The NZ Normal: What live is like on the other side
When IQ catches up with Stuart Clumpas, he is at the wedding of Live Nation New Zealand chief Mark Kneebone, and the following morning is flying his plane to Queenstown for an outdoor gig. “How very New Zealand-of-the-moment is that?” he comments, adding how fortunate he feels to be in a place that has dealt so well with the pandemic.
“What New Zealand has been able to do, by a combination of fortuitous positioning on the planet, a little bit of taking a punt and getting it right, and just a very cooperative element throughout society, is to stop Covid in its tracks, and then put up strict-but-fair barriers to prevent the virus getting into the country,” says Clumpas.
However, while going to a gig remains all but a dream for billions of people around the world, the reality in the Land of the Long White Cloud is that live music professionals are suffering from some of the same issues as their peers in nations where concerts remain banned.
“We’re in a bubble that nobody can leave or get into”
Indeed, never has the term Kiwi been more appropriate, as the national icon is a flightless bird, very much symbolising the current dilemma. “I feel like I’m the living embodiment of The Truman Show,” confesses Clumpas. “We’re in a bubble that nobody can leave or get into.”
Former Live Nation chairman Clumpas, who still consults for the company but otherwise runs Auckland’s 12,000-capacity Spark Arena and sister venue The Tuning Fork (cap. 375), contends that New Zealand’s ‘new normal’ comes with caveats. “It’s normal to all extents and purposes, but there is an uncomfortable feeling or an unease behind it; everybody knows that it ain’t the norm, even though you go about life being normal… it’s hard to explain.
“In terms of business, though, we’re able to have shows without restrictions, as there is no community Covid here.” (At press time, the New Zealand government announced that a 56-year-old woman who had completed the compulsory two-week quarantine had subsequently returned a positive test. She was ordered to self isolate at home.)
“Covid-19 [has] had a massive impact on the number of events we’ve been able to deliver”
While anyone remotely interested in live entertainment might be looking enviously at the freedoms the people of New Zealand are enjoying, for those working in the territory the reality is a lot more fragile. Clumpas, for instance, reports that Spark Arena’s business is 85% down, while others disclose similar struggles.
“Covid-19 [has] had a massive impact on the number of events we’ve been able to deliver. Since lockdown we have hosted 61 performance events in our venues; for the same date range in the previous year we hosted more than 130 events,” reports Gus Sharp, event sales and planning manager for WellingtonNZ, which through its Venues Wellington division operates six buildings: Michael Fowler Centre (capacity 2,500 seated); TSB Arena (cap 6,000); Shed 6 (1,400); The Opera House (1,388 seated); the Wellington Town Hall, (2,200 mixed); and the St James Theatre (1,700 seated).
Sharp continues, “The largest single night event we delivered was a drum and bass rave at the TSB Arena which, on the night, had a capacity of 4,000.”
Detailing Live Nation New Zealand’s post-Covid journey, managing director Mark Kneebone, recalls, “We started off with smaller shows like the Together Again series which were among the first socially distanced shows in the world, which we kicked off at the Tuning Fork, Auckland in late May 2020.
“The largest single night event we delivered was a drum and bass rave at the TSB Arena which had a capacity of 4,000”
“Initially, the capacity for the events were 100 people, including all staff. These events were all seated, with fans in pods, and with lots of health and safety precautions such as temperature checks, socially distanced seating, table service, staff wearing PPE and contact tracing.
“As the situation in the country became under control and restrictions were lifted, shows could happen at full scale again and we were back on the road as quickly as we could be.”
Kneebone continues, “The biggest headline show we did in 2020 was Benee, with the tour covering eight shows ranging from theatre to arena level in four cities across NZ, and included two sold-out shows at Spark Arena.”
On the festival front, Live Nation benefitted from the demand for entertainment outdoors at its 29-31 December Rhythm & Vines festival, which with an all-Kiwi line up, selling more than 25,000 tickets and attracting 83,000 attendees across the four days.
“We also had to create our own gigs, which is something that others elsewhere might want to look at”
Away from music, WellingtonNZ also hosted the world premiere of Digital Nights – Van Gogh Alive, an out-door digital projection exhibition of works by Vincent van Gogh. “It had more than 44,000 people through the gates,” says Sharp. “This was a fantastic outcome considering that for part of the eight-week season, crowds were unavoidably limited to no more than 100 people a session.”
Creativity has also been a challenge at Spark Arena, where Clumpas flags up a successful beer festival. “We also had to create our own gigs, which is something that others elsewhere might want to look at,” he says, citing the world’s biggest ever pub gig, which was organised in partnership with promoter Eccles Entertainment.
“This harks back to the 80s when the likes of INXS and Midnight Oil would play to 2,000 people in these huge pubs – nobody would pay to get in but they’d all come in and drink like hell,” explains Clumpas.
“It was Brent Eccles’ idea, where he put on all these Kiwi bands who were big in the 80s. It was fabulous – we had 3,000 people and because we didn’t have an international Spark Arena in Auckland has introduced Covid tests at the venue’s entrances touring production manager to deal with, we ran the room and we were able to do a whole bunch of shit that never in a month of Sun- days we would have been allowed to do – and people absolutely loved it.
“Such ingenuity is needed because New Zealand’s limited talent pool has already been used – to great effect”
“For example, there’s a famous takeaway hamburger caravan called The White Lady in central Auckland where people go in the early hours on their way home after a big night. We brought The White Lady into the venue and put it at the back of the room.
