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Exclusive interview with founder Juan Antonio Muñoz.

In just three years since its first edition, the Rock Imperium festival has established itself as one of Spain's main music events, attracting tens of thousands of attendees to the city of Cartagena. Its meteoric rise to prominence has surprised the music scene, setting new standards of excellence and becoming the undisputed reference point for Rock fans in Spain and beyond.


However, reaching this point of success has not been easy for its founder, Juan Antonio Muñoz, who had to overcome numerous challenges to establish what is now considered the leading Rock event nationally. In this interview, Juan tells me about the origins of the festival, its evolution over these three years, the key moments that led to its position as one of the best events for Rock music, and his ambitious future plans, consolidating Rock Imperium as one of the country's biggest cultural phenomena.


Pilar: As a native of Cartagena and an attendee of the festival's early editions, I have witnessed the tremendous success achieved in both years. So, I suppose we could start with a question that many locals might ask: What inspired you to create Rock Imperium in the city of Cartagena?


Juan Antonio: We have to go back to 2009, the year when an edition of MTV Night took place in Cartagena. At that time, I was working in various areas of event production and management, from promoter to load and unload. One of the tasks I enjoyed the most was driving for artists, and that's why the organisation of that event called me to chauffeur some members of Placebo, who performed (well, halfway) that night. Although I have always had ties to the city of Cartagena and knew the El Batel Park slope, it wasn't until then, when I saw a great event there, that I decided that was the right place. There are many decisive factors when selecting a city to host an event like Rock Imperium. Venue, city, transportation, cultural offerings, "sun and beach" tourism, etc. Cartagena has almost all the suitable characteristics to develop a festival like Rock Imperium, and we are very happy with the reception. Cartagena is our home.


Juan Antonio

Pilar: I'm delighted to hear you say that. I'm with you, I couldn’t praise Cartagena enough. It was a great to see how a festival of this caliber was established in my own city. How do you think the festival has evolved since its first edition until now?


Juan Antonio: The truth is that everything has happened very quickly. Being a promoter with twenty years of experience, it wasn't a "usual" start where you begin slowly and grow a little each year. In our case, in the first edition, we had Scorpions as headliners, and in the second, none other than KISS. For us, the audience's experience is very important, for the simple reason that we are also fans, and we want to treat customers as we like to be treated. That's why from the first to the second edition, there was a considerable change in the venue's layout. We changed the location of the "Murcia Region Festivals" stage and also the location of other elements such as food trucks or merchandising. We also installed a giant staircase to connect the two spaces of the venue. It worked very well, and there was a lot of improvement in comfort, so the audience enjoyed a great experience, which ultimately is our main goal.

Pilar: And I must say, it shows. You take care of every last detail, and ultimately, that makes the difference. You speak of "a great experience," but let's delve a little deeper: how would you describe the experience that Rock Imperium offers to attendees?


Juan Antonio: It is a very comfortable event where you can access services without hardly any queues. There are always things to improve, and we are focused on those aspects that have room for improvement (almost everything), but if there is one word that describes the experience itself, it would be "comfort." In the second edition, almost everything worked quite well, and the audience was very satisfied.


Since the first edition, we have conducted surveys with thousands of attendees with the aim of gathering all their concerns, complaints, suggestions, etc. All that information helps us make decisions to meet those needs, and it shows; the audience appreciates it.


Pilar: Offering different activities to the local community and festival attendees is an interesting topic, given that it is a multi-day festival. What special activities or events does Rock Imperium offer besides the festival itself?


Juan Antonio: This is an aspect that is still being developed, and for which it was important to have the basics and necessary aspects well established. Once the essentials are practically covered, it's time to consider those actions, as we are doing. We have started collaborations with festivals from other countries to export local talent, from Cartagena to the world, and we will also "bring" the festival to the streets of Cartagena on the same dates but in the morning, to infuse the city with that healthy, fun, and family atmosphere that is breathed inside the venue. In addition to this, we are also working on options such as exhibitions of artists related to the world of Rock and Heavy Metal, etc. Every year we will add attractions, but always gradually and trying to do so with coherence and order.


Pilar: That sounds very interesting. Cartagena is worthy of it. Knowing that every great project has its challenges to make it a reality, what challenges did you face when organising the festival for the first time and how did you overcome them?


Juan Antonio: There are always many, especially in the first edition. A new venue and city are always a challenge. But once the foundations are established, the biggest complication we continue to deal with today is the communication that the city of Cartagena has with the rest of the world and its limited accommodation offerings. These are issues beyond our control but that negatively affect us, so we have to be creative and focus efforts on this aspect to facilitate the public's attendance at the festival.

Pilar: How has the response been from the local and international audience to the festival over these three years? Could you give us specific data on the audience's origin?


Juan Antonio: Surprisingly good from the very beginning. A lot of people from Cartagena, which is fabulous, but also from almost every corner of Spain. Although the most surprising thing is that people come from countries such as Japan, Germany, Sweden, the United States, Norway, Brazil, Canada, New Zealand, Finland, Australia, the United Kingdom, Mexico, South Korea, and many others. Those who come, come back and bring their friends and family. It's a matter of time before the festival continues to grow internationally.


