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French industry reacts to new festival restrictions

AEG Presents France, SMA, and Hellfest have criticised the government for its new framework, which restricts festivals to 5,000 seated guests

By IQ on 19 Feb 2021

Hellfest Open Air 2021 has been cancelled, following the news

Hellfest Open Air 2021 has been cancelled, following the news


image © David Gallard/Hellfest Open Air

France is the first major European market to deliver a framework for this summer’s festival season.

French festivals – both indoor and outdoor – are permitted to take place this summer but attendance will be restricted to 5,000 spectators, who must be seated and socially distanced.

The minister for culture, Roselyne Bachelot, announced the framework yesterday (18 February) along with a €30 million fund which will compensate organisers – both for losses incurred due to the implementation of alternative formats, and in the event that festivals are cancelled due to an increasing Covid-19 infection rate.

Bachelot has committed to a monthly consultation meeting with festivals to adapt the framework according to the development of France’s health situation but France’s live sector already has many questions that have gone unanswered.

“Most (if not all) large scale events will not be able to function within these parameters”

AEG Presents France GM and VP, Arnaud Meerseeman, tells IQ:  “I feel it’s essentially an act of political communication to gain some time with the sector. The framework is very loose. There is no detail on the timeline of this decision: ie when does “summer” start and end, from what point does this apply? Does this cover festivals in August/September?

“There is also no detail on the protocol to welcome audiences and therefore the impossibility to cost the extra measures needed to welcome the audience. And finally, there is a big sore point of no food and beverage, which is quite problematic for an outdoor event!

“On top of that, all of this is submitted to a monthly revision in link with the evolution of the sanitary situation. All of these issues tend to point to another empty season. Most (if not all) large scale events will not be able to function within these parameters. Smaller events, or different aesthetics (ie jazz/classical) or other disciplines (cinema/theatre) might be able to go forward. The positive issue is the financial mechanisms to support events that cancel or that want to adapt has been maintained and boosted,” adds Meerseeman.

“A seated event bringing together 5,000 people, perhaps without access to the bar or the restaurant, cannot be called a festival”

France’s trade union, the SMA (Syndicat des Musiques Actuelles), echoes Meersseman’s concerns, saying: “At the present time and under the conditions announced by [Bachelot], we cannot say that festivals will be held this summer because, for a major part of our audiences, our artists and our teams, a seated event bringing together 5,000 maximum people, perhaps without access to the bar or the restaurant, cannot be called a festival.”

“We are particularly awaiting validation of the authorisation to serve drinks and meals to festival-goers, an essential condition for welcoming our audiences in good conditions. This answer is crucial both from an economic point of view and in terms of user-friendliness. The issue of non-distancing between festival-goers, essential in organisational projections, must also be clarified.”

SMA has also expressed concerns that the €30m financial package will “insufficient” to support 6,000 French festivals of all disciplines.

“[Hellfest] makes the hard choice not to accept these overly restrictive rules. It would go against our DNA”

French metal festival Hellfest Open Air (cap. 60,000) broke the news to IQ that this year’s event is cancelled due to the uncertainty around the health situation and the government regulations.

Hellfest organiser Ben Barbaud tells IQ: “Unlike other festivals, we make the hard choice not to accept these overly restrictive rules. It would go against the very DNA of the festival. We owe our festival-goers consistency in the project we want to offer them and for which they have agreed to pay a high price.

“Hellfest was born out of a desire to gather all the “extreme” music lovers together in communion and a spirit of celebration. Living with the virus shouldn’t be giving up what makes us happy. The future of Hellfest is compromised and once again it is your trust and solidarity that will get us through this storm.”

The 15th anniversary of Hellfest was due to take place across three days in June, in Clisson, Pays de la Loire, with performances from artists including Deftones, Faith No More and System of a Down. Barbaud says the festival will return in 2022.

While France may be the first major market in the northern hemisphere to make a decision on this summer’s festival season, it doesn’t necessarily mean other countries will follow its lead.

France’s vaccination rate is significantly lower than other markets inside and outside of Europe such as the UK, Denmark, Italy and other EU countries, and the government has been continuously criticised for slowing the pace.

 


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