“And above the stage, Brent had this video screen on a loop, saying ‘No shorts or stubbies or jandals allowed in this bar, mate. Get too drunk and you’re fucking getting chucked out.’ The bands love it, and every punter who came up to me thought it was hilarious and begged us to do it again.”
Eccles, too, was thrilled at the success of the format. “We’ll definitely do it again,” he tells IQ. “In fact, I have plans to take the idea to Australia, when it’s possible.”
Delighting at the details of the event, Eccles says, “All the bars were on the floor of the arena, like a pub, and we had signage up for legendary 80s places like The Globe, the Windsor Castle and the Gluepot, which don’t exist any more. Such ingenuity is needed because New Zealand’s limited talent pool has already been used – to great effect – but venues throughout the country are struggling to fill their many vacant diary dates.
“Our local acts are boosted by getting to work with that state-of-the-art production gear”
Boosting the domestic scene
There are, of course, silver linings. Clumpas points to the amazing production support that has flourished thanks to all of the international tours that have visited New Zealand in the last decade.
“Our local acts have worked incredibly hard to deliver some great shows, and they are boosted by getting to work with that state-of-the-art production gear so they can look and sound as good in an arena as any of the international acts,” he says.
“We’ve certainly seen some homegrown success stories come out of 2020,” agrees Sharp. “The 4,000-capacity rave mentioned earlier was a purely domestic line-up: that’s something that probably wouldn’t have happened before Covid reared its ugly head.
“We’ve also had homegrown superstars such as Benee doing three sold-out nights in a row in one of our GA venues. The demand for homegrown talent is a fantastic thing to see and may well be ushering in a golden era for New Zealand performers and audiences.”
“We may well be ushering in a golden era for New Zealand performers and audiences”
Live Nation’s Kneebone observes, “Demand has been really strong as we came out of lockdown which has been great to see. We of course wanted to give extra thought and messaging around health and safety precautions. There will never be a one-sized fits all approach for marketing, so we continue to partner closely with artist teams to determine the right strategy. We’ve found things work smoothest when fans have all the details upfront so their expectations are aligned from the onset.”
Kneebone also tips his hat to the way in which home-grown talent has stepped up to entertain their fellow citizens. “Domestic acts have the spotlight to themselves at the moment and are headlining all the festivals around the country,” he notes. “Fans have been incredibly supportive of that, too, which means the industry can keep the wheels turning while enjoying all the best that Kiwi talent has to offer.”
Although he is the New Zealand representative of Australian giant Frontier Touring, Eccles has had no acts from that agreement to promote during the last few months. However, Eccles Entertainment was established in 2000 and has been built on a roster of Kiwi talent that has helped its founders retain all their employees throughout the pandemic. Indeed, with local act Six60 in the midst of a stadium tour that has sold 120,000 tickets, the company has the biggest tour of the NZ summer.
“Six60 are capable of selling out Western Springs, which is 50,000 capacity and a hallowed ground, as its had gigs by the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Bob Marley – all the massive acts – so they are huge in New Zealand,” he says.
Looking ahead, Eccles is having to pull on all his experience to come up with new and unique ways to maintain interest for his roster of domestic talent.
“There are a lot of challenges to deal with and it’s going to be an exciting year for New Zealand artists”
“I don’t want to give away any secrets, but I’ve been asking the acts if there is somewhere they’ve always wanted to play, or some other act they’d love to work with,” he reveals. “You’ve got to offer something unique, especially after it starts to get cold here in April. But I’m really excited, as there are a lot of challenges to deal with and it’s going to be an exciting year for New Zealand artists.”
The ability to rely on domestic talent has given the industry a lifeline, although it appears to be a limited one. Recalling the shows at Spark Arena with Benee, Clumpas notes that fans were generally being a little more conscious of each other’s personal space.
“Perceptively you can see people standing a little bit further away in the queue and not in each other’s face. And instead of rushing the door, there was a calmness as they gave each other a bit more space.” Indeed, such considerate audience behaviour prompted Clumpas to allow the audience to choose how they wanted to experience the concerts. “We had what we call free-flow, where nothing is allocated, and that allows people to stand for a bit, then go grab a seat. So it’s up to them if they want to go and sit at the front or the back. And it worked really well.”
The arena’s sparse booking calendar also allowed some imaginative formatting for Benee’s visit. Judging that she would sell about 10,000 tickets, the decision was made to spread that across two nights. “It was Benee’s first tour and rather than do 10k on one night, when she’d never even played to half that, her management, who are smart boys, decided to do two shows at 5.5k as that wasn’t so daunting for the artist,” says Clumpas. “We took the view that we could do anything – even a whole number of nights at 2,000-cap, because we weren’t doing anything else.”
“We only have four or five bands that can sell-out half an arena, so we’ve kind of run out of talent”
Around the world, one of the key issues that the live entertainment business is having to face when it returns is a lack of personnel to kickstart operations.
Thousands of industry professionals have been made redundant throughout the pandemic, while others have simply moved into new areas of employment so that they can pay the bills, creating a significant headache for event organisers whenever the green light for mass gatherings is given. And despite a busy outdoor season currently underway, it seems colleagues in New Zealand are already facing identical problems.
