Alex Stevens leaves Dour Festival after 23 years
Alex Stevens has announced his departure from Dour, a longstanding annual music festival in Belgium.
The industry veteran has worked for Dour for 23 years, serving in creative and artistic direction for the past 12.
“The time has come for me to turn this significant chapter in my life,” says Stevens. “I’ve chosen not to renegotiate a new contract for the 2024 edition, wishing to regain my independence within my own structure. The urge to explore new horizons and to fully dedicate myself to my personal projects has never been stronger.”
Stevens will continue to curate lineups for various festivals including Marsatac (cap. 15,000) in Marseille, which he has been involved with since 2018. As of this year, he is also in charge of curation for Sakifo and Les Francofolies festivals on Reunion Island (15,000).
“I will continue my collaborations with these three festivals to help them make their events even stronger artistically while improving their profitability,” he tells IQ.
“I leave Dour Festival in a more radiant state than ever”
Stevens will also dedicate more time to his software tool, Bookr.fm, which was designed to assist festivals in streamlining their processes, identifying talent, and displaying data related to their audience through his startup, Music Data Studio.
The software has already been successfully used at Dour Festival, Couleur Café, Plissken, Marsatac, Sakifo and by the Belgian export office Wallonie-Bruxelles Musiques. “There’s immense potential here, and I’m receiving many inquiries,” he adds.
The most recent edition of Dour took place between 12 and 16 July in the Belgian town of the same name with artists including Aphex Twin, Peggy Gou and Romy.
“Over the past few years, I’ve worked diligently to ensure the sustainability and success of our projects under the best possible conditions,” Stevens concludes. “I leave Dour Festival in a more radiant state than ever, culminating this chapter with one of the most remarkable editions we’ve known.”
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.
Gent Jazz Festival starts fresh chapter
Greenhouse Talent says Belgium’s Gent Jazz Festival enjoyed a “successful new start” in its first year under new ownership.
The Ghent-based promoter and booking agency stepped in to acquire the international jazz festival after previous organiser – the non-profit Jazz en Muziek – went backrupt at the end of 2022.
The latest edition, held in Bijloke, Ghent, from 5-15 July, pulled in around 40,000 visitors across 74 concerts, in line with last year’s record numbers.
Proximus reports that seven of the 10 festival days sold out, including two shows by composer Ludovico Einaudi, along with concerts by Norah Jones and Herbie Hancock.
Acts to have performed at Gent Jazz Festival down the years include Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga, Sting, Van Morrison, Tom Jones, Gregory Porter, Grace Jones and Jamie Cullum.
“Jazz is a genre in which many artists age with dignity. That also applies to Gent Jazz”
Speaking to Nieuwsblad, Greenhouse Talent owner Pascal Van De Velde says he does not intend to tinker with the festival format too much going forward.
“The formula is fine,” he says. “You don’t put your kitchen table in a different room every year, do you? No, we see it this way: jazz is a genre in which many artists age with dignity. That also applies to Gent Jazz.”
Details of next year’s edition will be announced in the coming months.
Founded in 2004, Greenhouse Talent is the largest independent concert organiser in the Benelux and organises 500 concerts in the region each year, having previously worked with artists including Elvis Costello, Justin Bieber, Elton John, Massive Attack, Clouseau and the Rolling Stones.
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.
Tomorrowland announces partnership with TikTok
Tomorrowland has announced TikTok as the official content partner for its 2023 edition, taking place later this month.
As part of the partnership, 24 performances from DJs such as Steve Aoki, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Amber Broos, Lost Frequencies, Timmy Trumpet, Afrojack and Armin Van Buuren will be broadcast in real-time on TikTok Live, alongside behind-the-scenes content.
There will also be in-app playlists, a search hub and activations including a #Tomorrowland global hub which will act as a one-stop shop for fans to enjoy all the content from the Belgian electronic music festival. The #Tomorrowland hashtag is already hugely popular with fans, having garnered 2.8 billion views.
“Tomorrowland is the perfect festival partner for our flourishing community of #ElectronicMusic lovers”
“We’re delighted to be partnering with Tomorrowland, one of the biggest and most iconic festivals in the world,” says Michael Kümmerle, business development lead, global music content & partnerships at TikTok. “With its legendary line-up and truly global audience, Tomorrowland is the perfect festival partner for our flourishing community of #ElectronicMusic lovers who congregate on TikTok. As our relationship with the genre deepens, we’re incredibly excited to help grow the festival even further by giving our community 24 livestreams and a truly 360-degree experience of Tomorrowland on TikTok.”
Tomorrowland is due to take place 21–23 July and 28–30 July in De Schorre park, Boom.
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.
Taylor Swift’s Eras on track to be first $1bn tour
Taylor Swift’s ever-expanding Eras Tour is on target to become the first concert tour in history to gross more than US$1 billion, according to a new report.
The current benchmark was set by Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour, which grossed $887 million from 5.7 million ticket sales from its first 309 shows, and is expected to settle on around $925m upon its conclusion.
The Eras Tour was comfortably the highest-grossing tour of H1 2023, based on Pollstar data. It generated $300.8m in revenue from its first 22 nights on total ticket sales of 1,186,314 and an average ticket price of $253.56. The run currently amounts to 117 shows up to August 2024, with the potential for further dates to be added.
While a number-crunching report by the Wall Street Journal notes that top tickets in the US tend to cost 20% to 30% more than in the rest of the world, the trek still has every chance of breaking through the $1bn barrier.
“What we’re seeing on this particular Taylor tour is almost like a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon,” International Artist Group EVP and head of global music Jarred Arfa tells the WSJ. “It’s pretty astonishing.”
