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Alter Art: ‘The festival sector is facing a new reality’

Alter Art CEO Mikołaj Ziółkowski has spoken to IQ about the raft of new challenges facing the festival sector in 2023.

The Warsaw-based promoter is behind some of Poland’s biggest and best-known festivals, such as Open’er, Orange Warsaw and Kraków Live – which was recently cancelled.

“2023 is full of challenges for the live music industry in general, but I think the biggest ones concern the festival sector,” says Ziółkowski. “Super high costs of festival setup in all aspects, artists’ rising fees, unstable economical situations and the post-pandemic reality – those are the main factors that create a quite new industry reality. On top of this, we must mention a record number of stadium tours in 2023 in Europe, which became a new factor for the festival market.”

“This year, the live music industry is characterised by high volatility. There is a whole lot of revaluation and new challenges that appear in this space. In general, this is not the best year for the festival industry and we also see this year through the prism of so many spectacular headlining shows – especially global stadium tours. My general feelings are that our industry is changing very quickly and new architecture is on. Looking at all these challenges, all the more we appreciate how great this year’s Open’er edition was.”

The 20th anniversary of Open’er took place between 28 June and 1 July 2023, at its usual home of Gdynia-Kosakowo Airport on Poland’s Baltic coast, with 225,000 tickets sold.

“This year, the live music industry is characterised by high volatility”

This year’s all-star line-up was headlined by Arctic Monkeys, Lizzo, Lil Nas X, SZA and Kendrick Lamar, with support from acts including Labrinth, Caroline Polachek, Rina Sawayama and Queens Of The Stone Age.

“We are very pleased with how this line-up was built: it was up-to-date, diverse and progressive,” says Ziółkowski. “This is a programming challenge and satisfactory results are not always achieved, but we are thrilled with the final line-up. It’s not a coincidence, but a conscious decision and dedicated work. Our goal was to create a lineup that reflects the values ​​of the festival and characterises the event and what it wants to be –open to other cultures, possibilities, horizons and perspectives.”

Another key achievement for Open’er this year was optimising the production and enhancing the visitor experience, according to the Alter Art CEO.

“This year is the first year of regular production processes since the pandemic, so we focused on making all elements at the level they worked before the pandemic or even better,” says Ziółkowski. “Now that the festival has ended, we can say with confidence that the production, organisation, transport and all the bits and pieces turned out very well – our audience appreciated it. We focused on production, site, festival experience improvement and we are very proud that we’ve managed it as a team.”

With successful editions of Open’er and Orange Warsaw behind them, Alter Art’s attention turns to Kraków Live – which will move from its longtime home in 2024 – and Taylor Swift’s 2024 Warsaw dates, which the company will promoter in cooperation with AEG.


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Two major Polish festivals called off for 2023

Poland’s festival summer has rapidly diminished with the cancellations of two major events: Kraków Live and On Air.

“Festivalgoers, Kraków Live will have its beginning in a new formula and place next year. See you in summer 2024!” reads a statement posted on Kraków Live’s Facebook page, on 5 June.

Promoter Alter Art, which also organises Open’er and Orange Warsaw, last year announced that Kraków Live would move from its longtime home of the Polish Aviation Museum due to site changes, but added that the event would return in 2023. Ultimately, no details of the 2023 edition were given before it was pulled.

Kraków Live has taken place at the Polish Aviation Museum in Kraków since 2007 and was known as Coke Live Festival until 2013.

The two-day event has hosted stars such as Calvin Harris, Post Malone, Travis Scott, Lewis Capaldi and The Chemical Brothers, and typically attracts 60,000 people each year.

“Kraków Live will have its beginning in a new formula and place next year”

On Air, a new festival from Fest Festival promoter Follow the Step, was also cancelled this week on Wednesday (7 June).

“We made a decision to postpone our festival to next year,” reads a statement on On Air’s Facebook page. “The second edition will take place in September 2024,” the statement continues, adding that refunds or ticket exchanges will be offered to ticketholders.

On Air was due to return to the 70,000-capacity Bemowo airport in Warsaw between 8 and 9 September 2023, with the line-up yet to be announced.

Following last year’s debut, Follow the Step co-founder Maciej Korczak told IQ of the challenging but rewarding launch.

“Launching a new festival is never easy, especially in the post-pandemic times,” says Korczak. “The biggest challenge that we faced was that On Air took place at the very end of the festival season and a lot of fans already used their festival budget.

“Normally it wouldn’t be a problem as it’s actually a good time for organising a festival in the capital – people are coming back from holidays and students to the universities – but this year because of the high inflation and because of many festivals and events being moved to this summer due to the pandemic, it meant that tickets were harder to sell this year.”

IQ has contacted Follow the Step and Alter Art for comment on the cancellations.


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Festival heads debate red line for ticket prices

European festival promoters engaged in a heated debate about increasing ticket prices during a panel discussion at the recent ILMC.

Festival Forum: Mud Baths & Outdoor Pursuits saw Holger Jan Schmidt (Go Group/Yourope) moderate a discussion between Melvin Benn (Festival Republic, UK), Mikolaj Ziółkowski (Alter Art, PL), Nika Brunet Milunovic (MetalDays, SI) and Maiju Talvisto (Flow Festival, FI).