Detailing the precarious nature of the NZ recovery, Clumpas explains: “Unlike in the UK, we have a very thin local market and that goes back to the fact that the business here used to be run out of Australia, bringing in loads of bands from overseas but never developing a local market.
“At arena level, we only have four or five bands that can sell-out half an arena, and the biggest comedian here can maybe sell 3,000 tickets, so we’ve kind of run out of talent: business is down by about 85% and we’ve had to lay people off because we don’t have enough things to put on at the arena.”
“We took an approach of leniency with contracts and generally acknowledged the completely unprecedented situation”
Sharp comments, “We have not escaped unscathed – even the relatively short disruption has had a huge influence on the industry and we are still feeling the effects.”
But, as with countless businesses around the planet, WellingtonNZ and its affiliates have been collaborating with others to try to mitigate the pain. “As a public organisation, our focus is on helping our partners through,” pledges Sharp. “We took an approach of leniency with contracts and generally acknowledged the completely unprecedented situation. This proved to be the right way to deal with the situation as it generated goodwill and strengthened relationships, both of which will bear fruit as the impacts of Covid on the sector start to recede.”
A team of five million
The willingness of the population to cooperate is key to New Zealand’s fight to keep the virus out, according to Scotland-born Clumpas, who emigrated to Auckland in 2002. “One of the first things that struck me about living in New Zealand is that there is a really strong community feel among its citizens, no matter who they are, rich or poor. And with Covid, everyone realised we are all in this together,” says Clumpas.
Highlighting that communal attitude, Clumpas refers to the Grab & Go facilities at Spark Arena, which relies on audience honesty to help themselves to food and drink and then pay before entering the auditorium. “It lets people move more quickly at the intervals and, of course, Kiwis pay – they would not dream of taking stuff and not paying. It’s remarkable but it sums up society here.
“Overall we are seeing similar ticket-buying patterns to pre-Covid times”
“Our prime minister, Jacinda [Ardern], referred to it as ‘a team of five million.’ It’s a genuine thing where people understand this is for the good of your fellow man, so they play the game. I find that hugely different to the US or the UK, where people might ignore the government because they don’t like their politics or whatever.”
Demand & supply
While industry leaders in Asia, Europe and the Americas speculate that the pent up demand of live music fans will propel the business back toward profit when the pandemic restrictions are lifted, it’s interesting to gauge how the Kiwis have handled their restart.
WellingtonNZ’s Sharp contends that marketing is still crucial to selling tickets, although “in the immediate post-lockdown period we did see huge enthusiasm for a return to live events and tickets flew out the door,” he admits. “The second lockdown definitely shook confidence, but overall we are seeing similar ticket-buying patterns to pre-Covid times.”
Eccles is revelling in those promoting challenges, citing his big- gest pub gig strategy as an example where he captured the imagination of ticket buyers. “We had a unique way of marketing the pub gig using The Sound radio station,” says Eccles. “We went on air with 100 tickets priced at $29.90 to announce the event, then as each band was announced we went to $39.90 for the next 100 tickets, then $49.90, right up to $79.90 when we revealed the headliner, and that kept people’s interest all the way through.
“Exemptions aren’t granted lightly, but they do show [that] the government understands the importance of live events”
“It was great fun and allowed people to remember the old days, as well as seeing the bands they used to see in those pubs back in the 80s.”
Underlining the local appetite to find entertainment, Sharp adds, “Overall attendance has been similar to what we’d expect in any other year. It shows that New Zealand crowds have confidence that they can safely enjoy events, which they continued to voraciously attend.”
New Zealand’s strict border controls make it tricky for anyone who is not a citizen of the country to visit. It’s not impossible for overseas acts to perform shows, but it’s not simple, either.
Sharp says international acts can secure a border exemption place on the grounds of their importance to the local events industry. “These exemptions aren’t granted lightly, but they do show [that] the government understands the importance of live events to both the cultural and economic wellbeing of the country.”
WellingtonNZ has benefitted from a number of acts who have taken the time to process through the quarantine procedures
But outlining some of the hurdles, Clumpas explains, “For anyone to get into the country now, you first have to book a space in the quarantine hotel, three months in advance. When your flight arrives, you go straight from the airport in a bus to the hotel, which is fenced off. The army run the thing and you are there for two weeks in managed self-isolation. If you leave without permission, you face three months in jail.”
WellingtonNZ has benefitted from a number of acts who have taken the time to process through the quarantine procedures. “We had Belgian drum and bass DJ Alix Perez play in November, and UK DJ Sub Focus on 7 January, both playing to sold-out crowds,” says Sharp. Elsewhere, the Wellington-based organisation has focused on securing alternative format events that can run for multiple weeks, such as Grande Experiences’ Van Gogh Alive concept.
“The exhibition was staged twice in New Zealand. The first was Digital Nights – Van Gogh Alive, which was the first time it had been held outdoors. It proved so popular that it returned for a run of indoor exhibitions at venues throughout the country,” says Sharp.
And with Spark Arena remaining dark for much of the time, Clumpas is currently exploring the idea of hosting dance events. “Perhaps by getting overseas DJs to go to their local club to set-up a video link so they can play to Auckland – they see us, we see them. I don’t think you can do that with a band because they need the interaction, but it might work with a DJ set,” he muses.
