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French biz unites against “antidemocratic” Le Pen

A coalition of 70 French industry associations, including promoters’ group Prodiss, performing arts body Syndeac, Music Managers Forum France, the Union of Contemporary Music (SMA) and the National Venues Association (Association de Scènes Nationales), has urged voters to reject presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen, warning her National Front (FN) party represents an “inward-looking attitude” and a threat to the “republican values” of liberté, égalité and fraternité.

The new campaign, dubbed ‘Culture Against the FN’ (hasthtag: #stopFN7mai, or “#stopFN7may”), was inaugurated with an event at the Philharmonie de Paris on Tuesday (2 May), with over 25 artists, conductors, film directors and other influential figures from the arts world calling for the country to “vote to block the FN” from office at this Sunday’s presidential election.

“Arts and culture, through their values of diversity, sharing and freedom, are inseparable from a democratic society of equality and fraternity,” reads a statement from organisers. “We cannot accept the banalisation of the National Front and its anti-democratic ideas of rejecting ‘the other’ and an inward-looking attitude, […] that run contrary to republican values.”

Aline Renet, Prodiss’s strategic counsel, says there were around 1,000 people at the #stopFN7mai event. For Prodiss, she says, the message is to “go and vote, and vote usefully” to stop Le Pen – which in effect means a vote for her opponent, Emmanuel Macron of En Marche! (‘Forward!’).

Renet tells IQ the association, which represents roughly 75% of France’s live sector, met with representatives of every candidate before the first round of voting – bar the Le Pen team. “We decided that was not an option,” she explains.

“Ticket sales have taken a real dip in the last few weeks … everyone’s minds are fixed on the election”

Le Pen’s opinions, says Renet, are “so far away” from those held by most people working in the entertainment industry, “in a very French sense – not just in business terms, but also on culture, freedom, fraternity…”

The latest polls show Le Pen, who is running on a populist, eurosceptic, anti-immigrant, economically protectionist platform, trailing Macron – who is socially liberal but broadly pro-business – by 40.2% to 59.8%.

Despite Macron’s seemingly unassailable lead, ex-Nous promoter Arnaud Meersseman, now at Fimalac’s Miala, says he’s “a little bit worried” about 7 May’s vote – chiefly because Macron, in contrast to Le Pen, is widely perceived as being “more of a reason candidate than a passion candidate”. (And we all know how ‘reason’ vs ‘passion’ turned out in America…)

The attitude of many towards Macron, Meersseman tells IQ, is that “‘he seems reasonable, he’s not going to fuck up the country, let’s vote for him’. But lots of people, especially those who voted for the far-left candidate [Jean-Luc Mélenchon] are also saying they’re going to abstain, which will increase Le Pen’s vote.”

In addition to making the markets jittery, Meersseman says the spectre of a surprise FN victory is hurting ticket sales. “Ticket sales have taken a real dip in the last few weeks,” he explains. “May is traditionally really slow, but I do think the uncertainty is having an effect – everyone’s minds are fixed on the election.”

Meersseman says that while he “obviously” supports Macron – Le Pen, he says, is a “demagogue” whose vague proposal to limit the number of ‘foreign workers’ in France to 10,000 per year could be catastrophic for touring – it likely won’t be business as usual for the French industry under the 39-year-old centrist either.

“We cannot accept the banalisation of the National Front”

For example, Macron has “made it very clear there needs to be a reform of social structures and wages”, he explains, which could affect the unique employment benefits enjoyed by French artists and technicians, who are entitled to a special dole payment to protect them in the downtime between jobs.

That fund, says Meersseman says, is costly – and so could, with France’s national debt running at close to 100% of GDP, “be something he [Macron] could look at”.

However, when councils controlled by one party (FN) are reportedly depriving festivals of funding if they fail promote ‘national culture’, and the other (En Marche!) has appointed a well-known advocate for the music industry, Marc Schwartz (the architect of the loi Schwartz on music streaming), as its culture spokesman, the choice for most working in the live industry is clear.

“We can’t be political, but there is one thing we [Prodiss] all agree on:  the need to vote, and to stop Marine Le Pen,” says Renet.

