You might say that Andras Erkel’s first career was programmed into his DNA. Following in his family’s musical footsteps, the former co-founder of Hungary’s Varga Holdings worked as a rock manager/producer before making his mark in animation.
Erkel traces his family’s musical roots back to his great grandfather, who wrote operas in the 19th century and was called upon to pen the Hungarian national anthem. His father, a professional pianist, encouraged his sons to take up musical instruments, and while Erkel did manage to learn to play piano, he found himself more interested in studying math and physics in high school and university. His brother, however, started Ska-influenced band, STB (‘and so on’ in English) and brought Erkel into the experience by talking him into managing the band.
While studying geophysics and computer science at university in the early ’80s, Erkel spent his spare time helping STB land gigs and a record deal, and he was soon noticed by other bands in Hungary’s fledgling pop/rock scene. He took on management of another group, KFT, which caught the attention of Gabor Presser and his band LGT. (Interestingly, Presser was originally taught to play piano by Erkel’s father.) Presser brought Erkel on-board to manage and act as assistant producer on LGT’s recordings, as well as help produce songs penned by Presser and performed by other bands.
Erkel says his career in rock n’ roll peaked when he helped organize the Budapest kick-off of the1988 worldwide concert tour commemorating the 40th anniversary of the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights. Big-time international stars including Sting, Peter Gabriel and Bruce Springsteen were all on the bill. ‘Hungary was still socialist at the time,’ says Erkel. ‘This was before the fall of the Berlin Wall and Communism, so the concert was a big deal – a major undertaking.’
That same year, Erkel discovered his true passion while producing an animated video for KFT. Spurred on by encouragement from his future partner Csaba Varga, Erkel left music behind and launched into a new career as an animation producer.
Does he miss his days as a mover and shaker in Hungary’s rock n’ roll scene? ‘I’m still a big music collector. I have thousands of CDs,’ he says. ‘But I don’t miss it. I became far more successful internationally in animation.’
Erkel is currently testing the waters as an indie producer, having broken away from Varga Holdings (co-producer of Mr. Bean: The Animated Series) earlier this year. ‘I’m CEO of myself right now,’ he says, and as self-appointed big cheese, Erkel has his fingers in a number of projects, including an animated feature and service work on HIT Entertainment series Angelina Ballerina.