Pilar: I'm sure of it because, in just two years, it has already shown its growing popularity. What criteria do you use to select the bands that play at Rock Imperium?


Juan Antonio: Basically, my musical tastes, haha. Actually, it's a combination of my musical tastes, what I think can work in the area, and the availability of artists. It's always difficult for those three factors to converge, but that's the goal. I like Hard Rock, Heavy Metal, Progressive Rock, Extreme Metal, etc, and ultimately, that's what is reflected in the line-up. Each year is different, and there are always nuances, but I try and dedicate a lot of effort to ensuring that there is coherence. I’m really satisfied with how the lineups of the three editions have turned out; I don’t think I would change any band for another.


Pilar: What cultural or social aspects do you try to highlight or promote through the festival?


Juan Antonio: There are many social and cultural components that a festival like Rock Imperium can help promote. First of all, if you allow me, Pilar, I’ll tell you that I’m an active animal rights advocate and I try to contribute my bit by helping rescue street cats. So, the festival directly supports this cause.


On the other hand, and as surprising as it may seem, there are still negative stereotypes about Heavy Metal, as if people with “long hair and black shirts” were criminals or something. The mere fact that I have to mention it here seems ridiculous to me, but it’s something that, although almost residual, exists. Fortunately, and after twenty years of organising concerts exclusively of Rock and Heavy Metal, I can say with all pride that it’s the best audience in the world. People who truly love music, live it with passion, and when they go to an event, it’s to enjoy. Families come to Rock Imperium with children, parents, and grandparents to enjoy the music that brings them together. It’s something wonderful. There is no greater honour than being behind the organisation of a Rock and Heavy Metal festival and being able to showcase to the world artists like the ones we’ve had in these two editions. Music that reaches our souls and makes us feel special every day. If thanks to this festival we can capture the attention of people unfamiliar with these genres, make them know and learn that it is a healthy world where respect and education prevail thanks to the guiding thread of that music that touches us so deeply, I will consider the mission as completed.


Pilar: I couldn’t agree more. The atmosphere of respect was undeniable, so I completely share that feeling of pride. Moreover, there’s no doubt that Rock Imperium is generating revenue for the city of Cartagena and for the Region of Murcia in general. What is the economic and touristic impact of the festival on the city of Cartagena and its surroundings?


Juan Antonio: Immense, much larger than I initially thought. We commissioned an economic impact study from the Polytechnic University of Cartagena, and the figures were staggering. The festival generates almost ten million euros of wealth in the area. In proportion to what it receives from public funds, it gives much more.

The Beautiful Cartagena

Pilar: Incredible. What would you highlight as the most memorable or exciting moments from previous editions of the festival? I’m sure you have many anecdotes.


Juan Antonio: It’s always an honor to work with so many bands that I’m a fan of. The problem is that during the festival, I can hardly enjoy the concerts because duty often calls me too often. Even so, these have been concerts for the history books; I won’t mention any in particular so as not to disparage the others, when the level has been extremely high… so it’s better to mention the viral anecdotes that KISS left for eternity at their last concert in Spain. Gene Simmons’ “Macarena” and his trip on an ALSA bus to the stage were spontaneous and natural as well as fun, it was all very funny.


Pilar: Personally, the image of KISS on the ALSA microbus has been etched in my mind for life. Intangible heritage of the city! Hahaha. What news or surprises can attendees expect in the next edition of Rock Imperium?


Juan Antonio: The venue will remain practically the same in terms of service distribution within it. There will be improvements but nothing remarkable. The main novelties will be the concerts in different squares of Cartagena in the morning, and I hope to be able to announce soon the official camping area of the festival, which is taking longer than expected to carry out.


Pilar: It’s great to see how the city council and the mayor are collaborating in this regard. What are the future plans for Rock Imperium? Are there any expansions or new projects related to the festival planned?


Juan Antonio: I think the festival is the right size and doesn’t allow for more. With a bit of luck, there may be bigger artists some years, but it’s a medium/large-sized festival, not a giant one. I prefer a comfortable and sustainable festival in all aspects to a super massive one that dies of success sooner than expected. That doesn’t mean that we won’t work on more parallel activities on the festival dates, such as those morning concerts in other squares of the city, possible exhibitions of artists, and even panels and conferences by industry professionals. But all this will happen step by step and gradually, once the foundations are more than established and the festival is a must in everyone's calendar.


Pilar: This question is mandatory. You know I’m a lover of melodic and AOR music. What can you tell me about that for 2025?


Juan Antonio: Madness Live (the parent promoter of Rock Imperium) has always worked with Hard Rock bands and even AOR bands. From our fellow countrymen 91 Suite, whom I love and appreciate to the fullest and deserve the best, to Foreigner, Toto, Mr. Big and many others. Rock Imperium has had fabulous bands belonging to the melodic Hard Rock spectrum such as Europe, Skid Row, H.E.A.T., The Night Flight Orchestra, 91 Suite, or Chez Kane. Melodic rock will always be there.


Pilar: All of them flagship bands and of tremendous quality in the scene. Juan Antonio, it’s been a real pleasure talking to you. I’ll see you in June, if not before.


Juan Antonio: It will be great to see you again. Thank you very much.


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