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New funding rounds announced in UK

Millions of pounds worth of further grants and loans have been made available in England and Scotland to help the UK live industry recover from Covid-19.

Arts Council England (ACE) has opened applications for a second round of repayable finance for culturally significant organisations in England.

The programme, which is part of the UK Government’s £1.57 billion Cultural Recovery Fund (CRF), aims to support those organisations as they transition back to a ‘viable and sustainable operating model’ during the 2021/22 financial year.

The budget for the second round is up to £100 million and the minimum amount that can be applied for is £1m. The final round of CRF grants, totalling around £300m, are expected to open for applications in early January.

Organisations who have previously been awarded a CRF loan are not eligible to apply for further CRF loans, while previously successful grant applicants can.

Last week, the Government and ACE announced the first-round recipients of the repayable finance scheme which included London venues the Royal Albert Hall (£20.74m) and Southbank Centre, while Alexandra Palace (pictured) was awarded £2,967,600 from the £60m Capital Kickstart Fund. The latest grants and loans marked a milestone £1bn in funding allocated.

Elsewhere, the Scottish government has announced an extra £13 million to provide further support for the events sector in Scotland.

Of this, £6 million has been committed for the establishment of a new fund which will open this week to support those event businesses which are critical to Scotland’s events sector, and without which the capacity to deliver major events would be significantly reduced.

“This [£13m] will help hard-pressed businesses going forward and ensure that they are ready to support the recovery”

The Pivotal Event Businesses Fund will provide grants from £25,000 up to a maximum of £150,000 to support approximately 50 to 100 event businesses whose primary role as organisers, suppliers, contractors and venues is critical to the survival of the events sector in Scotland, and upon whom the wider events industry and supply chain are most reliant for their own business and operations.

The remaining funding will be used to set up a separate fund to provide broader support to businesses across the full range of the events sector, including the supply chain, and will be announced early in the new year.

The latest funding follows the £10 million announced by the culture secretary in July for the events industry, of which £6 million was allocated to the now-closed Event Industry Support Fund while £2 million was allocated to Scotland’s Events Recovery Fund currently being run by EventScotland.

“The events sector has faced severe challenges throughout 2020 as the restrictions necessary to contain the coronavirus pandemic have left most businesses unable to operate. While the arrival of a vaccine offers grounds for hope, the events sector and its wider supply chain will continue to experience difficulties for some time to come,” says culture secretary Fiona Hyslop.

“We were able to provide financial support for the events sector in the autumn but we have continued to listen and we acknowledge that further funding is required. This additional £13 million will allow us to help hard-pressed businesses going forward and ensure that they are ready to support the recovery when it is safe to operate again.

“Scotland has a well-earned reputation for delivering successful events at local, national and international level. We are working collaboratively with the industry to ensure that the sector has a future to look forward to and that we maintain our position as the perfect stage for events.”

 


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Final £400m on the way as latest CRF recipients announced

Historic London venues including the Royal Albert Hall, Alexandra Palace and Southbank Centre are among the beneficiaries of the latest round of Culture Recovery Fund (CRF) spending, as the scheme marks a milestone £1 billion in funding allocated.

The Royal Albert Hall (5,272-cap.) and Southbank Centre, along with organisations such as the English National Opera, Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre, were awarded a share of £165 million in low-interest repayable finance, with the Albert Hall receiving a total of £20.74 million from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and Arts Council England (ACE).

Hall CEO Craig Hassall says the loan is a “lifeline” that will enable the Victorian arena “restore our minimum reserves and operating finances to a level comparable to before the pandemic struck”.

Elsewhere, a number of venues across the country are receiving grants from the £60m Capital Kickstart Fund. They include the Alexandra Palace, which has been awarded £2,967,600 to enable its 10,400-capacity Great Hall to “continue with a diverse programme of live, Covid-secure events this winter”, and new Manchester arts venue the Factory, which receives £21m towards its completion.

“As well as providing a multi-use space for diverse arts activity,” the Factory will be the permanent home for Manchester International Festival, “which attracts visitors to the city from across the country and creates opportunities for creative freelancers,” reads a statement from DCMS and UK culture minister Oliver Dowden CBE.

