Katia Giampaolo wears many hats: booker, manager, club impresario, mentor, all-round expert. She’s been associated with Bologna’s Estragon Club for over 20 years and, alongside managing electronic post-rock trio Joycut, is in much demand as a panellist and speaker and also as a key member of the Europavox family. An expert on the European music scene, Katia has seen – and done – it all. Here she talks about her career and the passion that has sustained her.
What first attracted you to music? How did you get your start in the industry?
In 1996 I went to see a concert, Festa De l’Unità in Bologna. It was my first time at Estragon Club and it was love at first sight! I started with them as a bartender then, after some years, moved on to production, national booking, international booking, co-management and artistic management, keeping the same spirit alive.
Working in the music industry often means long hours for relatively poor pay. What keeps you doing it?
Above all, passion. Mine is certainly not a job you do because your aim is to earn money — not in Italy, at least not in my experience. If you are lucky enough to do it as a professional, you understand that what comes back has much more value than money. Certainly the daily commitment is not classic working hours; we always stay up very late and often work over the weekend and on holidays. But I would never swap it for an “ordinary” job. A very good friend of mine, Katia Clot, always tells me: “we must be crazy people!” I think she’s right.
Estragon Club has a rich, storied history, and is very famous. How did you end up running it?
When you are part of a team capable of growing and constantly improving in every music industry field, you need to welcome new passionate dreamers. You realize there’s space for everyone who, just like you, is able to “see” that this is a job for life. I have shown my partners, my associates, that I’m totally trustworthy and always 100% reliable. In this business, beyond skills and competences, trust is everything.
Running a venue with a huge capacity, what are some of the challenges you face on a day to day basis?
We try to book quality programming in a world where music in recent years has become just a question of quantity – you end up listening to endless bands that all sound the same. Giving space to those who prefer quality is the real revolution in a world of numbers. This is our utmost challenge and, fortunately, we’re getting very good results. Our audience is totally receptive.
If money and logistics were no issue, what would your dream booking be?
After organizing Radiohead, one of my favourite bands, I would love to have The Cure in Piazza Maggiore. But my dreams, and I have many, are related mainly to a return to quality music, a return to values. As such, I have always dreamt of booking Athlete and Bell X1, yet I’ve never been able to do it. One day I hope it happens.
Managing a band can often be a thankless task. What prompted you to get involved in that side of the business?
Like many things in life, it simply happened! Pasco of JoyCut opened my mind by telling me that if I looked at Italy on a globe, I would realize that, in the end, it’s just a small dot surrounded by the infinite, and that markets are multiple; just stopping on one is reductive. Nowadays this way of thinking may seem obvious but, in 2007, when I started working with them, it was not.
So, step by step, I found myself being their manager. When you do this job with love you have to give your best – you don’t want to leave anything to chance. You can’t! I didn’t look for this role but, I have to say, the satisfaction I get working with them 360 degrees is most pleasantly dizzying.
What lessons from the early part of your career prepared you for managing? And what qualities and skills does a good manager need to have?
Never take anything for granted, and take care of the smallest details. Sometimes it can be stressful, but the smallest details make the difference and turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. Don’t stop in the face of difficulties. Always lean towards the good. And remember, when you are tired, that you are doing one of the most beautiful jobs in the world!
Following on from the Keychange initiative, there seems to finally be a real push to deal with gender inequality and sexism in the music industry. Have you noticed a positive change in attitudes and behaviour?
I think it should be just a question of professionalism. There are professionals who, regardless of gender, are gurus, people who should always be listened to, whose advice is vital. I remember the first panel about management I was invited to take part in was at Waves Bratislava, and there was Peter Jenner along with me, Guna Zučika, and John Robb. Peter was so courteous and helpful; for me to be able to exchange opinions with him was like drinking at a source when you are thirsty. It was pure joy.
When I find myself mentoring or talking at panels today, people approach me at the end and thank me for the most varied reasons, and if I can give back what I learned I don’t see why I shouldn’t. So we should consider people for what they have to give, not for their biological gender, or what they want to wear and represent, or they feel they want to be. No one has chosen to be “something”, but everyone in life has the right to be “someone”. Gender is just a classification – the categorizations are made by humans as the result of questionable social needs, stupid systems, and historical justificationism (think about colonialism and the concept of race). These ideologies are just theories you shouldn’t believe in; they do not really exist in nature.
How did you come to be involved with Europavox? And, speaking personally, what does the project mean to you?
Way back in 2009, Francois Audigier sent a visionary email to some clubs in Italy he considered to be of relevance to his goal of international networking. Estragon was the only one to reply to his “call”. We received an invitation to attend their festival, and I volunteered. It was my first trip abroad alone, with only rudimentary English, but it was a very important adventure and a big career step for me. Face to face with super-experienced professionals, it was also my first experience with a “professional eye” at a foreign festival, and it completely opened my mind – I saw things I had never seen in Italy.
I returned with ideas, stimuli, and eyes full of wonder, and from that time we never left each other – I kept coming back every year. After years of meetings, all the partners drew up what would be the outline of the Europavox Project. For me, it’s family; people totally dedicated to working, growing and improving, people with whom I feel confident in sharing thoughts, opinions and pieces of life. The journey has become a big part of my life.
If you could go back in time, what lessons would you tell young Katia? What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started out?
I’d tell her to think of herself more, to take things more lightly, but I also know I would not have heard myself! When you are stubborn you don’t stop due to tiredness, even if your body tells you; you always go on because you know, in the end, the reward you receive will be so important for your life than you couldn’t have done otherwise.
I’d also tell her not to worry about people being so pigheaded, or losing people on the way. Changes are a natural process and we have to face and accept them. This does not mean we have to change ourselves though or follow them, especially if they don’t reflect our vision and our founding values.
What does the future hold for you? What will you be doing in 10 years’ time?
I would love to continue creating beauty, always relating to people in love, thirsty for sharing, because in such a lost world being able to stand together with the same values is a true lifeblood. With JoyCut, my band, we’re working on a documentary about the experience we had at Robert Smith’s Meltdown in 2018, and the new album (at last!) will follow shortly after.
I am so happy and proud, and I have no fear at all. In 10 years I would like to still be doing this job, being an example and inspiring all the upcoming Katias of the world. I’d like to look back to now and smile, thinking: “Good! I know it was hard, but look where you are now. Your mother is proud of you!”