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Top Euro promoters speak out on new Covid spike

A handful of top European promoters have spoken to IQ about the impact the latest Covid spike is having on the continent’s live music business.

Record daily infections have been reported in Germany and the Netherlands, while Austria and Belgium have introduced new measures. In the UK, Northern Ireland is following Scotland’s lead in introducing Covid passports to gain entry to venues.

In France, however, the government has just lifted capacity restrictions on standing at indoor concerts following a campaign by French live music association Prodiss.

“France is always different to everywhere else,” laughs Paris-based promoter Arnaud Meersseman, who says he senses “clouds on the horizon”.

“There is a general sense that whilst Germany and Austria have rather low vaccination rates, it is very worrisome that countries such as Belgium and Netherlands – that have a vaccination rate close to ours – are in the situation they are in. So there is some anxiety,” he tells IQ.

Meersseman suspects new rules could be introduced at a government meeting next week after president Emmanuel Macron fired a “warning shot” in a public address earlier this month.

You start losing territories like Holland and Germany and suddenly your tour isn’t viable economically anymore

“We were at 12,000 cases a day a week ago, and now we’re at 20,000,” says the AEG Presents France head. “So it’s getting to that point where it trickles and then suddenly, boom, it becomes exponential.

“I don’t think we’ll go back into full lockdown. But in terms of our business, well, there’s not much going on anyway – even for domestic acts – in November and December. I think there could be some impact there, we’ll see. But I’m not very positive about it and I’m not feeling super positive about January/February either.

“Domestic tours, maybe they go ahead in February/March. But for international tours, it feels highly unlikely that anything happens between January and March because you start losing territories like Holland and Germany and suddenly your tour isn’t viable economically anymore.”

He adds: “You can see that the weather definitely has an impact. If you look at Spain, Italy and Portugal; on top of having extremely high vaccination rates, they’re having very nice weather and their cases aren’t rising. It’s as soon as you get people back inside, basically, that the cases are rising again.”

Rock Werchter founder Herman Schueremans explains that, with Belgium entering a semi-lockdown this weekend, concert-goers for Saturday’s performance by Bazart at Antwerp’s Lotto Arena will be required to wear masks, whereas those attending the band’s first show tomorrow night will not.

“It’s a bit of a strange situation,” remarks the Live Nation Belgium boss. “But even though we know a percentage of the audience will not show up, we’re happy that our sold-out shows in November and December can all happen at full capacity. It’s key for the artists and their teams, and the venues, suppliers, security teams and crew, as well as our team.”

People don’t trust the shows in the near future will take place

Pascal Van De Velde of Greenhouse Talent reports that ticket sales for concerts in Belgium over the next two to three months have been “decimated” by the worsening situation.

“People don’t trust the shows in the near future will take place,” he says. “And people don’t feel like going anymore, as they think it’s no fun with the masks, etc.”

It is a similar state of play in Austria, where Goodlive Concerts MD Silvio Huber describes the current picture as a “mess”. Proof of a negative PCR test will be needed to attend concerts in Vienna from tomorrow, with a return to a full lockdown in the coming days looking increasingly likely.

“Restrictions are going to change every few days,” says Huber. “In the federal states of Salzburg und Upper Austria, the situation is out of control. Shows have been cancelled there already, and hospitals are getting their teams ready for triage as they are running out of intensive care beds slowly, but surely.

“Furthermore they have just announced there will be will a lockdown in Salzburg und Upper Austria from Monday onwards. We will see tomorrow if the rest of the country will join them. I’m pretty sure we will see a nationwide lockdown.”

Scores of shows in the Netherlands were postponed earlier this week after the Dutch government imposed a new partial lockdown. A capacity limit of 1,250 has been imposed on venues, with restrictions due to last until 4 December at the earliest.

We had to cancel or postpone all shows above 1,250-cap

“We had to cancel or postpone all shows above 1,250-cap, at least for three weeks and even beyond those dates,” says Jan Willem Luyken of Mojo Concerts. “Indoor, fixed seated shows can still happen with limited capacity, with proof of vaccine, negative test or [natural immunity from a previous positive test]. Bars and catering need to be closed from 8pm, so it’s a very complex situation indeed, and we’re still figuring it out.”

In light of the fresh measures, Luyken says the Dutch government has announced an extension of support programmes for the live event industry and cultural sector.

