KILLTOWN DEATHFEST’s mastermind DANIEL ABECASSIS gives a taste of life on the road and behind the scenes at Europe’s best death metal festival

We first met Daniel Abecassis off Vancouver’s Main St. in a hidden, locals-only bar called The Narrow. It was December of 2013, and we had met to discuss how operating a tour booking agency for underground death metal actually works, and to better understand the logistics involved. Since then he’s taken a few Covenant circle bands on the road, and put them on both of his past festivals.

A lot has happened since that night 5 years ago: Killtown Deathfest has been laid to rest, resurrected, countless tours have taken place with many now-pivotal bands putting their stamp on the old continent, and Daniel Abecassis has been reconfirmed time and time again to be perhaps the most important behind-the-scenes individual in this tight knit, yet massive scene.

We caught up with Daniel to help give our readership and all rabid fans of this genre a better perspective on what he does, and the answers are nothing short of elucidating. Enjoy!

I think we should start with something that will lay some good groundwork for the reader. To a lot of people, the logistics and dynamics of what you do is confusing. Some people think that tours for bands who have a decent following, but may not be tremendously “popular”, are more luxurious than they are. Other people think that these tours are a lot more punk than they are. Can you walk the readers through your process – from the starting point of a tour, to piecing it together, to how an average day on the road would look?

Hey! First off let me introduce myself. My name is Daniel Abecassis and I’m running Killtown Bookings and I’m part of the collective organizing Kill-Town Death Fest (KTDF). I’m based in Copenhagen, Denmark and so is the Killtown Bookings office and the festival.

I had quite a few ideas about touring life – like you mention in your question above – and some of them turned out to be true, but most of them didn’t. A lot of people romanticize touring and tour life, but from my perspective it’s mainly a lot of work, but of course good times and fun too. When I’m on the road I usually work up to 20 hours a day. Usually the day starts early and we get to bed at a very late hour. I drive during the day sometimes just a few hours, but for the most part 6-10 hours per day. Then you arrive at the venue for load in and setting up the stage and then sound check. While the bands are doing that I’m usually trying to catch up on some emails if I have a few hours. Then its dinner time, then doors and then the show. Usually there isn’t much time for sightseeing or walking around the town, so you end up seeing endless kilometres of highways, gas stations, venues and hotels… Not super romantic. And then there is the question about the girls. A lot of people think that there are a lot of girls at shows and that they are always running after the bands… Well maybe I’m in the wrong scene, but there isn’t a lot of girls running after the bands I tour with and not that many present at the shows in general. It is getting better with the male/female ratio, but there is still a long way to go. In general I don’t see a lot of band members hooking up on tour, so girlfriends out there who are really worried about their touring boyfriends (or the other way around) you don’t need to worry that much …

Since I book, drive and tour manage the majority of the tours I book – which is around 10-15 tours a year, I’m usually on the road up to 6 months out of the year. That’s tough and straining both physically and mentally, but I still really love what I’m doing and I’m super passionate about the bands I work with and the culture I’m promoting. I’m very picky with what bands I work with and I always try to curate my roster after the bands I’m listening to at home and that I think deserves more exposure here in Europe. So far I have been really blessed with most of the bands that I’m into contacting me and wanting me to work with them, so I cant complain about how things are going.

I have plans to expand Killtown Bookings more. At the moment I have Andrea Vissol working with me based out of Brussels, Belgium where he is running Killtown Bookings Belgium. There are also ideas to open up a branch in Germany and possibly also a Killtown Bookings North America at some point …

How did everything get started for Killtown Bookings exactly?

Killtown Bookings started after we did the first edition of KTDF back in 2010. Since we were flying in bands from around the world, more and more bands started asking if we could provide touring options for them. I had been booking shows locally since the early/mid 90´s and done my fair share of touring – mainly through the punk/DIY network – so I was familiar with how shit works, but had no real experience as an international tour booker… The first two tours I booked was for Funebrarum (us) + Undergang (dk) and Sonne Adam (il) + Cruciamentum (uk) back in 2011. Both tours went really well despite that I had to figure most things out while booking the tours. Everyone I got in touch with were super nice and supportive and within long I had mapped out the DIY death metal underground promoter scene of Europe. The budgets were very unrealistic cause I had never worked with tours with bigger budgets before but it all worked out fine in the end and all costs were covered and the bands still got to walk home with some cash.

After the pretty good start with some strong names it just took off from there. Daryl Kahan from Funebrarum designed me a logo (based of the KTDF logo) and did a website for me. At that point I had just finished my bachelors degree in political science and history at university, so I was kinda at a crossroad where I had to decide if I would go with the booking or with an academic career. I decided to go with opening my own booking agency and make that my primary work occupation from day one. I was lucky cause it worked out more or less from the beginning and it still does.

Let’s talk about something current. Kill-Town Death Fest has had an aura of mystique and a cult following unlike any other festival in recent memory. When it was laid to rest in 2014, the world cried out that it was all too early, and the plethora of people who did not get to go have grumbled ever since. Now, seemingly out of nowhere, KTDF is back from the dead. Why was this the right time to do this?