“The £1 billion invested so far through the Culture Recovery Fund has protected tens of thousands of jobs”

“Over the last nine months we’ve worked non-stop to make sure we can open the doors safely and keep the parkland well maintained to provide vital green space,” says Louise Stewart, CEO of Alexandra Park and Palace Charitable Trust. “There are many challenges ahead, but for now at least, thanks to this funding, we have some time and resource to deliver our route to recovery.”

The latest grants and loans come as the government makes plans to allocate the final £400 million of the £1.57 billion CRF. Further details of the final round, comprising £300m in grants and £100m loans to help companies “transition back to usual operating mode from April 2021”, will be announced shortly.

According to Dowden, some funding was held back in previous rounds (to enable authorities to assess the “changing public health picture”), and will also be made available to organisations at “imminent risk of collapse before the end of this financial year” in April.

“This government promised it would be here for culture, and today’s announcement is proof we’ve kept our word,” says the culture secretary. “The £1 billion invested so far through the Culture Recovery Fund has protected tens of thousands of jobs at cultural organisations across the UK, with more support still to come through a second round of applications.

“Today we’re extending a huge helping hand to the crown jewels of UK culture, so that they can continue to inspire future generations all around the world.”

More information about the CRF is available from the Gov.UK website.

 


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Ally Pally: “The entire industry is learning”

While the majority of the UK’s stages have remained silent throughout the pandemic, the team at London’s Alexandra Palace (more commonly known as Ally Pally) have been on a pioneering streak to achieve the opposite.

Since opening in 1873, the Grade II listed venue has remained open even throughout the war and took only a brief period of respite when the pandemic took hold in March before launching back into activity.

During the pandemic, the venue has produced Nick Cave’s Idiot Prayer live stream; hosted the Melody VR-produced Wireless Connect, and began delivering a modest programme of events for autumn/winter – all the while, acting as a charity base for the local community in Harringey.

Dubbed ‘The People’s Palace,’ director of operations at the venue Simon Fell tells IQ how that title has governed the way the venue is going about things now.



 


IQ: What’s it like behind the scenes at Ally Pally at the moment?

SF: For me, things are really busy as we sadly have a much smaller team now and still have events and film shoots etc happening whilst navigating our way through new restrictions, as well as trying to plan our way out of this in 2021.

Has it been difficult to work out the logistics?

None of it is rocket science. All the information is there in the government guidelines. Sadly, people have been bamboozled by so much change in legislation. We’ve made practical decisions on what we need to do; we scaled down the numbers, put in one-way systems, encouraged longer interval times, established three different exits and increased cleaning regimes. It’s about being pragmatic about what we can achieve safely.

What are the logistical advantages of a venue like Ally Pally when it comes to restrictions?

And as soon as the pandemic hit, we needed a bit of time to get our heads around it and catch our breath. But very soon, we realised that one thing that we’ve got here is a huge amount of space. And that was the one thing that came out of all [the advice] – in space you’re safe. We followed the guidelines and in the hall, where we can usually fit 3,000 people, we’ve got a maximum of 700 so we’ve really scaled down the numbers but it’s a nice atmosphere – it works and we’ve only had positive comments.

“It’s about being pragmatic about what we can achieve safely”

What was it like having Nick Cave performing without an audience in the vast expanse of the West Hall?

It was brilliant and eerie. There was a video that came out of it of Nick walking through the building, this empty palace, and the team that had remained here during that time, looking after the space, really related to this person walking through an empty building before he started singing his atmospheric, solemn songs. Nick’s show captured a moment for us as a venue.

Is it financially viable to do small shows in such a huge venue?

It’s not financially viable at all. At the moment, we’re doing really small events that you would normally do in a 300-400 capacity venue. And that doesn’t substantiate when you’ve got many 200 acres of land and a building of this age that you need to upkeep.

What’s the value in doing events during the pandemic, if not for financial gain?

The little things don’t pay as much as the big shows, like exhibitions, concerts and festivals, but it’s important that we are doing them. They’re contributing to the palace more so than they would do if we’d have shut the doors. Also, it keeps morale in our industry alive and gives everyone hope. Every time you hear of a venue opening or doing something, there’s camaraderie and respect in the industry – even if previously they were your competitors. There’s nothing but positivity now.