“For production reasons, she will only come to Amsterdam”
Swift’s recently announced 2024 European leg goes on sale in mid-July, but will not stop off in Belgium. Greenhouse Talent, which is staging Swift’s Amsterdam stadium shows in the Netherlands, addresses the omission, telling Het Laastse Nieuws a Brussels date at King Baudouin Stadium was “not an option” because of noise concerns.
“For production reasons, she will only come to Amsterdam,” says the promoter. “The stage had to be on the short side and that is not possible in Brussels due to noise nuisance for the neighbourhood.”
The Manila Bulletin reports that eight million people have applied for tickets for the 33-year-old’s concerts in Asia, while tickets for the singer’s four Japan shows at the 55,000-cap Tokyo Dome will be allocated by a lottery system. Fans must submit an application for the lottery by 10 July and then wait for the results.
More than four million users attempted to buy pre-sale tickets for her Sydney and Melbourne concerts in Australia earlier this week. The New South Wales and Victorian governments moved to crack down on touting after resale prices in excess of $3,000 were listed, with the latter designating the concerts as “major events,” triggering anti-scalping provisions in state legislation.
Elsewhere, in Brazil, a congresswoman has tabled the “Taylor Swift Act”, which would increase the maximum sentence for ticket touting from two to four years in prison, and fines of up to 100x the original price of the tickets.
Unity is strength: Belgium market focus
As one of the world’s biggest consumers of live music per head of population, Belgium finds itself on the routing for nearly every European tour, while its festivals are magnets for talent and fans alike. Little wonder then that the market is also attracting interest from the corporate behemoths. Adam Woods reports.
For about a decade from the mid-1990s, the small municipality of Viroinval in southern Belgium was the centre of Europe – literally, the geographical midpoint of the European Union – until a handful of new Central and Eastern European members joined the club in 2004 and the drawing pin moved east.
But while it’s not technically the centre point of Europe anymore, you’re unlikely to find a more dependable, better connected European market than Belgium, nor one that captures so faithfully the density, diversity and complexity of the continent.
As well as hosting the capital of the EU itself, Belgium shares borders with France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg but also reflects the continent’s density, diversity, and internal contradictions. It has three official languages (French, Dutch, and German) and two very distinct populations (the Flemish in the north and the French-speaking Walloons in the south, plus a sprinkling of Germans in the east).
In live terms, too, Belgium is the sort of country that draws a lot of traffic – both audiences and artists. As well as two busy, accessible live cities – Brussels and nearby second city Antwerp – it has a mature festival calendar with international and even global pull, including Tomorrowland, Rock Werchter, Pukkelpop, Graspop Metal Meeting, Dour, and others.
“We are served by every single tour on the planet, really,” says Greenhouse Talent’s Pascal Van De Velde. “If you want to go from the UK to mainland Europe, you come via Belgium; if you want to go from Scandinavia to southern Europe, you go through Belgium. Coming from northern France, the Netherlands – to get to the continent, you have to come through here.”
“It’s a very small country, but it’s very different. Someone who can sell 40,000 tickets in Antwerp will sell 2,000 in Brussels”
It is well known, but worth re-stating, that as a result of its very distinct populations, 11.8m-strong Belgium is two markets in one, with extremely defined regional characteristics.
“It’s a very small country, but it’s very different,” says Thom Vanderdeelen of boutique promoter and management agency Shadow to Live. “Someone who can sell 40,000 tickets in [Flemish-speaking] Antwerp will sell 2,000 in [French-speaking] Brussels, and 20 minutes further south, they won’t sell any.”
The Flemish half of Belgium both produces and consumes more entertainment than the French. Brussels, while French-speaking, counts as a region on its own, but overall, all are healthy, even in these choppy times.
“The market is strong,” says Van De Velde. “We hear that some of the markets are weaker, and people are suffering from the crisis; I can’t say that we are suffering. The market is as strong as it was before Covid – with an accent on big shows, but I mean, the smaller shows and the middle-sized shows are doing well as well.”
One theory is that Belgium’s wage index, which delivers inflation-based pay rises to all those on a payroll, is helping to keep the middle classes spending and the live business buoyant. But like virtually every other country, Belgium has issues with poverty and the broader cost of living, and with a war still raging to the east, there remain plenty of pitfalls on the road ahead.
Also significant, in the meantime, is an infrastructure that offers generous funding to smaller venues and a country small enough that no show is out of reach to anyone interested.
“The main markets will always be Brussels, Gent, and Antwerp”
“The main markets will always be Brussels, Gent, and Antwerp,” says FKP Scorpio Belgium managing director Jan Digneffe. “That’s what the agents always ask after and where we’re always going to start looking, but I think there’s still a lot of work to be done in the southern part of Belgium. If you look at Liege, which is the biggest French-speaking city in Belgium after Brussels, there’s a lot of things going on there. It’s such a vibrant, cool city.
“The same with Charleroi, which is an old industrial city – maybe a little bit like Sheffield in the UK. There’s a movement of young people finding places there to live, and stuff is happening. So that is really definitely something I am watching, and I guess that everybody else is watching it, too.”
Live Nation rules the roost in Belgium, much as it has for years. It operates the biggest festivals, stages many of the biggest shows, owns the premier large venues, and sells many of the tickets via Ticketmaster. CEO and Rock Werchter founder Herman Schueremans is the well-respected father of the Belgian business, and he is doing well out of the post-pandemic boom.
“The Belgian market is healthy again, as per pre-Covid times, and it is even growing, as more and more people get into the magic of live shows and festivals,” says Schueremans. “2022 was top for us, with sold-out festivals Rock Werchter, TW Classic, Werchter Boutique, and Graspop Metal Meeting, as well as a lot of sold-out shows.
