Artist manager Michael Lambert gives a 'younger' professional's view on the importance of live shows and the way we approach the most essential people: the fans
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IQ charts the progress of a city that has long held a claim to being France’s second most important live music market
By James Hanley on 12 Apr 2023
Lyon’s international touring profile has undoubtedly gone up a notch or two as the city awaits its new LDLC Arena, but the historic city – the second largest metropolitan area in France, and the focal point of the south-eastern region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes – has long had a claim to be France’s second most important market.
“Outside Paris, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes has always been the leading ticketing market in France,” says Rémi Perrier of veteran promoter RPO, based in nearby Grenoble and a frequent client of Lyon’s venues. “Lyon is the capital of this region and has always been a stronghold for all types of music and also culture in general. The LDLC Arena will further strengthen this position of strength.”
As well as the city’s 520,000-strong population and its broader metropolitan total of more than 2.3m, Lyon’s catchment stretches across more than one border. “Lyon serves many nearby cities as far as Geneva or Turin,” says Thierry Pilat, director-general of La Halle Tony-Garnier, the historic 16,800-capacity concert hall. “It is a very beautiful city with prestigious cultural facilities and original events such as the Biennale de la Danse and the Nuits Sonores festival for electronic music. It is internationally renowned for its gastronomy, too, so it attracts a lot of city-breakers.”
“It is a great city,” concurs AEG Presents head Arnaud Meersseman, once a student at Lyon’s Sciences Po university. “It’s big but not too big. It is one of the big regional markets.”
“Our objective is to book 60 musical shows each year”
Olympique Lyonnais Groupe (OL Groupe) signed a deal with Live Nation in 2021 to develop the new 16,000-capacity LDLC Arena in Lyon, extending the pact that began in 2016 with the opening of the Groupama Stadium, which provides a home for football club Olympique Lyonnais and can contain crowds of up to 73,000 in certain configurations.
The new arena is scheduled for completion towards the end of 2023 and will host around 100-120 events a year including concerts, sporting events and eSports.
“We have chosen to work on a U-shape design with our architect agency, Populous, to give priority to a premium fan experience on live music shows,” says Xavier Pierrot, OL Groupe deputy general director, in charge of the Groupama Stadium and the LDLC Arena. “So far, we have booked a few French artists in 2024: Slimane, Shaka Ponk. Our objective is to book 60 musical shows each year. We are aiming to work on a large range of musical shows, with our non-exclusive partner Live Nation and all the major bookers.”
Artists such as Rihanna, Coldplay and Ed Sheeran have all visited the Groupama in recent years, with Muse, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Depeche Mode and Mylène Farmer coming between May and July.
“This summer is a bit special with no international sport events scheduled, apart from the World Supercross Championship in July,” says Pierrot. “So, we have this very large window allowing a total of six concerts. This is truly a busy season, and we have one more international artist to be revealed in the coming days.”
“In 2023 and 2024, the outlook is good, with a large volume of French artists”
Local promoters are well aware of their good fortune. “In 2022, we had the pleasure of working on four concerts at Groupama Stadium: Indochine, Soprano, Rammstein, and The Rolling Stones – two postponements and two normal tours,” says Perrier. “In 2023 and 2024, the outlook is good, with a large volume of French artists, mainly in urban music.” As for the new arena, says Perrier, “we are incredibly lucky. It will change the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes market.”
Outside Paris, France’s touring business depends on scores of local and regional promoters working hard on the ground, and those operating in and around Lyon also include Totaal Rez, Eldorado & Co, Les Derniers Couchés, and Arachneé Concerts.
For such promoters, keeping regional cities top of mind for bigger touring acts is a skill unto itself.
“The challenge for us is to maintain a very good relationship with the agents of major artists,” says Perrier. “We are fortunate to have established a relationship of trust. We must keep it and be attentive to newcomers to this market, which is also changing because new players are arriving, which is a very good thing.”
No city cements a musical reputation without its fair share of grassroots venues. In addition to renowned clubs such as the Transbordeur and the new Marché Gare, Lyon is the birthplace of French micro-brewery and entertainment chain Ninkasi. Its flagship Ninkasi Gerland, in Rue Marcel Mérieux, is a serious live music draw, with two venues: the 735-cap Kao and the 400-cap Kafe.
“The Lyon scene is really huge. We have a lot of good bands and DJs, a lot of nice venues and festivals”
“The Lyon scene is really huge,” says Fabien Hyvernaud, director general of Ninkasi Musiques. “We have a lot of good bands and DJs, a lot of nice venues and festivals. In September 2022, our friends at Marché Gare opened their new venue and it’s awesome. In 2023, the famous electronic festival Nuits Sonores are going to celebrate their 20th birthday. We still have a lot of small venues like Sonic, Periscope and Farmer, who have a lot of gigs in jazz, punk, and experimental music.”
Ninkasi’s own 2022 was reasonably strong, though Hyvernaud notes that there are headwinds for smaller venues. “A lot of gigs from 2020/2021 were postponed to last year, so when we could start to have standing concerts again, we had a lot of bands – mostly national and local ones because travelling was still difficult for foreign bands.
“2023 seems to be more difficult. A lot of big artists will not travel and a lot of them are postponing their albums. So, our first trimester looks like a desert, but we will have a lot of artistic residencies for our Ninkasi Musik Lab project, where we help local bands to be more professional.”
Hyvernaud also has a bombshell: “We’re going to destroy Ninkasi Gerland at the end of October 2023,” he says. “Ninkasi Gerland and the Kafe stage will be rebuilt but without the biggest room, Ninkasi Kao. We are working on another project close to Lyon, which should be open in 2026. That’s a huge decision for us, and it will have a huge impact on our local cultural landscape.”
In this era of bonanza sales for bigger shows, it goes without saying that Lyon has been filling its boots, not least at Halle Tony-Garnier.
“2022 was a big year with more than 450,000 spectators, and 2023 will also be very busy,” says Pilat. “At this stage, it is mainly acts from the French scene who are filling the halls. Stromae will perform four concerts to more than 60,000 spectators in our hall, and [revived French-Canadian cyberpunk rock opera] Starmania will play eight complete performances. The schedule is full, although from this point on, we also expect more international tours.”
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