“Every time you hear of a venue opening or doing something, there’s camaraderie and respect in the industry”

Ally Pally is somewhat of a bastion in the UK’s music scene. Is there a greater significance in keeping its doors open?

We are the people’s palace. We’re a huge part of the community here. We’ve been around since 1873 and never really closed at any point. We were open during the war and we’ve always had a place in society through the bad times and the good times. The venue is almost like the Sacré-Coeur of North London, sitting on top of the hill with its big aerial antenna, and I think when people look up and know that we’re open, it gives people hope. I think it’s as good for the local community, as it is for London as a music hub.

How will you utilise the knowledge you’ve accumulated from doing these events?

If DCMS turned around tomorrow and said: “Right what we need to do to open venues safely?” We can give them a case study and tell them what’s safe and what’s not. With the learnings we’ve made, we wouldn’t have to start from scratch. So we’re poised to open as soon as we safely can and we wouldn’t be making it up as we as we go along. The entire industry is learning.

“We’re poised to open as soon as we safely can and we wouldn’t be making it up as we as we go along”

What’s your approach for programming next year?

I think if there’s one thing that we feel a bit more confident with, it’s doing things outdoors. Outdoor events seem to be something that we’ve got a bit of control over ourselves. For 90-95% of indoor events we rent the space out to promoters but we do a lot of the outside stuff in-house, so we’re able to take that risk and make decisions ourselves rather than relying on someone else.

We work in the financial year so we’re looking at April, which is what the government has put down as their line in the sand. There’s nervousness but I’m sure a lot of people will want to start doing things again. On paper, everything’s looking positive. Going towards the end of next year, we’ve never had so many inquiries and bookings for concerts and music-related things.

 


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Live music returns to some of the UK’s biggest venues

Some of the UK’s largest and most prestigious venues, such as the O2 Arena (cap. 20,000) and the Royal Albert Hall (5,272), are set to reopen their doors this winter for the first time since March.

The O2 Arena has announced it will host its first live music event for more than eight months on 5 December with British band Squeeze.

The socially distanced event will see the venue’s capacity reduced to 4,700, with tickets being sold in groups of twos, threes and fours only and a seating configuration which is in line with the UK government’s one metre plus guidelines.

Seats will remain empty between each group and one-way routes have been installed throughout the arena and concourse. The performance will end before 10 pm in compliance with the new curfew.

“We have been working incredibly hard to bring back events at The O2 and put measures in place to ensure our fans will have a safe and Covid-19 secure experience,” says Steve Sayer, GM and VP at the O2.

“At the moment, we’re only able to host under a quarter of our capacity in the arena, so this is not a long term solution for us or other venues and we continue to press the government for targeted support and guidance to get the live events industry and its supply chain back on its feet.

“The O2 was designed to give artists and fans the best live music in the world and we look forward to doing that again with Squeeze. As the O2 returns to live, it’s really fitting that a band from the local area are the ones to reopen our doors to the public once again. The whole team are excited to see them on our stage for the first time.”

The Royal Albert Hall has also shared plans to reopen this December, announcing a programme of 18 Christmas concerts including Handel’s Messiah, the Royal Choral Society, Guy Barker’s Big Band Christmas and My Christmas Orchestral Adventure.

“This model is not sustainable with such reduced capacities, we are opening because I believe this is what the country needs”

The events will mark RAH’s first concerts with an audience in nine months, on the eve of its 150th anniversary.

Craig Hassall, CEO of the Royal Albert Hall, says: “Six months on from enforced closure, and six months away from our 150th anniversary on 29 March 2021, we are excited beyond words to open our doors to the public for what will be a joyful, stirring and historic occasion.

“It remains the case that socially-distanced performances are financially unviable in the long term. Although this model is not sustainable with such reduced capacities, we are opening because I firmly believe this is what the country needs.

“It is an investment into our future – to protect the jobs of our highly skilled staff, to stimulate the local economy and the wider arts ecosystem, and to fulfil significant audience demand.

“Christmas has always been a time of great celebrations at the Royal Albert Hall, where people have come together since 1871 – from Vera Lynn at the end of the Blitz, to HM The Queen’s first public Christmas address. It is essential for us to carry on this spirit in what has been a year of disruption.”

The Hall sold 121,229 tickets across last year’s Christmas season. This year there will be 36,000 tickets available in total.