“But 2023 is even stronger, with many more indoor shows, from club level to arenas. We also have stadium shows of Beyoncé and The Weeknd; a show of Harry Styles at Werchter Park; Rock Werchter with Red Hot Chili Peppers, Muse, and Arctic Monkeys, which will sell out; TW Classic with Bruce Springsteen and Werchter Boutique with P!NK, which have already sold out. We also have Graspop Metal Meeting with Guns N’ Roses, Def Leppard, and Mötley Crüe, which is going to sell out, too, and the alternative festivals Dour and Pukkelpop, which are selling well.”
But for all Live Nation’s strength, the sheer demand for live music supports an increasingly strong fleet of rivals, including longstanding Benelux-specialist Greenhouse Talent and new offices for FKP Scorpio and All Things Live (ATL).
“There’s more promoters than ever, but there’s also more business, so there is room for most of us”
“Things have drastically changed in the last 15 years,” says Van De Velde. “There’s more promoters than ever, but there’s also more business, so there is room for most of us.”
Greenhouse Talent’s year has been a strong one, with successes including three sold-out Rammstein shows at the Brussels Stadium in July, two Elton Johns at Antwerp’s Sportpaleis, as well as further sell- outs for Hans Zimmer (Sportpaleis and Palais 12 Arena in Brussels), Pentatonix (Forest National), and Till Lindemann (who sold out Antwerp’s Lotto Arena in an hour).
Greenhouse also took over the bankrupt Gent Jazz Festival in January and will launch its first edition in July, with headline slots for Herbie Hancock, Snarky Puppy, Norah Jones, Joe Bonamassa, and others. “That’s in our hometown, and it is selling very well,” says Van De Velde.
Gracia Live is another long-standing independent, with an indie’s diverse approach. Recent shows include Måneskin in Luxembourg, Bob Dylan and Morrissey in Belgium, and a Belgian tour for local star Camille that shifted 120,000 tickets. A Sportpaleis show for the same artist next May recently sold out in two hours and an extra show was promptly added.
“Locally, she is stronger than Angèle,” says Gracia Live promoter Sam Perl. “That is one thing we were working on during the pandemic – doing more with domestic artists. We are still doing 80% of our business with international tours, but for indies the domestic roster is becoming more and more important. You can’t put all your eggs in one basket. As healthy as the market is, sometimes it shifts, so you diversify within the business because you never know what next year is going to bring.”
Also on the schedule is Gracia Live’s annual Disney On Ice season, and for next year, four or five arena acts, yet to be announced. “Last year we had Eric Clapton, Olivia Rodrigo, 50 Cent, and next year we have a few more of the same calibre artists coming in,” says Perl.
“Of course, I come from the mothership, Live Nation, which is very dominant in the Belgian market, but I always thought there were opportunities, and I still do”
FKP Scorpio touched down in Belgium under former Live Nation man Digneffe just weeks before the first lockdown. “A lot of my ex-colleagues were moving shows and trying to find new dates, and I didn’t have anything to do because I hadn’t booked any shows yet,” he says. “But from March 2022, it’s been like a super-fast train.”
First-year achievements have included two Ed Sheeran shows at Brussels’ Stade Roi Baudouin and an opening edition of the Live /s Live festival in Antwerp, featuring Suede, The War on Drugs, and local heroes Balthazar, dEUS, and others. Clearly, Digneffe spies room for expansion in the busy Belgian marketplace. “If I didn’t, I probably would never have started with Scorpio,” he says. “Of course, I come from the mothership, Live Nation, which is very dominant in the Belgian market, but I always thought there were opportunities, and I still do. Stuff is happening. I think we have a very healthy small market, and we’re all trying our best, and I think that there is not really anyone who is not doing well at the moment.”
All Things Live launched into Belgium starting in early 2021, through a cocktail of diverse acquisitions – namely the domestically focused booking agency Busker, management organisation Musickness, and the Ostend Beach Festival.
“ATL has a great view on how the business should work for them, and we learn a lot from them,” says All Things Live Belgium CEO Marcus Deblaere. “Busker and Musickness are rather leftfield, rock, pop, hip-hop, jazz, and the festival is EDM, techno. They have nothing to do with each other, but they have everything to do with the bigger festivals ATL has in the Scandinavian countries. And now the task is to connect it all in Belgium, too.”
The aim is not necessarily to take on the biggest operators at their own game, suggests Deblaere. “We’re looking into how can we fill the gaps,” he says. “We don’t have to compete with the big ones. We have a great relationship with Live Nation, Greenhouse Talent, Scorpio. We work with everybody, we keep the door open, and we have always done that.”
An attempt to launch a small festival – Unwind – in the dawning months after Covid last year illustrated the dangers of competing too bullishly in the international mainstream.
“We don’t like taking dangerous risks, but we do like doing new stuff, because if we’re not creative in our business, then who’s going to be?”
“We launched it at the beginning of March for a date at the end of May,” says Deblaere. “The sales weren’t going that well. It was a good concept, but it didn’t make sense to compete on the international market with the bigger players, and therefore we pulled the plug. We don’t like taking dangerous risks, but we do like doing new stuff, because if we’re not creative in our business, then who’s going to be?”
Brussels-based promotion, management, and booking agency Shadow to Live has reached a similar conclusion, balancing private and public events in many categories – from a DJ set for Brussels National Day by Henri PFR on top of Brussels’ iconic modernist Atomium structure, to Arabic stand-up, to Coldplay bookings for private clients.
“We work on projects we believe in,” says Vanderdeelen. “Obviously, the world of entertainment is ruled by money, lawyers, big companies. You can’t compete financially against that, but you can be more understanding of the needs of your artists – find creative ways of promoting, do partnerships with different companies.”
Any discussion of promoters in Belgium also needs to mention venues, of which the smaller ones (sub- 2,000) are subsidised and promote many of their own shows. And inevitably, that makes it hard for independent smaller promoters to thrive.
“I think Belgium is an odd one in the sense that we don’t really have that many independent live promoters – though there’s plenty in dance,” says Benjamin Beutels of Antwerp-based indie MCLX. “Because most venues are government-funded, there’s not a lot of room to operate as a professional independent promoter, as they obviously have a financial advantage over us.”
