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Finland: No events over 500 people until end of July

Finland has extended its ban on major events until at least 31 July, forcing the cancellation of many of the summer’s biggest music festivals, including some of Europe’s oldest open-air events.

Among the festivals affected by the extension, announced following a government meeting yesterday (23 April), are Ilosaarirock (17–19 July) in Joensuu – the second longest-running festival in Finland – and Fullsteam’s Provinssi (25–27 June) and Sideways (11–13 June), as well as several smaller events.

In near-identical statements, Provinssi, which debuted in 1979, and Sideways (which would have been headlined by System of a Down and the Chemical Brothers, and Kelis and Belle and Sebastian, respectively) say they are “heartbroken” by the cancellations and hope to announce the first performers for 2021 soon.

Joensuun Popmuusikot-organised Ilosaarirock says it “understands the government’s decision and accepts it”, and plans to make its delayed 50th-anniversary event in 2021 “the best festival ever”. Tones and I, Yungblud, Machine Gun Kelly and Sam Fender would have played Ilosaarirock 2020.

Elsewhere, Ruisrock – the oldest festival in Finland and the second-oldest in Europe, after the Netherlands’ similarly cancelled Pinkpop – was cancelled earlier this month on the order of Turku city authorities. It would have featured performances from Khalid, DaBaby, Zara Larsson and more.

“The decision … is the only responsible option in the current situation”

“Cancelling the festival is an extremely difficult decision for the organisers. We have been working for almost a year to bring more joy and happiness to the world through Ruisrock, like in the previous summers,” says Ruisrock promoter Mikko Niemelä. “For us and thousands of others, this festival is the highlight of the year, and it is heartbreaking to imagine a summer without Ruisrock.

“However, the decision we have made is the only responsible option in the current situation. The coronavirus spreads when people get together, so now is not the time to gather tens of thousands of people in the same place.”

The new guidelines in Finland follow similar decisions taken by governments elsewhere in Europe, including the Netherlands, where large events are banned until 1 September, and GermanyBelgium and Denmark, where a ban is in place until 31 August – as well as slightly shorter bans in France (mid-July) Austria (end of June) and Luxembourg (31 July) – and is in line with European Union guidance. In neighbouring Sweden, meanwhile, events over 50 people are off-limits for the foreseeable future.

“As far as events in late summer and early autumn are concerned, an assessment will be made no later than the start of June,” reads a statement from the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, announcing the new restrictions.

Those events include Superstruct’s Flow Festival (14–16 August) and Live Nation Finland hip-hop event Blockfest (21–22 August), both of which are still on at the time of writing.

 


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Summer’s gone: EU festivals talk the season that was

The rising cost of putting on large-scale live events and difficulties in booking top-tier talent were among the challenges overcome by festival organisers this year, according to a cross-section of Europe’s major music events.

Ahead of this year’s festival season, several festival organisers and associations told IQ that 2019 was shaping up to be a slow year. Across the board, they said, sell-outs were down and sales were lower, and many complained of a lack of top-shelf talent on tour. A typical sentiment was that of Jean-Paul Roland, festival director of French rock festival Eurockéennes, who said “the season seems more subdued than last year”, with organisers facing “more difficulties to reach a point of profitability”.

IQ’s annual analysis of Europe’s festival market, the European Festival Report, will return for 2019 in the end-of-year issue #87, providing an in-depth look at capacity and attendance, ticketing and pricing, VIP sales, challenges and concerns, new technology and much more.

But the end of 2019 is (thankfully) still some time away. So, with autumn setting in across Europe, and the International Festival Forum (IFF) fast approaching, IQ conducted an informal festival ‘exit poll’ –interviewing one festival apiece in seven key markets to find out how their events panned out, and whether those early-summer doubts were well-founded. Here’s what we learnt…

 


Hurricane/Southside

2019 headliners: Foo Fighters, Mumford and Sons, Die Toten Hosen, the Cure, Tame Impala
Capacity: 70,000/60,000
Date: 21 to 23 June
Country: Germany

FKP Scorpio managing director Stephan Thanscheidt says he is “more than happy” with the performance of twin festivals Hurricane and Southside this year, attributing a “strong” line-up, investment in the festival grounds and “perfect weather” to the success.

The festivals saw a combined attendance of 380,000 over three days, with around 68,000 visiting Hurricane and 60,000 people attending Southside per day. Next year is looking promising, too: FKP Scorpio celebrated its best-ever presale, selling 40,000 tickets in two days for the 2020 editions of Hurricane and Southside.