Elsewhere, Alexandra Palace (10, 400) recently announced a series of socially-distanced, indoor live events taking place this October and November. The arena’s autumn programme features comedy, theatre, a drive-in film club and a sold-out show with DJ Sasha.

Alongside the standard coronavirus regulations, the venue will be operating a table-only format with a maximum of six people at each table.

All three venues have adopted Covid guidelines including socially-distanced seating, e-tickets, deep-cleaning, staggered entry times to reduce queues, temperature checks, a face covering policy, and sanitising stations throughout the venue.

 


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Classical Gas: A night at the opera, corona style

Following a performance to an audience full of plants in a Barcelona opera house, opera companies in Germany, the UK and the United States are turning to drive-in venues for their opportunity to restart business again.

Dusseldorf’s D.Live, a pioneer of the drive-in concert space, hosted its first-ever drive-in opera last week, with more than 70 performers taking to the 60 metre-wide stage at its Autokino Düsseldorf.

The evening saw the Deutsche Oper am Rhein (German Opera on the Rhine) perform excerpts from popular operas such as Carmen, The Barber of Seville, La Traviata and Nabucco, along with the Düsseldorf Symphony Orchestra to a sold-out, 500-carpacity crowd. Almost 2,000 spectators went to the event, with up to five people able to attend on a €50, one car ticket.

The performance was shown on the 400-square-metre screen with the audio transmitted to car radios via VHF (very high frequency) signals.

The opera is the latest in a long line of D.Live drive-ins, which have included live shows, DJ ‘club nights’, stand-up comedy routines, circus shows, weddings, a first communion and a pole vaulting competition, in addition to the traditional film nights.

“This gala by the Deutsche Oper am Rhein at the Autokino Düsseldorf was the first major opera event to be staged after a three-month break,” says D.Live CEO, Michael Brill. “International soloists, the opera choir and a big symphony orchestra on the huge cinema stage ensured a fabulous evening with plenty of spine-tingling moments.”

Opera companies in Germany, the UK and the United States are turning to drive-in venues for their opportunity to restart business again

Operas are set to arrive at drive-in venues elsewhere, too. A fully staged production of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca will take place in front of 600 cars in the grounds of former IBM complex Tech City in New York as part of the Phoenicia Festival of the Voice on 29 August.

The English National Opera (ENO) also recently announced a drive-in series, Drive and Live, which will see 90-minute versions of Puccini’s La bohème performed live to a 300-carpacity audience at Alexandra Palace Park in London.

The ENO will broadcast sound to cars via bluetooth and states it is exploring options for hiring static vehicles, so those without cars could also attend. The company also aims to set up socially distanced spaces for motorbikes and bicycles.

The opera will run from 19 to 27 September, with tickets costing £100 per car (four people maximum per vehicle). Fans can register their interest here.

The ENO has also announced plans for a series of socially distanced, scaled down shows at the 2,359-seat London Coliseum, following the UK government’s halving of the former two-metre distancing rule.

The new one-metre rule means the venue could operate at 48% of full capacity, rather than 20%, says ENO chief executive Stuart Murphy, with a two-seat, one-row gap between audience members.

Concert giant Live Nation is another to get involved in the drive-in live event scene, recently announcing drive-in concert series in the UK, featuring Dizzee Rascal, Gary Numan, Beverley Knight, the Streets and Kaiser Chiefs, and the United States, with acts such as Brad Paisley, Nelly, Darius Rucker and Jon Pardi.

 


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MelodyVR announces LA gig as Wireless prep gets underway

Music-focused virtual reality (VR) company MelodyVR has announced hip-hop act Cypress Hill will perform live via its platform this Friday, as the VR pioneer begins filming for the digital edition of Wireless Festival in London.

Working in partnership with Festival Republic, Melody VR is helping to produce Wireless Connect, the virtual reimagination of this year’s Wireless, which will be aired from 3 to 5 July.

The company is filming artists performing live in a recently unveiled, custom-built, 360° studio in London’s Alexandra Palace theatre.

London-based audio specialist is working with the Wireless Connect team to deliver broadcast audio mixes in stereo and immersive formats. Spiritland founders Antony Shaw and Gareth Iles have previously worked with festivals including Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds and Big Weekend.

