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Four arrested over plan to attack Brussels venue

The Botanique concert hall in Brussels has confirmed it was the target of a foiled terrorist attack last weekend, which resulted in the arrest of three minors and one adult.

The four suspects had met online, where they allegedly forged plans to commit an attack on the venue in a few weeks. Their conversations reportedly referred to the terrorist group Islamic State.

On Sunday (4 March) morning, the three minors from Ninove, Brussels and Charleroi, and one adult from Liège were arrested. No weapons or explosives were found during the searches, but the Federal Prosecutor’s Office confiscated laptops and mobile phones for further investigation.

The 18-year-old suspect was brought before the investigating judge this morning (5 March) and charged with “participating in the activities of a terrorist group and preparatory acts with a view to committing a terrorist attack,” according to the Prosecutor’s Office.

After consultation with the services, it was deemed that the venue’s current security measures are adequate

The three minors were put in front of an investigating judge in Dendermonde, a city in the Flemish province of East Flanders.

The Botanique concert hall team told Belga News Agency that it was in contact with the security services throughout the weekend.

After consultation with the services, it was deemed that the current security measures, which have been in place since the 2015 Paris terror attacks and the 2016 terror attacks in Belgium, are adequate.

Following those attacks, the venue reinforced its security team and additional measures were put in place at the entrance and across the site, such as checking bags.

“These measures are evaluated on an ongoing basis,” the venue noted, adding that “planned events and concerts can continue according to the current security standards”.


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Herman Schueremans on the “happy rebirth” of festivals

Live Nation Belgium CEO and Rock Werchter founder Herman Schueremans says this summer has been a “happy rebirth of festivals after two years of Covid”.

With a slate of sold-out festivals and concerts, Schueremans has hailed the season as “even better than 2019” and says that Belgium’s recovery is “well in line with the rest of Europe”.

A key highlight for Schueremans was Rock Werchter’s record sell-out which saw 66,000 combi-tickets and 80,000 one-day tickets fly off the shelf by the start of February – months earlier than usual.

Imagine Dragons, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Killers and Metallica were among the acts that performed at Belgium’s biggest festival, which took place between 30 June to 3 July in Festivalpark, Werchter.

Sister festivals Werchter Boutique (cap. 60,000) and TW Classic (60,000) also sold out. However one-off event Rock Werchter Encore was called off just one month after it was announced due to “high production costs, staff shortages, and low consumer confidence”.

Elsewhere in LN Belgium’s stable of festivals, Graspop Metal Meeting in Dessel sold out after its capacity was expanded from 50,000 capacity to 52,000 to match high demand.

The renowned heavy metal festival, which took place across four days, sold 42,500 combi tickets and 40,000 day tickets, drawing 82,500 unique attendees.

Schueremans has hailed the season as “even better than 2019”

Capitalising further on pent-up demand for festivals, Rock Werchter also launched a new two-day festival in Brussels in partnership with fellow Belgian festival behemoth Tomorrowland.

Core debuted between 27–28 May this year in Osseghem Park, a picturesque nature area in the Belgian capital, featuring an eclectic bill topped by Stormzy, Jamie xx and Mura Masa.

“It was a promising first year with a happy audience, happy artists and happy crew. It will do very well in 2023,” says Schueremans, who attributes the festival’s success to the synergy of the Rock Werchter and Tomorrowland teams.

“We brought both teams together again and made it work like clockwork. They took care of the look of the festival site and gave it a unique feel and our team took care of the artist bill. Together we are strong,” he adds.

Live Nation Belgium has also enjoyed an extraordinary summer of concerts, selling out four stadium shows for Coldplay’s Music of the Spheres tour. With 220,000 tickets sold, Schueremans says it is a new record in Belgium.

And the promoter’s sell-out success is already seeping into next year, having sold out TW Classic (18 June 2023) with headliner Bruce Springsteen, and Harry Styles’ show at Werchter Park (24 June 2023).

Werchter Boutique (17 June 2023) and Rock Werchter (29–30 June and 1–2 July 2023) will also return next year and will soon 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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More than 130 Belgian venues reopen illegally

Some 130 cultural venues in Wallonia and Brussels have reopened illegally after six months of closure, in protest of government restrictions.

Since 30 April, the venues have been welcoming the general public for a number of cultural activities including concerts, screenings, shows, debates, performances and public rehearsals.

The nine-day protest, which is being held by the campaign group ‘Still Standing for Culture’, culminates on 8 May when 50-capacity outdoor events are permitted.

