Sami Hauru – I just want everybody to have the festival

Interview with and portrait of Sami Hauru, event manager behind the Dark River Festival. Furthermore, we also spoke of his motivations, the role of smaller festivals, the huge challenges the festivals have to meet to make it through inflation and evolve towards green festivals.


Sami Hauru, co-owner of East Coast Events (EEC) and a Kotka-based restaurant, is event manager. He is one of the main heads behind the Dark River Festival (DRF) that is nowadays run by EEC. He started as a sound engineer for which his formal education as house electrician and playing in a metal band himself certainly was helpful. Apart from playing guitar and keyboards, he is proficient in sound studios – recorded and mixed several albums, for example “Horror Vacui”, the debut long player of Marianas Rest, in 2016. When I met him for the first time back in December 2017, he toured with Insomnium not only as their sound engineer but also as their tour manager. In general, when his friends from Insomnium or Omnium Gatherum hit the stage, he will be near.  

Sami’s history with the Dark River Festival goes back its very early days. But this is going to be part of another tale to be told another day. As the Dark River Festival crew is setting up their 20th anniversary event, there is no time to waste to get to know the people behind the scenes. Beyond that I remember Marianas Rest saying about Sami that he is the one you need to ask about whatever you want to learn about the metal biz [here]. So who is Sami Hauru?

Who is Sami Hauru?

In his own words, he describes his professional history and attitude like this:

“In general who am I? I am a local entrepreneur. I wasn’t always an entrepreneur. I started as … My work history starts as a sound engineer. I’ve always played in a band, in the metal band, so that music was a part of my life and it’s still a big part of my life; and then I started working with bands. So at some point, I became an entrepreneur, of that event management company that now owns the Dark River festival. I am part owner of a restaurant. I like to do things. I want to be part of things, interesting things. I keep myself busy with that that kind of stuff. And at free time I hang around with friends go fishing. … Yes, so that’s who I am.”

“I am not working here. This is my life”

 “Is there any spare time left?”

“I’ll make it. I don’t have spare time. I don’t like to have spare time as people normally tend to have that they go to work. They get home at four o’clock. And then they have the rest of the day that they don’t have to do anything. I don’t have that. But I have spare time, and half time when I want it. Because when I …, every day when I wake up I don’t think that I need to go to work. But I think that I’m going to live my life.” – Okay”, I reply.  Yeah, that’s a different perspective” continues Sami. – “Absolutely.”

Now with some emphasize: “Yeah. I’m not here working. This is my life. This is why I love doing this. I love doing everything that I do. And I don’t I don’t see myself working.”

Just to make sure, you get the image. We are sitting in the kota (a small tent-like, round cottage with a fire place in the center and benches along the wall) right next to the Dark River Festival back office and the media tent. Piles of wires and stocks mark the small path from the office to the door of the kota. The Inferno stage is only a few paces away and Rotten Sound have just finished their sound check.

During the DRF, Sami is everywhere as much as he is nowhere. But certainly, you will always hear someone asking for him or his whereabouts wherever you are. I find it exceptionally hard to imagine him not working because to my understanding he is always working. Well, perhaps he was not when we had a drink after the gates closed in the previous years. But just now, it is Friday afternoon. We are far from gates closed. Half the festival is yet to happen.

“I started doing sound engineering work; and I noticed that that’s what I like”

He fills me in with some more details of his educational background: “I’m a house electrician like as a background. Like my mom always said that she will not tolerate people that doesn’t study a profession. So, yes. I started becoming an electrician. But already during when I was in school, I started doing sound engineering work; and I noticed that that’s what I like.

I’ve done sales where, like, I was in a guitar store selling guitars for a while and doing all kinds of things. And then I started my own company, and just I don’t know. How it’s like, I hopped off the wheel of like normal people, like normal, like the ….

“also I love being at the office just like figuring out all the bits and pieces of the puzzle”

“No”, he is not the nine-to-five guy, I think as he goes on: “Because my normal day starts around eight o’clock, and I stop whenever I want. If I don’t feel like I will leave, and go home at two o’clock. Normally, I’ll stay, if I’m at the office, or not on another job site, I might work till seven, eight o’clock, and I might do easily 12 hours.

Do you still have a favorite occupation in all this?

I like what part of this is like I have several. I love mixing bands that I do. Because I’ve been working with Ominium Gatherum for around 15 years, and with Insomnium around ten years. I love mixing them them. But I also I love being at the office just like figuring out all the bits and pieces of the puzzle of like the future plans.”


The Vision – Pushing the Goal Posts

“Future plans is the key word for my next question. I think you started EEC in the covid time. That’s bold. Did you have a vision?”