The increased competition in the promoting sector means many promoters are picking up acts at an early stage, Beutels notes. Consequently, he says, niche genres like metal, hardcore, punk, and hip-hop create a gap for indies, as that music is less likely to find a natural home in state-funded regional venues or busy metropolitan ones.
“There’s a bunch of great and dedicated promoters who do it as a hobby, and a lot of times they are the starting point for international artists”
“So, the bands start looking for alternatives, and that’s where we come in,” says Beutels, who has promoted shows for acts including Idles, Turnstile, Zeal & Ardor, Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes, The HU, Danko Jones, and Frank Turner over the past seven years.
“I might be mistaken, but from what I’m aware of, we’re one of the very few in the whole country that put on independent live shows at this level, without any funding or ties to an international corporation, and make a living out of it. Apart from that, there’s a bunch of great and dedicated promoters who do it as a hobby, and a lot of times they are the starting point for international artists.”
In the tricky post-Covid June of 2022, Live Nation cancelled its 25,000-cap, one-off Rock Werchter prelude Rock Werchter Encore, citing high production costs, staff shortages, and low consumer confidence, and channeling its bill into sister festival TW Classic a day earlier. It was an uncharacteristic blip – and a characteristically sure-footed repair move – in a festival portfolio that is a model of careful management.
“Belgium is a country with lots of successful festivals that all have their identity, and that is our key to success,” says Schueremans. Also significant, he notes, is Belgium’s ability to maximise its central location to create international attractions.
“People of the surrounding countries have come to our festivals for decades. For example, 60% of the audience of the Dour and Ardentes festivals in the French-speaking part of Belgium are French; 21% of the Rock Werchter audience are Dutch, and 10% come from Europe and the [rest of the] world.
“One key is top bills and top service to our audience, as they are our kings and queens,” says Schueremans. “Another is that we keep renewing those festivals in order to attract new generations of music lovers.”
“The French-speaking crowd will head to Les Solidarités in Namur, Baudet’Stival in the south of the country, or Les Francofolies d’Esch/Alzette in Luxembourg”
An item on the shopping list of any growing promoter in Belgium is a festival or two. FKP Scorpio is building its Live /s Live brand in Antwerp; Greenhouse has the Gent Jazz Festival; All Things Live in March acquired a majority stake in the 22,500-cap Ostend Beach Festival, a well-established three-day festival with more than 100 artists on four stages.
Last June, Tomorrowland and Rock Werchter joined forces to create CORE, a new two-day festival in Brussels. The festival returned to Osseghem Park in May, with Little Simz, Bibi Seck, The Blessed Madonna, and recent Coachella-playing Belgian star Angèle among those on the bill.
Festivals serve the Flemish and French parts of Belgium pretty equally, says Jakob H Lund, Ticketmaster RVP, North West Europe and managing director, Denmark, Belgium, and Netherlands.
“The French-speaking crowd will head to Les Solidarités in Namur, Baudet’Stival in the south of the country, or Les Francofolies d’Esch/Alzette in Luxembourg where artists like Orelsan and Angèle are already sold out,” says Lund.
“The north of the country is also well served: in addition to the famous Rock Werchter and Graspop Metal Meeting festivals, fans can choose from Live /s Live in Antwerp, the Moen Feest, the Beach Festival, the Antilliaanse Feesten, and others.”
Live Nation is strong in the venue market, much as it is strong every- where else in Belgium. In April 2019, the group acquired Antwerps Sportpaleis, the Belgian venue operator behind Antwerp’s 23,001-capacity Sportpaleis arena and 8,050-cap Lotto Arena; the 8,000-cap Forest National in Brussels; and the 17,000-cap Trixxo (previously Ethias) Arena in Hasselt.
“With our biggest venues, we are losing some shows to artists opting for open-air and stadium concerts”
Now known as the be•at group, the division also operates three roughly 2,000-capacity theatres (Stadsschouwburg Antwerp, Capitole Ghent, and Trixxo Theatre Hasselt) and the Proximus Pop-Up Arena, which is erected in the summer at Middelkerke on the Belgian coast and can hold up to 5,000 fans.
In recent months, Sportpaleis has received Robbie Williams, Lizzo, Lewis Capaldi, Snoop Dogg, and Michael Bublé, with Post Malone, Elton, Sam Smith, Roger Waters, Peter Gabriel, Iron Maiden, and Depeche Mode on the horizon. Meanwhile, Forest National and Lotto Arena, be•at’s mid-size venues, hosted The Kooks, Eros Ramazzotti, Bring Me The Horizon, Mäneskin, George Ezra, and others, with Avril Lavigne – one of the last Covid-postponed shows – The Offspring, Tenacious D, and Michel Sardou coming up.
Be•at CEO Jan Van Esbroeck believes the market, overheated since Covid, shows signs of cooling in Q3 and Q4 of this year. He notes the abiding popularity of well-known acts and established festivals and acknowledges that these are difficult times to be an emerging artist, though he believes an upswing will come.
“I think this will only be temporary,” he says. “The market will stabilise somewhat after this initial period, and I’m convinced we will return to a normal mechanism, in which new talent will again find the fans it needs to grow.
“It is also an observation that with our biggest venues, we are losing some shows to artists opting for open-air and stadium concerts. The demand is now for one big thing, so it is understandable that the artist with the status to do so will opt for the biggest capacity. It remains to be seen whether this phenomenon will continue.”
“All the concert halls here in Belgium below 2,000 capacity are subsidised”
If Brussels is famous for any one venue, it is the city’s 2,000-cap Ancienne Belgique, which draws international and local acts most nights, but the 400- to 1,400-cap La Madeleine and the 650-cap, standing-only Botanique aren’t much less in demand. Other key venues at the smaller level include Trix and De Roma in Antwerp and De Vooruit in Gent.