According to the group, all activities will be carried in accordance with the health protocol, which includes social distancing, mask-wearing and the separation of household bubbles.

“We will do this without underestimating the dangerousness of the virus, but we recall that experiments and studies show that the opening of cultural places has only a minimal impact on the contamination curves in the face of the effects attributed to the activities. businesses, shops and services,” reads a statement on the Still Standing for Culture website.

“We will do this to defend the diversity of places and practices”

“We will do so to refuse that certain sectors of activity and certain categories of the population are the only ones to carry the weight of measures on their shoulders. And to defend the diversity of places and practices.”

Brussels venue Koninklijke Vlaamse Schouwburg (KVS) was the first Belgian venue that pledged to open its doors regardless of any restrictions in place but ultimately, the government agreed to turn its scheduled performances into test events.

According to Flemish business newspaper Tidj, the Flemish region is not participating in the demonstration as the regional government has provided a range of support measures for affected culture workers, artists and cultural entrepreneurs – including a €60 million safety net for festival organisers.

However, the Flemish events sector may be inclined to join the demonstrations if the regional government does not provide a reopening plan after the next meeting of the Consultation Committee on 11 May.

The full programme of activities for the Still Standing for Culture protest can be found here.


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Yvonne Stausbøll joins EMMA as exec director

The European Music Managers Alliance (EMMA) has appointed Yvonne Stausbøll to the newly created position of executive director.

Stausbøll will be based in Brussels, from where she will be responsible for the general management of EMMA and the organisation’s engagement on policy issues in Europe and internationally. With over 25 years’ experience working in public affairs in Brussels, Stausbøll brings extensive knowledge of the European public policy environment – including 15 years combined in the European Commission and European Parliament – to the organisation, according to EMMA.

Formerly head of energy sector trade association UPEI, Stausbøll has in recent years been working with music and culture organisations including Freemuse and Music Without Borders.

“Yvonne’s extensive experience will … ensure music managers have representation at the heart of European policy discussions”

Commenting on the appointment, Per Kviman, chair of EMMA, says: “I am delighted to welcome Yvonne as our new executive director and look forward to working with her.

“This is a significant step for EMMA. Yvonne’s extensive experience will help take our organisation forward, ensuring music managers have representation at the heart of European policy discussions and expanding our engagement with other music-based organisations.”

EMMA brings together Music Managers Forums (MMF) in Belgium, Finland, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden and the UK, and has links to allied organisations in Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Its members represent more than 1,200 artist managers in Europe.


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Brussels venue to reopen regardless of restrictions

Brussels venue Koninklijke Vlaamse Schouwburg (KVS) plans to open its doors on 26 April, defying current restrictions, in a bid to increase pressure on the Belgian government to reopen the cultural sector.

The country’s strict lockdown measures are set to ease on 25 April but venues may not be permitted to welcome audiences until 1 May at the earliest, after the government withdrew its decision to allow outside performances of up to 50 people during April.

The venue’s operators want to demonstrate that it is possible to organise events safely and plans to host 50 people in a 500-capacity room on five consecutive nights for a theatre performance.

According to organisers, the performance will take place under strict precautions concerning ventilation, measuring CO2, guiding and controlling public flows, registering visitors, keeping a safe distance, mandatory mouth mask and disinfection gel.

“This is a signal to the government to finally take our industry and our efforts seriously,” KVS says in a statement on the venue’s website.

“This is a signal to the government to finally take our industry and our efforts seriously”

In the statement, KVS refers to crowded parks, squares and trains: “It is revengeful: after a year of pandemic, we as a society have still not succeeded in organizing what can be organized safely. Culture can be part of the solution. And there are indeed alternatives. And there is indeed a great social need for safe encounters and culture.

“To prevent public support from completely eroding, to prevent dangerous, badly organised gatherings from occurring too often, there is a need for safe ways to enjoy culture.”

Opposition party Groen has called on the minister of culture Jan Jambon to turn the performances into a test event, according to De Tidj.

“By turning KVS’s plans into a test event, people are not forced to take the risk of prosecution just because they want to do their job in complete safety. It is also a constructive signal to the cultural sector and we can use the information later. This could well be a win-win,” says Groen MP Elisabeth Meuleman.

Jonathan will play from 26–30 April at 8 pm in KVS. Tickets, which are priced at €25, have sold out for all five nights.


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Flemish government earmarks €60m for festivals

The Flemish government has designated a total of €60 million to help the region’s organisers kickstart preparations for this summer’s festival season.