“The Vision always changes. Yes, I had a vision when I started the company. And that vision is already gone; or evolved. Let’s put it that way. At first, it was the idea that I would run the festival, and maybe some other like more music-related things, and mix bands, and that kind of stuff. But it has evolved because there’s more people around them, working with me and owning the company. I’m not sole owner of the company. And so it always evolves and changes. And it goes further … away. The goalpost, we’ll push it further away.”

“It sounds a bit like the donkey-with-the-carrot image.”

“I don’t think I’m super good at anything”

“Yeah, at the end of the stick, yes. Because I’ve realized that I’m really interested in things that is hard to achieve.” – “Aha”, I say half-loud while he goes on: “So it’s not that I’m not super good. I don’t think I’m super good at anything. I’m just, … I’m interested in so many things that I need to keep my mind busy all the time. So I keep pushing myself always further and further. I want to learn more. I want to be more educated in the areas of that I do.”

“So you’re very ambitious?”

“I’m very ambitious”, he replies but seems not happy with the term. “Or is it more like I’m …” – “Curiosity?”

Sami keeps starting over his wording quite often. He does not really pause in such moments. It reflects perfectly how quickly his mind is working although it is apparently two sentences and one thought ahead of what he is saying.

“maybe it’s more of a curiosity. Because I don’t see as like … one of the main reasons why I stopped playing in a band. It wasn’t that our band was super famous or anything. It was a local band. But I became … I have a stage fright. I like to be like in the front row, I don’t like to be in on the spotlight. It’s nice to talk about things that I know, with people that I have. Like, interesting conversations are always welcome. But I don’t aim to be on a spotlight. I don’t rate myself above anybody else.”

“I let the festival speak for itself”

“Like rather the person to steer the spotlight?”

“Yeah. This is like, …  let’s say this festival. I let the festival speak for itself. It’s not important that people like the audience knows that I’m promoting the festival, or that there’s a big vision. Or like the vision comes somewhat from my table. It’s more like the end product is more important than whoever created it.”

“We support each other. And that’s the most important thing”

“I have two questions based on that, let’s start with the first. So you consider yourself a team player?”

Sami replies: ”Oh, yes, somewhat. Yes. Of course. I’ve …” – “like knowing my ideas will not work if I go for it alone.” – “Yeah.” – “but in a good team?” He explains: Yes, I need good people around me. And, I appreciate like everybody around. Like sometimes, I stop, and I ask myself why I have found such good people? To be my partners in the company. Be part of the festival. Like Anna. I feel easily that I am not worth it. Like it’s, … it’s not about me. It’s not… We support each other. And that’s the most important thing.”

Stages for underground and alternative bands

“I think on a German scale, the DRF would be a rather small festival. And then let’s say 1500 is a rather small festival then in Finland, of course, it is rather a midsize festival.” – “Yes, starts with being a mid-size”

“What do you think festivals of this size? What is their function in the in the metal scene and the music scene?”

“I think this like, like us, Saarihelvetti, other like Metallivuori, it’s those kind of festivals, like smaller festivals in Finland. They’re a really important part of the metal scene because Tuska, and those kind of big festivals, they are there because they do it big. They have big headliners and that kind of stuff. But there is more. This [here] gives a forum for more … underground and maybe alternative bands to play during the summer.”

“We’re not aiming at volumes of people”

And this is like because we’re not aiming at volumes of people. We can, … I mean me and Henri [Eerola], we can tweak around with bands, we can. We can play around ideas. The decisions that we do for the bands are not commercial. They’re more field-based decisions.”

“I heard someone say the small festival and the small club gig are the soil from which future big bands will grow.” Sami replies: “Yes.” – “I found that very good image.” He agrees and adds: “Oh, yes! Because if you only have big festivals that only have big bands, how the smaller bands can evolve? If they don’t have any platform, except, of course, streaming platforms. But live is live. This is I don’t I think it’s was from some sort of a movie that saying that we’re middle meets the meet?” – “Yeah, nice.” Sami concludes: “that’s like this is the front line. Let’s put it like that.”


The economic setting

“We draw people around from all around the world”

Still, I think that for the region of Kotka, the DRF has become quite an impact. But I remember when I spoke with Henri 2018, he was not entirely happy with the support from the city administration. Has the situation evolved?

“Yes. Because the festival have has grown in the last four years. Of course the governmental side and companies around, the regional companies, they have noticed that now we are getting bigger. And we draw people around from all around the world. I think, well, we are a fairly international festival for our region. And so the government has noticed it. I’ve spoken this with our, I think it’s ma…. We don’t have a mayor in our city but the same kind of position. Like he’s really, really proud that we’re having this festival: ‘I’m happy that we’re helping this festival.’ And so are all the other officials. The support has, is becoming more bigger and bigger and greater. Later on, I hope that we’re getting more and more support. And so, so we can evolve to become better, a better festival.”