Thanscheidt states that bad weather and a higher awareness of the threat of terror attacks have led to a “decreased momentum in demand” across the festival sector over the past few years. The present phase of consolidation, with a few major companies snapping up a majority of events, may leave many “new and inexperienced players” behind, according to the FKP boss.

Rising costs “in all areas” are also affecting the festival and touring sector, particularly in relation to artists fees. “Ticket prices cannot and should not be scaled limitlessly,” says Thanscheidt, “so we need to find ways to optimise and allocate these expenses.”

However, things look bright for FKP, which recently acquired Swedish promoter Woah Dad Live, with Thanscheidt confirming that the provisional results of its festival season “indicate a significant upward trend”.

“Ticket prices cannot and should not be scaled limitlessly, so we need to find ways to optimise and allocate expenses”

Mad Cool

2019 headliners: Lewis Capaldi, the Cure, Bon Iver, the Smashing Pumpkins
Capacity: 80,000
Date: 11 to 13 July
Country: Spain

“This year everything has run smoothly and we are happy about it,” Mad Cool festival director Javier Arnáiz tells IQ.

Live Nation’s Mad Cool festival has seen substantial growth since its inauguration in 2016, increasing capacity by 60%, from 45,000 to 75,000. The rapid growth threw up problems for the Mad Cool team in previous editions.

“Our main goal for this year was to improve on all the incidents that happened in the previous edition, as a result of the massive growth,” says Arnáiz. Thanks to the team’s effort and changes made “through our own process of self-criticism”, the customer experience was much improved this year.

Sales for the festival’s fourth year were lower than usual, which Arnáiz puts down to “the lack of headliners” available. “We have all suffered from this in Europe during 2019,” states the Mad Cool director. “It’s been a tough year for all of us.”

Additionally, last year’s line-up, which featured Pearl Jam, Jack White, Queens of the Stone Age and Kasabian, “set the bar high”, ensuring “it was not an easy task” to produce a bill to rival it.

Looking to the future, the Mad Cool team say they’re concentrating on strengthening other aspects of the headliner-focused festival. “We are already working on the 2020 edition and we hope we can deliver what is expected from a festival like Mad Cool,” states Arnáiz.

“We have all suffered from a lack of headliners in Europe during 2019”

Pukkelpop

2019 headliners: The National, Post Malone, Prophets of Rage, Twenty One Pilots
Capacity: 60,000
Date: 15 to 19 August
Country: Belgium

Pukkelpop promoter and programmer Chokri Mahassine tells IQ that “we can look back with great satisfaction” following a “completely sold out edition”.

Unlike in previous years, says Mahassine, the Pukkelpop team had no problem shifting tickets this year thanks to a “stellar line-up”, with the balance between musical genres, as well as between young and old acts “clearly paying off”.

Two “unique” shows by rock band the National and a “landslide victory” for fast-rising star Billie Eilish were particular highlights of this year’s festival.

Speaking to IQ in 2017, Mahassine revealed that ticket prices for the independently promoted festival had not changed in four years, although the price of food and drinks tokens did rise. Ticket prices for the past two years have seen a slight increase, from €199 for a weekend pass in 2017 to €205 in 2019.

The Pukkelpop promoter admits that rising prices are due in part to the ever-increasing penchant for comfort among festivalgoers and high expectations in terms of food, transport, accommodation and overall experience. Providing this kind of quality proves more and more difficult each year, says Mahassine, “both on a production and financial level”.

The Pukkelpop promoter admits that rising prices are due in part to the ever-increasing penchant for comfort among festivalgoers

Pohoda

2019 headliners: The 1975, Liam Gallagher, Mac Demarco
Capacity: 30,000
Date: 11 to 13 July
Country: Slovakia

“We had the best year in history,” Michal Kaščák, founder and chief executive of Pohoda, or Peace in English, tells IQ. The festival – Slovakia’s biggest – sold out for the fifth time in its 23-year history and for the second consecutive year.

A packed music programme, an accompanying arts and science schedule, “smooth production” and “super weather” contributed to the festival’s strong performance.

Among a list of high-profile artists including Skepta, the 1975, Liam Gallagher and Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kaščák states that Zohra – Afghanistan’s first all-female orchestra – were the stand-out act.

Having the band perform at the festival “gave us a strong opportunity to emphasise the goals of Pohoda,” explains Kaščák. “Their story is the perfect base for speaking about gender equality, the power of art to change things for the better and how important it is to stay united.”

A last-minute cancellation by Swedish singer Lykke Li gave an opportunity to “unknown artist” Sink Your Teeth. “We decided to take a risk and let them play on the main stage in prime time,” says Kaščák. “And it was super decision, they did very well.”