“Part of the issue is working out how we can scale up [crew] while making sure we retain that watertight border”
To attract others to physically visit, Spark Arena’s management is even looking at getting into the hotel business. “We have an idea to set-up luxury accommodation that we can run in conjunction with the army and security firms, and we pay for it,” says Clumpas. “So maybe we set up 20 suites where we can bring in an artist and they can rehearse there and stuff but keep isolated. It means that anyone who is prepared to come in and maybe do ten dates in 3,000-seater theatres, will be able to do that. I like to think we can get there.”
But looking at bigger international tours making their way to NZ is not on the cards, even though the likes of Six60 are visiting stadia. “We don’t have the likes of 140 crew places for people going into managed isolation, because we don’t have enough nurses and health professionals to manage the facilities,” Clumpas clarifies. “New Zealand is only five million people and you run out of people fairly quickly here. So part of the issue is working out how we can scale up while making sure we retain that watertight border.”
As the only significant market to properly reopen after a national lockdown, New Zealand has the eyes of the world on it, as live entertainment peers examine its successes and failures to try to piece together their own strategies for relaunch.
Sharp applauds everyone that WellingtonNZ has worked with over the past few months for being flexible enough to reorganise their operations, name-checking the likes of Live Nation, Frontier and TEG; homegrown promoters Eccles Entertainment, Liberty Stage, Breaking Beats and Plus One; and resident outfits such as the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and Royal New Zealand Ballet.
“Everyone, through to our smaller promoters and community organisations, has been deeply affected by the pandemic”
“Everyone, through to our smaller promoters and community organisations, has been deeply affected by the pandemic and shown their resiliency and adaptability in rolling with the punches,” he observes.
Our NZ professionals, meanwhile, warn others around the world not to bank too heavily on a surge of interest when markets come out of lockdown. “There’s no pent-up demand with people think- ing I must see loads of gigs,” says Clumpas. “But that might be different in the US or the UK or Europe, because we were not locked up for that long compared to elsewhere.”
Eccles agrees. “In our experience, the market didn’t come back as hard as people thought it would – it eased back in,” he tells IQ. “Demographics-wise, if the show is aimed at kids, or even teens into the late-20s, then they don’t seem to care. But the older age groups are definitely more wary.”
Sharing some of the negative lessons Eccles Entertainment has learned, he continues, “Looking back at 2020, when we came out of lockdown, we experienced quite a bit of attrition, which was hard to take. So, for a show where we’d originally sold 4,000 tickets, maybe only 2,000 actually turned up on the night for the rescheduled gig. It was quite demoralising.”
“We’ve seen some strange behaviour where pre-sales were soft but the general sale was strong”
But there have also been some pleasant surprises. “We’ve seen some strange behaviour where pre-sales were soft but the general sale was strong. That’s the exact opposite of what you’d expect and I’d never come across any pattern like that before. It’s very odd and I can’t explain why it happened.”
Sharp comments, “The NZ market is recovering well – we’ve seen a strong appetite for live events, which has largely been a result of the competent handling of the crisis by the New Zealand government.
“Having coped so well (so far, at least), it may be easier for us to see things in a more positive light. But there really isn’t much use looking at it any other way.”
It’s a precarious situation though, and Eccles is all too aware that the business is constantly on the precipice. “One thing is for sure, if we have another lockdown in New Zealand, then all the confidence in the market will go,” he states. Clumpas concurs, but he believes a better touring industry may emerge in the long run.
“What it might do, going forward, is that audiences might be more demanding in their expectations. So, bluntly, the venues that take care of the fans and who have got their shit together will do fine or probably better. But it could flag-up some of the venues that have been slack, as people will be more discerning and make choices on how safe they feel, according to the customer service they’ve experienced in the past.
“We will get out of this, but will the business be the same? I’m not so sure,” laments Clumpas. “But I’m hopeful that we will no longer see tours with 247 people on them, where artists might tour with a core of maybe 30 or 40, with advance teams of ten who go to a territory early and get local people to do a lot of the work. It would mean a shift but not necessarily fewer jobs: just less people touring, complemented by more people in each territory, which would mean much less of a carbon footprint, as well as giving places like New Zealand a real chance to grow.”
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.
LN 2020 results: Michael Rapino predicts huge 2022
Live Nation’s share price broke the US$90 mark for the first time yesterday ahead of the company’s Q4 2020 earnings call, buoyed by the roll-out of coronavirus vaccines globally and unprecedented fan demand for its shows, illustrated by rapid sell-outs for both Reading Festival and Creamfields in the UK.
Shares in Live Nation Entertainment reached an all-time high of $91.18 – some $15 higher than they were pre-pandemic – on 25 February, with Wall Street untroubled by the headline figures in the company’s most recent financial report, which show a 92% drop in revenue (to $237.3 million) for the fourth quarter (Q4) and 84% slump (to $1.86 billion) for the entire year.
In total, the company lost over $1bn in 2020, with its sponsorship and advertising division the only part of the business to make a profit: It earnt $82m, compared to a $639m loss for Live Nation Concerts and $375m loss for Ticketmaster.
Despite this, investor confidence in Live Nation’s long-term potential remains strong, and CEO Michael Rapino was bullish when taking questions from analysts, also highlighting the company’s cost savings and investment in new technology in 2020 and looking forward to the light at the end of the tunnel. “It appears that the timing to release [fans’s] pent-up supply and demand is now approaching,” he explained. “Vaccine distribution is accelerating, and declines in Covid cases throughout most of the world gives us even more confidence that a safe and meaningful return to shows will soon be possible.”