DRF thrives when others run bankrupt

I think it is not only a German phenomenon, but there I noticed it: Quite numerous smaller and mid-size festivals have run bankrupt this year. Cancelled and closed down forever. Why now and not in the previous [pandemic] years? Is there a similar development in Finland?

“Yes, and the reason is with that is that the impact is coming now. Because last year, like a lot of festivals and promoters, they didn’t make any money. So they ran out of money. They’re now trying to make the same festival, doing the same the shows and the festivals. But now they don’t have any reserve. So now they’re kinda like their back is against the wall. So now the impact is coming and it’s really sad that there’s nice festivals and promoters are going bankrupt. And it hasn’t been easy for us either. But we are being able to get the costs covered.”

Few presales + inflation = no festival

In my interviews with the crew behind the German M.I.S.E Open Air [read here], one of them explained that each festival depends on the income from the tickets sold long before the gates open. Imagine you plan a party. Do you need catering, seating, toilets and whatnot for 10 or 100 guests? Setting up a festival takes naturally way more infrastructure, as for example the energy supply, Sami mentioned previously and 10,000 things more. Some require front-up deposits or payments. No reserves from the previous event plus no presales equals game over.  

On top of all this, the enormous inflation lead to escalating expenses on all ends. While the crowd doesn’t know if they can afford to attend a festival in the next summer, the festival crew has to pay the new prices today already. All but surprisingly, the numbers of pre-sales decline. Is the situation here similar?

“Oh, yes. Like our infrastructure costs have doubled.” – “Oh fuck” escapes my tongue before I can hold it. “Yeah. In the last like, let’s say the last two years, like or a year and a half. And the war didn’t make any good.”

Kotka has been in a difficult economic situation even before the war in Ukraine (read more about in our DRF report 2022 [here]). The location at the scenic Baltic Sea coast cannot hide the emptiness you face travelling to Kotka on the highway Helsinki – St. Petersburg. As soon as you leave the outskirts of the capital the traffic grows thinner on a route that two years back was used by to transport substantial quantityie of tourists and freight as well as some commuters.  

“No, not at all. I noticed that on the way here. The highway was empty. I was all alone there.” Sami confirms: “Yes. Like the costs have gone up. And everybody like everybody’s trying to survive.” – “True.”

“But it’s more important to have a great festival than make money”

“But how I see that right now: It’s just really important to just keep doing and just make it work somehow. And because like, also, this comes from me: Money’s not like what aiming at me here. I don’t care about like that kind of like those kinds of things, have wealth or  … I just want everybody to have the festival! Like, I don’t … I don’t take a dime from this.”

Samis facial expression brightens which I comment with: “But you take all your heartbeat.”“Yes.” – “And your sparkling eyes.” – “Yeah. “ – “And your smile.” – “Yeah. But it’s more important to have a great festival than make money” he sums up.

We dwell on the topic for some more time. “It’s really funny to talk about these things while Rotten Sound is playing” he says laughing then picking up his previous thought: “like talking about, like, the deep philosophy of behind everything. But yeah, the main idea, of course, the first focus is to have a great festival. The second focus is to have the community local community be part of it. And third focus is to have the our visitors and the local community at the festival minded somehow together. Like there’s like so many aspects. And because maybe it’s a local patriotism.”

Why people should come to the Dark River Festival instead of perhaps one of the internationally big fish, you can read in our upcoming Dark River Festival crew portrait. [The link will be here as soon as the piece is online.]


Facing the storm

Extreme Weather – Against the unpredictable

Unfortunately, there is one serious topic we have to speak of, still. With Wacken and the Metal Days being flushed away and the recent extreme weather situation in Norway [which was forecast to hit Finland all the same some days later], there is another challenge at your doorstep. Do you have any plans for extreme weather situations?

“Yeah, we have. Of course, like for sudden weather changes. We have plans what we can do, of course. Like there was also a storm here in Finland at the start of this weak. So we had to be lay all the building aside. Luckily, it calmed down before it hit Finland. But it looked really bad. So sudden weather conditions are always … there’s stuff that we can’t predict beyond certain point. We have, like a guidebook, what we can do if there will be a heavy rain or thunder or that kind of stuff. But if there will be a storm, then it’s kind of like an act-of-God kind of thing.” Sami is taking a breath.

“And that’s what I understood happened pretty much in Wacken and Metal Days. It was  b e y o n d  like normal heavy rain. It was a drastic, drastic environmental change. I don’t know, maybe we’re living in an era where those are more common now.”

“That’s what why it’s really important to have green energy”

“I don’t know. Like, of course, we as humans are more likely may be part of it at some point like partially. That’s what why it’s really important to have green energy and this kind of stuff. I don’t like to change this law, like it takes forever to become environmental friendly, because we are now turning from the industrial era to a digital era. So, but the change is good.”