Germany’s Event Management Forum (EMF), which consists of five major organisations including live music associations BDKV and LiveKomm, has urged the German government to meet with music industry representatives before imposing new restrictions on the business. Outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel has called the country’s current Covid situation “dramatic” and said a fourth wave of the virus was hitting Germany with “full force”.

BDKV chief Jens Michow earlier laid bare the stark financial impact of the pandemic on the business.

“In the 20 months of actual lockdown, the loss of sales for concert, tour and festival organisers alone was around €3.5 billion by the end of last year,” he said. “By the end of 2021, the loss in sales will add up to at least €8.5bn.”

 


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Tomorrowland eyes third festival weekend for 2022

The organisers of marquee Belgian festival Tomorrowland have officially submitted an application for a third festival weekend in 2022 “out of economic necessity”.

According to organisers, the third weekend would help compensate for six cancelled festival weekends, including four in Belgium (Tomorrowland 2020 and 2021) and two in France (Tomorrowland Winter 2020 and 2021).

According to Het Laatste Nieuws, the two consecutive cancellations of the Belgian festival alone caused a financial blow of “no less than €25 million”.

“We really have to do this to cushion the financial hangover,” Tomorrowland spokesperson Debby Wilmsen told the Belgian newspaper. “Before Covid, there were no plans to start organising three weekends.”

In order for the one-off extra weekend to go ahead, permission is required from the Antwerp region, as well as the municipalities of Boom and Rumst, where the 70,000-capacity festival has taken place since 2005.

“We really have to do this to cushion the financial hangover”

Tomorrowland has taken place across two weekends since the tenth anniversary

On the tenth anniversary of Tomorrowland, two festival weekends were held for the first time instead of one. It was then the intention to do this only in jubilee years, every five editions, but organisers got a permit to hold the festival two weekends a year.

A third weekend would be held one week before the dates already announced, on Friday 15, Saturday 16 and Sunday 17 July 2022.

A public inquiry on the application will be open until Tuesday 24 October and public objections can be made.

A decision will be made no later than 13 January. As it stands, the proposed weekend is likely to get the backing of Antwerp, Boom and Rumst, who have all indicated that they are not opposed.

In the meantime, Tomorrowland is busy preparing for two weekends of Tomorrowland Winter in the Alpe d’Huez ski area in March 2022.

Tomorrowland isn’t the only festival extending its duration for 2022 – Spain’s Primavera, Croatia’s InMusic and Germany’s Summer Breeze are all expanding next year to celebrate anniversaries.

 


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Tomorrowland doubles up on festivals for 2022

Following a successful debut in 2019, Tomorrowland has announced the return of its winter edition for next March.

Tomorrowland Winter will take place at the Alpe d’Huez ski resort in the French Alps between 19–26 March 2022.

The first names for the festival have been announced today (16 September), with Adriatique, Afrojack, Armin van Buuren, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Kungs, Lost Frequencies, Martin Solveig, Ofenbach, Paul Kalkbrenner, Quintino and Yves V all set to perform.

Tickets for the winter edition will go on sale on Saturday (18 September). Find out more information about the festival here.

Tomorrowland is also set to bring back its annual flagship festival next year, following two consecutive cancellations due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The 70,000-capacity electronic dance festival will take place from 22–24 and 29–31 July 2022 at its usual location in Boom, Belgium. The line-up for the festival is yet to be announced.

 


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Belgium’s inaugural Arena 5 concert series draws 50,000

The inaugural edition of Belgium’s Arena 5 concert series drew around 50,000 people over the course of seven weeks.

The series was the initiative of Brussels Expo, Ghent-based promoter/agency Greenhouse Talent and Festival Les Ardentes who built a brand new stage for the festival at the Place de Belgique, among the exhibition halls of Brussels Expo.

Having launched Arena 5 in July, the promoters were frequently forced to adapt the festival in line with ever-changing Covid-19 restrictions.

“Flexibility of capacity and configuration has proven to be a major asset in the face of rapidly changing health measures,” says Greenhouse Talent.

“”Flexibility of capacity and configuration has proven to be a major asset in the face of rapidly changing health measures”

“The first concerts in July began in front of a seated audience and with respect for social distancing. In August, the green light was given for the organisation of a test event where more than 5,000 fans of techno were able to unleash for the first time without masks or social distancing thanks to the Covid Safe Ticket. It was a successful event, which marked the start of a series of other parties with even more people – up to 7,500 people.”