 

We decided to quit doing Kill-Town Death Fest back in 2014 due to a couple of different reasons. Mainly we felt that we had achieved what we set out to do which was promoting the best of the contemporary underground death metal scenes of Scandinavia and Europe in general. We had reached a point where in order for us to maintain a high level in our programs we needed to book bands we had already presented earlier on. The UG death metal scene seemed also to take a dive around this time compared to the wave that was happening when we first set out back in 2009/2010. We didn’t want to keep booking the same bands over and over again, so we decided to call it quits while we were ahead.

Last year we had a meeting in our association Undergrundsmusikkens Fremme (Underground Music Promotion) and decided that the time felt right to pick up where we had left off. In the 3 years that had passed when we had the meeting a lot of new and interesting bands had emerged – especially in North America – so we decided to turn our focus towards the North American continent. A lot of really good new, young bands had started putting out demos and releases on some of the labels that we have always worked with like Dark Descent Records, 20 Buck Spin, Profound Lore Records, Parasitic Records and Me Saco Un Ojo to just name a few.

So we set out to book the line up for what would be become “The Resurrection” of Kill-Town Death Fest. Through my booking agency I’m often in contact with a lot of the contemporary bands and David has a lot contacts throughout the world through Undergang and Extremely Rotten Productions, so the line-up came together relatively smoothly being booked mainly while I was on the road where we would communicate online in the KTDF collective. The outcome turned out quite spectacular – also for us. We had a meeting a week before we were supposed to start the announcements and sat down and compiled the whole line-up and wrote it out on paper. Since we had all been scattered and never had time to sit in the same room, the outcome came as quite a surprise to us. It turned out to be really good! We ended up having booked 12 bands from North America – a few old ones, but mainly fresh new young bands that have never played Europe before. Besides the 12 from North America, we have bands from Asia, the Middle East, South America and Australia and of course quite a few Scandinavian and some European bands. There are a few bands that have played before on there, but the majority of them have new releases since they played last time. We have a lot of special appearances from bands that have never played Europe before. Derkéta is a band we have tried to get over since years and I’m really stoked that we are able to host them for their first and so far only Euro performance ever! Also after trying for about 7 years to convince Runemagick to rise from their ionic slumber, we finally managed and can proudly present their first live show since 2005! Also we have the great honor of hosting Mortem from Peru´s first Euro show since 2004! Hyperdontia from Turkey and Denmark will play their first ever show at KTDF and Wormridden will play their first ever Euro show. Other special one off /first Euro performances worth mentioning are Sempiternal Dusk (us), Mortiferum (us), Cemetery Urn (aus), Ascended Dead (us), Triumvir Foul (us), Fetid (us), Scolex (us) and Torture Rack. Necrot will also play their first much anticipated Euro show before embarking on a month long Euro tour. All in all there is a lot of special performances you won’t see anywhere else. And that’s a deeply rooted part of the concept.

Our focus has always been on making a spectacular and varied programme with contemporary live acts from around the globe. We aren’t doing this to make a profit – we just want to promote the best bands that are around plus try to make some unique unforgettable live moments that will hopefully go over in history. Speaking about money – everyone in the organization and the crew working the festival (beside the venue staff) are all volunteers and working 100% for free. None of us in the KTDF collective has ever made a cent – all profit if there is any will proceed towards next years edition. Our motivation is promoting bands from the underground that we think are great and deserves a platform of exposure. That’s what we set out to do back in 2009 when we first started discussing this and hopefully that’s what we have created and achieved. We try to make a festival that isn’t part of the typical festival circuit where the same bands tour around all summer and play all festivals. We are a niche festival that only focuses on UG death metal combined with our Gloomy Sunday concept where we end off the festival with a chjll sesh afternoon/evening with the best of doom/death and funeral doom bands we can dig up.

So can stoners, sludgeheads, and doom worshipers the world over expect a similar reanimation of Heavy Days In Doomtown?

Heavy Days in Doomtown (HDDT) was the sister festival of Kill-Town Death Fest and was put to death back in 2015. It was organized by a different group of people under Undergrundsmusikkens Fremme and I was also part of that collective. The idea to HDDT came about after a trip to Roadburn Festival in Tilburg, The Netherlands back in 2011. After I came home me and my partner in Killtown Bookings at the time Nikolaj Jakobsen agreed to start a DIY doom/stoner/sludge event build after the same model as KTDF. We formed a collective consisting of friends from our immediate circle and was comprised off 2 Danes, 2 swedes and 1 American. We were all living in Copenhagen at the time we started, but after the first two editions the majority of the collective was spread out across the globe again – making it somewhat more complicated to work as a collective. But we continued as we had set out to do 4 editions of the fest based on the 4 elements; earth, water, fire and wind. HDDT I though IV were all huge successes and became larger and more popular than KTDF. Mainly because of the style of the festival which had a much more popular and broad appeal than KTDF.