Moving towards a green Dark River Festival

We dive deeper into the topic in our conversation. A metal festival, actually any music festival will come with an incredible price: Huge amounts of waste, insane need of energy, streams of several kinds of traffic but also on a very local  scope: soil compaction on agriculturally used grounds and plenty more. Beyond any political perspective, this comes on economic and social dimensions, too.

There are always choices to be made. Public transportation to balance individual traffic, for example; on site camping versus accommodation downtown and so on. The option always depend on the local resources, too. The Dark River Festival has an impact on the area and that might not be positive from each perspective.

“Yeah. Of course” replies Sami. “Like, becoming like what I have read, let’s say a green festival. For our place, it’s really difficult because we are in the middle of forest where we have to create energy to an area where there’s limited source of like, …” – “It’s also a logistic problem from the beginning on”, I wonder. “Yeah, we have a lot of logistical problems”, confirms Sami. “We try to recycle certain things as much as we can. But we are where the co2 that we are making. That’s why of course, we have a festival that we hope that people are using because public transportation will have a smaller impact per person than private cars. But still, there’s like, things that we can’t do even though we want to. Because we need certain things that needs to be created with the machines that run on diesel.”

No simple solutions

At this point, I need to give you a little thought. Perhaps Sami’s explanations possibly triggered the idea another location hosting a festival would simply solve the issues mentioned. A downtown location perhaps would change some issues but only on the price of rising others. So consequently, we are at the point of do we want to have our festivals or not as obviously, there are no simple solutions to wipe away the negative effects. Even without the experience of lock-downs and festival-free summers, we would not want that. Then again, we cannot just go as we have always done. Just as we cannot put all the responsibility on the crews hosting festivals and administrations setting the rules. Neither of those can be responsible for the choices each individual takes on for example how to get to the festival, how to stay over or to leave waste behind. The message is simple: it depends on each of us to make it work.

More than hiring some busses

Let’s explore the traffic example a little deeper. Getting to Kotka works on individual traffic but alternatively also on bus or train lines quite comfortably. There is an on-site festival camp with, however, limited capacities. Thus, still many day guests and those staying over in and around Kotka need to get to the DRF venue. There are buses commuting from Kotka and even Kouvola to and from the venue. Yet still the majority arrives by their own car that also require a parking lot during their owners’ stay. More busses, however would only partially avoid individual traffic. It rather shifts the need of parking off the venue to yet-to-be-found suitable locations. The complexity is obvious and any even small step to improve is welcome. It remains a complex situation.

“Yeah, I’m small things happen every year. We tried to downsize our impact. And luckily, as we have always a really good team that will – after we leave from the site – that scavenges all nearby bushes and everything. We tried to get like take out all the trash with us so that the impact here is not visible that’s really important for us.”


No time to be a family man?

“At the end of the night when we are leaving, when the audience is gone, it gives you some sort of clarity and a peace”

One thing is obvious by now: running the Dark River Festival is way more than a mere occupation and way beyond a nine-to-five job. This holds true for the entire year but naturally even more during the ongoing event itself. It must be exhaustive.

“So what is your last thought at night before you fall asleep?”

Somehow, it’s how the field is like in the mist and everything that we have here. At the end of the night when we are leaving, when the audience is gone, it gives you some sort of clarity and a peace. So the last thought normally is some sort of a gratitude that the day went good. There was like happy faces in the artists. And in the crew. And in the bands. So that’s like one of my main thing like that it was a really nice day. Like that’s what I think.

“But then, the buzzer rings soon again. What’s the first thing you think of when you open your eyes?”

“Oh My God, I’m tired” he says laughing. “So that’s the first thing, that I would like to sleep couple more hours. I’m getting older every year. Well, everybody’s getting older every year. So it’s the four or five hours that we get sleep. Even sometimes not even that. It takes a toll. My first thought to be honest, it’s like ‘oh my god, I’m so tired’. And then I’ll the second thought will be what will be my first task. And I get up and then I’ll start working. There’s no time to be a family man.”

The metal family man

For once, I need to contradict Sami. He is a family man. All his heart goes with his family: his metal family. This hard-working, down-to-earth man is one of the key figures in the metal biz network in far more than the Kotka region. He learned his place in life is rather behind than on stage, and achieved a lot from this point. Yet beyond all his reach, he is a genuinely humble person devoted to the music and the place he loves: Metal and Kotka. If it was not for people like him, the metal scene was by many a festivals, bands and songs poorer.

Thank you Sami for taking the time and I am looking forward seeing you very soon again! This is what you do, too. Insomnium will hit the European stages in a couple of weeks again [more here]. 




Check out the Dark River Festival as well as further events promoted by Sami’s East Coast Events company and enjoy the scenic Kotka area.

Dark River Festival *** East Coast Events *** Visit Kotka & Hamina

Edited by Muumi-Katja, basic draft transcribed by
Images unless described otherwise by Muumi-Katja

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