Smaller venues adopt a particular position of strength in Belgium, their state subsidies insulating them a little from the commercial climate and giving them the ability to develop and promote local music scenes. For promoters, the balance of power may occasionally feel a little unequal.
“All the concert halls here in Belgium below 2,000 capacity are subsidised,” says Deblaere. “They have their own ticketing systems, too. You can promote in them, but then you take all the risk. And they sell the tickets with their ticketing system, so they gather all the data – and that’s true for the big venues, too. They have their ticketing system, they get the data, you take all the risk. So, it’s a very strange combination.”
Belgium’s Paradise City unveils Green Power Plan
Paradise City Festival has shared details of its new Green Action plan as it bids to become the first festival in Belgium that runs exclusively on renewable energy by 2025.
The electronic music event, which returns to Ribaucourt Castle, Perk, from 30 June to 2 July, is working with renewable energy pioneer Eneco to reduce its dependency on biofuel and increase the share of solar energy in total energy consumption from 20% to 50% this summer.
The 8,000-cap festival will install more than 90 additional solar panels and three battery containers on the island in front of its castle, creating the Eneco Solar Island. This initiative will ramp up the total surface of solar panels to 435m2 and directly power the Contrast Stage and various bars.
Eneco’s support also ensures the festival’s buildup will be fully powered by renewable energy – another first for the Belgian event business.
“Becoming fully sustainable is crucial for our planet and future generations”
“We are thrilled we can partner up with an ambitious organisation like Paradise City,” says Bert Clinckers, MD of Eneco Belgium. “Becoming fully sustainable is crucial for our planet and future generations. That is why we support our clients and partners in realising their goals to become carbon neutral. We’re in this together.”
Paradise City is also continuing its partnership with Audi, which helped make its power plan more sustainable in 2022 with a giant 170m2 solar panel, the largest of its kind at any European event. As a result, the festival was able to double the share of solar power to 20%, with the rest of the used energy sourced from biofuel (HVO) to minimise carbon emissions.
DJs on this year’s line-up include Folamour, Palms Trax, Helena Hauff, RY X, Inner City, Max Cooper, Interplanetary Criminal, Moodymann, Ben UFO, Christian Löffler and Omar S.
IQ 119 out now: Helene Fischer, Summer Marshall
IQ 119 – the latest issue of the international live music industry’s favourite magazine – is available to read online now.
The June 2023 issue sees us go behind the scenes of one of the biggest European tours of the year, as German superstar Helene Fischer’s daring Rausch Live tour hits the road. Plus, CAA agent Summer Marshall spills the beans to Lisa Henderson about her first 20 action-packed years in the music industry.
Adam Woods learns how live music’s corporate juggernauts are transforming Belgium’s independent landscape in our latest market report, while music’s specialist travel agents educate Gordon Masson on the challenges and opportunities for the sector in 2023.
Elsewhere, we preview 10 festivals planning to make their debut in 2023.
For this edition’s comments and columns, NEC Group’s Guy Dunstan reveals some of the challenges and trends that he and his team are identifying through venues customer feedback, and Steve Jenner examines the various areas where he believes artificial intelligence can deliver improvements to the live music industry.
The Your Shout panel, meanwhile, recall the funniest or most bizarre thing they’ve seen at a festival.
As always, the majority of the magazine’s content will appear online in some form in the next four weeks.
However, if you can’t wait for your fix of essential live music industry features, opinion and analysis, click here to subscribe to IQ from just £6.25 a month – or check out what you’re missing out on with the limited preview below:
Liveurope reveals Ukraine Europe Day tribute
Venues association Liveurope has announced the ninth edition of its Europe Day celebrations will be a tribute to Ukraine.
Liveurope founding member Ancienne Belgique is joining forces with Kyiv music venue Atlas to present three emerging Ukrainian artists – Cepasa, Ragapop and The Lazy Jesus – at the 9 May event at the Brussels, Belgium venue’s AB Club.
Attendees will be invited to make a voluntary donation, with all proceeds going directly to the Music Saves UA humanitarian appeal. Each €10 collected will finance one humanitarian box providing food for one person for an entire week. The boxes will be mainly distributed in Kherson, the biggest city liberated by Ukrainian forces since the start of the war.
“Since 2015, we have built on this public holiday to bring Europe closer to our audiences by organising our own Europe Day festivities,” says Ancienne Belgique’s general manager Tom Bonte. “This year, we naturally came to focus on Ukraine, as its scene is great source of inspiration for us all.”
“We hope this is just the beginning of a lasting relationship with Liveurope and its venues”
Before the concerts begin, Liveurope, an EU-backed association of 22 music venues, will host a panel discussion with key Ukrainian music professionals to discuss their challenges on the ground and their hopes for the future, as well as the importance of European cooperation. The conversation will be followed by invite-only networking open to cultural operators, representatives of the European institutions and media professionals.
“We hope this is just the beginning of a lasting relationship with Liveurope and its venues,” adds Vlad Yaremchuk, Atlas’ artistic director and Music Saves UA partnership manager. “We are fighting this war for our very European futures, and the support we have been receiving shows us that we are not alone. We are touched to host such an event in the heart of Europe in collaboration with a world-renowned venue like Ancienne Belgique.”
The event is co-funded by the Creative Europe programme of the EU and is endosed by the Cultural Creators Friendship Group, a cross-partisan coalition of 28 members of the European Parliament from six political groups and 14 countries.
Herman Schueremans: 50 years in the business
Looking back on half a century in the live music business, Herman Schueremans has learned many lessons – a smattering of which you’ll find highlighted in the pages of this special anniversary feature. However, arguably his top lesson is that cycling is not only the best possible way to stay fit – it can save your life.