It was sad to put it down in 2015, but at the same time it opened up for a me to put a lot more focus back on my booking agency. Also the amount of Roadburn copy-cat festivals were exploding so we felt that there was no need for the festival anymore since there were so many good curated festivals out there. Quite the opposite turned out to be the case for KTDF since there are no other (or at least very few) festivals solely dedicated to underground death metal. Every time I was out on a tour people would come up and ask me if or when KTDF would come back. That happened so often and so many times that I started thinking about that there is such a high demand out there for that exact festival concept and that it has a very special place in many people´s lives. For me personally that was one of the main motivations to doing this again along with missing the craziness of being responsible for such a massive production with just a few other people.

As for your question if HDDT will ever return; Never say never, but I have hard time seeing that happening for all the same reasons that we put it down in the first place.

What is the part of all of this that you enjoy the most?…and the least?

I’m a nerd about organization – I love to create events, to curate them, to make them come alive aesthetically, to promote them, to see them flourish and get their own lives and to experience the rush of the actual event itself. I’m not a musician myself and I’m not a person who enjoys being on a stage and center of attention. I prefer to be in the background and make sure that things work out and that everyone is having a good time. I have always been a worker and worked hard with music since I was very young. I have worked since the mid 90´s with stage building, rigging, backlining, security, graphic design, catering and bar-tending – everything that had something to do with music. I also started promoting shows from a very early age – already at 14 I booked my first show with a friend and then just did it on/off from there up through the 90´s, but always very low-fi and very underground. It wasn’t until the early 2000´s that I started doing it more seriously, but always 100% DIY without earning a single cent at any time. The first time I ever made any money with a tour or show was when I opened up Killtown Bookings in 2011 after having been promoting shows at that point since 1993…The downside of this life is that I don’t really have a life… Well I love my life, but there isn’t much time for anything else than work and touring – which is what I do all day every day. Weed and vegan food is what makes all this manageable for me – so if that’s provided at a show – which it usually is since people know me by now – all is good and I have zero complaints!

The list of tours you’ve put together reads like a death metal fan’s wet dream. What was the tour you’ve done that excited you most as a fan?

As mentioned before I try to only work with bands I’m really passionate about. I hate work for the sake of work – I want to curate the bands I work with so there is more to it than just a business transaction – I want to form friendships, to get involved and invested and want to see the bands playing every night. If a band or a tour isn’t like this I loose interest very fast and I really try to avoid that. I don’t like to bring highlight some bands over others, but of course I have crossed path with and been so fortunate to work with bands or people who have really inspired me over the years listening to music. One tour that was very special for me was when Tau Cross asked me to work with them on a tour. I’m a big Amebix fan since I was a young crustie and to work with and being on the road with Rob Miller was a really cool experience. Also having Michel Away from Voivod and Jon from Misery in the van was something that 14 year old me never imagined would happen. I have toured with so many amazing bands over the years and I’m really stoked and proud about the majority of tours I have put together. I’m really fortunate to be able to wake up every day and get to deal with bands whose vinyls are in my collection and spinning om my record player every day.

When you look ten years down the road, what do you envision as part of Killtown’s set up? What are you working towards?

The future looks quite hazy… Not just because of all the heavy weed smoking, but just because life is unpredictable. As I have already mentioned I have always been passionate about music and the music industry – at least to try to change it for the better – so I would have a hard time not seeing myself still working with music. If I don’t then something drastic will have happened and I hope that wont be the case… I just turned 40 and that was a weird milestone to pass, but not much has changed personally in the 25 years I have been involved with music. Im still as passionate and motivated as I have always been, so hopefully it will be the same in another 10 years. A family would maybe slow things down a little and keep me from touring constantly, but there is nothing pointing in the direction of that happening anytime soon… I really hope my taste in music wont get outdated or I will adopt a shitty(er) taste over the years. Would be awful if I would be sitting managing sell-out bands just to make a buck… but again I don’t see that happening ever!

At risk of attracting more business than you can handle, what would be some dream tours for you?

Not sure to be honest… I work with the bands that I care for and my experience is that when bands get bigger the focus change from being a band that loves to play and perform to a focus on money. The more money the better. And then my job is just to sit and make money for a band that isn’t passionate about what they do anymore… That’s of course a bit black and white and of course there are bigger bands that are cool and passionate about what they do, but the bands that aren’t have none of my interest. Of course I hope that some of the bands I work with will rise to prominence and have success because of their music and hopefully also my work. At the moment I work with a couple of bands I see great potential in; Blood Incantation (us) and Slægt (dk). Both fairly new young bands, but both storming forward with massive potential in each their own way. Lets see what the future holds for them (and me…).

Thank you Daniel! You’re doing the devil’s work and we applaud you eternally. You’ve said quite a bit here already, and we think this will be a very important read for ALL underground death metal fans worldwide. So at this point we’ll let you have the last word!

Thanks for the interest in what in I do and for reading through all my gibberish about myself and the stuff I do. Keep an eye out for tours coming across Europe and maybe soon on the other side of the continent. Maybe see some of you out there on the road.
Cheers,
A//E


The Resurrection of Killtown Deathfest is slated for execution on September 6-9, 2018 in Copenhagen at Pumpehuset. It’s been long sold out so if you were hoping to go … well, you’ll just have to kill yourself.

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