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Despite challenges posed by high taxes, club closures and the fall-out from several sexual harassment scandals, demand remains high for live music in Sweden
By Adam Woods on 13 Feb 2019
Politically idealistic, economically sturdy, and with a knack for a bittersweet pop song, Sweden is the kind of country other European nations might easily envy. Who wouldn’t want to futuristically lead the world in cashless payments, or be the planet’s biggest exporter of pop music per head? But to imagine Sweden doesn’t have everyday problems of its own is to succumb to an unrealistic stereotype.
Last year, for example, Sweden became the first country to lose a music festival – its biggest, no less – to a rape scandal, after reports of four rapes and 23 sexual assaults at Bråvalla’s 2017 event forced organiser FKP Scorpio to shelve it for 2018, and then scrap the tainted brand entirely.
Meanwhile, in November 2017, performers including Zara Larsson, Robyn, First Aid Kit and Icona Pop were among almost 2,000 women in the Swedish music business who put their names to a petition decrying the sexual harassment they point out is endemic in the industry.
But what perhaps still marks Sweden out is its reaction to such issues. Numerous major festivals worldwide have unwittingly played host to sexual assaults, but only in Sweden – where the problem was undeniably extreme – has the event in question fallen on its own sword. And in another pointed response, Gothenburg this summer saw the launch of The Statement, the world’s first large-scale festival exclusively for women, transgender and non-binary people.
In answer to the petition, not only have the local and regional bosses of Sony, Universal and Warner lent their support and pledged to act, but trade association Musiksverige announced that the quest for a more inclusive industry – “free from antagonistic behaviour, sexual harassment and abuse” – would henceforth take precedence over all its other activities.
All right, Sweden has its failings, but no one can accuse it of refusing to address them.
“I think a lot of good things are happening – the whole #MeToo movement, gender equality progression in festival line-ups – all of that I think is great,” says Ola Broquist, co- founder of booking agency and Way Out West promoter Luger.
All right, Sweden has its failings, but no one can accuse it of refusing to address them
He suggests that, in airing its dirty laundry, Sweden is ahead of many countries who would prefer to bury their own. “In Sweden, we are starting to look at the solutions. I think if you don’t address these things, then you definitely have a problem.”
Setting these things to one side, if it’s possible entirely to do so, live music fares very well in Sweden. Domestic and international revenue from the Swedish music industry amounted to SEK10 billion (£852 million) in 2016, of which concert revenue accounted for 55% (SEK5.5bn or £466m). Between 2009 and 2016, Swedish music industry revenue, domestic and international, increased by just over 50%.
Individual festivals may rise and fall, but overall audiences remain strong and incoming tours are generally guaranteed to stop in Stockholm. There are practical concerns: the krona is toiling at its lowest levels against the euro since the financial crisis of 2009; the club scene in Stockholm is under a familiar kind of threat from high rents and typical city pressures; the touring market often verges on saturation; and there has been a rash – not music-related but still dramatic – of hand grenade attacks in Swedish cities. But by and large, Sweden is bearing up.
“I think generally we have a pretty healthy business up here,” says Live Nation Sweden’s joint managing director Anna Sjölund. “We have a steady flow of acts that want to play here and people who want to go to shows. From time to time, we have acts who say they don’t want to come up here and they finish in Germany, but most of them, we do get.”
There’s no disputing that Live Nation is by far the strongest promoter in Sweden. In fact, given its full concert schedule and the imminent arrival of a Swedish Lollapalooza due to take place in central Stockholm next June – to add to Way Out West, Summerburst, Sweden Rock and other festivals in its stable – some argue that Live Nation is more dominant in Sweden than in any other nation in the world.
In many ways, it earned its dominance fair and square, building its modern business on the foundations laid down by EMA Telstar, which was bought up in 1999, and whose founder Thomas Johansson remains Live Nation’s Stockholm- based chairman of international music.
“Live Nation has, and always has had, a firm grip on the Swedish market”
Live Nation Sweden added Luger to the fold in 2008, and has more recently bought majority shares in Summerburst and Sweden Rock festivals, as well as shaping up to bring in Lollapalooza in 2019.
“Live Nation has, and always has had, a firm grip on the Swedish market,” says Tobbe Lorentz, United Talent Agency’s Malmö-based senior vice president. “With this expansion, Live Nation controls most aspects of the festival circuit in Sweden.”
Since November 2017, Live Nation Sweden has been under Sjölund and Therése Liljedahl, with a staff of about 115, and business is predictably good.
“We have had a very good year, lots of great shows,” says Sjölund. “We had the fantastic stadium shows with Guns N’ Roses, Jay-Z & Beyoncé, Foo Fighters, and Eminem through Luger. For once, the Swedish summer didn’t get rained away – it’s been really hot, really nice. Really healthy arena business, too. And we are catching our breath now and putting things in place for next year.”
Luger operates as a distinct company within Live Nation, while sharing expertise on certain projects, says Broquist. Lollapalooza is one such joint venture, and Luger is also upping its game in big shows, with Eminem, Coldplay and Mumford & Sons among those it has lately promoted on the biggest stages.
“We will never stop doing the smaller ones – that’s the backbone of the whole thing for us – finding new acts and growing with them,” Broquist adds. “But it is interesting to step up and do some bigger shows as well.”
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