The booking process in general is “much harder” than it used to be, says the Pohoda boss, with rising artist fees, late confirmations and the need to clarify running times early on being major factors.

At the end of the day, says Kaščák, “we are an independent festival in a small country, with all the difficulties and advantages that come with that.”

“We are an independent festival in a small country, with all the difficulties and advantages that come with that”

Hellfest

2019 headliners: Slayer, Kiss, Tool, Anthrax
Capacity: 50,000
Date: 21 to 23 June
Country: France

French metal festival Hellfest had one of its “best editions ever”, according to the festival’s communication and event manager Alexxx Rebecq.

Hellfest did not experience any slowdown at all in terms of sales, selling all three-day tickets in 90 minutes, in what Paul-Henri Wauters, co-president of festival association De Concert!, pointed to as an exception for its member festivals this year.

The festival had around 200 bands on the bill for one of its biggest years to date. Organisers also added an extra day for its 2019 edition, to host Slipknot-fronted Knotfest within its festival site.

“We were really proud to welcome the Knotfest festival to Hellfest last year,” Rebecq tells IQ. “Four days in a row was not easy, and certainly exhausted our whole crew, but we did it and what a day it was.”

It was not all plain sailing for the 2019 edition, however, with booking also proving an issue. The last minute cancellation of headliner Manowar was “really tough to manage” and resulted in “a lot of wasted time, pressure and stress” for the Hellfest team.

“We had the support of our crowd though, because they have known us for a long time and obviously know we are capable of welcoming a band like Manowar,” explains Rebecq.

“Manowar’s last minute cancellation was really tough for us to manage”

Sziget

2019 headliners: Ed Sheeran, Foo Fighters, Post Malone, Florence and the Machine
Capacity: 80,000
Date: 7 to 13 August
Country: Hungary

Majority Superstruct-owned Sziget festival saw its biggest crowd ever this year, with 60,000 attending Ed Sheeran’s opening-night headline performance.

“Although our overall visitor number throughout the week was a bit less than during the 2018 festival, we still closed our second-most attended festival in the 27-year history of Sziget,” Ákos Remetei Filep, the festival’s sales director, explains.

530,000 people attended the week-long festival, in what was hailed as its most headliner-focused edition yet. Local newspapers reported that organisers spent US$1.7 million more than last year on securing headline acts.

The main stage also became a platform for important topics this year, with talks by the UN Refugee Agency’s Emitithal Mahmoud and former US vice-president and climate-change campaigner Al Gore.

Although attendances have been high in recent years, Filep states that “the biggest challenge is to make [an international audience] aware of the festival and convince them to come”.

“Sziget is a very unique festival experience compared to other events in Europe,” explains Filep, which makes it difficult to sell to international audiences, as “there’s nothing you can really compare it to”.

“The biggest challenge is to make [an international audience] aware of the festival and convince them to come”

Blockfest

2019 headliners: Asap Rocky, Tyga, G-eazy
Capacity: 25,000
Date: 16 to 17 August
Country: Finland

Finland’s largest hip-hop festival, Blockfest, sold out seven weeks prior to the event this year, which saw its largest capacity ever.

“We couldn’t be happier with the turn-out,” Live Nation Finland’s head promoter, Zachris Sundell, tells IQ. “The weather was sunny and all artists – both domestic and international – put on great performances.”

Live Nation took full control of the festival this year, following years of collaboration with the Blockfest team.

Despite concerns regarding the availability of Friday-night headliner Asap Rocky, “everything worked out so he could perform as planned.” The rapper had been forced to cancel multiple festival appearances over the summer, while held on assault charges in Stockholm.

Rocky received the verdict of the trial just days before his Blockfest appearance, avoiding jail time with a two-year suspended sentence.

Taking place in Tampere Stadium in the city of the same name, the “challenges” that go with a city-centre festival are always to be expected, says Sundell. However, all in all, “everything worked out great”.

 


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No prison time for “guilty” Asap Rocky

US rapper Asap Rocky has been found guilty of assault by Stockholm District Court and given a two-year suspended sentence.

The rapper, whose real name is Rakim Mayers, received a ‘guilty’ verdict along with two members of his entourage, Bladimir Corniel and David Rispers.

The assault was not deemed serious enough to constitute a prison sentence, as long as the three defendants commit no further crimes for two years.

The rapper was ordered to pay Kr12,500 (US$1,300) in damages to the victim for “violation of his integrity” and “pain and suffering”, according to the Swedish arm of English-language publication the Local.

Asap Rocky and his two co-defendants spent almost a month in custody in Sweden following the assault. Many objected to the rapper’s pre-trial detention, with artists including Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes and Jada Pinkett Smith urging his release.

