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Arnaud Meersseman: Bataclan attack spurred me on

AEG Presents’ Arnaud Meersseman has said the attack on the Bataclan, which took place five years ago today, left him more determined than ever to keep working in live music.

Meersseman, whose then-company, Nous Productions, was the promoter of the ill-fated show, says that the alternative to continuing – to quit promoting concerts – would have been to hand victory to the terrorists responsible.

Meersseman was one of hundreds of people injured when three heavily armed Islamic State gunmen attacked the Paris venue during a performance by Eagles of Death Metal on 13 November 2015. Ninety people, including the band’s merchandise manager, Nick Alexander, lost their lives in what was then the deadliest attack on a live music event.

The attack, along with subsequent terrorist incidents at Manchester Arena and the Route 91 Harvest festival, had far-reaching implications for the live business, with stricter security and safety protocols becoming standard at large events.

The tragedy also continues to affect the survivors: As Meersseman points out, an article in this morning’s Le Monde reveals that some 30% of people who were at the Bataclan completely changed their career direction in the years following the attack.

“Convincing AEG to open their French office, and them trusting me to do, was me saying, ‘I’m still standing’”

For Meersseman, however, the choice was clear. “Yes, I was attacked and wounded at my place of work, but it’s more than just work – it’s my passion, my lifestyle, and the only job I’ve ever done,” he tells IQ.

Now general manager and VP of AEG Presents France, Meersseman says he “lost himself in work” in the aftermath of the attack. “I think I was pushed forward [by it],” he explains.

“Going after AEG and convincing them to open their French office, and them trusting me to do, was me saying, ‘I’m still standing.’ Because if I stopped, they’d have won.”

Five years on, 13 November understandably remains a “strange time” for Meersseman – although it gets “a little less strange ever year”, becoming more like a “black-and-white movie” than personally lived trauma, he explains.

While planning for terrorism is “now an accepted part of our jobs”, especially around periods of increased violence, the way Meersseman sees it, fans, artists and the industry have two options: “You either completely stop your life, or you carry on. And if you don’t carry on, they’ve won.” The latter, he adds, was “never an option”.


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AEG Presents opens French office

AEG Presents today announced the opening of a new office in Paris, confirming its expansion into what the company calls “one of Europe’s most important and vibrant markets for live music”.

AEG Presents, US entertainment giant AEG’s concert/festival promotion division, has had a presence in France since at least last October, when it partnered with Matthieu Pigasse’s LNEI to acquire Paris festival Rock en Seine. It is also an investor in the 17,000-cap. AccorHotels Arena in Paris, which replaced Palais Omnisports in 2015.

AEG Presents France SAS was incorporated on 20 December 2017, with AEG Presents UK finance director Stephen van Dyk as president.

The new company is headed up leading promoter Arnaud Meersseman, formerly of Nous Productions and Fimalac/Miala, who steps into his new role as general manager and VP with immediate effect. Reporting directly to AEG Presents UK co-CEOs Steve Homer and Toby Leighton-Pope, he is tasked with developing and growing “a promotions business centred on the thriving French music scene, while at the same time actively supporting AEG’s international roster of touring artists”.

Meersseman comments: “I’ve worked with Toby and Steve since they became involved in Rock en Seine and I’m very proud and excited to become part of the AEG Presents team with this new venture.

“I’m confident we can do some excellent work with both international and French artists as the new office gets underway”

“I have always considered AEG to be best in class in developing venues and festivals that both meet the needs of today’s consumers, and, in the development of the [BST] Hyde Park festival, [has] built something truly befitting of the London park.

“I am looking forward to taking this passion for excellence into the French market, and I’m confident we can do some excellent work with both international and French artists as the new office gets underway.”

AEG Presents (formerly AEG Live), which entered the UK market more than a decade ago, promoted more than 800 live events in 2017. It has exclusive use of Hyde Park for the successful British Summer Time festival (the recently announced All Points East, in Victoria Park, is promoted by sister company Goldenvoice UK) and operates the Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith, London, jointly with CTS Eventim.

Its parent company, AEG, is second only to Live Nation in global marketshare; it is behind acclaimed US festivals such as Coachella and Desert Trip, and through AEG Facilities manages many of the world’s top arenas.

“The live music scene in France is incredibly vibrant and one we very much admire, and it’s a real privilege to be able to set up our Paris office,” say Homer and Leighton-Pope in a joint statement. “In Arnaud we have a highly experienced leader and look forward to achieving great things together.”


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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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