In 2014, Herman took a regular cycle journey to visit his mother in her residential care home, and on his way back his bike hit a patch of wet leaves and sent him tumbling. “I broke my hip,” he tells IQ. “But it was broken quite nicely – it didn’t move, there was just a fracture through it. But on the scan for my hip, the doctor noticed that my appendix was swollen, so I was told it was best to remove it while I was in hospital.”
During what should have been a routine operation, the surgeon discovered that Herman’s appendix had been leaking and was very slowly poisoning his body. Warned that the leak could lead to cancer, Herman agreed to a procedure where a team of surgeons would meticulously open up and clean his intestines, while removing anything that could not be saved. “They also coated my intestines in platinum, which would kill any infection that they might have missed. It was a big operation – 32 hours in total.”
Despite undergoing such trauma, which would normally result in a patient spending months in hospital to recover, within a week Herman was back at home. “I wanted to be back working on my festivals – the Classic and Rock Werchter,” he states, “I’d lost 15 kilograms, and I had to rest quite a lot, so I was not as active during the festival changeovers, but because I cycled every day, as a 60-year-old man I was pretty fit and healthy, so that definitely helped.”
Consequently, he urges everyone in the live music business to take up cycling. “It’s a great way to forget about our fantastic business and all the responsibilities you have. I would absolutely advise people to cycle because it’s not only healthy, it destresses you. And if you’re with friends, at the end of the bicycle ride you stop at a nice pub and have some lagers.”
Inspired by a documentary on Woodstock, he decided to create a small music festival in the town of Herent
As one of the most popular personalities in the live music world, Herman Schueremans’ career is the stuff of legend. Growing up in Belgium in the 1960s and ’70s was a frustrating time for music-loving Herman because although most international tours travelled through the country on their way to and from gigs in Germany, France, and the Netherlands, very few would actually stop in Belgium to perform. Herman would shatter that status quo.
Having toyed with electric guitar, then bass guitar, he conceded his talents were not as a musician, and at the age of 17, he began managing a local band. A year later, inspired by a documentary on Woodstock, he decided to create a small music festival in the town of Herent, a few kilometres from his hometown of Leuven. “I called it ‘The Park Festival,’ because it was in a park,” he laughs. “I booked a few local bands, and 800 people came to the first event.”
However, just weeks later, another youngster – Hedwig De Meyer – staged his new festival a mere eight kilometres away in the village of Werchter. “He also had 800 people,” says Herman. “At the time, I was also writing for a newspaper, and I was the only journalist on Hedwig’s guest list. We met and agreed to work together for the following year, and because there were fewer neighbours in Werchter, we kept that site to minimise the chance of complaints.”
That collaboration led to the first Rock Werchter festival, in 1974, and the partnership thrived, with Hedwig taking care of production logistics, and liaising with the local authorities and the Werchter mayor, while Herman concentrated on booking the artists.
Still living at home, Herman soon started using his talent to promote club gigs, as part of a move to try to fund renting his own apartment. “It wasn’t the usual promoter route because I was a festival promoter before I organised gigs, but I was able to pick up some interesting bands and that’s what kick-started everything.”
“It wasn’t the usual promoter route because I was a festival promoter before I organised gigs”
What that modest comment does not cover is the lengths young Herman would go to in order to fulfil the growing demand from audiences in Belgium to discover new talent. As a result, his ambition and confidence grew, and he would travel to London to try to meet with agents who had never heard of him. Working with a shoestring budget, he would stay in youth hostels and wait for the unsuspecting agents on their office doorsteps first thing in the morning, just to try to get a meeting.
Herman comments, “Some people become a missionary in Africa or whatever. Our mission was to put Belgium on the map and to see acts playing in Belgium and not only passing through from London to Germany to play for the American troops or to play Paris or Hamburg or Berlin.
“The big bands didn’t bother about Belgium in those days, so I started out chasing the smaller ones. That was one of the advantages of being in a small country – if you wanted to be part of the music business, you had to sniff out the new acts.”
Such was Herman’s skill in identifying emerging talent that the local Warner Records operation persuaded him to take a job in its A&R department – an opportunity that he realised could ultimately benefit Rock Werchter. “We were doing promo for Sire acts such as the Ramones and Talking Heads, as well Stiff Records, which was home to the likes of Elvis Costello, and I was able to get those acts to play at the festival,” reports Herman.
His tenure at Warners lasted close to five years and saw him rise through the ranks to head the local A&R and promo departments. But with the festival and his other promoting efforts dominating more and more time, he was given an ultimatum by his managing director. “So, I left Warners, aged 26, to finally become a full-time promoter. It was a very easy decision. Basically, my hobby became my job. And I’ve never regretted it. I still love my job.”
“Our mission was to put Belgium on the map and to see acts playing in Belgium and not only passing through from London”
As Rock Werchter grew in the early years, there were a number of accidental spin-offs that have, in the decades since, become major players in the live music sector – namely Stageco, EML, and The Powershop.
“When we started, the festival was in one marquee where we could squeeze in about 3,000 people,” explains Herman. “When it grew, we rolled up the sides of the marquee, but the stage wasn’t high enough and people couldn’t see, so we decided to move outdoors, and Hedwig used his engineering skills to design the stage, which was the birth of Stageco as a business.
“In those days, you had supply companies like Edwin Shirley in England but bringing equipment from England to Belgium was too expensive, so we had little choice but to do it ourselves.” And it wasn’t just the staging that had to be sourced. With no decent PA or lighting equipment available in Belgium, the partners also created EML – which has since become part of the PRG group of companies. And it was a similar tale for The Powershop, owned by Hedwig’s brother, Jan De Meyer, as the Werchter principals decided that the best way to solve their power supply issue for the greenfield site was to launch their own business.
Indeed, for about the first 15 years of Rock Werchter, any profits were ploughed back into Stageco, which quickly became a year-round business supplying infrastructure to international tours – the pioneers being Genesis.