“I have never been more excited about the opportunities in front of us”
To illustrate that pent-up demand for tickets, Rapino (pictured) used the example of the aforementioned UK festivals. “Just to show you when we keep talking about pent-up demand, Reading and Leeds went on sale, thanks to the government-outlined new plan for the summer, and sold 100,000 tickets in 72 hours,” he told LightShed Partners’ Brandon Ross. “Creamfields went on sale and sold out in 48 hours, over 70,000 [tickets]. So we are seeing the fan and [this is] what we’ve been talking about; they are excited to get back to the show as soon as we get the green lights in these markets to open up.”
Addressing the financials, Live Nation president Joe Berchtold revealed that the company ended with 2020 with $950m in cost savings compared to 2019. Its $500m debt raise in January, he added, gives LN $2bn in available liquidity and $1.1bn in free cash.
Looking to this summer, Rapino said he sees shows returning on a region-by-region basis (a “module model”) in 2021, with 2022 set to be a huge year for major international tours, depending on the vaccination status locally. “Given the limited touring activity in 2020 and ’21, the pipeline for 2022 is much stronger than usual, with almost twice as many major touring artists on cycle in 2022 [as] in a typical year – about 45 artists versus the usual 25,” he said.
Rapino added: “For both the US and UK, projections indicate that everyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get one by May or June, with Europe and most other markets following a few months later. Given the mass social and economic toll the lockdown has put on the public, we believe there will be strong momentum to reopen society swiftly as soon as vaccines are readily available, and we believe outdoor activity will be the first to happen.
“The pipeline for 2022 is much stronger than usual, with almost twice as many major touring artists on cycle”
“So, while the timing of return to live will continue to vary across global markets, every sign points to beginning safely in many countries sometime this summer and scaling further from there.”
In a statement released with the earnings report, Rapino praises Live Nation staff for their resilience during a “challenging” year and highlights the strides the company has made towards securing its post-Covid-19 future.
“Over the last year, leaders across all our business lines of concerts, ticketing and sponsorship have been analysing ways to improve their businesses,” he says. “Some of our key initiatives include re-organising to become more nimble while also reducing our cost structure by $200 million; building concert streaming and direct-to-consumer businesses to expand our revenue streams; advancing our technology initiatives globally while accelerating the shift to digital tickets to meet changing needs of fans, venues and artists; and reinforcing our balance sheet to endure this period, while maintaining a strong position to build our business for the future and act on opportunities as we identify them, such as our recent acquisition of the streaming platform Veeps and a continued pipeline of bolt-on acquisitions throughout the globe.
“So while this past year has been challenging for the company, our employees, fans, artists and so many others globally impacted by Covid, I have never been more excited about the opportunities in front of us.”
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.
British fests sell out as more confirm 2021 dates
Three of the UK’s most popular music festivals, Reading Festival, Creamfields and Boomtown, have sold out their 2021 editions in the past 24 hours, underlining the huge demand for festival tickets among locked-down British live music fans.
Festival Republic’s Reading Festival, which normally has a capacity of 105,000, was one of several festivals to confirm this week they intend to go ahead in 2021, taking place alongside its sister Leeds Festival in the last weekend in August.
All weekend tickets for Leeds Festival (75,000-cap.) are also gone, according to the festivals’ Twitter account, with only limited Friday and Sunday day tickets remaining.
Dance music festival Creamfields, promoted by Live Nation UK’s Cream Holdings, says it sold out in record time ahead of its return this summer. The festival, which has run since 1998 (since 2006 in its current location on the 70,000-capacity Daresbury estate in Cheshire), also takes place across the August bank holiday weekend (26–29 August).
That many fans held onto their 2020 tickets, says Cream, is “positive news for the live music industry, which has largely remained closed over the last 12 months. The news follows the prime minister’s ‘roadmap’ address on Monday that allows the safe return of large-scale outdoor events this summer.”
“This is positive news for the live music industry, which has largely remained closed over the last 12 months”
British prime minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday (22 February) that all lockdown measures should be lifted in England from 21 June, theoretically allowing large outdoor events such as festivals to take place with no restrictions. Industry response to the announcement was largely positive, though live music businesses and associations are seeking more clarity as to what will be possible.
Among the 300 artists and DJs performing at Creamfields 2021 are Bicep, Afrojack, Alesso, Carl Cox, Pete Tong, pendulum, Gorgon City, Sub Focus, Claptone, Sigma, Andy C, Martin Garrix, Sigma and Nina Kraviz.
Independent festival Boomtown, which typically has a capacity of more than 70,000, has scaled down its event for this year’s ‘Chapter One: The Gathering’-themed festival, which celebrates a “post-pandemic world” of “connection, community and celebration”. The line-up will also be kept secret until around a week before the festival.
Explaining the decision last year, organisers said: “[T]here are many aspects to the way the music industry runs that don’t work for independent festivals. The complex process of releasing a music line-up, with the exclusivity, billing and escalating costs ,has led us to decide this is the time to rethink the way we approach it and explore new ways of doing things.
“We have always been a creatively led festival and people attend Boomtown because of the overall experience. We will continue to book incredible headline artists, and all the festival favourites, but by approaching our programming announcements in this radical way, we can create line-ups that are even more phenomenal and diverse than we have ever been able to before.”
“The anticipation to get back to showcasing the best in new music has never been greater”
Fans responded to the change, with over 90% of 2020 ticket holders declining a refund, and tickets for the 2021 edition, held as usual near Winchester in Hampshire, selling out last night.
