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Luyken: Artist fees “getting crazier every year”

Speaking to IQ, festival director Jan Willem Luyken has hailed North Sea Jazz's "unique format" ahead of 2017's sell-out event – but warns of the "puzzle" of rising fees

By Jon Chapple on 25 Apr 2017

Jan Willem Luyken, North Sea Jazz Festival

North Sea Jazz festival director Jan Willem Luyken

North Sea Jazz Festival, the biggest indoor jazz festival in the world, has once again sold out, this year shifting all 75,000 tickets four months ahead of the event.

Festival director Jan Willem Luyken says the strong ticket sales are a tribute to North Sea Jazz (NSJ)’s unique venue and the originality of its programming, both of which help it stand out in an ever-more crowded festival market as it enters in 41st year.

“The Dutch market is very busy, with lots and lots of festivals going on,” he tells IQ. “Big open-airs and smaller local niche festivals are everywhere.

“NSJ, however, has a comfortable position with its unique format and set-up, so we are not too much affected by that.”

North Sea Jazz, founded by Paul Acket in 1976 and now promoted by Mojo Concerts, has since 2006 taken place in the AEG-operated Ahoy Rotterdam following the demolition of its previous home, the Statenhal in The Hague. Its 2017 line-up includes Gladys Knight, Jamiroquai, Usher and The Roots, Van Morrison, Emeli Sandé, Steve Winwood, Erykah Badu, Herbie Hancock, De La Soul, Solange, Laura Mvula and George Benson.

“Big open-airs and smaller local niche festivals are everywhere”

It also, until recently, had a naming-rights agreement with a venue, North Sea Jazz Club, in Rotterdam, which closed after running into financial difficulties. Why, IQ asks, did the deal come to an end? “After a few years, we no longer felt comfortable with the musical direction in which the club was going,” says Luyken. “It was drifting away from the festival more and more, so we decided not to renew the collaboration.”

As an indoor festival, like Montreux Jazz in Switzerland and the new EFG London Jazz Festival, NSJ is protected from the sort of severe weather that disrupted several European events last summer – but having 75,000 people under one roof can, Luyken explains, present its own set of problems.

“The biggest challenge is crowd control,” he says. “The audience has to be able to move freely between the 14 stages, and we are less flexible with square metres compared to our open air-colleagues!”

While NSJ’s line-ups over the years arguably include a number of performers with only a tenuous link to jazz music, Luyken says a focus on other, related genres has always been at the heart of the festival’s booking philosophy. “Since the first edition in 1976, the festival has always been about jazz music and related genres such as soul, blues, funk, R&B, hip hop, world music, etc.,” he explains. “Paul Acket, the founding father of NSJ, realised back then he had to bring in popular headliners to sell the tickets, so he booked acts like Ray Charles, James Brown, Van Morrison and Chaka Khan…

“This is still, after 41 years, our formula. We’ll always stay true to our roots, but, of course, we have to stay up to date, book hot new acts and make sure to stay attractive to new audiences and follow up on trends. Luckily, with 14 stages we are able to do it all.”

“We’ll always stay true to our roots, but we have to stay up to date and book hot new acts”

The greatest challenge in filling those 14 stages, Luyken says, is rising artist fees – a view shared by many respondents to IQ’s European Arena Report 2016.

“To get the best line-up for the available budget is an ongoing puzzle,” he says. “Artist fees are getting crazier every year, so the biggest challenge is to keep the tickets affordable for our audience.”

One solution to the artist-fee conundrum, suggests Luyken, is to capitalise on the growing Dutch economy to persuade brands to part with more sponsorship money. “The economy is finally picking up,” he concludes, “which brings new sponsorship opportunities.”

North Sea Jazz Festival 2017 takes place from 7 to 9 July.


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