Joppe Pihlgren, head of Swedish live music association Svensk Live, told IQ last month that although Rocky being held in a jail cell while awaiting trial “might seem strange in America, where you can bail yourself out if you have enough money… this is not how the Swedish system works.”

Pihlgren said he believed the general public largely supported Rocky’s detention, saying the feeling in Sweden was that “he is accused of committing a crime and he’s being treated like anyone else”.

“We [in Sweden] have a judicial system that treats everyone the same”

“We have a judicial system that treats everyone the same,” explained the Svensk Live head.

Mayers, Corniel and Rispers returned to the United States when the trial concluded on 2 August, where they have been awaiting today’s (14 August) verdict. The return prompted a gleeful Twitter post from president Donald Trump, who had put pressure on the Swedish government to release the rapper.

The rapper made his return to the stage at California’s Real Street festival on Sunday, telling fans “I’m so happy to be here right now.” Rocky also referenced the support he received from fellow artists, stating that “hip hop never looked so strong together, we’re a big, strong community.”

Rappers Tyler the Creator, Schoolboy Q and Lil Yachty announced they would boycott Sweden as a touring destination following Rocky’s arrest.

Rocky was forced to cancel various festival appearances while detained, including headline slots at Sónar in Spain, London’s Wireless festival and Ukraine’s Atlas Weekend.

Lowlands re-announced the rapper’s appearance at the festival this weekend, following confirmation from the artist’s agency, CAA. Rocky is also scheduled to appear in Finland in the next few days, at Live Nation-owned hip-hop festival Blockfest.

 


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ASAP Rocky awaits Sweden assault trial verdict in US

Rapper ASAP Rocky has returned to the United States after a temporary release from custody in Sweden, where he was being held on suspected assault charges.

The rapper, real name Rakim Mayers, and two of his entourage were detained on 3 July, charged with assaulting a 19-year-old man in Stockholm, Sweden.

All three have pleaded not guilty and claim to have acted in self-defense.

Following the conclusion of the trial on Friday (2 August), Mayers was released from Swedish detention and given permission to leave the country, along with co-defendants Bladimir Corniel (Bladi) and David Rispers (Thoto).

The three men will receive the verdict of the trial on 14 August. The prosecution has asked for the rapper to be jailed for six months.

Mayers was in the country to headline a two-day hip-hop festival, Smash x Stadion, on 2 July.

“This has been a very difficult and humbling experience”

While detained, Mayer had to cancel a host of European tour dates, including headline festival appearances at Ukraine’s Atlas Weekend, Longitude in Ireland, Spain’s Sónar and Wireless festival in London

The rapper is scheduled to play at Blockfest in Finland and the Netherlands’ Lowlands festival later this month.

In an Instagram post, the rapper “fans, friends and anyone across the globe” who have offered support throughout his detention.

High-profile acts including Tyler, the Creator, Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes, Post Malone and Jada Pinkett Smith, have voiced their backing for the rapper through the online #JusticeForRocky petition.

US government has also supported the rapper, with president Donald Trump celebrating Mayers’ return on Friday.

 


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Live Nation acquires Finnish hip-hop festival

Live Nation Finland has announced the acquisition of the country’s leading hip-hop festival, Blockfest.

Founded in 2008 in Tampere, Finland, Blockfest has grown to become one of the biggest hip-hop festivals in the Nordic countries. Taking place at the Tampere stadium, the two-day festival attracted 75,000 festivalgoers last year.

“This deal cements Blockfest’s position in the festival calendar and will ensure that the festival attracts the hottest international acts going forward,” says Kalle Kallonen, Blockfest founder and chief executive.

“We have a great team who are excited to work more closely with Live Nation Finland to deliver the best possible live experience for our audience.”

“Blockfest is one of the most innovative festivals in Finland and we are thrilled to be a part of its future”

Live Nation Finland’s head promoter, Zachris Sundell, comments: “Blockfest is one of the most innovative festivals in Finland and we are thrilled to be a part of its future.”

“We have always had a great relationship with Blockfest and are looking forward to putting our resources into bringing more of the world’s leading hip-hop, R&B and grime artists to the festival,” says Sundell.

Live Nation Finland and Blockfest have worked together since 2013, bringing artists including including Wu-Tang Clan, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, Wiz Khalifa, Skepta, Mobb Deep and Lil Wayne to the festival’s stages.

The announcement is one in a string of recent acquisitions for the live entertainment company, including Tennessee-based event marketing company Neste, Canadian venue operator and promoter Embrace Presents and Spanish latin music promoter Planet Events.

 


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