With the arts world, most of the media, prominent business leaders and, seemingly, the majority of the general public behind him, the smart money is on Macron to be France’s 25th president. Still, it’s worth remembering that the same was true (with the notable exception of Harvey Goldsmith) of the pro-remain side in the Brexit referendum…


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Defiant French fans drive huge festival season

French industry figures are sanguine about the prospects for the live market following last Thursday’s deadly terror attack in Nice, France’s seventh in the space of 18 months.

Despite the French national security alert system, Vigipirate, having remained at scarlet (its maximum level, indicating a ‘definite threat’ of an attack) since January, and the National Assembly voting yesterday to extend the state of emergency – introduced after the Bataclan attacks in November – for a further six months, several promoters have told IQ that, far from hurting ticket sales, this summer has seen one of the best healthiest festival seasons in living memory.

Armel Campagna, head of festivals at Live Nation France, says that although it’s obviously “not an easy situation”, the promoter’s two most recent events – Download in Paris and Main Square in Arras, the latter of which sold its entire inventory of 120,000 tickets – “went down pretty well” as “everyone [still] wants to go out and party”, adding that business “doesn’t look like it’s going to slow down in the next month”.

Similar to Eagles of Death Metal’s triumphant return to the Bataclan in February, Campagna says many performers at both festivals were “showing off way more than they usually do” in an effort to console grieving French fans. “They thought that France needs it,” he adds.

Aline Renet, director of communications at industry association Prodiss, which represents over 350 promoters, festivals, venues and broadcasters nationwide, tells IQ that “what’s interesting” in the current environment is that “all major festivals [so far this summer] have increased their attendances”. (As an example, Renet gives Vieilles Charrues in Carhaix, which began on 14 July – the day of the attack in Nice – and increased ticket sales to over 200,000.)

“What’s interesting is that all major festivals so far this summer have increased their attendances”

There were some cancellations following the attack – Live Nation’s Rihanna show at the Allianz Riviera in Nice was called off by the mayor, and the Nice Jazz Festival did not go ahead – but Renet compares the situation to that of Paris following the Bataclan attack: several shows were called off in the immediate aftermath, but the club scene has since “slowly stabilised”.

“It’s not deterring people from going to concerts and festivals,” she says.

One thing that has helped to keep attendance high is visibly increased security, adds Renet. While she doesn’t believe promoters are especially thrilled to be taking a financial hit on metal detectors and extra security staff, they have “no choice,” she says. “It’s the way it is now, so you have to adapt.”

As for the concertgoing public, they’re, on the whole, “positive and helpful” and accepting of “having to wait a little bit [at the door] or get to the event earlier”, says Renet. “The French are not very good with this sort of thing, but it’s become very automatic,” she explains. “You [get used to] showing your bag – not just at festivals or concerts, but at most major shops in Paris, too.”

Live Nation has faced an increased security bill for its French events this year, but Campagna emphasises that “business is not the most important thing” when it comes to concertgoers’ safety. “We’re never going to be able go back to the situation prior to 2015,” he adds. Are the fans grateful, IQ wonders?

Yes, says Campagna: “People were actually cheering on the police at the Arras site!

“We can’t do what’s expected of us: to get disconnected and stop doing stuff and hating each other. If we stop, they win”

“We’ve got way more control at the entrances – don’t arrive 30 minutes before the show or you won’t see it! – but people don’t mind the security, as once they’re inside they feel safe and can relax.”

As the state of emergency drags on, one thing that could change, says Campagna, is that live events are likely to be slower to sell out. “[The security situation] is not going to help us sell out our events faster,” he explains. “People will wait longer with festivals to be really assured, security-wise – but they’ll still go.”

While larger events are unlikely to suffer, Campagna believes promoters may also be more reluctant to take a chance on emerging acts. “It could become more difficult for new talent and showcase events,” he comments. “It’s harder to convince people to go and see a guy charging €10 on the door [than it is an established artist].”

In the face of terrorism, Renet says it’s crucial that the industry as a whole, both in France and elsewhere in the world, carries on as normal. “It’s important that culture resists,” she comments. “I’m not sure people going to gigs feel like they’re resisting, but they are.”

“We can’t do what’s expected of us: to get disconnected and stop doing stuff and hating each other,” agrees Campagna. “If we stop, they win. Sometimes I think we don’t realise how important these events are.”


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