SCH, Peggy Gou, Feu Chatterton, Hooverphonic, Amelie Lens, Charlotte De Witte, Peggy Gou, 2ManyDjs and Tale of Us were among the international and domestic acts that performed at Arena 5 between 22 July and concluded on 12 September.

The organisers have confirmed that Arena 5 will return in summer 2022 for a second edition.

 


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Sportpaleis: “We still have to reschedule more than a million tickets”

Belgium’s live industry has largely reopened thanks to the Covid Safe Ticket but it could be up to two years until it’s firing on all cylinders again, according to key venues.

This is partly down to the large numbers of ‘old’ tickets that still need to be rebooked – more than one million for the Sportpaleis Antwerp (cap. 23,001) alone – the Flemish Radio and Television Broadcasting Organisation (vrt) reports.

“We still have to reschedule more than one million tickets,” Jan Van Esbroeck, CEO of Sportpaleis Group, told vrt. “People prefer to redeem those already paid tickets first before thinking about new events.”

Esbroeck nods to Bart Peeters’s rescheduled Deluxe concerts at the Group’s Lotto Arena (cap. 5,218) which were announced last week. “You can hardly buy tickets for those new dates because the majority of them have been in the hands of about 50,000 owners for almost two years,” he says.

“It may take another two years before everything falls into place again”

Mike Naert, general director of concert hall Het Depot in Leuven, still notices a lack of trust and even a certain degree of fear among the general public. He mainly blames the communication of the government: “They keep blowing hot and cold at the same time. Do the vaccinations work or not? Is the realm of freedom here or not? Too much confusion is still being sown.”

Many smaller venues also speak of slower or fewer ticket sales compared to before the pandemic. Gilles Ledure, director of Flagey in Ixelles immediately took into account about 30% fewer sales than before the pandemic when the autumn announcements were made: “It is not yet the rush that everyone expected this autumn. It may take another two years before everything falls into place again.”

Jérôme Giersé from Bozar in Brussels added: “The public also decides more last-minute than before corona. Ticket sales are much more difficult to estimate these days.”

 


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Sportpaleis Antwerp set to reopen later this month

Belgium’s Sportpaleis Antwerp, one of the largest arenas in Europe, will open its doors this month for the first time in a year and a half.

The 23,001-capacity arena will reopen on 18 September, accommodating events with and without Belgium’s Covid Safe Ticket (CST).

Organisers can choose whether they’d like to hold an event using the CST, thereby eliminating the need for social distancing, masks, and capacity limits, or whether they’d like to forego the CST and abide by the aforementioned restrictions.

The CST certifies that they are either fully vaccinated or have returned a negative Covid-19 test in the previous 48 hours.

The pass applies to events with more than 1,500 attendees and has been in effect from 13 August for outdoor events and 1 September for indoor events.

“It will still be a bit doom and gloom for us in the first six months”

Promoters using the CST must implement a crowd management plan, as well as ensuring adequate ventilation (in the case of indoor shows) which is measured by a CO2 meter.

The arena’s first event, hardstyle dance show Reverze 2021, Wake of the Warrior, will utilise the CST to welcome a sold-out crowd.

“We have been working on the smaller halls for a while, but the heart of our organisation lies in the Sportpaleis,” Jan Van Esbroeck, CEO of the Sportpaleis Group, told VRT NWS. “The reopening is an important step that we can take towards normalisation, although we realise that it will take a few months before it is as before.”

“This year will also be blood red for us. Most international acts have postponed their tours to later spring next year. It will still be a bit doom and gloom for us in the first six months, not everything is over.”

Sportpaleis Group’s Lotto Arena (8,050-cap.), located adjacent to Sportpaleis Antwerp, opened last weekend.

The Group, which is owned by Live Nation Belgium, also includes venues Forest National (cap. 8,000) in Brussels and the Ethias Arena (cap. 18,000) in Hasselt.

 


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Tomorrowland launches record label

Tomorrowland, the world’s biggest dance music festival, has launched Tomorrowland Music, a new record label which will be distributed worldwide through Virgin Music Label & Artist Services, a division of Universal Music Group (UMG).

The Berlin-based label will be led Alexander Neipp, Daniel Schmidt and Magnus Textor (Virgin Records) and Tina Adams (Virgin Music Label & Artist Services). Its first release, out tomorrow (27 August), will be ‘You Got the Love’ by Never Sleeps, a new project by Afrojack and Chico Rose.

