stepped in to fill the void.
Early gigs under the Atomique banner saw them bridge the gap between rock and punk, and hip hop and electronic music. Not every show was a home run back then, but they found a way to improve in areas they could control.
By the time 1998 rolled around, they were making a modest living putting on shows.
“We’ve learned from our mistakes,” Blasko says. “We have been in the game long enough that we have a good grasp on how to sell 200 tickets, but also how to sell 10,000 — and how to realistically wrap a production around that.”
Atomique is only part of the equation. The two friends also have projects independent of each other. Blasko is co-owner of Amelia Artists, his management company with fellow Victoria native Piers Henwood, while Demers is a member of the Stir-Fry Collective, the city’s longest-running hip-hop and electronic music conglomerate. Blasko also spends part of the year in New York, from which he can better oversee the careers of Tegan and Sara, one of Amelia Artists’ top acts.
Alone or together, they manage quite nicely. They have been putting on concerts in the capital region for more than half their lives, and don’t expect to slow their pace anytime soon.
Five years ago, the promoters and their staff worked in tandem with Phillips Brewery to host concerts in the beer maker’s back lot. Phillips events were a hit out of the gate, quickly growing from 500-capacity tent parties to 2,000-capacity outdoor concerts. For the Amelia Street Block Party, Atomique employed an underused portion of the downtown core and brought it to life with a free one-day festival, staged in honour of Victoria’s 150th birthday.
“That’s where we get excited about things, finding new opportunities and new venues and doing something with them,” Blasko says.
He and Demers are at the forefront of a new generation of young entrepreneurs, proud Victorians who see no shame in staying true to their roots. They have had opportunities elsewhere in the country, but remain stationed in Victoria for one simple reason.
“We have made a very concerted effort to build the Victoria market, and we are always going to continue on that path,” Demers says. “We may decide to work at times outside of Victoria, but I don’t think we would ever consider relocating the company to another city. Aside from it being a matter of business, Victoria is our home.”