Also riding the wave of fan demand is London’s Field Day, which announced just before 9pm yesterday (25 February) that it, too, had sold out its 2021 edition and second outing at the post-industrial Drumsheds venue in Enfield, north London.
Like its cancelled 2020 festival, Field Day 2021 will be a one-day, electronic music-focused event headlined by DJs Bicep. Other performers playing the Drumsheds, which has a capacity of 25,000, include Maribou State, Ross from Friends, Floating Points and Adelphi Music Factory.
The sellouts come as more festivals confirm they will be going ahead later this summer, with Liverpool Sound City, Gala Festival, Wilderness and Mighty Hoopla all announcing or re-confirming their 2021 dates in the wake of Johnson’s announcement.
“I can’t believe that it’s been nearly two years since the last time we came together at Sound City, and the anticipation to get back to showcasing the best in new music has never been greater,” says Sound City MD Becky Ayres. “Enjoying amazing new artists in incredible venues is what makes Sound City great, and we’re excited to bring together genre-pushing favourites, thrilling live bands and must-see moments this October.”
Sound City 2021 takes place from 1 to 3 October with artists including the Lathums, Rejjie Snow, the Mysterines, Red Rum Club and the Murder Capital.
Danish culture minister to propose festival insurance
Minister Joy Mogensen says the scheme would be similar to the one implemented by the government last summer, but this time would “extend far into the summer and be approved in the EU”.
Last year’s government compensation scheme covered organisers of events with more than 1,000 participants, or 500 participants if the event is targeted at special risk groups, between the months of March and June.
Mogensen previously mentioned a deadline date of 1 March to give festival organisers a verdict on whether the summer season could go ahead in some capacity, but now says she cannot confirm a date until she gets approval from the Danish government.
“We will start the technical briefing of the culture rapporteurs this afternoon [25 February],” Mogensen told Politiken. “Then we will continue to have a dialogue with the European Commission, so that we can reach our goals quickly.”
Mogensen says that the scheme would be adapted to ensure that, this time, subcontractors would not be left in the lurch
Mogensen says that the scheme would be adapted to ensure that, this time, subcontractors would not be left in the lurch if restrictions meant the 2021 festival season is cancelled.
Last year, Denmark’s Roskilde Festival, Live Nation Denmark, Smukfest, Tinderbox and NorthSide penned an open letter appealing for political support for the restart of festivals this summer and outlining the consequences if the events of 2021 are cancelled.
In the months since, the ministry for culture has assembled a ‘restart team’, which has been provided with DKK 50 million to develop new event formats that could be safely implemented in the spring.
This week, outdoor cultural institutions nationwide were permitted to reopen with a capacity limit of 25 people, though the government’s group of health experts has recommended a full reopening, facilitated by Covid-19 testing and health passports.
Earlier this month, Denmark’s acting minister of finance, Morten Bødskov, announced in a press conference that digital Coronavirus passports will be ready for use in three to four months but will initially apply only to travel.
Sportpaleis plans non-stop 24-hour livestream concert
Antwerp Sportpaleis is organising a 24-hour non-stop livestream concert to mark exactly one year since concert halls closed due to the outbreak of Covid-19.
More than 100 Belgian artists, across all genres, will perform original and cover songs in the empty 18,400-seat arena to show that they are ‘ready to storm stages again’.
Miguel Wiels is part of talent and production agency Les Flamands and one of the artists who will perform on the night: “After a year, the jitters can no longer be kept. Everyone in the industry wants to make music, well, we’re going to do that with my band.
“We have a setlist of more than 400 songs available”
“It’s heartwarming how many artists have voluntarily agreed to play with us. We have a setlist of more than 400 songs available. It’s going to be a long marathon and we probably won’t have enough of it after 24 hours. On the contrary: it is an advance when we will also be able to stand in front of a live audience. That moment is getting closer, we have every confidence in it. This stunt is a good dress rehearsal for that.”
Prime minister Jan Jambon, says: “We have had the most disastrous year in the history of our culture and events sector. I am very happy to contribute to 24 Hours Live. Because that’s what we have to do: let the music go on, no matter how difficult the circumstances. I hope that we will soon be able to resume our normal life.”
Sportpaleis recently raised €50,000 for Belgium’s live music industry through its Lights for Live fundraising initiative.
UK festivals plot comebacks as optimism grows
A growing number of UK festival operators are confident their events should take place in some capacity this summer, bolstered by plans to allow full-capacity outdoor shows in England from June (as well as a viral tweet from Reading and Leeds Festivals).
British prime minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday (22 February) that all lockdown measures should be lifted in England from 21 June, theoretically allowing large outdoor events such as festivals to take place with no restrictions. Industry response to the announcement was largely positive, though live music businesses and associations are seeking more clarity as to what will be possible.
Speaking after the announcement, Paul Reed, CEO of the Association of Independent Festivals, said he is “optimistic that many of our member festivals may be able to go ahead in some capacity later on this year. There are still, however, some urgent points of clarity that need to be made around the exact requirements that festival organisers will need to meet, in particular around testing and Covid certification.”