MelodyVR is filming artists performing live in a recently unveiled, custom-built, 360° studio in London’s Alexandra Palace theatre

In keeping with Covid-19 restrictions, artists and performers remain in isolation for the duration of the performance and do not come into contact with the public, the MelodyVR team or other on-site crew.

Wireless Connect will be accessible to anyone with a smartphone and free to watch, with viewers encouraged to make a charity donation over the course of the weekend. The full line-up will be announced on the Wireless website soon.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, hip-hop legends Cypress Hill are performing as part of Melody VR’s Live from LA series. The show, which will be available to watch in 360° for free via the MelodyVR app and VR headsets, will be broadcast live on 19 June at 6 p.m. PT/3 a.m. (20 June) CET and will be available on demand from 25 June for those who miss the original broadcast.

Other artists to have featured in the series include John Legend, The Score, Katelyn Tarver, DaniLeigh and Zella Day.

Ben Samuels, North America president of MelodyVR, was one of a number of music industry innovators to take part in the IQ Focus Innovation Session last month. All previous IQ Focus sessions can be watched back here.

 


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STAR urges “patience” as ticketers handle Covid-19 refunds

The Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers has asked ticketholders to be “patient and kind” as ticket agencies process refunds and exchanges following sweeping event cancellations across the UK.

As the UK government advises the public to avoid gatherings of any size, events are being rescheduled or called off around the country as iconic venues including the O2 Arena, the Royal Albert Hall and Alexandra Palace close their doors until further notice.

UK ticketing industry body STAR is urging customers to avoid “flooding contact centres with calls and emails” and rather wait for ticketsellers to contact them regarding ticket exchanges or refunds.

“Rest assured, our members are working as hard as they can to resolve your issues,” saysd STAR chief executive Jonathan Brown. “They are very busy also dealing with their own measures to care for their staff and run their businesses.

“Please be patient and kind as box offices, ticket agents and other ticket sellers are committed to helping you during this extremely difficult period”

“Please be patient and kind as box offices, ticket agents and other ticketsellers are committed to helping you during this extremely difficult period.”

The Dutch culture minister Ingrid van Engelshoven (pictured) issued similar advice yesterday (18 March), calling on customers not to request refunds and encouraging them to accept alternative compensation offers, such as vouchers.

“We as a society can only overcome a crisis like this if we also show some solidarity and look after each other,” the minister told Dutch newspaper NRC. “If everyone is going to ask for their tickets back at the same time, that is asking a little too much of the sector.”

The option for ticket sellers to offer customers a voucher instead of a cash refund has been put forward by industry associations including Germany’s BDKV and Spain’s Esmúsica. BDKV has also asked for an extension to the time within which a refund must be paid, along with UK Music and the Colisium International Music Forum, which represents promoters in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus.

Photo: Frank Jansen/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0) (cropped)

 


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Alexandra Palace darts goes cashless with Weezevent

The World Darts Championship returns to Alexandra Palace in London this December, with all payments cashless for the first time in the event’s history thanks to a partnership with Weezevent.

All bars, food and merchandise outlets at the three-week sporting event will be using a cashless payment system powered by Weezevent. The system, which cuts out the need for cash and provides event organisers with visitor and sales data, debuted in the UK festival market at Standon Calling in 2019.

Moving on from the previous paper-based token system, the 85,000 attendees at the World Darts Championship will be able to top up in advance or on site, and make payments using souvenir NFC cards at Weezevent point-of-sale devices.

These cards can be used on repeat visits to the darts series, which runs from 13 December to 1 January, benefitting fans who attend more than once during the darts’ three-week residency at the 10,000-plus-cap. Ally Pally (pictured).

“The benefits to customers will be instantly obvious, with fewer queues at the bars and speedy transactions”

Olly Goddard, UK country manager for Weezevent, says: “Alexandra Palace is one of the most iconic venues in London and we are very much looking forward to bringing our cashless system here through our partnership with the World Darts Championship. The benefits to customers will be instantly obvious, with fewer queues at the bars and speedy transactions.