“The band’s agent, Steve Hedges, was at one of our festivals and was so impressed by our stages that he put us in contact with the band and that led to us getting the deal to supply staging for a Genesis European tour – which then went on as far as New Zealand,” says Herman.
“When we started, Rock Werchter was in one marquee where we could squeeze in about 3,000 people”
And the success of Rock Werchter was also getting Herman and Hedwig noticed. Noël Steen and Monique Van Dromme, who organised another festival, Rock Tourhout, in the west of Belgium, proposed that the two events should collaborate, to save costs and share line-ups, but at either end of the country. Theoretically, Torhout-Werchter was a great idea. Logistically, it was a huge challenge.
“At that time – 1980 or ’81, I think – both festivals were just one day each, so we’d move everything overnight from Torhout to Werchter – that’s 140 kilometres – and I mean everything: the PA system, the lot. It would have to be loaded out at Torhout, make its way through the traffic across Belgium, loaded in at Werchter, and built in time for the gates opening the next day.”
Rather than just being a one-off experiment, the twin festivals continued the practice for 15 years, until they both expanded to two-day events in 2016.
“In the early days, the twin event helped me attract bands because I was able to offer two shows rather than just one, but Werchter be- came bigger and bigger and booking two festivals started to become a disadvantage,” says Herman. “It also became bloody expensive to run a festival at two different sites. So, when we made big losses at Torhout in 1996 and ‘97, I took the decision to concentrate just on Werchter.”
While the appeal of Rock Werchter captured the imagination of music fans from day one, creating a day-to-day tour circuit around Belgium was a longer-term project. “We didn’t have a company name, but we set up a foundation called Altsien to reflect what we were doing – working with alternative acts like the Human League, Dead Kennedys, and U2, and using alternative venues, such as university aulas in Leuven, Brussels, Ghent, Liège, and Hasselt; a union venue in Mechelen; a sports hall in Deinze; and venues in provincial places like Herenthout, Zedelgem, Poperinge, etc .”
Looking back, Herman admits lots of mistakes were made, but it was the learning ground that he and his companies built their foundations on. “I could easily lose £300 on a show, which was a month’s wages. But that taught you to quickly learn from your mistakes.”
“I still operate as an entrepreneur, and Live Nation allows me to do that”
Making Belgium a European Hub
Two decades ago, when Robert Sillerman’s SFX undertook its programme of corporate klepto-mania, Herman Schueremans’ activities in Belgium were among the top targets for his vision for a global promoting empire.
“SFX first approached me in 2000,” states Herman. “I was honoured that such a big company felt Belgium was important enough. So, in May 2001, I became part of what would later become Live Nation.”
As a division of that corporate entity, Herman’s company has grown in size by a factor of six. Indeed, during the Covid pandemic, the financial protection not only allowed him to keep every member of staff but he actually hired new employees as restrictions on live shows began to ease.
“Promoting shows is an art,” he tells IQ. “I don’t have to put my financial future at risk anymore, but I do want to be successful, so I still operate as an entrepreneur, and Live Nation allows me to do that: to take risks. In fact, since we became part of Live Nation, the company has grown from about ten people to about 60 now.”
And he contends that making the odd mistake is part and parcel of the process in evolving as a promoter. “I still make mistakes, but I think that’s an important part of the process because sometimes you overestimate, sometimes you underestimate things. Especially after Covid.
“When we restarted in March , one of my big worries was will I be able to give the same service?”
“When we restarted in March , one of my big worries was will I be able to give the same service? And I was so happy to see that a lot of shows and tours were safe.”
Looking back on the past year, which he contends was the busiest of his career, Herman says, “It was a sort of interbellum, but not between two wars, rather between two music worlds, which made it a good lesson for everybody to rethink the business, to reinvent it.
“Most of us had a good 2022, but some suffered because they underestimated costs. But overall, the business is back, and I think 2023 will be very good. It’s all about approaching things in a positive way, without becoming greedy.”
Indeed, Herman believes there are some positives to take away from the devastation that Covid inflicted on the live events sector. “People are re-appreciating the experience of a live show or festival. At Werchter 2022, we saw so many happy people. At every festival, you have some moaners, but even the moaners forgot to moan. If we can make those people happy, then I think we are doing a good job.”
“Religion and politics divide; music unites. So, no, I do not miss politics”
Among Herman’s other claims to fame is a long stint as a member of parliament for the Flemish Liberals and Democrats. “I got involved because I thought that politicians kept making stupid decisions that threatened to destroy what we’d worked so hard to build,” he explains.
His political achievements include helping to introduce a decibel law that measures average noise levels over the course of an hour, as well as Herman enjoys a much-deserved beer at the Rock Werchter 2013 after party legislation to fight secondary ticketing.
Despite those positive moves, Herman is candid about his time as a parliamentarian. “Over the years, I’ve learned that music brings people together. It’s one of my slogans: religion and politics divide; music unites. So, no, I do not miss politics. But it is damned important.”
He continues, “At the same time, I’m happy that I did it, because I can see what the qualities of democracy are and that we all should support it. Being in the Liberal Party, we also managed to push through legislation to allow same-sex marriages. I think that was tremendously important because in recent years we have seen a return to conservatism, meaning it might be a lot more difficult, today, to get those laws voted through and adopted.”
His interest in political matters dates back further. Speaking from his beloved second home in South Africa, Herman tells IQ, “One of the things that gives me a lot of satisfaction is that at the time when Nelson Mandela was in prison at Robben Island, Peter Gabriel asked us to deliver the stages for the Free Mandela shows, which we did in Dakar, in London, and in New York. Delivering those stages at no cost, because that was the deal, was one of the best things I’ve done in my career… when I pass away, and if heaven exists, when Saint Peter is at the gates and starts reading me my list of sins, I will bring that up as an argument to let me in.”