Flemish minister of economy, Hilde Crevits, has allocated €50m in repayable advances for the broader events sector to “to get the engine going and offer insurance against the risk of organising an event in uncertain times”, she says.

This is in addition to the €43m worth of repayable loans Crevits has already released, which went to 150 organisers including music festivals such as Sfinks, Laundry Day and Gent Jazz.

For the new round of funding, the maximum amount an organiser can apply for has been raised from €800,000 to €1.8m and larger organisations will be eligible to apply this time.

All events that secure funding must comply with the measures applicable at the time they take place and, according to Tidj, in most cases, the advance is non-refundable if the event is cancelled.

The remaining €10m from the €60m pot – allocated by Flemish minister of tourism, Zuhal Demir – will subsidise Covid measures for small music festivals, such as the construction of rapid test villages, additional entrances and exits, or the rental of a larger site.

“Flanders has the best festivals in all of Europe…it is in everyone’s interest that the festival summer can take place”

“Smaller events with a total cost of at least €250,000 can count on the support of up to €75,000, while larger players with budgets of at least €7.5 m can count on support of up to €500,000,” says Demir.

The application process for corona-proofing grants is already open on Event Flanders. Organisers can combine both types of support.

Demir is working with Event Flanders, which sets out the event policy for Tourism Flanders, along with virologists and festival organisers, to work out the conditions under which festivals can take place safely. The plan should be ready by the end of this month.

“Flanders has the best festivals in all of Europe,” says Demir. “From large mass manifestations to the more intimate niche events, it is in everyone’s interest that the festival summer of 2021 can take place in the best possible way, for organisers, for visitors and for the rest of Flanders.”

Flanders is one of three Belgian regions which encompasses major cities including Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent and Bruges, and is home to the country’s biggest festivals including Tomorrowland (pictured), Pukkelpop and Rock Werchter.

Last month, Flemish prime minister, Jan Jambon, also responsible for culture, announced that there will be clarity for festivals by mid-March at the latest.


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Brussels’ Centre for Fine Arts to close after fire

Brussels’ Centre for Fine Arts (cap. 2,100), also known as Bozar, has closed for at least a week after a fire broke out on the roof of the building yesterday afternoon (18 January).

Nearly 100 firefighters attended the scene after eyewitnesses reported large plumes of smoke coming from the roof of the multi-purpose venue at around 4:15 pm CET.

The blaze, which did not spread beyond the roof, was under control by around 9 pm local time. Two firefighters were injured during the process though no other casualties were reported as the building was closed at the time.

“Around midnight, most of the means deployed left the scene, but a fire engine remained on site all night to ensure a fire picket,” said the spokesman of the Brussels fire department, Walter Derieuw.

While the fire did not damage any major work in the Centre for Fine Arts, a complete review of the damage is yet to be undertaken. The cause of the fire remains unknown but investigations are expected to commence today.


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EU urged to support live in recovery planning

Brussels-based industry body Pearle* has called for the live industry to be included as a “priority sector” in the European Union (EU)’s post-pandemic recovery package.

In a position paper entitled Give Live Performance a Future, Pearle* (Performing Arts Employers Association League Europe), which represents more than 10,000 venues, theatres, festivals and other ‘live performance’ organisations, calls for support for “a sector on the verge of collapse […], and for which a comprehensive recovery package is needed.”

Quoting European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, who said last month that “this is definitely not the time to withdraw support” for member states’ economies, Pearle* suggests the EU back “targeted support” for live entertainment businesses, as well as introducing other continent-wide initiatives such as lowering VAT on tickets and taxation on artists crossing borders.

In its introduction to the paper, Pearle* describes the situation heading into the autumn as one of “reduced income in ticket sales, fewer performances, less (or no) income from bar sales, sponsorship contracts on hold, much less touring in Europe and nearly no touring outside Europe, reduced size of productions, (very) short-term planning, less freelance work needed [and] less extra services needed.”

“There are a wide range of possibilities for governments to help the sector in its recovery”

Combined, these factors put “real pressure on the preservation of cultural diversity, which is rooted in the European Treaty,” the organisation adds.

The latest proposal by the European Parliament is €39 billion for “flagship programmes” – of which culture is one – in the next budget, though this must still be agreed with the European Council leadership. (Other flagship spending includes health, digital, security and the ‘Green Deal’.)

Anita Debaere, director of Pearle*, says the recovery plan for live should be “built on three main pillars: survive, invest and resilience.”

“There are a wide range of possibilities that governments can use to help the sector in its recovery in the coming years, so there is no excuse to ignore the needs of live performance,” she comments.


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