Michiel Beers, CEO and founder of Tomorrowland, says: “Creativity is something that can’t be stopped at Tomorrowland. I’m very proud of how resilient our team was to find new ways of bringing Tomorrowland into the reality of the last period. We have taken the extra time to focus on projects that were on our list for a long time and one of them was definitely launching our own Tomorrowland Music label.

“Michel Van Buyten, music manager of Tomorrowland Music, will work closely together with artists to help create strong stories around their releases. With the combined forces of our dedicated label team, Tomorrowland Media House, and the different Virgin Music teams worldwide, our aim is to introduce fans in every corner of the world to the most exciting projects in electronic music.”

Tomorrowland, which has been held in Boom, Belgium, since 2005, was cancelled in 2021 for a second year running after local authorities pulled its permit, citing concerns over Covid-19.

“I’m confident the new label is going to be a special place and a great home for artists”

A digital festival, Tomorrowland: Around the World, took place on 16 and 17 July, featuring music from Armin van Buuren, Nicky Romero and Charlotte de Witte.

Frank Briegmann, chairman and CEO of Universal Music Central Europe, comments: “Over the past 15 years Tomorrowland has built a reputation as one of the world’s leading festivals and electronic music brands by consistently expanding and evolving their relationship with music fans. Today, Tomorrowland is one of Europe’s most innovative music brands, respected by artists and loved by the millions of people who have attended their events around the world.

“We are delighted to have partnered with them to support the launch of their new label venture and to have created a uniquely flexible model utilising our expert and proven teams at Virgin Records Germany, Virgin Music Label & Artist Services teams around the world, and other flagship UMG labels worldwide to help drive success and create global hits for Tomorrowland. We look forward to a very successful partnership together, and to further enhancing our ability to provide partners, labels and artists with new and innovative ways to achieve global success.”

“Joining forces with Tomorrowland Music feels like love at first sight,” adds Magnus Textor, head of A&R for Virgin Records Germany. “It’s great to see that we share the same passion for electronic music and artists. Everyone who has ever been to Tomorrowland or even just seen one of their event films has experienced their dedication. Therefore, I’m confident the new label is going to be a special place and a great home for artists.”

 


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Belgium enjoys first festival weekend back

Hundreds of thousands of music fans attended festivals across Belgium in the last few days, marking the country’s first big festival weekend since restrictions were relaxed.

Paradise City, Alcatraz, Leuven Air and Jazz Middelheim were among the events to take advantage of the Belgium federal government’s Covid Safe Ticket (CST) to do away with social distancing, masks, and the previous 5,000-capacity limit.

The CTS launched last Friday (13 August) for outdoor events of over 1,500 people to certify that all attendees are either fully vaccinated or have returned a negative Covid-19 test in the previous 48 hours. The certification will apply to indoor events from 1 September.

Dance festival Paradise City, which took place between 13–15 at Ribaucourt Castle in Perk, Steenokkerzeel, welcomed a total of 25,500 festivalgoers for its three-day extravaganza.

Those attending who weren’t fully vaccinated could take a rapid test at the festival’s test centre for the cost of €15. It was reported that, of the 3,300 tests taken at the festival, a total of six people tested positive – all of whom were sent home.

There were no infections among the campers which is “proof that government protocols work,” says Paradise City co-founder, Gilles De Decker. “This offers hope for the entire event sector.”

“”After a long period of uncertainty, we were finally back to doing what we are passionate about”

Alcatraz also took place over the weekend, welcoming 12,000 fans per day to Sports Campus Lange Munte in Kortrijk for performances from the likes of Epica, Kreator and Jinjer.

The hard rock and metal festival chose to offer PCR tests onsite rather than rapid tests, which were free of charge for those who hadn’t used up all of their government-funded PCR tests or €56 for those who had.

“After a long period of uncertainty, we were finally back to doing what we are passionate about: creating a gathering that encompasses all facets of the metal genre for our precious inmates to enjoy,” say the organisers.

“Because of the challenging nature of organising this year’s edition, we were even more compelled to make sure Alcatraz Festival 2021 would be absolutely impeccable! We confronted every hurdle head-on and succeeded in organising a safe, but thrilling festival thanks to you metalheads.”

Leuven Air and Jazz Middelheim, which also took place last weekend, did not build their own test villages as it was “too expensive,” according to the organisers. “We should have passed on the costs to our audience,” they added.

