In the distant 1980s, the international music competition Global Battle of the Bands (GBOB) helped pave the way to international stardom for the legendary group A-HA. The history of the GBOB dates back to 1979 and until 2004 this competition took place only in the UK, US, and Scandinavia, with only local groups competing. By 2004 the GBOB reached the global level, embracing 16 countries. A-HA began competing in the 1980s. Although the future Norwegian stars did not win, their performance drew the attention of one of the GBOB producers, who helped them rise to the musical Olympus.
Ukraine started hosting GBOB competitions in 2004, when the Yanka Kozyr Orchestra, popular with folk music fans, won the national qualifiers. In 2005 the winner was TOL, followed by Etwas Unders last year. TOL placed fourth in the Ukrainian GBOB team standing in London. Today, this pop group is one of the top groups on the Ukrainian alternative stage.
Anyone can compete in the regional GBOB qualifiers. Unlike for other music competitions, musicians are not required to submit demos to determine their level or whether they can compete in the first place. All they have to do is register on www.gbob.com, then copy this registration at www.gbob.com.ua, and pay the registration fee ($25.00 per group member) at a bank. GBOB-Ukraine director Vlad Liashenko says: “There are no competition restrictions, so any group can perform in London.”
This year a lot of groups from various Ukrainian cities competed in the Kyiv qualifiers. The organizers explain that by the fact that right now regional competitions take place only in six cities: Kyiv, Odesa, Kharkiv, Uzhhorod, Symferopil, and Chernivtsi. “We still have to make adjustments to our network; there are also organizers that we don’t trust very much. So we decided to hold special qualifiers for the capital’s teams,” Liashenko said. Their performing schedule was determined by the casting of lots; each group was allowed to perform for 15 minutes (long enough for the musicians to do three songs on average). The jury was composed of 5 to 7 people, including famous show business people, producers, musicians, journalists, and music critics. Each member of the jury determined a group’s team standing by assigning it a place from one to five. First place rated ten points; second place, eight; third place, six; fourth place, four; and fifth place, two. In determining the winners, members of the audience also voted: people could write the names of their favorite groups on their tickets and drop them in special boxes.
There were no favorites, no rigged victories,” the organizers insist. “I don’t have the right to comment on favorites. Even jury members ask me about certain groups. They are hearing some of them for the first time. I’m sorry, but this competition is held on a one-time performance basis. None of a group’s former or future accomplishments can be taken into account. All that counts is their performance here and now: if they can win over the audience, good. If not, sorry. You’re out.”
GBOB competitions usually feature live music trends, ranging from jazz to grunge. The Ukrainian national selection has its own trends. Says Liashenko: “After TOL’s victory a number of groups emerged that specialize in heavy metal music, but to be honest, few of them measured up. Although a number of teams end up going far, this is connected to the fact that the heavy metal trend is evolving and it has its listeners. Right now there are a lot of groups like this, but there are also many young and inexperienced performers among them. GBOB competitors have two objectives: some want to perform well while others want to win and then travel to the London finals. But few musicians realistically assess their strength. A number of groups are walking onto the stage for the first time.”
There were five winners in the Kyiv round: N. Try, Haliak, Areal, Bad Twins, and Infinite Tales; the latter two made it to the national finals scheduled for Nov. 4 at the capital’s Bingo Concert Hall. The winner will be named Ukraine’s Best Group of 2007 and will compete in the world finals at the Underworld Club in London on Dec. 4-6. The Ukrainian group will be challenged by 36 winners of national qualifiers. The winner’s purse is 100,000 dollars and the prize includes a large tour of GBOB-affiliated countries.
GBOB’s PR director stresses: “The competitions’ professional level is rising every year; we are happy that famous groups are starting to pay attention to this festival. The national finals will be out of this world. It is not impossible to name the winner now. In addition to this year’s finalists, last year’s five groups — those that won between second and sixth places — will compete in the finals. They will automatically make it to the finals. In other words, we’re offering last year’s best groups a second chance.”
Last year, Tango Tempo placed fifth in the national qualifiers. The jury named its guitarist, Andrii, best guitarist of the Ukrainian GBOB. Unlike Tango Tempo was not noticed by any producer A-HA in 2006. Perhaps the situation will change this year.
“Even though we have become more confident thanks to this competition, I can’t say that the GBOB has made any cardinal changes in the group’s future,” says Andrii, who is from Uzhhorod. “We perform mainly in Slovakia and Hungary; Ukraine isn’t the main option for us. I am personally satisfied by last year’s results, although I still don’t believe that such competitions are totally unbiased. We’re aiming for victory. We like the idea behind the GBOB; compared to other music competitions, it has more European spirit.”
The Global Battle of the Bands is not the only music competition in Ukraine where alternative groups stand a real chance of winning. The legendary Chervona Ruta and Perlyny sezonu competitions are still the most popular.
“Chervona ruta is a supercompetition,” says Liashenko, “although, to tell the truth, it’s dead. We keep convincing the public that attending GBOB concerts means hearing new kinds of music and discovering new groups.”
Vidchuttia kolioru is one of these new groups. It has existed for one year. GBOB 2007 was its first full-scale professional test. Unfortunately, it didn’t win. The group’s vocalist Sashko says he isn’t sure about the jury’s unbiased attitude, which the organizers emphasize so much: “I think that those who won first and second place were worthier candidates. I’m not talking about Vidchuttia kolioru, but I am personally convinced that N. Try and Areal were better. They seemed more professional to me. We felt like strangers there. We play pop rock but the GBOB prefers heavy metal music.”
In a word, everybody determines the winner himself, although the jury, which is made up of music experts, should be regarded as being the most unbiased. Proof of this was the GBOB’s previous national selection. None of our representatives in London have ever been ashamed of their performance. Let’s hope that our GBOB 2007 participants will not disappoint us.