“Importantly, it will now be a much simpler process to get refunds back from the cards should there be any pre-paid amount left once the darts has finished. Previously, guests would have to send back the paper tokens; with the Weezevent system all refunds are processed online immediately after the event ends. ”

Matt Porter, chief executive of the Professional Darts Corporation, the Worlds Darts Championship organiser, adds: “ I used the Weezevent system at Standon Calling and saw how easy it was to use. Providing a cashless solution to our fans is an important step to improving their experience at the World Darts Championship. As an organisation, we are always looking at ways to improve our offering and with Weezevent we have partnered with a proven and reliable system.”

 


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See Tickets launches secure digital tickets

See Tickets has launched a secure, non-transferable digital ticketing system to help combat the secondary market.

Each digital ticket features a dynamically refreshing barcode which is uniquely tied to a customer’s user account, mobile device and See Tickets app. Once at the venue, See’s access control system will decrypt the unique barcode to allow entry.

Customers can purchase tickets with digital delivery options as usual via the See Tickets website.

“The launch of digital tickets is a major milestone in our persistent anti-secondary market strategy as we now have a secure ticketing solution we can offer to our clients to use at any venue, on any show,” says Rob Wilmshurst, chief executive of See Tickets.

The move has been praised by anti-tout campaign group FanFair Alliance.

“The launch of digital tickets is a major milestone in our persistent anti-secondary market strategy”

“We welcome See Tickets’ continued efforts to keep tickets in the hands of genuine customers by investing in the development of secure, anti-tout technology,” comments campaign manager Adam Webb. “It should make the ticket purchasing and venue entry process safer, faster and more consumer-friendly.”

See Tickets launched the UK’s first integrated face-value ticket resale service, Fan-to-Fan, in 2017, selling more than 35,000 tickets through the site since then. See has rolled out anti-secondary market initiatives for artists including Ed Sheeran and the Arctic Monkeys and developed the photo ID registration system with Glastonbury.

See Tickets’ music client list includes Glastonbury, SJM Concerts, Kilimanjaro, Universal Music Group, Alexandra Palace, One Inch Badge and Communion Music.

Digital tickets will be used for the first time for Declan McKenna’s tour, which goes on sale on Friday 6 September at 8 a.m. (BST). Tickets for the four-date tour are priced from £16.50.

 


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The Streets, Rudimental among MelodyVR new shows

Music virtual reality (VR) company MelodyVR has added five new gigs to its VR collection, with shows by the Streets, Thomas Rhett, Rudimental, Calum Scott and the Horrors.

Following a sold-out comeback tour, the Streets played a run of shows at the O2 Brixton Academy (4,921) in London. The Birmingham band’s frontman Mike Skinner describes the Brixton gig captured on VR as “an absolute mazza”. “You can even follow me jumping into the crowd and see the panic on my tour manager’s face,” says Skinner.

Fans of country singer Thomas Rhett can experience his performance at the 18,900-capacity Honda Centre in Anaheim, California, from the artist’s point of view. “It’s amazing being able to experience the show from this perspective,” comments Rhett.

Drum and bass group Rudimental’s show at Alexandra Palace in London (10,400) is also available on the VR platform, along with a line-up of guests including John Newman, Tom Walker, Jess Glynne and Anne Marie.

“There are a lot of things that excite us about VR,” says Rudimental. “If you are just standing in the crowd you might miss things, but if you are watching in VR you get to see so much more.”

“We can’t wait for all of our fans to experience us in virtual reality – it’s an experience like no other”

Britain’s Got Talent singer songwriter Calum Scott is another addition to MelodyVR’s list of shows, as Scott’s hometown performance at Hull City Hall (1,200-cap.) was filmed for the virtual reality experience.

The final addition is a show by the Horrors at London’s Koko (1,410-cap.). “With the help of MelodyVR we’ve just stood next to ourselves onstage, jumped into the crowd and experienced our London Koko show as our audience – it was insane!” says the Mercury prize nominated band.

“We can’t wait for all of our fans to experience us in virtual reality – it’s an experience like no other.”

MelodyVR, which recently appointed ex-Shazam exec Miles Lewis as chief commercial officer, is the only licensed music VR platform. The company has partnerships across the industry with labels, publishers and venues and has teamed up with artists including Liam Payne, the Chainsmokers and Gorgon City.

The MelodyVR app is available on VR devices Oculus Go and Gear VR across much of western Europe and the United States.

 


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