With all agreeing that the supply of artists, customers and infrastructure is stable for the 2023 festival season, the panel’s sticking point was how to keep tickets reasonably priced.

“There is almost always a moment in every economy when you feel you are being ripped off”

Apart from one Festival Republic event, the organisers on the panel said that they had increased prices for all of their festivals.

“We are reaching a red line,” warned Ziółkowski, who promotes Open’er, Orange Warsaw, Kraków Live in Poland. “There is almost always a moment in every economy when you feel you are being ripped off.”

“Generally, prices are higher and people are not earning more money. So probably in summer 2023, people won’t be able to buy two or three festival tickets, they’ll only be able to go to one. We have to be so clever to be more interesting and more flavorful than other cultural offerings,” he concluded.

Benn, who promotes Reading, Leeds, Latitude, Wireless and Download among other festivals, argued: “We don’t know where that red line is. We want to keep the ticket prices down but we have to compete and pay artists what they want. At a point, the public either says we’ll buy the ticket or we won’t buy it. That’s the risk; that’s the business we’re in.”

“The dilemma is: what is too expensive?… it’s relative”

Both Ziółkowski and Schmidt aired concerns high ticket prices may render festivals financially inaccessible for a large chunk of the audience.

“It’s important that we are trying to keep prices for festivals and headline shows reasonable because music should not be for rich people. Music should be for all people,” said Ziółkowski.

Schmidt echoed his point: “I would also argue that if we raise the ticket price [too much], we will exclude people who can’t afford the ticket so they will not be able to come to the festival.”

MetalDays’ Milunovic added: “The dilemma is: what is too expensive? It depends on what you get for the money that you pay for the ticket. It’s relative.”

“There’s no such thing as cuddly capitalism. Entertainment costs”

Benn commented that maintaining a top tier line up for festivals such as Reading and Leeds was crucial to their ongoing success, adding that prices would inevitably rise given the ongoing hikes in costs that all organisers are facing.  “We have to do what the market demands,” he said. “If ticket prices go up and people don’t come, we’ve lost out – so we have to try and balance it.”

Flow Festival’s Talvisto agreed that it’s a balancing act to keep costs down but pointed out that “there aren’t that many pieces in the puzzle where we can increase the revenue”.


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Major fests confirm new blockbuster acts for 2023

Major festivals including Boardmasters (UK), MEO Kalorama (PT), Fest Festival (PL), NOS Alive (PT) and Orange Warsaw (PL) have revealed new names for their 2023 editions.

Boardmasters music and surfing festival in the UK has unveiled the first wave of more than 30 acts, including two headline performers, for next year.

Former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher and Florence + The Machine will headline the festival in Newquay, Cornwall, on 9–13 August 2023.

Other acts announced for the Superstruct-backed event include Little Simz, Four Tet, Example, Dylan, Bob Vylan, Cassyette, Kid Kapichi, Jockstrap, Connie Constance, Gwenno, Katachafire, Gretel Hänlyn and Wunderhorse.

The festival, which usually attracts about 50,000 people, is held at Watergate Bay and Fistral beach.

Liam Gallagher and Florence + The Machine will headline Boardmasters

Organisers said “tens of thousands” had already signed up for pre-sale tickets before the general release on Friday (25 November).

Elsewhere, Portugal’s MEO Kalorama is set to return to Bela Vista Park in Lisbon between 31 August and 12 September, after a successful debut.

The second edition of the 40,000-capacity event will feature acts including Arcade Fire, Florence and the Machine, Foals and Metronomy.

The Blaze, Amyl and the Sniffers are also slated to perform at the event, which is promoted by House of Fun and Last Tour – the cultural company behind events such as Bilbao BBK Live, Azkena Rock Festival, Cala Mijas and BIME Live.

Elsewhere in Portugal’s festival market, NOS Alive‘s first artist confirmation is American rock duo Black Keys.

The second edition of MEO Kalorama will feature Arcade Fire, Florence and the Machine, Foals and Metronomy

The 15th edition is due to take place between 6–8 July 2023 held in the Algés riverside, close to Lisbon.

This year’s NOS Alive, promoted as usual by Everything Is New, welcomed 210,000 people over four days and 165 artists across seven stages.

Poland’s 2023 festival summer is also shaping up, with Fest Festival and Orange Warsaw detailing their forthcoming editions.

The fourth annual Fest Festival will see performances from the likes of The Chemical Brothers, 070 Shake, Gibbs, Oki, Oliver Heldens, Rubens, The Stickmen Project, Two Feet and Yungblud.

The 50,000-capacity event will once again return to Chorzów’s Silesia Park – the largest park in Europe – between 9 and 13 August, 2023. Fest Festival is promoted by Follow The Step, which also stages On Air festival in Warsaw.

Poland’s capital will also see the return of Orange Warsaw next year, taking place at the Horsetrack Warsaw-Służewiec between 2 and 3 June.

English superstar Sam Smith has been confirmed for the 14th edition of the 10,000-capacity event, promoted by Alter Art (Open’er, Krakow Live).


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