“Delivering the Free Mandela shows was one of the best things I’ve done in my career”
Herman is rightly renowned for the development of Rock Werchter – which is set to mark its 50th anniversary in 2024 – and, indeed, the rest of his festival portfolio, which includes Werchter Boutique, Werchter Classic, Graspop Metal Meeting, and I Love Techno, as well as hugely successful partnerships with the likes of Pukkelpop and Dour.
His support for other businesses in the aftermath of the two-year pandemic lay-off helped those events enjoy successful post Covid returns. “A lot of people moved out of our business to do other things during Covid, and it was a bit difficult to get all those people back on track. But that meant the satisfaction after the festivals was double or triple because we managed to do it as a team,” he states.
“A long time ago, we decided to start paying suppliers in advance and not 30, 60, 90, or 120 days after the event. Helping people with their cash flow definitely allowed them to get back to work after Covid. And that policy helped us a lot in 2022. Don’t forget, we have a history with Stageco, The Powershop, EML, so while we don’t have a Silicon Valley like the Americans have, around Werchter we have a rock and roll music fair, and we have a common history.”
One Herman mantra that has never changed is the lengths he goes to in order to make sure that everyone who attends his festivals is kept safe and made as comfortable as possible – from the audience to the artists to the crew. “For example, we have warm showers, day and night. So, whenever the crew or truck drivers arrive, they get their towels, and we try to make them feel at home.
“The artists’ dressing rooms are perhaps a bit over the top. But basically, when you arrive at Rock Werchter, the dressing room is yours until the end of the festival when you leave. Catering is always open; you can drink tea from a proper cup; you can eat with a knife and fork; you can drink a good glass of wine or draft beer out of a glass. It’s about hospitality.”
“I’ve been saying that a festival should be reinvented every five or even three years. It’s all about evolution”
Reminiscing on his career path, he adds, “30 years ago, I said a festival should be reinvented every ten years. But in the last decade, I’ve been saying that a festival should be reinvented every five or even three years. It’s all about evolution. This is a business where if you have the capability of listening to other people and their ideas, you can be creative, you can reinvent, and you can give young people an opportunity to prove themselves.”
And talking of the next generation, the 69-year-old festival guru admits that the pandemic triggered him to begin plotting the way forward for Live Nation Belgium and his beloved festivals when he is no longer at the helm.
“One of the main jobs I had in the last five years was to prepare our company for succession,” he reveals. “When we started the company, there were five or six people. Ten years ago, it was 30-something. And today it’s close to 60. So, as the business grows, the pyramid also has to grow.
“Now, we have a fantastic team ready to take over in the next couple of years. They do already a hell of a lot of the jobs, and I have to give them all that credit. So, I am happy that the company is in a place where I can afford to stop working in this business, and our team will deliver.” Not quite ready to hang up his promoter’s hat, however, he concludes, “My team inspire me, and I hope I still inspire them a bit. And together we are strong.
“You’re only as good as your last show, not only as an artist but also as a promoter”
“But we are not immortal, and I think it’s part of our moral duty to hand things over to the next generations to create opportunities for them. And for them to do even better – I’m sure they will.”
As for the immediate future, 2023 will be like most years for Herman Schueremans, with the highlights he’s looking forward to centring around his summer programme.
“It’s fantastic to put on the Belgian show of a European tour or a world tour – it’s a privilege to contribute to that. But festivals are something that you create with your team, and you really have to reinvent and rework every year.
“We want to treat our audience well, but at the same time, we want to bring in a younger audience, and I rely on the younger members of our team to do that.
“It is a good success story – and I still love my job every day, but I think staying humble is key. Bottom line, you’re only as good as your last show, not only as an artist but also as a promoter, also as a PA company, as a stage company.”
All Things Live makes second purchase this week
All Things Live has announced its second acquisition this week, taking a majority stake in Belgium’s Ostend Beach Festival.
Established in 2010, the festival has grown from a one-day event focused mainly on dance and techno to a three-day affair with more than 100 artists performing across four stages.
The festival’s two founders, Jan Mortelmans and Kevin Beirens, will maintain a minority stake and continue to lead the festival while building a strong cooperation with the All Things Live team in Belgium led by Marcus Deblaere.
“We have worked hard to build a fantastic festival over the years, and we are thrilled to welcome All Things Live as co-owners and partners on the exciting journey ahead. We will continue to tweak and improve the festival and look forward to drawing on the vast experience of the entire All Things Live team to bring even better experiences to our audience,” says Mortelmans.
Beirens adds: “All Things Live is a leading and respected European live entertainment player with a strong footprint and team in Belgium and the Netherlands, and we consider them the perfect match for us as we set out to realise the ambitions for Ostend Beach. We will cooperate with the strong organisation in All Things Live and look forward to becoming part of the family.”
“We consider All Things Live the perfect match for us as we set out to realise the ambitions for Ostend Beach”
Kim Worsøe, member of the executive board of All Things Live Group, comments: “Jan and Kevin have put in a tremendous effort to establish Ostend Beach as a widely acclaimed festival considered the best in the world by many visitors and artists. We are pleased to welcome the team as part of All Things Live in Belgium and look forward to cooperating closely in the years ahead to develop the festival and our Belgian business together.”
In the last 12 months, the All Things Live group has acquired All-In (Norway), HES (Norway), Agents After All (the Netherlands), Musickness (Belgium), Radar Concerti (Italy) and Amaze Festival (Sweden).
Since the Nordic group was founded by Waterland Private Equity in 2018, it has expanded to seven European countries and 19 companies, with offices in Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Brussels, Milan and Amsterdam.
The company’s portfolio ranges from musical productions to music festivals and standup events to stadium concerts, with The Rolling Stones, Eminem, Katy Perry and Rammstein among its clients.