The implementation of the CST comes too late for major international festivals including Pukkelpop, Rock Werchter and Tomorrowland, which have already been called off.

 


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Pukkelpop announces alternative event

Belgium’s Pukkelpop has announced an alternative event in lieu of the flagship festival, which was axed in late July due to new government Covid-19 regulations.

The event, dubbed Pukkelpop Kwartier, will take place between 19–22 August at the Muziekodroom site in Hasselt.

Pukkelpop Kwartier will comprise four separate outdoor events featuring several of the Belgium artists that were due to perform at the flagship festival.

Zwangere Guy, The Opposites, Whispering Sons, Bazart and Charlotte de Witte are among the repurposed acts.

A maximum of 1,500 attendees will be admitted to each of the four events. Aside from a valid festival ticket, festivalgoers will have to bring a form of ID and a valid Covid Safe Ticket, to prove they are fully vaccinated as of 14 days, recently tested negative or recently recovered from the virus.

The organisers have created a circulation plan with adapted walking routes to guide the public, however, there will be no social distancing once inside the festival and attendees are not required to wear a mask.

Day tickets for Pukkelpop Kwartier went on sale today and three of the four events have already sold out

Day tickets for Pukkelpop Kwartier (€35) went on sale today and three of the four events have already sold out. Friday tickets are still available here. See the full line-up here.

The 66,000-capacity flagship festival would have taken place near Hasselt between the same dates, with artists including Liam Gallagher, Editors, Future, Anne-Marie and Marshmello.

The festival was cancelled as a result of new government regulations that would have required it to almost triple its on-site testing capacity with less than a month to go until gates open.

Pukkelpop was the last remaining major international music festival in Belgium following the cancellation of Tomorrowland in June and Rock Werchter in March.

Rock Werchter, Live Nation Belgium’s marquee festival, also opted to hold an alternative event in lieu of its 88,000-capacity flagship event.

Werchter Parklife, the socially distanced open-air concert series, welcomed 63,000 fans to Werchter’s Festivalpark from 1 July to 1 August.

 


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Werchter Parklife celebrates summer success

Werchter Parklife, the summer concert series held in lieu of Rock Werchter, TW Classic and Werchter Boutique at Festivalpark in Werchter, Belgium, concluded yesterday (1 August) with a Covid-secure mini-festival with 2,500 fans.

Werchter Parklife was announced in May, shortly after restrictions on mass gatherings in Belgium led to the cancellation of Rock Werchter (88,000-cap.), Live Nation Belgium’s flagship festival, for the second year running. In June, a temporary, socially distanced open-air arena was constructed in the Festivalpark, with space for 2,500 people in four-person bubbles.

For Parklife, each bubbled-up group was each given their own space in the semi-circular arena, consisting of a parquet square and a stand. Food and beverages were ordered contactlessly and served to the tables of 625 bubbles in attendance.

The festival series ran from 1 July until 1 August, four days a week, welcoming 63,000 people to 28 shows across the month. “Fans and artists reconnected and enjoyed every second of it,” say organisers in a statement, “but also the crew and volunteers, who celebrated the return of live music to the Festivalpark. Summer, live music and Werchter: It was, and always, will be a magical combination.”

Herman Schueremans, Rock Werchter founder and Live Nation Belgium CEO, tells IQ the festival team were, unlike many socially distanced events, able to make Parklife work economically, given the strong ticket sales and their spreading the production costs over 28 days.

“Werchter Parklife was good for now – but next year it’ll be back to normal”

A similar limited-capacity event, Rock Werchter Summer Bar, attracted 15,000 people in summer 2020.

Despite the success of the event, a festival spokesperson says 2021 will likely be the only Werchter Parklife. “Was Werchter Parklife a success? Absolutely. Did we enjoy it? Definitely. Will it be repeated? Probably not,” they say.

“Despite the return of live music to the Festivalpark, there was always a feeling that something was missing, that something was lost in the ongoing restrictions. Werchter is the home of the major festivals Rock Werchter, TW Classic and Werchter Boutique. These are huge gatherings; grand experiences.

“Werchter Parklife was good for now – but next year it’ll be back to normal.”

Rock Werchter 2022 will take place from 30 June to 3 July with Pearl Jam, Metallica, Twenty One Pilots, Faith No More and more. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds will headline TW Classic on 25 July 2022, with Placebo, Sleaford Mods and Whispering Sons also already announced.

 


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