Also optimistic about this summer is Festival Republic, which tweeted yesterday that, “following the government’s recent announcement”, its Reading (105,000-cap.) and Leeds Festivals (75,000-cap.) “can’t wait to [welcome] fans back to the fields” this summer:
The sister festivals are scheduled for Friday 27 to Sunday 29 August and boast a largely British line-up, though there are several international artists – including Americans Madison Beer, Fever 333, Ashnikko and, notably, headliner Post Malone – booked to perform.
“We cannot wait to open our gates and welcome both fans and artists”
Speaking to the NME last month, Festival Republic managing director Melvin Benn said that while the festival sector is relying on “the vaccine first and testing second”, his ‘Full-Capacity Plan’ would allow for major events to go ahead even before the UK achieves herd immunity to the virus. “It could be a mix of both,” he explained. “I feel that we can get away with shows purely on testing. It’s immensely hard work, but operationally doable and hopefully unnecessary. The Full Capacity Plan was always based on verification of being clear of Covid, or clear of being in danger of Covid.
“The vaccination, and verification that you’ve had it, would give you that safety of knowing that you’re not going to get super ill. It will work, providing that they can get the majority of the people in the country vaccinated, and as long as there are enough people at the event who have been vaccinated.”
Among the other UK festivals that have indicated they will take place this summer – all after the key date of 21 June – are pop-punk event Slam Dunk, Americana weekender Black Deer, drum’n’bass festival Hospitality Weekend in the Woods and a new one-day London event, Wide Awake.
Slam Dunk said on Tuesday (23 February) that both Slam Dunk North in Leeds and Slam Dunk South in Hatfield (both 22,000-cap.) would be pushed back to September from their original dates in May.
In a statement, the independent festival said it had already predicated that the original dates would not be feasible and had, “of course, been working hard on rescheduled dates”.
Slam Dunk has yet to announce its 2021 line-up although organisers say it should “remain very similar” to 2020’s cancelled event, which would have featured Sum 41, Don Broco, NOFX, Billy Talent, the Used and more.
“Following the government’s recent announcement, we can’t wait to get back to the fields this summer”
Black Deer, meanwhile, is taking place just a week after originally planned, returning to its 20,000-capacity Eridge Park site in Kent on 25–27 June.
The 2021 festival is headlined by Van Morrison, Wilco, the Waterboys and Robert Plant’s band Saving Grace, with other performers including Lucinda Williams, the Dead South, Imelda May and Drive-By Truckers.
Speaking to Access All Areas, Black Deer promoter Gill Tee said the festival is “planning for a full-capacity event” in June, and that “ticket sales are moving towards that number”.
Wide Awake, a new festival of “leftfield indie, post-punk, electronic, techno and jazz” which was originally due to debut in 2020, takes place on 3 September at Brockwell Park in south London (formerly home to Field Day) with artists including Black Midi, Songhoy Blues, Tinariwen, A Certain Ratio and Erol Alkan.
Organiser Marcus Weedon, who co-founded Field Day in 2007, comments: “We’re incredibly excited to finally be able to bring this very special show to London this September. It’s been a tough year for everyone, not least the festival and event industry, and we have been working very hard to ensure Wide Awake is brilliantly curated with the safety of everyone at the forefront.
“We cannot wait to open our gates and welcome both fans and artists in what is going to be an incredibly special event this year.”
Roqu CEO details health passport innovation
In summer 2020, Ireland-based Roqu Group launched Health Passport Worldwide (HPW), a secure platform that combines mobile technologies with official Covid-19 tests and vaccinations.
The technology has been engineered specifically to ‘help curtail the spread of Covid-19’ and is enabling the safe reopening of events, travel and sports in nine countries worldwide.
Now, Robert Quirke, president and CEO at Roqu, tells IQ how HPW is now working alongside leading international events producers, live music organisations and ticketing companies to create solutions that will reopen events this summer.
IQ: Who is able to use HPW?
RQ: The app is free to be used by the public and also by official healthcare providers. The system is multilingual. Depending on the model of the smartphone, font sizes can be increased and text-to-speech can be enabled. The overall technology platform is being used by event producers, the travel industry, pharmacies and many more. The dependents feature means that people with disabilities can make full use of the tech if they wish.
In which countries has HPW established a presence?
The technology is actively being used in the UK, Ireland, Portugal, South Africa, Canada, Bulgaria, Kenya, Nigeria and Ibiza.
Where has it been trialled so far?
Extensive system trials have already been performed in Ireland, the UK and South Africa at healthcare centres, pharmacies, nursing homes for staff vaccinations, schools (staff), offices and more. In December of last year, the system was successfully used at the trial live music event in Cape Town called Recharge2020, working alongside Ticketmaster, the city and local production companies.
“The system was successfully used at the trial live music event in Cape Town called Recharge2020, working alongside Ticketmaster”
Has HPW received the stamp of approval from any governments?
The organisation focuses on successful industry adoption across various sectors. Our approach is to not wait, but rather to immediately support industries that urgently need solutions. The technology is being closely observed by many governments with a view to supporting their vaccines deployment initiatives.
The digital passport market is becoming increasingly saturated. How does your product stand out?
This is not a concept, it is a living breathing solution, and has been since last summer. There is currently no other health passport solution that has achieved the level of support and adoption compared to HPW. Our solution is already being used by some of the world’s leading organisations. Every minute, someone somewhere in the world receives their Covid-19 test result safely via our technology.
How does the app keep users’ data secure and private?
The founders of the technology have put user privacy as a priority because unlike some other mobile technologies, the HPW app does not track people’s location, does not use Bluetooth, does not use GPS and does not monitor people’s usage of the system. Data is not shared with any third parties. This function does not even exist within the technology.
“The technology also integrates with public health systems, festivals, airports, test centres, event ticketing platforms”
Does the app work in harmony with existing healthcare and tech systems?
Yes, the system can integrate where necessary with labs, hospitals and existing public health platforms. A special function is included to support various doses of vaccinations. You can also book a test directly within the app, making everything as easy as possible for the user.
The technology also integrates with public health systems, festivals, airports, test centres, event ticketing platforms and more.
For what purposes do you see HPW being used?
Enabling efficiencies at testing and vaccination centres, international travel, major sporting and music events with very large crowds. This platform will absolutely not be used for everyday life, such as going out for dinner or to the pub!
How could HPW facilitate the return of live music?
The technology enables event producers to scan high volumes of people in a very short period of time, the same as scanning your event ticket at entry. The system gives guests and producers the reassurance that people entering the venue are at a very low or zero risk of transmitting Covid-19. The HPW team has extensive experience in testing and can support events not just with the technology, but also with the end-to-end efficient and safe process.
“The solution to safely test 65,000 people within eight hours is already being deployed into Europe”
Can HPW integrate with event ticketing platforms?
Yes, for example, an anonymous code could be shared. But the system will not share medical information or personal details.
Festivals admit tens of thousands of people over a relatively short amount of time. Is HPW capable of processing a high volume of testing onsite?
Yes, the solution to safely test 65,000 people within eight hours is already being deployed into Europe.
Will venues and festivals have to implement any kind of hardware in order to use HPW?
Habbo’s Hotel Hideaway books first ever DJ set
Dutch DJ and producer Luuk van Dijk will be the first-ever DJ to play a live set in Hotel Hideaway, the virtual hangout from the makers of Habbo.
Habbo, formerly known as Habbo Hotel, is a 3D virtual world and social networking site that was created by Finnish developer Sulake and launched in 2000.
Habbo’s free-to-play spinoff game, Hotel Hideaway, boasts more than a million monthly users with an average age between 17 and 25 years old.
This Friday (26 February), Dijk will perform music from his label, Dark Side Of The Sun, in the online world’s virtual concert hall, Tech, with specially designed visuals by Uberkraft studios.
Dijk will perform music from his label, Dark Side Of The Sun, in the online world’s virtual concert hall, Tech
Hotel Hideaway concert visitors and users will have the opportunity to ‘meet and greet’ with the artist ‘backstage’.
“We can no longer meet each other as before, we cannot all go to a club or a festival,” says Dijk. “Corona makes you realise that making new friendships is more difficult and you see that people are still looking for ways to get together.
“Hotel Hideaway is one of the places where more and more peers come together and I also want to be where my fans are in times when I cannot be on stage. It is therefore the perfect place to still have that connection with the public.”
Toulouse venue sets up ‘Deliveroo service for gigs’
Toulouse venue Le Bijou (The Jewel) has organised a home delivery service for songs called ‘Delivreznoo’ – a portmanteau of the popular British takeaway service, Deliveroo, and “deliver us” in French.
Delivreznoo, which launched last Saturday (20 February), enabled local residents to ‘order a song’ for the price of €5 by choosing a time slot between 11 am and 6 pm on Bijou’s website.
“By reserving your song, you agree to receive an artist at home (on your landing, in your garden …) who will sing you a title from his repertoire,” the website states.
“We come back to the simplest expression: the song one-on-one with the singer”
“Our visit will be done in the strictest respect of sanitary conditions. In particular, we will be masked upon our arrival. The artist will however be unmasked during the song.”
Davy Kilembé was one of the artists in question, delivering songs to multiple households during the day, including an audience of ten people in a garden (pictured, above).
Kilembé performed a song from his repertoire, ‘Paddle’, as well as a cover, ‘Jeanne’ by Georges Brassens.
French singer-songwriter, Valentin Vande, was also available to order on Delivreznoo.
“We come back to the simplest expression: the song one-on-one with the singer. The video concert can be good, but it’s also dehumanising,” Pascal Chauvet, the director of the 32-year-old venue and organiser of Delivreznoo, told AFP Toulouse.
Canadian venues and festivals to adopt Safe Travels stamp
Festivals, venues and other live music organisations will be able to display the Safe Travels stamp, a mark that their events meet certain safety and hygiene standards, as part of a new partnership between the Canadian Live Music Association (CLMA) and the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO).
The Safe Travels symbol, an initiative of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), was originally designed for the tourism sector in order to help travellers recognise businesses which have adopted the standardised health and hygiene protocols set out under the programme. The protocols for convention centres, meetings and events, as well as for attractions and for hospitality operators, can be found on the WTTC website.
TIAO is administering the Safe Travels programme on behalf on the entire country. A current list of approved Canadian Safe Travels applicants can be viewed here.
“The Safe Travels programme will help us all to feel safe when we re-engage with the live experiences we miss so much”
“We know that millions of Canadians are excited to return to live music just as safe as it is to do so. That’s why our members continue to invest heavily in the protection of fans, artists and crew, leveraging best practices from at home and around the world,” says Erin Benjamin, president and CEO of the CLMA.
“With thanks to TIAO’s leadership, the Safe Travels Stamp programme will help us all to feel safe when we re-engage with the music and live experiences we miss so much.”
This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.